Why does it seem so difficult to tell a meaningful mountain biking story? For the past 4 years I’ve been seriously riding mountain bikes. And for the past 4 years, I’ve been hooked on watching mountain biking films and edits. But at the end of the day, and no matter how much backstory goes into a film, it’s focal point is always bike porn. By that, I mean endless cut sequences of riders slaying trails as fast as possible and with as much style as they can. Zero depth.
As I’m writing this story, I’m watching Red Bull Media House’s new film, titled, “North of Nightfall.” So much preparation is going into their epic trip to ride the gnarliest lines around the world. They talk about how meaningful the process is to each of the riders, but it obviously seems staged and not heart-felt. And even when the riders ride their lines, there’s nothing meaningful to share. We aren’t there to share their stoke, we can only watch it on a screen.
What I mean by a story is something that resonates with the audience. That can be anything from wanderlust and excitement, to fear and self exploration. The first two are what goes into making bike porn and those stylish types of edits. The second two, are the films you walk away from feeling closer to the subjects in the film, and connected to the experience they went through. Maybe you can’t relate to some wildly difficult achievement the film was about, but you can relate to the fear they felt before they committed. Or you can relate to adversity they faced when things didn’t go according to plan or weather stopped them in their tracks.
The reason, I believe, for the lack of depth in these types of films is because mountain biking is easy. Before you jump down my throat because you disagree, let me explain. In sports like backcountry skiing, mountaineering, and climbing, which have a plethora of meaningful films on the subject, there is no certainty in accomplishing the goals. There’s no guarantee that a climber will ever top out on their 5.13 project. And mountaineering/backcountry skiing films, there’s no guarantee you’ll reach the summit or successfully ski the line. In mountain biking, no one cares up about the up, only the down. And for a majority of mountain biking trails, they already exists and its not even a thought if they’ll get down or not. And even if the trip is long backpacking mountain bike adventure, they’re still on a trail system or road the exists. So as long as their legs work, the odds of them accomplishing their goal is very high. Even the big freeriding lines, it seems like there’s always a way down, just how fast can you go.
There’s also the lack of depth in the motion of it. When riding my bike on some of the most technical trails in the Wasatch, I completely shut my brain off. I only focus on what is in front of me and where my front tire has to be to navigate the section. A complete flow state, if you will. After I reach the bottom of the trail, I can barely remember one specific turn or feature. Because of this, it is hard to relate to anyone else’s ride through a technical section either. Unlike in skiing, where you can remember each turn through thigh deep powder, or each hold during the crux section of a 5.11d. In a ski film or written piece, I can relate to a skiier describing their descend a 1,000′ face and the 50 big turns they made. Or when Alex Honnold describes the specifc hand sequence on the boulder problem of Freerider. But with a steep mountain bike Line, they commit, and pin it down the most technical sections, yet I personally think mountain biking is one of the most difficult things I do. But that might be because you can quickly get in over your head and above your skill level.
Maybe these stories and films about mountain biking would be more relatable if failure was more of the subject. Because everyone knows, a real rider fails way more times than they succeed, that’s just how progress works. Rather than just a crash reel at the end of a film, showcase those failures more, what was learned, and how they overcame it. Otherwise, it’s just bike porn, filled with all of the best shots and scenes from a trip or shoot without any depth. A great film that does showcase the failures is titled, “The Moment“, which dives deep into the origin of freeride mountain biking in British Columbia. To which, failures they faced on a constant basis. Whether it was the bikes, trails, bones, or industry standards, they broke and failed in them all. Quite the opposite than in the film, “North of Nightfall.”
Maybe failure is just one part of it, then again, I’ll never stop watching bike films and edits. There is a reason why I love them and why they’re worth watching. I’m just saying, they’re missing that critical element of their story to bring about life changing reactions. Other than just to get out and ride your bike!
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.