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The best bike movies

By Spencer Powlison

Are you becoming more familiar with your armchair than your bike saddle? Are memories of your favorite local climb fading? Is the whir of your refrigerator grating on you like a dusty, dry chain?

Every cyclist has been there: stuck indoors. It drains the bike stoke. We end up feeling lethargic and weak, longing for a ride. Whatever the reason — bad weather, injury, or other unpredictable factors — don’t worry, you’ll make it through! And to help you survive those days when you’re cooped up, we selected the best bike movies to inspire and entertain you.

Thanks to the many online streaming platforms, you should be able to watch most of these movies with a smart TV or your computer. But if you have the means, I recommend a good old fashioned VHS to spur some nostalgia. (Now where did I leave that tape of “A Sunday in Hell?”)

Classic dramas

Cycling had a moment in the ‘80s that led to a few mainstream cinematic releases. Do they have some cheesy moments? Sure, but come on, it was the ‘80s! If you laugh off those moments and ignore the occasionally blatant technical goof (hmm, riding 50mph in the little chainring?), you’ll enjoy the pure entertainment value. Here are the box office favorites.

Breaking Away 

Whether you picked up cycling at age 15 or 35, that feeling of awe is indescribable. You’ve uncovered a mysterious, intricate world of European tradition that is the bedrock of pro cycling. Dave Stohler immortalized that feeling in the first half of “Breaking Away,” talking Italian to his parents, much to his grouchy dad’s chagrin. Then, the action starts, he makes peace with his Midwestern roots. We watch his scrappy group of pals take on the snobby university students at the famous Little 500 at the University of Indiana. This movie won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award because it was a fun, inspiring story, and it just so happens that it satisfies bike dorks like us along the way

Watch it if: You ever had to explain leg-shaving to your parents
Skip it if: Knobby tires are the only way you roll
Cringeworthy moment: Dave sings an Italian opera to a college girl to impress her

Rad

It’s a pity there aren’t more cycling movies, because the sport really lends itself to the classic David vs. Goliath narrative. Like “Breaking Away,” “Rad” features a young BMX talent up against the odds and the big-budget factory team to win the huge prize purse at Helltrack. Critics rightfully panned the movie for its cheesy acting, but this is peak ‘80s style in terms of clothing, bikes, and haircuts, which almost makes up for it.

Watch it if: You fondly remember mag wheels
Skip it if: You’re looking for compelling acting and drama
Cringeworthy moment: Prom scenes are always bad, but throw in bicycle dancing and … well … just watch it.

American Flyers 

The beauty of “American Flyers” is that it combines drama with a little bit of cycling history. Brothers Marcus and David Sommers travel cross-country for the Hell of the West race, which is basically the Coors Classic of yesteryear. Viewers are treated to the beauty of classic routes like Boulder, Colorado’s Morgul Bismark loop and the Tour of the Moon on the Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction. Plus, there is a healthy dose of pro cycling cameos.

Watch it if: You’re a Kevin Costner fan
Skip it if: To you, 7-Eleven is a convenience store, not a bike team
Cringeworthy moment: Really, did any of you ever play “shake and break?” Was that a thing in the ‘80s?

Bonus 2000s pick: Premium Rush 

People may mock me for loving this movie, and I probably deserve it. "Premium Rush" is the cycling equivalent to "The Fast and the Furious." I can’t defend it based on any artistic merit. But sometimes you just crave junk food and this movie satisfies that impulse. It’s an irreverent romp through the streets of New York City with plenty of good humor and fixie stunts. It reminds me of a simpler time in my cycling life, a time before lycra and brakes when I was still broke and fearless. 

Watch it if: You ever ripped around a city on a fixie
Skip it if: You need racing action to keep you watching
Cringeworthy moment: Wilee races against his roadie rival and screams, “Hey, Spandex, I got you! I’m on your wheel!” But anyone with cycling knowledge can clearly see he’s several bike lengths behind and getting dropped.

— Bruce Lin, technical writer

Documentaries

“Bah,” the traditionalists scoff, “Cycling is so dramatic that all you need are documentaries!” Well, that may be true. There are ample must-watch films that follow real-life action. These movies are inspiring, and often give us a peek behind the scenes to better know our two-wheeled heroes.

For adventurers: Blood Road

The premise is simple. Rebecca Rusch, cycling’s "Queen of Pain," rides Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh Trail to find her father’s resting place. But the story that unfolds is much deeper than that. We see how the physical and emotional scars of war still linger in Vietnam to this day, and how two women without a common history or language can still find friendship by cycling through adversity. Blood Road can be rented on most platforms but it’s also currently free to watch on Red Bull’s website.

— Bruce Lin, technical writer

For old-school roadies: A Sunday in Hell

Merckx. De Vlaeminck. Moser. If you want to revisit the glory days of ‘70s bike racing, “A Sunday in Hell” is your fix. This movie documents the raw brutality of Paris-Roubaix back in an era when the equipment was rudimentary, but the riders were tough as nails. The pace is brooding and ominous. The cinematography is dramatic. Just be glad you’re watching these heroes pound the pave from the comfort of your couch.

For inspiration: Rising From Ashes 

Few stories can capture cycling's intrinsic spirit of hope and perseverance quite so powerfully. We follow a team of Rwandans who have lived through genocide and are now trying to become pro cyclists, against all odds. This documentary is beautiful, inspiring, and capable of dispelling whatever pessimism you’re carrying into watching the film. I watch this time and time again to remember what’s really important in life, and how the simple joy of riding a bike can be all you need to find a little bit of light.

— Bruce Lin, technical writer

Honorable mentions

Quiksilver
The Flying Scotsman
Kranked 1 (or any movie from the series)
Deathgrip
Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist
Roam and Seasons
Klunkerz
Hell on Wheels (Höllentour)
ReTread

What's your favorite bike movie? Let us know in the comments!


2 comments


  • Mine is also from Breaking Away, but it’s the part when he comes home after the race with “the Italians” and his dad looks at him and asks “what? No singing? where’s your trophy?!!” and Dave looks at his dad and just cries and hugs him. His dad asks: “What’s the matter? I think you lost your wallet or something. I didn’t want you to be this miserable. A little bit’s all I asked for…” That’s the same part where Dave tells his Dad “…everybody cheats. I just didn’t know.” To which his Dad replies “Well, now you know.” Such a great movie!

    Greg on

  • My Favorite is Breaking Away followed by American Flyer. My favorite scene from Breaking Away is when Dave Stohler’s dad walks into the bathroom and then walks back out and Dave’s mother asking “What’s wrong?”. Dave’s dad response with “He’s shaving” and his mom says something like “He’s growing up.” or something like that and then his dad says, “His legs!” Dave has his leg in the sink with shave cream all over it and he is happily shaving his leg. Classic!

    Greg on


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