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Bikes on Film

by Jeff Guerrero

Breaking Away
For many of us, Breaking Away was the movie that first introduced us to road bike culture. And while not many of us came away from the movie ready to shave our legs and start wearing cycling caps, the academy award winning film sure did make us want to go ride our bikes. Fast.

The basic premise of the movie is that Dave Stohler and his three best friends have graduated high-school and now face the daunting world of adulthood. Their general disdain for the local college kids sours them towards the notion of higher education, and the allure of an endless summer lulls all but Stohler into complacency.

Stohler dreams of becoming a professional cyclist, and his passion for Italian racing bikes (like his precious Masi) borders on obsessive behavior. In addition to training as though he was entering the Giro d’Italia, Stohler impersonates an Italian exchange student in an attempt to woo a beautiful co-ed named Katherine.

After numerous clashes with the college kids, including a fistfight at the local pizza joint, Stohler and his friends decide to challenge their advesaries in the university’s annual Little 500 bicycle race. They dub themselves “Cutters” and enter the race with hopes of reestablishing their pride.

The 1979 film was written by Serbian-born screenwriter Steve Tesich. Tesich attended Indiana University and was an alternate rider for his fraternity’s Little 500 bicycle racing team. His teammate, Dave Blase, rode 139 of the 200 laps to win the race in 1962, and served as Tesich’s inspiration for the film’s main character. Blase makes a cameo appearance in the film as the race announcer.
The character of Dave Stohler is played by Dennis Christopher, who also played a track star in Chariots of Fire. The other three Cutters were played by Daniel Stern (narrator on The Wonder Years), Jackie Earle Haley (best known as Kelly from the Bad News Bears) and Dennis Quaid. Quaid’s career highlights are too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say a few of us will be looking forward to seeing him play General Hawk in the upcoming G.I.Joe movie.

Director and producer Peter Yates has four Oscar nominations to his credit, including one for Breaking Away. Yates may be best known for directing the 1968 thriller Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen. The film’s climactic car chase through the streets of San Francisco is legendary.

Breaking Away was followed by a short-lived television series of the same name, and it inspired a 1992 Bollywood film entitled Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. Being that Breaking Away was such a huge success for 20th Century Fox, the film is readily available for rent or download.