Downhill bikes, and even today’s 'trail' bikes with 5in to 6in of travel, allow the average mountain biker to take on terrain considered ‘extreme’ only a short time ago. These bikes have changed the way we ride, and with that has come demand for more aggressive trails. That demand, and the way it has pushed some riders to flout the law, is the subject of the documentary film, Pedal-Driven.
It's the brainchild of Jamie Howell, a filmmaker with a passion for making documentaries. He founded Howell at the Moon in 1999, which grew into Howell at the Moon Productions in 2006 when he partnered with Jeff Ostenson, who now serves as the company’s executive producer. Most of the company’s films focus on sustainability of some sort. They’ve explored all types of fields, from agriculture to mountain bike trail use.
“The underlying motivation here [for Pedal-Driven] was to look at stewardship and sustainability issues, which is a little bit different than most bike movies,” Howell told BikeRadar. But Howell isn’t a cyclist, and didn’t knowingly set out to make a movie about illegal mountain bike trails. Rather, he stumbled upon the issue while working on a commercial.
In the summer of 2008 his company was commissioned to make a series of shorts for a town in his home state of Washington. “We were shooting some mountain biking footage for a tourism piece, locally, and it was so sweet,” said Howell. “Some friends of ours – freeriders – were out riding for us to shoot it. They said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re welcome to use all that stuff, but you can’t tell anyone where the trails are’. We asked why not, and they told us they were all illegal. And that’s when we first became aware of it, but it was going on all over.”
Without a cycling background, Howell brings a documentarian’s perspective to Pedal-Driven. The two-year project started with a look at the opposite sides of the issue in an unsustainable game of enforcement; land managers were hunting for illegal trails and riders, and mountain bikers and trail builders were doing their best to evade them.
Officially sanctioned bike-only trails are one solution – this is Ryan's Eternal Flow at Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park in Washington State
“We didn’t want to cast bikers or land managers in the 'bad guy' role,” said Howell. “The ‘bad guy’ in this movie is doing anything in an unsustainable way, because that just screws up the future. The practical recognition in the movie is: bikes aren’t going away, so how are we going to deal with them? There’s a demand for that type of recreation that needs to be serviced – enforcement isn't a viable alternative. It’s a dead end, it’s not good for the land managers, they don’t have the resources to do it, and it’s terrible for the public moral, it just creates a big fight. Pedal-Driven shows places that have evolved past that.”
Pedal-Driven ended up filming in ‘every state in the West’, and Howell takes pride in the fact that his project, in many cases, brought the two opposing sides into the same room and around the same table to talk public moral – in many instances for the first time. It started a dialogue, which has allowed progressive land managers and passionate mountain bikers to work together.
IMBA (the International Mountain Bike Association) is a partner both in endorsement of the message and in financial support of the film, but possibly more important in illustrating the objective document the film presents is Pedal-Driven’s partnership with the US Forest Service. The film was first screened publicly at last year’s Sea Otter Classic and has since been turned into an advocacy tool of both IMBA and the US Forest Service.
Howell offers bike clubs and land managers subsidized licenses to screen the film to raise funds for trail stewardship. “We’ve had well over 100 screenings,” he said. “This is a non-profit film – that’s an important feature – so bike clubs are able to rent this and raise funds through an event for their club. We’ve had clubs raise in excess of US$5,000 and we’re encouraging that. We think it’s a great way to get it out.”
More information in regards to setting up a screening can be found on the Howell at the Moon website. Pedal-Driven can be purchased through the site for $24.99. You can watch the official trailer below: