Most of us are at home right now working on bikes that gaze back at us like a pup deprived of its daily walk. There’s only so much we can do in the garage before cabin fever sets in but there is a portal to the outside world and this portal is called YouTube; an Aladdin’s cave brimming with documentaries and movies to satiate your cravings for the open road.
I’ve unearthed some Moto Must Watch gold for those empty nights after you’ve downed tools and are reminiscing about pre-lockdown freedom.
1. Classic Motorcycles
Loaded with insightful historical context and all the retro charm of a sun-bleached moto calendar pinned to the wall of your grandpa’s workshop, we delve into gorgeous but fundamentally hopeless Italian classics; Japan’s superhuman commitment to reliability and practicality; Germany’s pioneering post WWI driveshaft technology and the legacy of the wounded British lions.
2. The Glory Days of British Motorbikes
“You come into these cafes and you meet…the Ton Up Boy, you meet the rogue. He won’t bother about what you think about his driving, all he’s bothered about it getting past you anywhere at any place at any time you and can bet he’s the boy that’s gonna go flashing past with the throttle wide open and you can bet he’s the one in six months who’s gonna be in a coffin.”
Glory Days harks back to the widespread use of motorcycles in Britain after WWI as both a practical blue collar workhorse and the steed of choice for wealthy battle hardened gents searching for an outlet for their pent up post war angst. It looks at Lawrence of Arabia and his 100mph Brough Superior, the role of BSA and Norton dispatch bikes in WWII, the legendary Vincent Black Shadow and the relationship between 50s rock ‘n roll and the cafe racer scene before Britain turned Mod and scooters took the limelight, leaving the Ton Up Boy wondering if it was all a dream.
3. The Wild Ones
The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, small-town California in the 50s and the most iconic wardrobe department of any motorcycle movie ever made. We all know it, most of us have seen it and it will never go out of style: Marlon Brando’s 1953 The Wild One is the perfect movie to follow up from the Glory Days documentary.
“Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”
“What have you got?”
With the revolving door of Netflix releases at our fingertips and the idea of internet censorship a laughable concept, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time theatre screenings were banned and movies publicly scorned by ‘respectable society’, shooting the likes of The Wild One to must-watch cult status for disillusioned youngsters whose trust in the Establishment had been all but lost.
Producer Stanley Kramer and director Laszlo Benedek distill the fighting spirit of the emerging Rocker scene and pioneered the biker gang genre but beyond the cinematic impact of The Wild One , Johnny’s choice of Triumph Thunderbird made it the bike for any discerning rebel Rocker around the world. The vertical twin 650cc was Triumph’s first crack at a bike over 500cc, in reaction to their North American market demanding more grunt. In fact 90% of Triumph sales at the time were coming from the States (with most British Rockers buzzing around on Norton and BSA models) with the Thunderbird name itself a nod to Americana culture. Due to its robust build and potent low-end torque it was ideal for sidecars and widely used by the police force and military, however, the enduring legacy of ‘Thunderbird Blue’ is as the weapon of choice for sneering Brando, his ratbag rabble and the DIY cafe racer scene across the pond in Britain.
4. Oil in the Blood
Oil in the Blood “isn’t a film about motorcycles, it’s about motorcycle people” but trust me when I say you’ll witness a kaleidoscope of custom bikes richer and more mind boggling than any other documentary out there.
Film makers Gareth Maxwell Roberts and Lucy Selwood have created a visually stunning tribute to the men and women who dream, tinker, engineer, push boundaries and dedicate their lives to the vast spectrum of custom bikes. This is essential inspiration for Kommune members during lockdown and beyond.
Oil in the Blood is a passionate reminder that we shouldn’t care what others think and we shouldn’t be afraid to pursue the projects we believe in because every ‘failure’ is a valuable lesson on the infinite learning curve.
Humility and the custom scene are close bedfellows and the hundreds of interwoven interviews in this film remind us that integrity doesn’t come fresh off the showroom floor, it lives in the DIY workshop and emerges from a place of dedication and improvisation. From the UK, Japan, the U.S, the Far East and Australia, the same sentiment joins all artisans together: running any custom business is a tiring labour of love but the satisfaction when your machine sings is absolutely priceless.
Note: I found the best way to watch Oil in The Blood online is via HDFY.to (just login and search) because the Amazon rentals are unfortunately not available outside of the U.S, or you can buy the DVD itself from Amazon.com.au.
In part 2 of Moto Must Watch we embark on a cross country chopper trip from San Francisco to NYC, unearth a riotous 1967 Jack Nicholson B-movie, head to the desert with Bruce Brown’s classic On Any Sunday and watch in awe at the gruelling demands of the Paris-Dakar rally.