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While the organizers of your average bicycle safety rodeo would certainly have a stroke five minutes into it, Morford and Martin's film isn't meant to be an educational tool for bicycle etiquette. Refreshingly, it isn't even really promoting anything beyond the freedom afforded a brave (crazy?) soul on a bicycle in a major urban area; instead the film plays as a sincere paean to the simplicity of two-wheeled life. Sure, there is the requisite digital shopping cart attached to the film's website, but official hoodies and World Champion Friendship Bracelets (wtf?) seem to be a genuine afterthought to documenting fast and fun times. Perhaps the film's most notable accomplishment is that, although it was released at the end of 2006, MASH continues to worm its way into the cycling counterculture as if it were fresh from the oven.
As one might imagine, combining the hills and traffic of a city like San Francisco with a bunch of under-insured twentysomethings on bikes with one gear, no hand brakes, and no freewheel can lead to some astonishing footage. That said, MASH can also seem a bit pointless at times, even for avowed bikeporn fetishists; a good portion of the segments are literally comprised of guys just riding down the street, occasionally throwing in a controlled skid. As a whole, however, MASH goes a long way to bending the evolutionary line of cycling films that includes American Flyers. While fat-tired mountain bikes have enjoyed a resurgence after years under the stale cross-country banner - thanks in large part to outfits like The Collective [LAS feature] -, skinny-tired road bikes have long languished in their cinematic depictions. In fact, when most people consider great moments in the videography of 700c bike wheels, beyond peloton pileups the coolest thing caught on camera has long been footage of horses crashing the Tour de France and crashing at the Tour de France. So it is a bit poetic that the road bike's video revival is represented at the other end of the sport, with fixed-gear track bikes, where racing began and some feel it should have stayed. Track bikes have a long and rich history, but the sport and the bikes were largely forgotten, in the United States especially, by the 1970s. The riders from the heyday of American Six-Day racing could have scarcely imagined that fixed-gear bikes would be thriving decades later not on the velodromes of competitive sports but in the streets of San Francisco, being thrashed.
A good deal of the MASH footage was shot from the back of a moped, which Martin can be seen jumping, grinding, and laying over in the biographical portrait included on the MASH DVD's bonus materials. The rest of the feature's scenes were shot on skateboards, from the occasional tripod, and in the capable hands of the riders themselves. What was edited together into the feature runs a bit lean in places - a logistical concession made to balance out the times for the various rider segments - but the official DVD release comes with as much footage in bonus supplement as it does in the main course. And in fact it is the extra material, broken up into a series of four "outtake" segments, along with a couple of minutes dedicated to scenes focusing on each of the directors, which comprises some of MASH's most interesting moments. There are several hilarious run-ins with motorists, and more than a few scrapes between the riders and other bodies in traffic. Especially captivating are the long and un-scored cross-city rides that most accurately capture the thrill of urban riding. In the MASH feature the riders' footage is rendered in an artistic (albeit utilitarian) manner, as edgy art-documentary, and subjected to soundtracking and editing; the official cut makes the experience more entertaining for the average joe, but the process is certainly less immediate. In the supplemental sections the botched tricks and near crashes are broken up with minutes-long clips of unbroken, gloriously fast commuting. Cars zip in and out of frame, buses cross streetcar tracks at weird angles, intersections stand still at the direction of a quartet of red lights, and through it all careen the film's riders in natural, fluid motions that lack the hotdoggery of the feature clips but are nothing if not impressive. Traffic islands, pedestrian zones, staircases, park benches, the freeway - nothing is off limits if it lies in the path of least resistance. Some bikes get trashed in the process, plenty of drivers and passers-by take offense, and there are the requisite run-ins with rapping homeless men and law enforcement alike. More than the bar spins and neighborhood-long wheelies, it is truly captivating when a string of three or four riders link block upon block of the inner city into a long and fluid sequence scored only by the sounds of the air, the bikes, and the city. That, my friends, is what urban riding is all about.
TRAILER: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaxAEXBBKfY SEE ALSO: www.mashsf.com
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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