In his 90-minute documentary movie, Pedal The World, German-born Felix Starck sets out from home and pedals a bicycle more than 18,000 kilometers through 22 countries in just 365 days. Watch the trailer… and then read my detailed review of the movie below.
Bicycle touring is often a personal endeavor. You don’t do it for fame or fortune. You do it because, for some strange reason, it sounds like something you’d like to do. You want to challenge yourself, see the world, have new experiences and return home a changed individual.
Days on the road can be long and lonely at times. Weeks can pass where you talk to no one and nothing exceptional seems to happen. Inner progress is difficult to measure, but the miles/kilometers keep adding up.
When times get tough, and they most certainly will, you’ll be forced to ask yourself, “Why exactly am I doing this?” And then, you’ll need to find the strength of jump back on your bike and keep going.
When you least expect it, something small will happen (you’ll meet a new person, witness a kind deed, or enjoy the wind in your face as you sprint downhill), and suddenly you’ll remember why you’re doing this… why you left home in the first place… and why you must keep going.
Pedal The World – Felix Starck’s new documentary film about his bicycle tour “around the world” is, in my opinion, a quality attempt at trying to show an outsider what it’s like to pedal a bicycle thousands of kilometers through multiple countries in just a single year. Through this 90-minute movie consisting of high-quality vacation-style footage, we get to tag along on Felix’s bicycle touring adventure as he slowly hops around the globe to some of the world’s most iconic landmarks.
Setting out from his home in Germany, Felix pedals south across Europe to Turkey, before jumping on a plane and heading to Southeast Asia, then New Zealand and the United States before eventually returning home to his friends and family exactly one year later.
Felix admits (on his website) that other adventurers have traveled longer distances and undertaken more challenging journeys. But his trip by bike wasn’t about trying to set any records or even about the cycling itself. “It was much more about documenting my personal experience.”
And that’s what Pedal The World really is. It’s a 90-minute summary of Felix’s 365 days on the road. It’s basically the most well-edited vacation footage you’ll ever see. Very much in the style of the documentary films by Eat. Sleep. Surf. (which I have reviewed previously here on Bicycle Touring Pro), Pedal The World is a homemade movie in which the young, bearded Starck turns the camera on himself and records his personal cycle touring journey around the world.
While I enjoyed the movie overall (which is available in both English and German) I think the film lacks any lasting message or theme. Pedal The World does a good job documenting Felix’s bicycle touring adventures and a few of the struggles/highlights he experienced along the way, but it lacks emotion and much of the “magic” I’ve seen in similar homemade bicycle touring/travel films, such as Tom Allen’s Janapar – Love, on a Bike and Brook Silva-Braga’s A Map For Saturday.
In Tom Allen’s Janapar, for example, Tom is only a fraction of the way through his bicycle touring adventures around the world when he meets a young Armenian girl named Tenny and he’s forced to decide between continuing his bicycle tour and leaving his chance at love behind… or giving up on his bike tour completely to pursue his chance at love. It is this single conflict that the whole film is centered around… and it is this one decision that turns Tom from a self-centered young man at the beginning of the film into a caring and changed individual by its end. While Tom is the focus of his film at its start, the story quickly flips from being about Tom and his personal quest to cycle around the world, to something that every person on the planet can relate to – the desire to love and be loved in return.
A Map For Saturday is another personal journey around the world by a single filmmaker/traveler. But this film excels because even though the movie’s creator, Brook Silva-Braga, is the centerpiece around which the entire movie flows, the filmmaker really only plays a small part in the finished piece. Instead, it’s the people Brook meets during his travels that makes this movie work. By the time A Map For Saturday is over, you not only feel like you’re friends with Brook, but you feel like you’ve made friends with all of his friends, and you (as the film’s viewer) want nothing more than to make friends with the rest of the world.
While there are a few small conflicts in Starck’s Pedal The World (i.e. he’s caught in a downpour, a spoke on his wheel breaks, he’s ticketed for cycling on the highway, etc), nothing noteworthy ever really happens.
Even when something meaningful does seem to occur, such as when his riding partner abandons him, he spends several weeks cycling with a friend/love interest in New Zealand, or his grandfather back home dies unexpectedly, we only get a small taste of the story before Felix is off to the next location, cycling about and shooting his 360 degree selfies. This, I believe, was a missed opportunity from a storytelling standpoint.
Take, for example, when Felix’s friend/love interest, Selima Taibi (a former contestant on the TV show – The Voice of Germany), joins him for an undisclosed amount of time in southeast Asia. During this short part of the film, we see several shots of the attractive young woman sitting in a bikini top on the bow of a wooden boat. She doesn’t say a word. Even when Selima returns in a later part of the film to cycle with Felix through New Zealand, she again lacks even a single speaking role. Of the half-dozen or so people that joined Felix on his bike tour around the world, I don’t remember any of them saying much more than a word or two in the film.
There is a lot to like about this movie, however. The cinematography is good, the editing is on pace, and the story moves quickly from one location to the next. While there is no one momentous event that drives the film forward, there is one memorable moment in the movie, which occurs at the film’s very end.
After 365 days on the road, Felix returns to the part of the world he is most familiar with and is greeted back home by a small crowd of friends, family members, neighbors and loved ones, who are waiting in the street for him as he cycles up the road, rolls to a stop and completes his successful “round the world” quest.
As Felix rides up, you can hear people cheering, celebratory horns are blown, a local cameraman records the event, and as Felix hugs what appears to be his grandmother, a woman with blonde hair and sunglasses (Felix’s mother perhaps?) wipes a tear from her eye. Felix is home!