GCN+ provided an invaluable resource for those of us here in America to access a myriad of bike races from around the world. And though we’re in a (relatively) quiet race season, its sudden absence is already being felt.

Thankfully, with the announcement of Max’s foray into bike streaming (though the price point is a bit of a bummer), race fans can still create a patchwork of coverage across Peacock, Flobikes, and Max.

However, one void that is being left in the wake of GCN+’s shuttering is their wealth of original programming, which was one of my favorite things about the platform.

The racing featured on GCN+ was great, to be sure, and my son, a budding BMXer in his own right, loved the variety of disciplines the platform gave us access too. But more than the racing, I loved GCN+’s multitude of documentaries, which often ran about an hour, putting them in the perfect sweet spot between bite-sized and feature length.

There were deep dives into historical figures and brands, and entire films dedicated to single, epic climbs. There were documentaries which would have been equally at home on the Travel Channel, movies about slow cycling and fixed-gear alleycats, and deep dives into some of history’s most legendary races. My favorites were the hour-long profiles of legends; Cancellara, Kelly, Contador, Voeckler.

I won’t wax too nostalgic, because what’s the point?

What I am here to do is to tell you that the internet is still full of fantastic cycling content, narrative and documentary alike. So, while GCN+’s amazing original programming may be no more, there are still plenty of opportunities to get your bike-film fix in, especially during this cold and wet season, where many of us will spend many hours on our trainers, wondering what we could watch to pass the time.

Documentaries and Adventure Films

A Sunday in Hell (YouTube)

A Sunday in Hell is, in this writer’s opinion, the greatest bicycling film ever made, as it captures what it’s like to be inside (or on the fringes of) a bike race—in this case, the 1976 edition of Paris-Roubaix—like nothing before or since. It also never gets old to watch Merckx, De Vlaemnick, Maartens, and Moser racing in their primes on some of the most beautiful bikes ever built.

Stars and Water Carriers (YouTube)

Much like A Sunday in Hell, Stars and Water Carriers is a classic cycling film from the early 1970s. However, here, it’s an inside look at the 1973 Giro d’Italia, predating A Sunday in Hell by just a few years. It also owns one of the greatest titles in the history of film.

Icarus (Netflix)

The dramatic turn Icarus takes is like something out of a John Grisham book. What was, at the start, a documentary about doping to win a bike race quickly becomes something of an international thriller with massive global stakes and a pair of deaths surrounded by some very suspicious circumstances. And like a very small handful of the best documentaries ever made, Icarus played a very role in shaping the world that came after it.

The Least Expected Day (Netflix)

Something of a precursor to the ultra-popular Unchained (more on that in a moment), The Least Expected Day is a Spanish-language production that takes a look inside Team Movistar, exploring the drama—much of which is centered around their team leaders like Nairo Quintana, Enric Mas, and Richard Carapaz—and the team’s characters, such as their larger-than-life team manager Eusebio Unzúe.

Tour de France: Unchained (Netflix)

Contemporary film and television is a copycat industry. When one thing works, we can expect a deluge of content trying to capitalize on that dam-burster’s magic. And so it came as no surprise when a bunch of beneath-the-helmet type series started popping up all across the streaming platforms after the success of F1: Drive to Survice. Lucky for us, there were none better and more compelling than Unchained, which gave viewers rare access behind the scenes of one of the world’s biggest and most important sporting events. We can’t wait for season two.

Uphill Climb: The Women Who Conquered the Impossible Race (Peacock)

Uphill Climb is a beautiful film that celebrates the strength and perseverance of women as it highlights the first racers to ever ride the Tour de France Fémenin, who paved the earliest roads for the elite women cyclists of today. And for all its greatness, it evokes an equal amount of anger to witness the hurdles and closedmindedness that women had to (and still have to) overcome in order to race their bikes.

Where the Trail Ends (Tubi)

One thing that’s great about adventure movies is watching people do things you might never be able to do (even though you might say to yourself, “I could do that”). Few bicycling adventure films bring us to more far-flung locations to see the best of the best taking some of the most insane lines we’ve ever seen better than Where the Trail Ends.

