Title image: Torque (2004)
Winter’s a bummer for most Canadian motorcyclists, but it’s also a great chance to watch a few motorcycle movies, because who’s got time to do that in the summer, when you’re out riding?
With that in mind, here are a few recommendations from CMG’s long-suffering writers, who’ve either watched these films, or heard really good things about them from our moto-friends.
On Any Sunday
This is the first film on the list because it is arguably the first great documentary about North American motorcycling, and decades later, Bruce Brown’s work holds up. What’s great about this film? The trailer says it all: “We’ve made a new film about another great sport — motorcycling.” On Any Sunday didn’t hyper-focus on a single aspect of riding, it took everything in, from flat track racing to hillclimbs to desert scrambles to just plain fooling around on two wheels.
It’s a symbol of simpler times, and while the bikes may not have been as high-tech as our modern machines, they were no less thrilling. Since it’s from the ’70s, it may seem a little goofy by today’s standards, but if you haven’t seen this movie, you should — and if you have seen it, you should watch it again.
In 1995-1996, British schoolteacher Austin Vince, his brother Gerald, and a host of friends rode a pack of beat-up Suzuki DR350s around the world on the longest route possible, in the shortest time possible. Or at least, that was the original idea behind the trip.
In those days, fairly soon after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia and the central Asian “Stans” were uncharted territory for motorcyclists, and the sheer audacity and dumb luck required to make this trip happen are inspiring. Sure, the film is an obviously amateur effort, but it’s still extremely enjoyable to watch interesting people visit difficult, even life-threatening places.
If you watch the film and end up liking it, the follow-up, titled Terra Circa, follows a similar route with some of the same riders, and has better production values. Mondo Sahara, the third film in the series, is a much shorter jaunt through Spain and northern Africa, but has even better film work.
Dust to Glory
This film shows racer Mouse McCoy’s attempt to ironman the Baja 1000, North America’s biggest offroad race, by riding the entire 1,600-km event without swapping out for another rider. There’s lots of footage of trucks and cars in this flick, because the Baja 1000 isn’t just about bikes. However, McCoy’s racelong descent into madness is highly entertaining, and the footage of the other racers, particularly the battle between Honda’s top riders, is a top way to spend a winter evening.
Mark Neale understands speed. He’s been making fantastic films about roadracing for years, and this one really made his name. It was filmed over 2001 and 2002, during the last days of two-stroke GP racing, and was the first modern doc to really dig into MotoGP. You get epic battles between Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi, along with some focus on Garry McCoy and John Hopkins, who were both pretty hot in that era.
Watch it, and you’ll get a great idea of just how much roadracing has grown up in the past decade and a half. If you like this film, Neale’s made a lot of great roadracing titles since; check out Faster & Faster, The Doctor, The Tornado and the Kentucky Kid, Charge, Zero Emissions/Maximum Speed and Hitting the Apex.
We couldn’t find an online trailer for 2003’s Faster (and don’t bother with The Rock’s 2010 revenge action flick of the same name), but here’s a pretty good one for its sequel, Fastest.
Crazed bikies battling it out with motor-happy cops in a post-apocalyptic environment, where the rules have vanished? Just the sort of mindless schlock that can kill a Saturday evening when it’s too snowy outside to leave the house. Its sequel, The Road Warrior, is a better movie, and its recent remake is fabulous, but the original has a charm all its own.
Fun fact: Most of the riders in the film were actual members of an Australian biker gang, and the scenes with motorcycle patrolman Goose riding his KZ1000 at speed were actually shot with a cameraman on the back of the bike. The special effects in the movie are spectacular when you realize this was done long before the days of CGI; when you see a car drive right through a van, that really happened. When you see a biker knocked off a bridge at speed, that really happened.
