Scrolling through Netflix, I came across a documentary that labeled itself as a scenic journey for riders trying to complete a grueling bike journey from Banff, Alberta, to the US-Mexican border, through the Rocky Mountains. I liked the sounds of it, so I gave it a watch.
Ride the Divide is about an annual race that takes riders across the Great Divide in North America, through one province and five states. While they are trying to win the race, they are more trying to simply complete it, something that very few riders have managed to do. The journey is 2,700 miles, and the majority of the riding is done alone, causing the race to be more than a physical journey, but a psychological one as well.
While we hear a lot of the harrowing trails they needed to ride along, the constant threat and sightings of bears, we don’t get to see any of it. The camera team is only in one truck, and we catch up to riders now and then, seeing very little of them actually riding the challenging trails. The use of a GoPro is only used for a brief moment, and it is perhaps the highlight of the film. Instead of hearing about the stories of the ride, we crave actually seeing them ride, something that the documentary filmmakers severely lacked in the production of this film.
Occasionally we will hear call-ins from the riders, and they tell us about their day. But still, we don’t see anything about it. We hear about their falls, and their emotional and physical trauma that they are suffering through just to make it to the end of another day. But we don’t see it. And this is the greatest failing of Ride the Divide. We hear the stories being told, but there are very few visuals to go along with it.
There is some incredibly beautiful scenery to be seen in the film, as the Rocky Mountains provide some of the most breathtaking sights on earth. Typically, this is with a rider stopped, on the phone, or talking to the crew. Rarely is it us watching the rider gallantly plodding onwards in their quest to complete the race.
The race begins with about 15 riders, and by the end the number dwindles down to about five remaining, the ones that actually complete the race. Yet we know very little about any of them, right from the beginning of the film. So we are essentially following around strangers that we know nothing about, and only get the smallest glimpses into their actual lives. When someone else drops out of the race, the viewer will ask themselves, “Who?”, as we are unclear on who is who, which one of them was the one to drop out. This is another shortcoming of the film. There is a very human story here about perseverance and dedication to something, but the filmmakers again fall flat in telling the story.
I wanted to love Ride the Divide. The idea of the race is incredible, but since we are shown so little of it, it becomes difficult to understand how difficult the race is. Most of the footage we see is of the riders along flat areas. Seems easy enough, right?
This film suffered from a shortage of cameras, and probably a shortage of funding to get it done. There could have been so much more to be done here, to be told. These people are driven by something that the normal person doesn’t understand, yet we get nothing about these stories that would help pull us into the story. I wanted so much more.
Ride the Divide doesn’t really appeal to many groups. If you are a mountain bike enthusiast, there probably isn’t enough about the bikes or the terrain to keep you interested. If you are into the human aspect of the story, there is very little of that as well. If you want to see beautiful scenery, there is some of that, but you could find that with a quick Google image search and save yourself an hour-and-a-half.
While the idea for this kind of film is definitely there, the follow through for the film isn’t, and what we get instead is tepid story telling and not nearly enough footage of what we are told is an extremely challenging course. Overall, this film is pretty disappointing, and could have been so much more.