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Spokes to be You

We demand more bicycling movies



There is a scene in Breaking Away (1979) that is perhaps the greatest cinematic moment of innocence lost. David Stoller is an Indiana boy, but has convinced himself he is Italian, singing arias, calling his working class parents "papa" and "mama mia," and, most importantly, touring around the countryside on his 10-speed, biking cap turned backward. He is a fish out of water, an enticing character who takes to an umpteenth degree those awkward teenage years when you try to figure out who you are by trying on different personalities and styles—which in David's case, comes in the form of spinning a tale about being a foreign exchange student from an Italian fishing village, although he is the son of a used-car salesman in the rowhouses just down the street from University of Indiana.

In reality, though, David truly is a champion bike racer, collecting trophies and clocking remarkable speeds and, along with his misfit high school buddies, is coming of age (including a six-pack-ripped Dennis Quaid in his first major role as the graduating quarterback with few prospects in life but to start looking back on his already fading glory years).

Early in the movie, David is happy-go-lucky, and when an Italian racing crew comes to Indiana for a road race, he bubbles over. During the race, he gleefully joins the ride and paces the Italians. But the pros are dicks (like, well, professional bike racers can be). They are not pleased that some local-yokel is as talented and strong as they are. As David is riding along, singing out to his heroes in their native tongue, one of the Italian dufuses sticks an air pump in David's front wheel and sends him tumbling into a ditch, ass-over-teacup.

When David returns home that night, he is no longer chirping out Italian phrases and tears down the Italians' posters and takes a stern look at what his life really is. Certainly better than any John Hughes coming-of-age film, Breaking Away is also arguably the greatest sports film EVER. (And, I have Sports Illustrated to back up my claim on this one; well, at least top 10.) Yet, unlike baseball or football, bicycling has been under-represented in cinema. There are 75 million bike riders in America every week, yet less than 10 worthwhile cycling movies. The injustice!

Of course, Pee Wee Herman sets out on an American odyssey after his red bomber bike has been stolen and director Vittorio De Sica plumbs the low points of the post-World Warr II Italian Depression and parental love in the exquisitely beautiful and beautifully heartbreaking Bicycle Thief (1948), but across the board, bicycling is represented in movies almost less than lacrosse or wakeboarding.

And, yes, American Flyers, the followup to Breaking Away for writer Steve Tesich, has tense and gripping bike racing scenes, with a young and stern-faced Kevin Costner and, sure, The Triplets of Belleville (2003) centers around the Tour de France, and perhaps Mary Poppins can receive an honorable mention for her flying bicycle (oh right, and add E.T. for the corniest, yet impossible-not-to-cheer scene when Eliot's bike goes all-spaceship and silhouettes the moon).

But really, Hollywood, get with it. We demand more bike movies!

(And, no, I didn't forget Quicksilver, which, as a premise had remarkable promise—a stock broker turned bike messenger in the roller coaster hills of San Francisco—but it is most certainly Kevin Bacon's most embarrassing movie, and nearly gave his career a flat tire. No, let's just ignore that film. Ditto for Premium Rush,) SW

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