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.
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?