Stuff Fatty Loves: Bicycle Dreams

04.18.2011 | 10:43 am

201104180710.jpg A “TODAY is Your Last Chance to Register for 100 Miles of Nowhere” Note from Fatty: Registration for the 4th Annual 100 Miles of Nowhere ends tonight at Midnight, CT. Which means that if you’re planning to ride it, you need to register now.

As a quick recap, The 100 Miles of Nowhere — The Race Without a Place — is an event where you ride your bike for 100 miles by riding the shortest (and, often, most ridiculous) course you can imagine. It’ll be hard, you’ll have fun, and you’ll help Team Fatty help LiveStrong in the fight against cancer. For details, read this post.

Men, click here to register. Women, click here to register.

And then mark June 4 on your calendar for the strangest, most awesome 100 mile event of your life.

Stuff Fatty Loves: Bicycle Dreams

201104180732.jpg If you do something enough — and by “enough,” I mean “too much” — that something will get into your head. It will burrow in and start occupying a space way out of proportion to its actual importance.

You can get so close to a single tree that you forget there even is a forest. You can get so close to a tree, in fact, that all you see is a couple square inches of bark. And then, if you lean your forehead against the tree, you have to strain hard to see anything at all.

As a guy who has, from time to time, stared intently at a couple of square inches of bark for months at a time, I found myself empathizing with the people in Bicycle Dreams — an excellent documentary about the 2005 Race Across America (RAAM).

I also found myself thinking. And asking myself some questions.

It’s a rare movie that does that to me.

I Recognize These Guys

Bicycle Dreams concentrates on a handful of solo racers. On one hand, this means that some people who undoubtedly had compelling stories to tell never even appeared on screen.

On the other hand, this also means that for the people the show does concentrate on, you have enough time to start to get to know a little bit about them. Why they’re there. What they’re going through.

And if you do any kind of endurance racing — no, not necessarily ultra-mega-endurance, just plain ol’ endurance — you find yourself identifying with what they say.

When one of the leading racers, Jure Robic, says of the race, “It gets like poison into you. I like…I love this race,” I found myself nodding in agreement. The key words in what he said seemed carefully considered: I’ve had an event take over my system like a poison. I’ve felt an attachment to a race that felt so emotional and strong I’d call it love.

When I watched how personally involved the racers’ crews were — watching how they would beg with and plead with and calm and care for and make hard decisions for their riders, I thought about crews I’ve seen at races and how racers are only a small part of a racing team and how the crew carries the heavier burden.

And when I saw the complete exhaustion and hallucinations some of the riders experienced, I thought about how I felt after riding the Kokopelli.

But in each of these cases (and many more like them), I really only had enough of a basis of comparison to understand what these guys were going through a little bit.

I mean, I’ve had crews give up a weekend for me, but never two-plus weeks. I’ve gotten involved in training, but I’ve never quit my job and flown around the world to do a race. And while I was completely wiped after riding the Kokopelli for 18 hours, the first people to abandon the RAAM had ridden more than twice that amount of time — the winner of the race would have slept around eleven hours in eight days. Unbelievable.

So I guess I’m saying I can relate to these guys because of my own experiences, but only just barely. These guys take my most obsessive race experiences, and then multiply them by ten. Or more.

I Like These Guys

I don’t want to portray this Bicycle Dreams as a movie about obsessive-compulsives on bikes. The fact is, most of the guys doing this race are around my age — guys in their thirties and forties. And I like them, because they’re not too different from me. They talk about looking for meaning in riding their bikes forever; I talk forever (this blog is now six years old) about riding my bike.

Over and over, while watching this show, I turned to The Runner and would comment on how I thought I’d be doing in the same situation — whether it be a hallucinating rider, a rider who has to don a makeshift neckbrace, the rider whose exhaustion is so complete he can no longer bring an image of his wife and child to mind. These guys, at least from what I saw in the movie, were candid enough about their experience that I couldn’t help but imagine myself right there with them.

And I found myself rooting for every single one of them.

In particular, I found myself identifying with a particular rider — Dr. Bob Breedlove — who was riding his sixth RAAM (he had completed each of the previous five attempts). In one of the first shots of the man, he’s asked how he’s doing. He replies “Another day in paradise.”

