Saturday, June 13, 2009

Film Review: “Bicycle Dreams” (2009)

Bicycle Dreams” is an entertaining and informative documentary on the Race Across America (RAAM) which examines the 2005 edition of that annual endurance event. Filmmaker Stephen Auerbach profiles half a dozen racers including endurance cycling superstar and four-time RAAM winner Jure Robic, fellow Slovenian Marko Baloh who currently holds the 24-hour world record, Frenchman Phillip Autissier, British racer Chris Hopkinson, Swedish cyclist Catharina Berge and American Chris Macdonald. The film follows their progress, includes interviews with racers, organizers, and crew members and showcases beautiful footage of the countryside between Oceanside, California and Atlantic City, New Jersey. "Bicycle Dreams" does a very good job of illustrating the dynamics of endurance cycling, including sleep, nutrition, crewing, etc.

As with the Everest expedition featured in Jon Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air, it's remarkable that tragedy befell participants in the event as it was under such close journalistic and artistic scrutiny. This was the race in which 53-year old Bob Breedlove was killed when he was struck by a pick-up truck near Trinidad, Colorado. In what are some gripping emotional moments in the film, participants and crew members of various teams find out about Breedlove’s death in real time and make decisions about their own participation as we watch.

There are a few things that Auerback leaves out that might have enhanced the story of what RAAM means to those who compete and follow the “world’s toughest race.” The film doesn't discuss the costs of competing in solo RAAM, which one 2008 racer estimated at over $10,000 or the training that goes into competing in this event. The film also focuses on the solo race only; no mention is made of the team racers at all during the film.

In all, this is a very good film that explores the fascinating psychology of self-imposed suffering and agony that is endurance cycling. RAAM seems to be difficult to get out of one's system, too. Robic, Baloh and Autissier will all be racing next week when RAAM solo racers pull out of Oceanside on June 17. Fans can follow their progress on the RAAM website as well as the racers' personal websites. One of my favorite lines in the film is “If you’re not afraid, you’ve got a problem.” The film is available on DVD from the Bicycle Dreams website for $19.99. Buy it today.

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