South Africa’s first Bicycle Film Festival, held at Cape Town’s Labia, showcased cyclists as a unique group of people able to see the space in between cars, crowds and city congestion, overriding the stigmas of society.

The red carpet, the bicycles parked in the ‘bike valet’ and the crowd’s buzzing: the Bicycle Film Festival debuted in style on Friday night. I grabbed a gin and tonic (fynbos-infused gin, that is) from Hercules and Juniper’s bicycle baskets and headed over to get a sneak peak of the prize bicycle, a stunning maroon vintage lady-bike with a floral side bag. This was one of the prizes offered by Bicycle Cape Town for the “THiS iS HOW i ROLL” competition in which people shared stories, pictures or poems about that special bike in their lives.

At 7pm the reel and the wheels started rolling as 12 bicycle films were showcased. But not before the bike-rock chant tradition was followed in which one-half of the room yelled ‘bikes’ and the other replied ‘rocks’, transforming the Labia into a bicycle enthusiasts’ club for the evening. The festival started off with Casey Neistat’s ‘Bicycle Lanes’, a comic portrayal of why we need bicycle lanes – uncluttered ones! The bicycle was often shown as an expression of the individual like women BMX riders in ‘Sister Session’ defying traditional gender roles or ingenious boys of ‘Made in Queens’ who attached audio speakers to their bikes and played tunes even the police couldn’t resist asking them to turn up. The films showed a world in which bicycle culture is moving from competition to community – no longer is it simply a sport or mode of transportation. And if you’re going to do something illegal you might as well do it together – from the Wolfpack Hustle crash rides tearing down LA’s racetrack at 4 am to the thrill-seeking cyclists racing through traffic in New York, hunting down ten checkpoints before they hit the finish line.

As a city-cruising-leisure cyclist myself, I was stunned to see some of the bicycle tricks in the films. We watched a film in which a cyclist fractured his skull, lay in a coma and woke up only to get back on his bike. ‘Is he suicidal?’ I whispered to my friend seated next to me, and he replied in true bicycle junkie fashion: ‘It becomes a part of you. You’d rather die than never ride again’. And it was at this point that I realised the energy fuelling the worldwide bicycle community was raw, die-hard passion. One of the films introduced a boy in Ghana who used his school fees to buy a bike and went on to train other kids the art of BMX riding. He also exposed us to some of the problems cyclists have to deal with, for example that cars behave as if they own the roads. One of the films showed that this passion for riding also extended to winning as exemplified by Juanjo Mendez in ‘The First Unstoppable’ – a world race track champ with only one arm and one leg.

An interesting film on the topic of making bicycles introduced the legendary  Italian, Giovanni Pelizzoli aka “Ciocc”, who is master frame builder. He believes in using traditional methods and creating one-off custom made bikes. He described his job as follows: “I hop on my bike and go to work smiling”.

The festival showcased cyclists as a unique group of people able to see the space in between cars, crowds and city congestion, overriding the stigmas of society.

I look forward to next year’s BFF where South African’s will be able to share their stories too and show the world our vibrant, emerging bicycle culture that embraces everything from commuter cycling to bicycle art and social upliftment.

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