Daily Archives: July 6, 2011

Two Wheeled Mayhem, Part 1

Every now and then something you thought was very hard turns out to be very easy. I have been meaning to get my motorcycle license for years now and was often heard to complain about the complicated logistics involved:  getting a permit and then buying or borrowing a bike and practicing in an empty lot somewhere until sufficient skill is gained in order to try the test. Did you ever see Pee Wee’s Big Adventure? Remember when the bikers lend Pee Wee a motorcycle and he drives straight into a billboard? That actually happens all the time. Seriously, I have heard at least a dozen variations of the “Let me take it for a spin” tragedy. I am deathly afraid to wreck a borrowed bike and I don’t want to buy one and wreck that on day one either.

It turns out the state of Pennsylvania has the solution. A completely free course is offered at various times during the warmer months to train new riders in the fundamentals. Now I can get training and tips by professional instructors rather than take the risk of becoming “that guy” and laying down a friend’s bike. I can flog a bike owned by Tom Corbett with no remorse whatsoever.

Until my course date arrives I have been looking to get my motorcycle fix in the Film and Audio section and have not been disappointed.

Faster is an incredible documentary about the Moto GP, the top level of motorcycle racing. These utterly fearless riders reach speeds in excess of 200 mph in the straights. It must be seen to be believed. Narrated by actor and motorcycle nut Ewan MacGregor, the film takes us through the 2001 and 2002 seasons, introducing the viewer to a range of fascinating characters. Foremost is the hot shot Valentino Rossi, winning race after race with apparent ease. His arch rival is another Italian, Max Biaggi, who sports what must be the world’s most perfect goatee. Aussie vet Garry McCoy’s struggles with painful injury and American rookie John Hopkins’ first races on the Moto circuit are gripping stories. The racers and their supporting cast construct compelling narratives and are rarely overshadowed by the roar and snarl of their dangerous and potent machines.

 A host of past champions like Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey provide commentaries that explain the Moto GP’s rich history, giving immediate context for a viewer new to the sport.  Anyone interested in that peculiar side of human nature, the aspect drawn to fierce competition and danger will be very interested to watch this exciting documentary. After it was over I was left hungry for more. But there was more! Disc two featured the sequel Faster and Faster, a whole other season of coverage to watch.

That still wasn’t enough. Thankfully CLP has the next follow up, The Doctor, The Tornado, and the Kentucky Kid. This one centers on the Moto GP leg in here in America, the Red Bull Grand Prix at Laguna Seca in July of 2005.

A completely different motorcycling experience is available in another stupendous documentary, Exploring the Deserts of the Earth. This grand yet understated film documents a journey by motorcycle across all the deserts of the earth. Director Michael Martin and photographer Elke Wallner spend 900 days on a BMW, stopping periodically to capture some of the most breathtaking desert scenes one can imagine. Difficult customs officials and extremes of terrain and temperature are stoically overcome time and time again in this real life adventure. The film was incredible, the journey was incredible, and yet the documentary proceeds with no fanfare or air of self congratulation. Remarkably, the pair traveled without a chase vehicle of any kind. Just the two on a heavily laden BMW.

The documentary features 12 episodes, clocking in at 357 minutes! The generous length provides a lot of time to feature the people they encounter along the way, ranging from nomads who count their wealth in horses to gulf Sheikhs surrounded in gilt splendor. I found it peculiarly fascinating when the pair came to the good old U.S. to tour our deserts. Michael Martin displayed a detached interest here identical to that which he showed in other places.  Upon encountering an American couple vacationing in Nevada he declares that they are “typical Americans.” I found this jarring and humorous. I am an American, I am supposed to point at things and other people and declare what is typical! Oh well, turnabout is fair play, another illusion justly shattered.

Whether speeding along at over 200 mph or crawling across deep dunes, any one of these documentaries will provide a rewarding view into the world of motorcycling. And do watch Pee Wee again, while you are at it. While it’s only a bicycle he’s after, it certainly does a wonderful job of showing the love one can feel for a two wheeled machine.


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