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A Television Show About Bicycle Travel?

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At age seventeen I conducted my first long distance bicycle tour down the California Coastline. Two days after reaching the Mexican/American border, I started my first year of college. Four years after that I had a degree in film and television and an emphasis in editing. I worked in the film industry for about a year (mixing sound on short films and documentaries) before deciding the production side of the industry just wasn’t for me. But during all those years, I continued to travel by bike and my interest in the film and television never relented.

After finishing my second year of college I embarked on my third long distance bike tour – a month and a half long journey up the East Coast of the United States. On that trip, I decided to take my video camera with me. My plan was to return home, edit the footage together and create a short film about my bicycle adventures.

Unfortunately, once I got home I realized there wasn’t enough material to make a movie. Most of the footage I had shot was of barn houses, trees and wide-open spaces. There was no action, no interviews and not much to say. In the end, I edited together about five minutes worth of footage and called it quits. The story was over and that was that.

To see the video I made from my 2003 bicycle tour up the East Coast of the United States, click the play button on the video below:

Since that trip in 2003, I’ve been approached numerous times about creating and/or consulting for a bicycle touring documentary or TV show. It’s an exciting idea… and something I’d jump at if the treatment and people were right, but such a situation has never presented itself.

The problem with each of the pitches I received in the past was that the producers/directors planned to go out there, shoot some footage of people riding their bikes and hope that something exciting would happen. Sadly, they thought this would be enough to create a successful program. I, on the other hand, knew that this wouldn’t be enough. I learned this lesson the hard way from my failed video above.

You Must Have A Plan!

The problem with a documentary or TV show about bicycle touring is that on most days of a bicycle tour, not a whole lot happens. Most days are pretty much the same. You wake up, pack up your bike, and hit the road. You then spend the next 4-8 hours in the saddle, passing through towns, climbing up hills, and stopping occasionally to eat a snack or take a sip from your water bottle.

When something eventful does finally happen, it’s unexpected and likely won’t be captured by the camera crew. The only time anything really does happen is when the rider is off his bike, either in the morning or at night after he’s finished his ride.

And even then, many of the events that do happen on bicycle journeys are not external things like car crashes and cougar attacks. Instead, they are internal things like the thoughts and ideas that go through the rider’s mind as he’s peddaling, meeting new people, and experiencing new things. Those internal processes are hard to show on a TV set or a movie screen and are one of the main hurdles that producers need to face when attempting to create a show about bicycle travel.

Is A Bicycle Touring Show Possible?

That being said, I think it would be possible to create a show based around bicycle travel. To make it work, the ride would have to be carefully planned in advance. There would have to be activities to film in the mornings and at night. You would have to constantly interview the riders and ask them what they’re feeling, thinking, and experiencing. You’d have to have a crew that was willing to get dirty and riders who are entertaining to watch. Most importantly, you’d have to have a plan!

Would You Watch A Show About Bicycle Travel?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the possibility of a bicycle touring documentary or TV show, but I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.

If there were a TV show on the Discovery Channel or the Travel Channel (or any other channel for that matter) about bicycle travel, do you think people would watch it? If so, what do you think it would take to make the show successful? What would you like to see in a show about bicycle touring? Would it be more like Survivor where cast members are voted off? Or would it be more like Huell Howser’s California Gold, a laid back look at new worlds just outside your doorstep? Or maybe it would be more like Survivorman, where we see our riders struggle with the elements and try to get out alive?

What would you want to see in a show about bicycle travel?

About Darren Alff

Darren Alff is a world-renowned authority on bicycle touring and is the founder of BicycleTouringPro.com - the world's most popular bicycle touring website and how-to information source. He is the author of "The Bicycle Touring Blueprint" and three additional cycling books. Darren has dedicated his life to helping others conduct the bicycle tour of their dreams. His websites, books, email newsletter, products and public appearances now inspire and assist hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world.

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11 Comments

  1. Dan Winkler

    November 2, 2008 at 2:26 am

    If you think bicycle touring can be boring on film, where at least you’re passing through communities and meeting people, wouldn’t it be much, much more boring to be out on the ocean rowing a boat with nothing in sight for days and days? It sure would. But Roz Savage does a good job of making that interesting so look at what she’s done and the bike touring on TV problem should seem easier by comparison: http://rozsavage.com/

  2. Doug Heller

    November 4, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    I think a program such as this would not draw much interest in a Survivor type format. The reality scene has been overdone. I think this would be more successful as a documentary or multi part documentay. I would need to have a draw such as cyclists riding across the US. Don’t just follow the single ride across the US but discuss other shorter trips, touring companies, the different touring styles ie…self contained, supported, credit card etc…) Discussions of why some choose to travel in this manner as opposed to in a car, plane, train, and so on. This program I think will draw those that currently cycle, tour, travel, or those that have had the slightest inkiling of traveling by bicycle. The camers will not always capture the exciting moments as you say, but it’s about the entire journey as a whole not just a single exciting moment. There have been shows on everything else under the sun, why not this?!