Another fun fact: This was Mel Gibson’s first movie. Apparently, he was working as a stevedore on the Sydney docks and gave a friend a drive to the auditions. Mel had no real aspirations to be an actor, and he’d been in a fight the night before and was looking pretty beaten up; the casting agent saw him and told him to come back the following week when they’d be casting freaks and thugs. And the rest is history.
Easy Rider has always straddled the line between hippy camp and actual art. It earned starring actor Peter Fonda an Academy nomination, and was also nominated for best screenplay, and won First Film Award at Cannes in 1969. Despite this, it’s very much a symbol of its age, and it’s a great target for parody.
The film starts with a big score in a cocaine deal, follows the bikers as they search for the American dream with the proceeds of crime, and ends with them saying “We blew it.” Were they talking about the freewheeling hippy era, or about the American dream in general? It’s hard to believe all that free love and drug consumption could end badly …
A few years back, some film industry insiders observed the success of the Fast & Furious film franchise and decided to do the same thing with motorcycle movies. That’s how we got the 2004 film Torque, with an improbably silly plot blended with ridiculous stunts. Actually, let’s rephrase that: the stunts themselves involve some impressive riding (some of it by Mouse McCoy, of Dust to Glory!), but the idea of running a sportbike through a moving train, or at top speed through a forest, is just too much, especially when you look closely and see it’s just sportbike bodywork on an enduro bike in some scenes.
It’s too bad this film was such a stinker, as it looks great, especially in the opening scenes, which will inspire you to head to California and carve canyons ASAP. But since you’re likely not able to do that, pop this into the DVD player, enjoy the good scenes, and mock the ridiculous stuff. Remember, this movie was so badly panned that nobody’s attempted to make anything similar since.
However, if you’re somehow left wanting more, you can always watch Biker Boyz. It’s just about as dumb, maybe worse, but at least there are no dirt bikes pretending to be superbikes.
So you want to cuddle up with the main squeeze, but he/she doesn’t want to watch greasy outlaw bikers? Never fear, this movie instead offers a heart-moving story about the greatness of Canada, the value of life, and how much fun you can have with a Norton in seven days. It’s a little-known CanCon classic, and might inspire you to take a road trip of your own this summer.
Take None Give None
Back to the dirty one-percenters. This 2016 documentary explores the stories of the Chosen Few MC, the oldest integrated outlaw club in the US, based in South Central LA. It’s an honest look, the work of photographers Gusmano Cesaretti and Kurt Mangum with a team of videographers, and was screened at the Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival. It won best-in-show at motorcycle film festivals in Portland and Brooklyn. Check it out, if you want a candid peak at life underground.
And here’s another movie tie-in: Cliff Vaughs, builder of the two famous choppers in Easy Rider, was a Chosen Few MC charter member. The motorcycle world is a small place.
It’s a tough gig, being Evel Knievel’s son, and trying to break his records. Robbie Knievel spent his whole life trying to live up to and then surpass his famous father. And he did so on many occasions, jumping farther than daddy Evel, but it all came at a cost. This documentary, directed by Canadian Jesse James Miller, is about Robbie’s journey back from years of self-destruction. It screened at the Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival, and was well-received. Check out the trailer below.
The Black Six
And finally — what moto movie list would be complete without a classic drive-in bikesploitation flick from the ’70s? This film is especially remarkable because it’s about an all-black biker gang, meaning it doubles as blacksploitation as well. As the trailer says, these guys are “Six times rougher than Shaft, Six times tougher than Superfly.” Sounds good!
A lot of the movie’s plot is about battles against racist whitey, sometimes with highly amusing fight scenes. The trailer says you can “See the Black Six waste 150 motorcycle dudes,” and while we’ve never kept an exact head count, dozens and dozens of dirty outlaw bikers and racist rednecks go down in brawls, and it’s all pretty funny stuff.
The actors are actually NFL players, including gridiron stars like Mean Joe Green, which adds to the overall ridiculousness of the movie. But hey, we’re not complaining, and neither will you, when you press play. Just have realistic expectations going in.