Ride The Divide (Review)

Posted by on Sep 29, 2010 in Bike, Video | 4 Comments

I finally had a chance to see Ride the Divide.

In a word? Fantastic.

In more words? Moving, funny, inspiring.

Actually, the film was surprisingly funny—in an endearing, likable way. It’s also very insightful. Having ridden in a few endurance races, I found myself reliving the emotional and physical gauntlet that those types of events provide. And while my adventures have been on a much smaller scale, the mentality, and the spirit is the same. And perhaps that makes me a subjective judge, but I found the movie to be absolutely spot on in that regard. It can be difficult to capture intent, motivation, and emotion on film. But Mike Dion, Hunter Weeks, and the rest of the crew succeeded in doing that in a remarkable way.

I left feeling as if I knew the riders, but also the challenges they encountered.

And of course, the film is beautiful. The route being overwhelmingly so.

Perhaps my favorite moment in the film comes when—spoiler alert!—Mike drops from the race. And while I was disappointed he did not finish, the scene is candid and touching. It perfectly and exactly embodies this endurance experiment that so many of us have waded into in our own adventures and within our own expectations. As Mike sat underneath the Tetons on a bright blue day, it was clear that he found himself in a dark, lonely place. A place we’ve all been. A place we dread and fear and shun. And yet, we also plow into with the lingering hope that somehow we will break through that dark, and into the light on the other side. In his case, that light was the unbridled enthusiasm and proud admiration that his kids offered him over the phone. It’s a brilliant, unscripted, and unexpected moment.

After the screening Mike told me that when he made that phone call he was afraid that his kids would be disappointed in him. That they weren’t is not surprising. But in those black and white decisions that seem so life-altering during a race, those types of thoughts creep into your mind. “What was I going to say to them?”

In fact, I’d argue that that moment is the emotional high-point of the film. Watching riders finish was a close second, but even that simply did not portray the vast and monumental emotional commitment that something like the Tour Divide requires, quite like Mike’s abandonment did. It was especially moving when contrasted with the almost robot-like efficiency that Matthew Lee races with.

Of all the riders in the film, Matthew is the only one who seems emotionally unaffected by the effort. Which is not entirely surprising, given that in the film he is riding his 6th tour—he has since gone on to finish his 7th. The uncertainties that monopolized the field have long been eclipsed by his experience and focus. His resolve was impressive. To ride with the tunnel vision and the speed that he did was spectacularly mind-bending.

The scope of the project itself is nearly as encompassing as riding the route. To cover a bike race with a small crew (2 cameras?) wherein the riders are spread out by hundreds of miles, over the entirety of the western United States is—on paper—an impossible task. And yet, there it is.

That challenging aspect leads to the only shortcoming in the film. That is, I wanted to see more riders. To see more faces and grimaces and smiles. To see more people grapple with the mental and physical fatigue that overwhelms everyone involved. But that would have been, even with several camera crews, extremely difficult. Nonetheless, we are treated to a wide variety of human experience. And not just from the racers. The crew itself appears in the film. As do several people who live and work along the route, and who have themselves become iconic parts of the race. And in some cases, nearly family members to the veterans of the Divide.

Which brings me to wonder if, rather than the draw of the racing itself, the reason why Matthew Lee, and so many others, continue to return to Banff each year has more to do with the route, the people, the idea. That is, the race has become much more than simply riding faster than the next guy. It is, instead, an all-encompassing, life altering, eye-widening adventure. It’s an escape into—as Matthew points out—a place that becomes a safe haven. The Divide is normal, tame, mundane. It is the grind of work and family and high-rise buildings and societal expectations that are unpredictable and frightening. And I wonder if that is not why, at least in part, each of us ride our bikes. Or ski. Or run. Those activities in effect, become a sanctuary where we are sheltered from our own inhibitions and doubts and fears.

Life is simple on a bike.

See the film. I think you’ll love it. I know I did.


  1. mtb w
    September 29, 2010

    It was a good movie, following the riders and their ups and downs with gorgeous scenery. It even had laugh out loud parts (the interview with the guy cutting wood was hilarious). I can’t believe, though, that the film crew missed the start – it was glossed over but it is pretty glaring. Inserting the film crew and their journey into the film was unusual and makes you think how they affected the race and racers but I think it is important and a good choice for this film. It also shows you the difficulty in filming racers spread out over hundreds of miles in the backcountry. I would also have liked to hear a bit more about some of the other racers and their journey but I certainly understand the difficulty of filming this endeavor.

    Wonder if any film maker will try it again but this time also get a few racers to wear helmet cams and do self-interviews at various times (that would lead to lots and lots of editing, though).

  2. evilbanks
    September 29, 2010

    Best moment of the film, hands down, was when Mike called his family. Great write up man.

  3. Nate
    September 29, 2010

    I agree with you and Banks. I had similar feelings when I pulled the plug at Butte. That was a gripping part of the movie for me. Excellent write up.

  4. Jeff Higham
    October 3, 2010

    I watched the free YouTube version Friday. It made me really hungry and motivated. Afterwards I put my riding light on and rode the local trails for an hour. Matthew Lee is a machine.

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