Aging, agism, youthfulness, mortality on the trail, and the soul of off-road riding are heavy themes for a motorcycle documentary to explore in 19 minutes, but Fifty Years of Kicks examines these with a deft and graceful touch that highlights the ills in current motorcycle media.
In a motorcycle video landscape that veers between corporate sponsored advertorial travel brochures with no more depth than a desert puddle and self aggrandizing showmanship, Fifty Years of Kicks defines itself as a thoughtful antidote from the start. The tone is set with an opening quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Men do not quit playing because they grow old, they grow old because they quit playing.”
From there the documentary’s themes intertwine, as two riders, Paul Rodden and Larry Murray, examine their off-road history and what riding brings to their lives. It is an extensive history too — some 49 years of riding experience with 3 enduro championships, and 46 years of riding with a 1975-76 Canadian Enduro championship for Paul and Larry respectively.
What becomes clear over the course of the film is that it’s the physical and mental stress and demands of off-road riding that are powering these two riders, and hopefully ourselves, over the obstacles age and disease put in their way. Especially given Paul is afflicted with Ménière’s disease, which is characterized by episodes of vertigo.
A bigger hurdle, initially, may be ageism within dirt riding culture as Bryan Flanging pinpoints in stating that until Paul had all his gear on he looked too old for the group ride raising concerns of having to dial the pace back. Then raising a point that is documentary gold, once Paul is in his gear, he looks like every other rider. Remember too, these are riders who’ve figuratively written the book on off-road riding, their experience growing with the sport’s development. No doubt they’ve a few tricks and they are planning to keep using them. As Larry puts it, “My dream is to ride right up until I die.”
There are weak points to the film, but precious few. Speakers providing commentary such as Ontario rider Bryan Flannigan, Christian Lacasse a member of the Baytown Motorcycle Association, and Dr. Dan Curran, all contributors to Traction E-rag (a good read in it’s own right), but are unknown to outside viewers and need to be given a history and context to back up their opinions. The ride cinematography could be more dynamic, giving the documentary more presence. Overall though, these are truly minor points in an exceptional effort, especially considering Fifty Years of Kicks is a low to no budget labour of love production.
That it is a labour of love, and a stylish and thoughtful one at that, is likely 50 Years’ strongest asset. While a majority of motorcycle media are self aggrandizing romps, or glorified advertorial sponsored by accessory companies, 50 Years of Kicks is free to explore the themes underlying riding and to create a truly inspirational piece in a media landscape full of glossy video brochures.