Pedal: A documentary that will make you want to go for a bike ride and/or never ride your bike again.
Peter Sutherland's 2001 documentary about New York City bike messengers is a wild ride through the streets of Manhattan, with reality show-style shots of cyclists pouring their hearts out about their passion. With everything from a messenger showing you his makeshift bedroom in an underground cut out off of a subway track, to a rider being slammed by a NYC taxicab, to a rider literally crying over how much he loves to be on his bike.
It's emotional, for sure, but maybe only in a way that can be understood by people who also ride bikes. But for these guys, riding is not only a joy, or a simple function, it is the entirety of their lives. Many of them have been riding for over a decade, through all seasons, usually with zero complaint. Many of these couriers still used pagers and payphones at the time of the filming, which is an amazing thing to watch in itself. It is often the case that the camera man (supposedly on skateboard), is not able to keep up with the courier he is shadowing, and the shot ends as you watch tha person quickly disappear into Manhattan traffic.
Not only are these guys great at their jobs, they feel a huge sense of pride and passion for what they do. The amount of geographical and spacial knowledge it takes to navigate shuch a massive city is intimidating. It is often the case that new couriers quickly fall by the wayside, unable to keep up with the lifestyle, the pressure, the sheer vastness of the workspace.
Pedal also raises a lot of questions about infrastructure and cyclist safety. Shots of riders squeezing between huge trucks at the last second, only to blast into a full intersection, are not uncommon. NYC police had just begun to "crack down" on bad messenger behavior at the time the film was being made, so it is often brought up as a severe point of contention in the messenger community...if they can't beat the traffic through the use of their extreme skill, they won't make enough money to live. If they continue that behavior, they will be fined so much money it will cancel out the work they could have down for that entire day.
Coming in a little under an hour, Pedal flys by, leaving you wanting more from these seemingly crazy rage riders of NYC. In one especially wrenching shot, one of the messengers sits next to his bike, speaking about their love-hate relationship as if his bike was his equal. Wrapped up in that thought is also the realization that he, as a human, is capable of feeling pain and deterioration, while his bike will just keep on rolling.
So if you find yourself taking a break on a hot summer day, still craving some raw cycling action, check out this film. It's worth your time, and may change the way you think about riding the bike.
(Pedal can be found on Youtube by searching "Pedal documentary". Unfortunately, I have yet to find another way to view it.)