  3. Darren Alff

    November 4, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    Dan & Doug, thank you for your comments and ideas here. I appreciate it.

  4. David Waverly

    November 12, 2008 at 10:17 am

    i think a t.v./movie about bicycle touring would be way cool,i would watch it,but then again i am into bicycle touring. i do think it would inspire a lot of folks to a least check out bicycle touring. so if you have someone that wants to do the film ,GO FOR IT !!!

  5. Bob G

    November 23, 2008 at 7:11 am

    When I first go into biking in 1992 at age 51, I saw a series on PBS that was titiled “Fat Man In France” I believe. It was about a rather stout man who traveled from place to place in France by bicycle. His enjoyment of the cuisine at each stop was the gold at the end of the ride. It was an inspiring bicycle touring show.

    I don’t see the show as being an athletic event but as “Bikes are for stopping and not for going” themed as was the statement I believe I remember from the show.

    My wife and I, ages 64 and 66 now, love to tour but we do it with a tour group. Don’t have the courage to do it on our own.

  6. Michael

    November 23, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Out local TV station here in western MD regularly airs/re-airs a 1 hour documentary about riding the C&O Canal. It’s 184 miles from Georgetown in DC to Cumberland, MD. It is pretty well done and I’ll bet it took a lot of tape and editing to pull it all together. Kinda the way Les Shroud (sp) does for Surviver Man.

  7. Jon Champagne

    March 20, 2009 at 10:19 am

    I just got back from a coast-to-coast bike trip last fall. We started in Yorktown and made it out to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. I continued on down the coast for a while after my partner left to go back home. Anyway the only thing that’s been on my mind since then is creating a television show about biking. I agree with you that there has to be some kind of spark to the show, it can’t just be about the lessons you learn about life when you’re on the road. Those are definitely an important, if not most the important, part of the trip. But there has got to be more to it to keep the audience intrigued on what you’re doing week to week. Lots of debauchery, planned stops at certain events, and a good producer to ask the right questions to the bikers. I’m bad about updating my blog, but I’m awesome at getting into some sticky situations and meeting random people, which pretty much defined my trip this summer. Anyway, I believe with the right crew of people this is something that could be done, and I, with my crew, would love to be the face behind it. Its something I’ve put a lot of thought into and would be interested in what you think about it. If you want to chat sometime, hit me up. I’ll be around. Happy Travels!

  8. Jim Bird

    June 12, 2009 at 3:49 am

    Guys I am trawling through the internet looking for ideas and ways to find a production company and make a program about cycling. I love touring. I recently completed Lands end to John O Groats (The length of the UK), and so many cool things happened it was untrue.

    I am 24, love cycling and travel and would love to make a documentary about cycling. I would travel to any country and cycle as many miles as needed.

    Even if the program took years of travelling to get enough epic footage I would still do it!!

  9. Franck

    June 17, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Hey Darren,

    so where you at with this brilliant idea ???

  10. Dylan

    September 13, 2010 at 1:18 am

    My friend and I had this exact same idea, doing a bike trip from A – B and filming it, but we mixed it in with bodyboarding and searching for waves as a focus. We included interviews with locals and people who have been to Indonesisa

    We called the trip eat.sleep.surf – Cycling Banda Aceh to Bali (Indonesia)

    We produced the DVD ourselves and are pretty happy with it.

    Check out the trailer at http://www.eatsleepsurf.com.au

    We have approached Nat Geo Adventure and Fuel Tv but both rejected it as the quality wasn’t upto scratch.

    It was hard to find a balance of cycling and waiting and finding surf but it all worked out in the end as cycle touring usualy does.

    Would love comments.
    Dylan

  11. Bicycle Touring Pro

    September 17, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Dylan, I watched the trailer for your film and it looks great. If you are interested, please send me a copy of your film and I will review it here on BicycleTouringPro.com. I’ll email you now with my mailing address.

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