The greatest riders, the most epic of tricks, or just some classic old-skool mountain bike action. Capturing the spirit of mountain biking on film may have become easier over the years thanks to new technology and equipment, but certain films have just managed to get it right, whether thats catching the mood of a moment, or telling the story of a legend of the sport.
Back in the days when cameras recorded onto actual tape, they were pricey items to get hold of, editing was a time-consuming process, and therefore access was limited. These early films had big budgets, a cinematic look and a US focus, and aimed to cover all aspects of the sport – these are the original mountain bike movies, where it all began.
The first feature-length mountain bike movie to move away from race highlights, Tread showed the skills and banter of the now-legendary Hans ‘No Way’ Wray and Greg Herbold on a road trip through Utah. The second film in the series, ReTread (1996), featured the downhill world champion Missy Giove, DH and XC mountain biker John Tomac and trials rider Libor Karas, AKA ‘the Bouncing Czech’.
Chain Smoke (1996)
Featuring riders like Alison Sydor, Joe Parkin, Randy Lawrence and more, Chain Smoke brought together an eye-catching mixture of downhill, trials and trail mountain biking with a rock soundtrack. Check out the intro sequence.
The UK perspective
The Brits then got involved with films that showed the burgeoning sport on the UK side of the pond from a different perspective. This was driven in large part by our sister magazine, Mountain Biking UK, which gave away VHS films as covermount gifts. Good times.
Pete Tompkins, creator of the Crud Catcher mudguard, decided to make a movie. It featured Jason McRoy and Rob Warner, and managed to make pedalling across a grass field look exciting, with a soundtrack that featured some cool 90s tunes and a psychedelic dream sequence.
This big(ish) budget movie by our mud-spattered sister title MBUK was apparently filmed by a team that made a music video for Oasis. Loosely based around a certain popular film with a similar sounding name name (and we mean very loosely) it provides a very British take on mountain biking and features Steve Peat, Martyn Ashton and Rob Warner.
How do you capture the essence of mountain bike racing? The adrenaline, the build up, the tension and the focus are all elements of elements of a sport that requires determination, dedication, and bags of skill…
This film captured downhill mountain biking at its finest and arguably most successful point in its history. The film follows the UCI MTB DH World Cup circuit around the globe from race to race, capturing the spirit of DH.
3 Minute Gaps (2011)
Named for the amount of time between riders in the top 20 at downhill World Cup races, this was in many ways the last great race film before web edits took over. It’s polished, stylish and expansive.
Modern films: capturing the lifestyle, bringing the creativity
In a modern world where races are broadcast live online and video edits can appear in a matter of hours, mountain bike movies today have to find a way to stand out against the background noise. New technology, new cameras, slick storytelling, innovative techniques and some incredible riding make these films the new classics.
The Collective (2004)
The Collective stands out at the original modern movie, featuring more of a lifestyle vibe and cinematic feel than its predecessors. Plus, of course, some incredible riding.
Life Cycles (2010)
Filmed in high definition, this was something of a game changer when it came out. It’s also a little divisive: some people love its somewhat art-house take on the genre, with very creative sequences and less focus on the rider and personality, while others prefer their films a little more full-on.
Arrival is fun to watch, and looked like it was fun to make too, with some truly eye-popping riding in beautiful locations, plus creative POV sequences. What more could you ask for, really?
Slick, cinematic and extremely classy, UnReal definitely fits under the title of modern classic in the mountain bike movie genre. Flowing sections, amusing intro sequences, great soundtrack and downright beautiful visuals go towards making this one of our favourites.
Biographical: the stories, the legends, the inside info
Mountain biking has always been a sport with a cast of charismatic characters, the careers of many of whom span decades. Their stories provide a different perspective on the sport, and it’s always interesting to get an insiders eye view on things.
Won’t Back Down (2014)
This follows the story of the unequalled Steve Peat, legend among men within mountain biking, and a British MTB hero. Wish a career spanning over two decades, his story shines a light on the story of mountain biking
Reach for the Sky (2015)
What kind of person does it take to want to throw yourself down the red rocky cliffs of the Red Bull rampage? And what impact does the ambition to compete in such an event have on the riders nearest and dearest? Reach for the Sky follows Cam Zink as he pushes the boundaries of freeride mountain biking.
What do you think? Do you agree with our list, or do you reckon we’ve missed something crucial? Or do you have other recommendations? Let us know in the comments below.