Just another normal day for Portland’s Zoobombers. Photo by huronbike.
Sure, Toronto, you heart your bikes, but there are other cities just as cycle-centric as you are. Tonight at CineCycle, the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation presents a screening of VEER, a critically approved documentary that examines Portland’s (at times) wacky bike culture and shows that for many, two wheels aren’t just a choice of transportation; they’re a way of life.
Opening the film with a spiel (narrated by Full Metal Jacket’s Matthew Modine) about this decade’s vast increase in North American cyclists, director Greg Fredette aims to illustrate that biking is becoming a social movement with a culture all its own. He uses his hometown as a microcosm, introducing us to subcultural groups of cyclists like the Zoobombers, scraggly twenty-somethings with a punk ethos who ride modified mini-bikes down hills at a high velocity, often to the annoyance of local police. Then there are the Sprockettes, a troupe of spandex-clad women who perform synchronized, velocipede-centered dance routines. We enter the world of these communally minded pedal-hippies as they engage in entertaining, if not appalling, exploits such as naked bike parades and gladiatorial cycle-chariot games.
But we also catch a glimpse of Portland’s less-eccentric bike enthusiasts and their tribulations: a cash-stripped bike exchange coordinator grapples to make ends meet, while a bicycle-rights lobbyist struggles to move a piece of legislation punishing reckless drivers in light of numerous high-profile car vs. bike deaths. The latter may hit home with some Torontonians, particularly those vexed by the minor penalties currently handed to careless motorists involved in cycling-related collisions. Though the lobbyist’s proposal is nearly thwarted by Republican lawmakers spewing familiar-sounding “War on the Car” rhetoric, his efforts eventually bear fruit, a feat which should inspire local cyclist advocates.
By and by, VEER combines politics, drama, art, and general tomfoolery to paint a colourful sociological picture of communities that have sprouted from the rising tide of cyclists. It’s got a lot of heart; at times, it may even have too much—try not to snigger when a spaced out Zoobomber sermonizes about the capacity for bikes to incite revolution and “change the world,” or when a bike repair shop owner extols two-wheelers as “a fundamental common-thread between human beings.” Still, there are legit issues raised here that resonate beyond Portland. And for all of you cycle fetishists that don’t do subtext, the film’s many slow-motion, tastefully soundtracked montages of Zoobombers riding around town are essentially top-shelf bike porn.
VEER screens at CineCycle (behind 129 Spadina Avenue) tonight at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8.