Accomplice (Amazon Prime)

Not unlike Where the Trail Ends, the 2021 adventure film Accomplice takes viewers into some stunning vistas to watch riding that is unimaginably bold. However, what sets this film apart is that it’s an homage as much to the bicycle itself—one of humankind’s greatest inventions—as it is a showcase of some of the best bike riders in the world; the relationship between the two always at the center.

My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes (Peacock)

Bike racing fans know Gino Bartali as one of the great heroes of Italian cycling but few knew him as another kind of hero; one who helped save the lives of countless Jews during the Holocaust by hiding false documents in the tubes of his training bikes. Bartali only revealed his secret missions at the end of his life, which led to the production of this stunning documentary which features narration from Hollywood icons Isabella Rossellini and Robert Loggia.

Call of a Life Time (YouTube)

The Call of a Life Time series does for gravel and off-road racing what Stars and Water Carriers once did for road racing. That is, to offer viewers something of a cinéma vérité for the fast-growing off-road racing scene, as it follows racers over the course of the Life Time Grand Prix, which includes landmark races like the Sea Otter Classic, Unbound, the Leadville 100, and Big Sugar Gravel. Some of the toughest riders around riding some of the hardest races on Earth.

Movies

Breaking Away

What A Sunday in Hell is to bicycle documentaries, Breaking Away is to bicycling narratives. That is, the best there is. This is my favorite bike movie ever in large part because it’s about anything but bikes. Sure, the bike riding takes center stage but Breaking Away is as much about the loss of youth, the magic of dreams, class hierarchies, and how stultifying our own histories can be as it is about the Little 500. The soul of this movie is enormous. Cutters forever!

Bicycle Thieves

Considered a landmark achievement, Bicycle Thieves transcends its genre, its era, and its era, as it is considered by many as one of the best films ever made and one which proves that bike films don’t always need high-speed stakes to express the relationship between a bike and its rider.

American Flyers

Unlike Breaking Away, American Flyers is about bike riding, full stop. Sure, there are more complex themes in the movie, such as brotherhood and mortality, but the heart of this movie lives in and around its bike racing. It was a thrill the first time I watched it. It remains as much more than thirty years later.

Quicksilver

Two years after American Flyers, at the dawn of one of America’s biggest bike booms ever, came Quicksilver, which stared Kevin Bacon as a lapsed day trader who found his calling—at least for a while—as a New York City bike messenger. Apparently, Bacon considers this “the about lowest point” of his career. Sorry, Kevin, but thousands of young 80s kids who dreamed of moving to a big city and make a living riding their bikes would disagree.

Premium Rush

A spiritual descendant of Quicksilver, Premium Rush centers around a New York City courier—this time it’s Joseph Gordon Levitt—who uses his world-class bike skills to evade a crooked cop through the streets of the City. And just like Kevin Bacon’s character before him, Levitt plays a traditionally successful young man (a Columbia Law grad) disenchanted by the rat race, who finds his joy in the thrill of the ride.

Rad

Speaking of being a kid in the 1980s, it was impossible to not dream of BMX glory and for us, Rad was our Rosetta Stone. The only thing that could make Rad more of its time would be more mag wheels. Looking back on it now, once the nostalgia wears off, it’s hard to fathom BMX bikes with seats jacked up so high. And remember those hard plastic seats?!

BMX Bandits

In keeping with the theme here, BMX Bandits is more of an action flick than it is a bike flick. Still, BMX bikes take center stage here. It also gave the world one of its first glimpses at the soon-to-be megastar Nicole Kidman.

The Triplets of Belleville

No bike movie is quite as beautiful as The Triplets of Belleville because no other bike movie was drawn by hand. This animated classic, which features minimal dialogue, takes much of its inspiration from classic cycling imagery—the posters, fliers, and drawings of Tours de France of old—to create a masterpiece that looks like what riding a bike feels like.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Yes, it’s a bike movie.

And, you know what, so is E.T.

Special thanks to the members of the Chapel Hill, North Carolina cycling community, who reminded me of a few classics that I had forgotten.

Headshot of Michael Venutolo-Mantovani

Michael Venutolo-Mantovani is a writer and musician based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He loves road and track cycling, likes gravel riding, and can often be found trying to avoid crashing his mountain bike. 



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