Did you know that the current land speed record for a bicycle is 170 miles per hour? In order to achieve this speed, the bicycle must pace behind a motorized vehicle. The bike is towed for the first mile and then released and the rider cycles in the slip stream of a race car for four miles and the last mile is where the speed is measured. The current speed record was set by a woman on the salt flats of Utah. This story, called The World of Speed, was one of the short films as part of the Bicycle Film Festival Chicago #2.
We’re fortunate to have an opportunity to spend 1 hour and 53 minutes completely engrossed with the magic of bikes. The Bicycle Film Festival (BFF) has been around for 20 years, previously showing collections of films in theaters around the world. We had the first virtual BFF Chicago in February and now they released Chicago #2 with 14 short films. Women are in the spotlight this year. While some of the topics might be predictable because they are a reflection of our times, such as a Bike Lives Matter bicycle ride in New York, the Tour of Rwanda road bike race, or a BMX competition, the way the film makers address the subjects are unique. For example the Black Lives Mater ride showed aerial shots of New York City, the African race was the anthesis of a race because it is filmed as a “race” in slow motion, and the BMX competition was not only about women competitors but how they support each other.
Other topics featured in film shorts you could never have predicted:
Cargo bike – a woman in China collects Styrofoam boxes from markets in Shanghai, and takes them elsewhere where they can be sold—on a bike. She ties them down high and wide resulting in her only being able to see where she is going straight ahead. You might wonder why she does not just make several trips with smaller loads, but she said a round trip takes several hours so that a larger load enables her to save time. She rounds out her story talking about this lifestyle she has chosen and it's impact on her family, and how the police treat her.
Bonding on a bike – two men on road bikes in cycling kit are riding up a steep hill engaged in amusing chatter. The back and forth is around how out of shape one of them is, the ideal pedaling cadence, and relationships. Banter is around one man’s breakup with his girlfriend, the other man confessing he is now dating her, and their emotions around this topic ("If you want I’ll stop seeing her", "I want you to stop seeing her", "Okay I will stop seeing her, wait, I like her too much to stop seeing her"). Anyone who has tackled challenging terrain or done long rides can appreciate how your mind wanders and here we see the thoughts between them spoken out loud.
Father and son – we get to meet Erik from El Centro, CA , a BMX rider, and his father. The reason why their stories are so special is because Erik only has one leg. He lost a leg in a skateboard versus bus incident. He talks about his positive attitude towards life and why he will not let his disability limit his possibilities in life and his father comments how pleased he is with how his son has dealt with his circumstances. Besides a positive attitude he demonstrates BMX tricks so good and you do not even notice that he is biking with one leg.
Meeting people on a bike – a woman on a bike physically runs into man on a bike and they engage in conversation while in the background we see images of how their relationship progresses after that chance meeting. It is a clever way to talk about relationships and how you want to spend time with people that share your interests.
Ghost bikes – a moving story about a man in New York City that creates street displays to remember people who have been killed while riding a bike. We’ve seen them around Chicago, a bike painted completely white chained to the spot the cyclist lost their life with their name and photo. The narrator in the film was creating these ghost bikes starting in 2011 and then one of his friends was killed riding a bike in 2014, making the story even more emotional especially when he remarks that any cyclist could end up as a ghost bike in a second.
The bike as an enabler of education – a fleet of donated bikes to a Kenya girls school will enable girls to get an education and realize their dreams. To get to the girls school in this community, girls have to walk a long distance or risk harassment by men who offer rides on motor cycles. This presents the choice of arriving at school exhausted and unable to give their full effort to their studies or risking getting in trouble with men. The donated bicycles are a game-changer, allowing the girls to get to school safety and with energy to spare and a path forward in their lives through education.
Since this is called BFF Chicago #2 there is a local connection--short films are included about the work of Active Transportation Alliance, a local sponsor, and the Southwest Bicycle Collective. Besides the feel good stories, it is nice to know that proceeds of the BFF are shared with local advocacy organizations. Whether in Chicago, New York, California, Utah, Kenya for Rwanda it is all about the bike and it's power to change the world.
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