In case you thought B.I.K.E. was just a movie about bikes… well, it is, but you might be surprised at the ground it covers. From filmmakers Anthony Howard (Tony) and Jacob Septimus, B.I.K.E. delves into the lives of the members of the Black Label Bike Club in New York City. Access to the Black Label New York subculture is mediated by Tony and his desperate attempts to gain entrance to the elite ranks of Black Label. Both filmmaker and main character, Tony becomes the epicenter of the film. As such, the strongest narrative is about the desire to belong to something in a national culture that stresses both individualism and the proliferation of subcultures.
For Tony, almost nothing is as important as being a member of Black Label, and yet his entrance into the club is consistently withheld. Tony struggles with substance abuse and increasingly erratic behaviors, but his commitment to Black Label seems unquestionably strong – he’s even making a movie. A looming question in the film is why isn’t Tony part of the club? Whatever the reasons may be, it is revealed that even “outlaws” have rules, regulations and serious degrees of exclusivity.
The issues raised in the film run the gamut from class differences to political motives. For example, the New York chapter identifies as being mostly “middle class art school kids”, compared to the original Minneapolis chapter members – some who lived in junkyards. BLBC New York drives to the national Black Label get-together in Minneapolis with their bikes strapped to their Land Rover SUV’s and Mercedes station wagons—a perhaps unintentional irony not explored in the film. Such moments that offer untouched avenues of departure might leave some viewers wanting. Though originally thrown off by the film’s main focus, I found myself caught up in every moment, down to Tony’s tragicomic formation of his own bike club.
If you’re looking for action, B.I.K.E. does have its share of dramatic bicycle screen shots, tall bikes, freak bikes, even jet bikes. I would have gladly appreciated greater digging into some of the more delicate club issues that crop up from time to time, but as it stands, B.I.K.E. provides for both bike enthusiasts and green thumbs a fascinating peak at a distinct and previously unexplored subculture. It doesn’t shy away from intensity, which some might take as melodrama. And for all the difficult questions that can be asked about social systems, it doesn’t attempt to toss out cheap and easy platitudes, instead trusting viewers to mull things over for themselves.