Biker Dreams

Director: Adam Berman                            
Martin Tobias, Alex Landes, "Liddo" Jim

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single kickstart.

                                                           -  The opening of Biker Dreams

The documentary On Any Sunday took a look at the many different kinds of motorcycling sports. Biker Dreams is another documentary that concerns motorcycles, but its focus instead is on the people who ride them. You might think that showing a number of different people talking about why they love motorbikes would quickly become boring, but it isn't. The people we listen to, who are from all walks of life, have a number of insights and stories that are fascinating and informative. Also, they talk in a manner that make you able to relate to even the huge and mean-looking motorcyclists. Even viewers who dislike motorcycling will, after watching this documentary, have at least a more likable view of these motorcyclists.

Besides focusing on one aspect of motorcycling, Biker Dreams focuses on the people attending one particular motorcycling event. This is the 1996 biker run at Sturgis, South Dakota, where every year, thousands of motorcyclists from all over the continent drive to. It's considered the Mecca for motorcyclists, though I couldn't help but wonder why they picked a place like Sturgis (anyone know?) We do get to see some footage of the thousands of bikes on the city streets, and also an interesting sequence showing a makeshift church under a giant tent, with rock singers singing behind the preacher. However, that's about it for showing what actually happens at Sturgis; it almost seems that bikers come to Sturgis just to park their bikes on the side of the street, stand around, and drink beer. Of course, that stuff must really happen, and I know that the focus of the documentary is on the bikers themselves. Still, I would have really liked the documentary to have taken a few minutes to clearly show what the bikers do there at this annual festival.

As I said, the focus is on the people who attend this festival. The people we are first introduced to are middle-aged couple Alex and Martin from Seattle, first seen a week before the festival, preparing to go. Alex is very excited about the trip ("A lot of uncovered territory."), but Martin confesses that he's nervous, since the girl he took last year made him vow not to take a girl again. Whether they are candidly talking about their various feelings, seeing Alex trying to figure out how to pack for the trip, or sitting down to explain the "Harley look" (the leather is for protection in case of accidents - it's not worn for fashion purposes), they hold our interest - they are everyday people that we can relate and identify with. Even if they say or do something here we don't have complete knowledge about, it never goes over our heads. The documentary returns to Alex and Martin on their journey every so often, which brings up the other quibble I have with the movie; much of this later footage - getting a flat tire, stopping and saying, "Hey, can we take some pictures?" - is blatantly fake. Since the entire documentary runs only about 80 minutes, I had to wonder if that was the reason these staged scenes are here. Fortunately, near the end of the movie, there's an unexpected turn in the couple's relationship that compensates somewhat.

We get to meet a lot of different bikers. "Ilene" had a great-grandmother who rode a Harley, and she continues the bloodline. "You want your own sense of empowerment," she explains in her discussion of female bikers, bringing up how female bikers are different from their male counterparts. One of the most interesting people we meet is "Andy", a man who looks like a stereotypical biker - but he certainly doesn't act like one. In a long, fascinating monologue, he talks about everything from his drug problems, traffic accidents, and especially how motorcycles have influenced his life. A proud Vietnam vet, he was inspired by Billy Jack and motorcycle drive-in movies after he was discharged ("I designed this look," he explains.) It's interesting to note that many of the bikers interviewed here give the same basic reasons why they love motorcycling so much - they get a sense of power, both from the riding of their bikes and from the notoriety bikers have. However, we also learn that the vast majority of bikers are really very nice people - even in Sturgis, the Hell's Angels are a minority. Most are parents and blue-collar workers - Martin himself is shown at the beginning working in a business in a skyscraper. You'll sense the camaraderie the bikers have for each other, plus see from their candid monologues that they are really good people, even if they don't belong to the group of bikers covered in one segment wearing patches reading "100% FOR JESUS" on their coats.

Even the more rougher bikers seen had me at least partially sympathetic for. "Liddo" Jim, the leader of the Resurrection Motorcycle Club in Seattle, brags that he has a hold over his wife, who we quickly figure out must be quite strong to stay with him all of these years. But during one of his monologues, the eyes of this big, bearded biker fill with tears, as he says how much he loves her. He finishes the expressing of his love by saying, "I love her with all my heart." Quickly composing himself, he then immediately blurts out, "My motorcycles come first." Even despite this, he somehow comes out looking much better than you might think from reading a transcript. It's this prevalent attitude - looking at the best side of almost everything - that makes Biker Dreams a very enjoyable and educational experience, with a lot of golden oldies on the soundtrack (including Sailcat's Motorcycle Mama) being the icing on the cake. (Note: this movie is not available on video, though it has played on the Speedvision cable channel in a widescreen format.)

UPDATE: The movie is now available on DVD!

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Jabberwalk, On Any Sunday, Skateboard Madness