I turned to The Runner and said, “That’s the guy I want to be like when I grow up.” I want to be the guy who, once he’s picked a challenge, embraces it and enjoys it and soaks up the fact that he’s doing something pretty remarkable.


It seems weird to want to avoid spoilers for an event that happened nearly six years ago, but I’m going to assume that most people don’t ordinarily follow RAAM any closer than I do, and I’ll just say this: partway through Bicycle Dreams, the numerous expected dramatic moments are interrupted by a tragedy, and it bothered me enough that the first time I watched this movie I wasn’t able to concentrate on the rest of the film. In fact, it bothered me enough that I didn’t feel like I could write a review about the movie (which I’ve had for more than a year now) until I watched it again last night.

Then, watching the show again last night, I found myself saddened by a whole different event. Many of the riders do ultra-endurance rides because there’s something sublime about riding your bike well past where you thought your limits are. I nodded my head in agreement. If you’re willing to push yourself, you deserve an epiphany.

But then one of the riders pulls over to the side of the road and says, quietly, “I’m done.” He had his epiphany, and his epiphany was that racing wasn’t worth what it had cost him.

He says it with such conviction, such certainty, such clarity, that I can’t imagine a person who’s dedicated a big chunk of his life to biking not feeling a little bit shaken.

So, be ready. Bicycle Dreams is inspiring and exciting — Stephen Auerbach deserves huge kudos for the beautiful look and compelling telling of the story — but you’ll probably find yourself asking yourself some serious questions afterward.

Wrapping up, then. Is this movie for everyone? I don’t know. I’m sure that my mom would experience it differently than I did. One thing is certain, though: If you ride a bike and have, at some point, thought about pushing yourself to find out what your limits really are, Bicycle Dreams is a movie you absolutely must see.


  1. Comment by Richard Masoner | 04.18.2011 | 10:51 am

    Bicycle Dreams is indeed a fantastic film.

    Sadly, Jure Robic was hit by a car and killed last September while he was on a training ride in his native Slovenia, just three months after his fifth RAAM victory.

  2. Comment by Cranium | 04.18.2011 | 11:00 am

    Fatty, you should review stuff more often. You kick butt at it.

    Thanks. I like writing reviews, but they’re not easy. It’s much less effort to just write a lot of fart jokes. – FC

  3. Comment by Scott R | 04.18.2011 | 11:09 am

    Thanks for the new movie recommendation.

    I recieved my blu copy of Race Across the Sky this weekend, and my wife got to see it for the first time. I was glad to be able to share it with her.

    I still enjoy your “That’s why you race a singlespeed” way too much.

  4. Comment by MattC | 04.18.2011 | 11:17 am

    I have been ’semi’ following the RAAM the last few years because a local lady (who’s team has won it a few times now, including last year) does it…she and her husband owned a LBS here in town until about 2 years ago when they finally shut the doors. She is an amazing rider who could most certainly crush me like an insect on 2 wheels. I know she will most likely be doing the Tour of Calif TT in Solvang in the Civilian Pro riders group (they pay $$$ to do that)…she’s pretty darn fast on her TT rig! Of course she and her team aren’t doing the RAAM solo..that requires a special kind of person and I can’t possibly fathom the mental strength required to finish that race.

    Excellent review btw…I agree w/ Cranium…do these more often. I will surely put this on my netflix list. Of course my wife will have ZERO interest in watching it w/ me. Such is life.

  5. Comment by Ross | 04.18.2011 | 11:29 am

    This is an excellent podcast that touches on this very race (sampling exceprts from the movie) as well as human limits as a whole. It’s a great way to spend an hour on the rollers.

    Radiolab – Limits

  6. Comment by Rumpled | 04.18.2011 | 12:30 pm

    Dang, I can’t find it on netflix – now I just have to buy it and actually support the filmmaker.

  7. Comment by UltraRob | 04.18.2011 | 1:49 pm

    I doubt there are many that saw Bicycle Dreams like I did. I rode 2,000 miles before dropping out at the Mississippi in 2006. Still I think even most non-cyclists would enjoy it. I think in a small way they’d appreciate how hard the riders push themselves even if they think they’re total crazy.

