“Why do you ride motorcycles?” is the most frequent and, perhaps, the most difficult question asked of motorcyclists. The old cliché of “If I have to explain, you won’t understand” is at its most apropos at these times. Motorcyclists have their own language. They share a common – yet uncommon – passion that is, in many ways, as mystical as the forces that keep our machines magically balanced on two wheels.
When asked why we ride, we often resort to big words, like freedom, independence, camaraderie, focus, or peace – words that are flexible enough to expand and accept the meaning that we heap upon them when more accurate words escape us. No matter how many times we’ve tried to explain – and failed – we keep on attempting to express the benefits that motorcycling bestows upon our lives. Something this important needs to be shared with others.
Most motorcyclists (and even some non-motorcyclists) are aware of the short list of successful attempts at explaining the reasons for our love of motorcycling. Enthusiasts will almost universally point to the movie On Any Sunday as the best example. Other important motorcycle films include: The World’s Fastest Indian and the TV series Long Way Round. On November 1st, the newest nominee for this exclusive list began its public release in Los Angeles and New York.
Appropriately named Why We Ride, the documentary attempts to answer the title question through 70 interviews, tons of riding sequences and a moving soundtrack. It’s an 89-minute love song to the sport of motorcycling in all its forms. This is a film that’s chosen to sing from the mountain tops, the salt flats, the city streets and suburban garages, the sand dunes, the motocross track, the beach and the high banks at Daytona – from anywhere that riders and their machines can go. The people who made Why We Ride love motorcycling, and they want to share the passion with not only the faithful, but also with the unenlightened.
On October 3rd, the premier of Why We Ride was held in the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on a screen flanked on either side by giant Oscar statues. Fresh from the honor of winning the Feature Documentary category at the The First Annual Motorcycle Film Festival in Brooklyn, NY only two days earlier, the producer/director, Bryan H. Carroll, made a speech to the crowd about how the film could not have been made without the community of motorcyclists. He was, of course, preaching to the choir, since many in the crowd had also been in the documentary.
Still, the idea of community and, by extension, family is explored in great detail during the film. Anyone who’s attended a rally or bike night or racing event is well aware of how riders like to congregate. Regardless of what motorcycling tribe we belong to, there is something that compels us to walk up and talk to each other – often to complete strangers – when we find ourselves in the company of other riders.
Why We Ride also spends a good deal of time exploring the role that motorcycling plays in families providing a nice counterpoint the popular image of bikers just being rugged individualists. Similarly, the important and growing role that women play in the motorcycle world finally gets the credit it is due.
The film’s imagery is stunning. The Directors of Photography, Andrew Waruszewski and Douglas Cheney, give viewers a visual feast that ranges in scale from epic to minute. Idyllic sunset scenes give the portions of the film an almost dreamlike quality. The filmmakers’ extensive use of super slow motion highlights the intimate, often poetic relationship between humans and their machines.
The extended slow-motion sequence of MotoGP in Why We Ride is mesmerizing. What do you, as a viewer, focus on? A rider as he wrestles with the machine? The wheels and suspension tracking over the pavement? The heat swirls distorting the objects in the background as the pack scythes through the air?
The music is up to the task of elevating the visuals throughout the film. While it does occasionally pull at the heartstrings a bit too earnestly, Steven Gutheinz’s music is mostly a perfect accompaniment to what is on the screen.
The interviews with motorcycling notables interspersed throughout the film form the film’s supporting structure. The stories are insightful and often quite funny.
Most riders would never pass up the opportunity to hear interviews with characters like the late Ed Kretz, Jr. (who was the son of Ed “Iron Man” Kretz and a Technical Consultant on the movie); Mert Lawwill (Yes, that Mert Lawwill – but for his role in creating a non-profit prosthetics foundation to help disabled people ride motorcycles); Don Emde (whose historic racing photos were an important part of the film and is the latter half of the only father-son Daytona winners); Arlen, Cory, and Zach Ness; Troy Lee; Kenny Roberts, Sr.; Laura Klock (who with her daughters, Erika and Karlee, makes up the only mother-daughter-daughter trio to hold Bonneville land speed records); Buzz Kantor; Keith Code; etc.
While there is a great payoff during the end credits, when the interviewees introduce themselves, the lack of graphics identifying the interviewees was, at times, frustrating. With a subject matter as broad as motorcycling, even the most involved motorcyclist won’t know all of the people on the screen – particularly if the person belongs to one of the segments of the sport the viewer doesn’t know that well.
Any attempt at such a monumental task as explaining why we ride motorcycles is going to fail at some level since the reasons for riding are as varied as the people who do it. At the reception after the screening, people talked – as people will in Hollywood – about how they wished more of one aspect of riding had been included and less of another. Ironically, moving between conversations sometimes revealed opinions directly opposing each other at tables just a few feet apart. If the film, at times, feels longer than its 89 minutes, the reason could be that it has moved into a niche within the world of motorcycling that is of less interest to you than others.
So, when you see this movie, rather than noting how the director’s vision of motorcycling differs from your own – rather than playing the film critic and saying that there should be more of this and less of that – focus instead on the similarities, the scenes that make your heart skip a beat before it swells with the passion for riding.
At that moment, if you turn your head and look at the other people sitting in the darkened theater, know that the movie has done the same thing for them, and perhaps you’ll come to appreciate, even more, the breadth and vitality of the community of motorcyclists and how lucky we are to have this movie elucidate our passion.
All motorcyclists should see Why We Ride. Don’t wait for the DVD or download release of the film. Go see this movie with a crowd – with our community of motorcyclists. Share in the exploration of our riding experience. Oh, and take a non-riding friend or two. Find out more at whyweridefilm.com.