Bike Chariot wars: Coming soon to Drake Park...please.Bicycling. It seems simple enough - two wheels, gears, cables, and of course someone to ride it. But anyone even remotely connected to cycling, especially in this part of the country, knows that it's not that straightforward. In fact, past Webcyclery movie nights at McMenamins have always looked into a specific aspect of the bicycle world. But this time around, the chosen film is one called Veer, and it attempts to tackle cycling culture in one fell swoop by taking a wide-angle look at Portland's culture more or less as a whole.
The film, directed by Greg Fredette, introduces us to a range of characters including the Zoobombers, an increasingly well-known group of cyclists that bombs down Portland hillsides on children's bikes as well as a cycling advocate battling to pass bills on the floor of the state legislature. There's also a group of bike dancers, cycling non-profits and stories of cyclists who've been killed in traffic. All in all, it's a look at Portland's urban cycling culture from a variety of angles. But there's very little by way of facts or statistics to discuss or explain the cycling boom, it's not that kind of documentary. Rather, the film is strictly observational in its approach.
In a word, the documentary is ambitious. It attempts to dig deep into both the cultures surrounding PBR-chugging mini-bike racers as well as a non-profit bicycle education program. And at times, Fredette finds gold in the quintessentially weird Portland cycling goofballs that he uses as his subjects. We're let into starkly different worlds, all of which orbit around the film's central notion that cycling - in all its different forms - is on the rise in our country and Portland is ground zero for this movement.
As might be expected, Veer sets out with such an expansive mission and so many different ideas that the film wanders at times. With nothing other than a timeline to tie the different storylines together, it's easy for the viewer to forget why he or she should care about whichever cycling faction happens to be on screen at that time. But then again, it doesn't take but one outrageous shot of a grown man on a children's bike bombing down a hill at 40mph or an all-nude group ride through downtown to pull your attention back to the film.
Any of the chosen storylines found in Veer could work as its own documentary. The one that stands out most prominently is the story of Scott Bricker, the executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, as he battles through the Oregon state legislature to gain passage in 2007 of House Bill 3314, which created harsher fines and jail time for drivers who cause serious injury or death to a "vulnerable roadway user" (pedestrian, cyclist, etc.). After hearing from a group of citizens who have lost family members to cycling accidents, we then watch debate over the bill unfold on the floor of the House of Representatives, hearing from both pro-cycling legislators as well as from the cyclists-are-a-public- nuisance faction.
There is, of course, some tasty cycling eye candy to be seen - including a full "synchronized mini-bike dance" performance by the Sprokettes and a "Ben Hurt" bike chariot war - but even non bikeophiles will feast on the sight of several well-known Portland landmarks and some hilarious moments. The film, which is narrated (albeit sparsely) by Matthew Modine, gets a boost from a top-notch soundtrack comprised of almost exclusively Portland artists, including several cuts from emerging electro pop rockers, Starfucker.
Even if it is a lot to take in at times, Veer does, however, serve as an excellent look into how one city has embraced cycling as a central aspect of its culture. Who knows, this might be the kick in the pants needed to inspire Bend's cycle-centric community to step it up to Portland levels.
9pm Tuesday, June 23. McMenamins Old St. Francis School, 700 NW Bond St. $5. Proceeds benefit the Central Oregon Trail Alliance.