  8. Comment by Squirrelhead | 04.18.2011 | 1:49 pm

    I have heard about a whisper about this movie but hadn’t felt compelled to see it until I read your review. I recently bought Race Across the Sky and was amazed at how it sucked me in. I felt crushed when they were cutting people off for time and elated when people pushed through and crossed the finish line. Leadville is on my hit list now. I have a TON of work to do to be ready for it but I am keeping my eye on it. I cannot even begin to understand what it would take to do RAAM.

  9. Comment by Anne | 04.18.2011 | 2:27 pm

    Bicycle dreams is fantastic movie filmed duing RAAM 2005. Chris MacDonald whose photo is used on the cover and participating in the movie is my Coach and like us fights cancer. He lost his father in June 2010 to cancer.

  10. Comment by RandoBoy | 04.18.2011 | 2:48 pm

    I crewed for a two-man team in 2008, Gran Fondo Fixies. They were the first guys to do this race on fixed-gear bikes. It was two weeks of heaven and hell.

    As a friend of mine says, “ultra-cycling is a fringe segment of a fringe sport.” The reasons that any of us do it are very personal, and none of us really understands them.

  11. Comment by Mick | 04.18.2011 | 4:20 pm

    The captain of my club here in sydney and a bunch of his friends from here and the US are about to do the RAAM this year. What i find inspiring about these guys is that they’re all HIV+ and all incredibly strong and competitive – living proof that its not a death sentence anymore.
    Well worth supporting

  12. Comment by Avi Supa B | 04.18.2011 | 4:48 pm

    Sounds like a great movie. Definitely gotta check it out.

    I just recently started riding (last month) and reading your blog (last week) and I am hooked. Keep it up!

  13. Comment by Ashley | 04.18.2011 | 5:01 pm

    I bought the DVD last year…such a great movie. When I heard Robic passed away last year, it’s like I had lost a friend.

  14. Comment by KanyonKris | 04.18.2011 | 5:08 pm

    How much do you charge to rent it?

    Don’t fear “I’m done”. My 2nd year into mountain bike racing I realized it wasn’t for me. The good news is, returning to trail, group and other for-fun riding was as sweet as ever. Trying something new and pushing yourself are worthwhile, but if isn’t working for you bail on it and go back to what you love or try something else.

  15. Comment by Jo | 04.18.2011 | 7:31 pm

    Chills. I have started riding brevets this year and rode my first 600k this month. It’s funny how one’s perspective on life can be changed by such a simple mechanical device and will power. I see doumentaries or races/tours and watch the expressions on the cyclists faces and identify with every ounce of my being and know that I still can’t begin to touch what people who do the longest of endurance rides go through which makes it all the more attractive somehow. Thanks for sharing your thoughs.

  16. Comment by Graham | 04.19.2011 | 5:42 am

    There is something powerful about finding out what your limits are. My endurance sport of choice is hiking (haven’t tried long distance cycling yet)and there is something amazing about reaching your absolute limit.

    I’m not sure that you can communicate this epiphany to someone else, they just have to experience it for themselves, but it is something that everyone would benefit from.

    My thought is that most people haven’t pushed themselves and don’t actually know yet of what they’re capable. Perhaps this is the source of angst we see in so many?

  17. Comment by The Banter | 04.19.2011 | 8:47 am

    I like the same guy you did, but for different reasons. Some guys just got awesome names. Imagine going through life with the name of “Breedlove.” Oh the possibilities.

  18. Comment by Adventure Monkey | 04.19.2011 | 1:22 pm

    That is a great movie and my wife even liked it, which is saying a lot. The movie says a lot about life. We all know how a bike ride or ultra-endurance event parallels life. I’ve only done a 200 mile race and even I could empathize with the riders in this movie.

  19. Comment by Mark | 04.19.2011 | 10:38 pm

    I usually follow RAAM off and on because it goes over the Colorado mountains where I grew up (Robic lost his chance at 15 mph average going over Wolf Creek Pass last year. RIP). This year however, my daughter’s boyfriend is on a 2-man team – Team Simple Mobile, so I’ll be following it a little closer. I’ll definitely get the movie, your review did the trick!

  20. Comment by Dustin | 04.21.2011 | 10:27 pm

    If you liked Bicycle Dreams then checkout Ride the Divide. Speaking of which I am taking off saturday to ride the TransAmerica trail east to west, but I expect to finish in months not days.



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