The Trail Snob: A Brief History and The Formulaic Approach

The Trail Snob presents the periodic, ill-informed opinions, malformed thoughts, and inappropriate convictions of a certain Web Content Editor. Art’s Cyclery disavows all knowledge of, responsibility for, and concordance with anything that comes out of their keyboard.

Do all mountain bike movies seem the same these days? The same angles, the same scenes, the same vibe? It wasn’t always like this, you know…

Wade Simmons smack in the middle of the Golden Years of Freeride.

Wade Simmons smack in the middle of the Golden Years of Freeride.

Once upon a time, mountain bike movies were rad. Not as in Rad: The Movie, rad, just rad. They looked like a home edit job of some kid’s summer road trip with their crazy friends and a Super 8 camera. The slick movies used video or even 16mm if the film maker had managed to get two or three sequels, and thus some funding, out of a title. Heavily inspired by surf and skate films of the 90’s, early MTB movies generally stuck to the five-seconds-or-less rule when it came to editing clips, and featured not only athletic glory, but plenty of destruction of both personal health and other people’s property. The early Kranked films, featuring the founding fathers of freeride, along with Thor Wixom’s Down series are a prime example. Down launched the legend of Josh Bender and both films inspired a generation of freeriders. Also, take a look at Taylor Congdon’s ground-breaking 1998  film Headliners, which, along with Kranked, was a big budget movie by standards of the time, for an understanding of the medium back then.

In 2000, the first of the New World Disorder movies exploded out of television screens everywhere, blowing away mountain biking fans across the globe with a never-before-seen mix of production, talent, and boundary-shattering performance. There would ultimately be ten installments of the fantastic NWD series of films, and while the presentation and action continued to redefine cutting-edge with every release, the films mostly stuck to the same basic surf/skate paradigm. Then, in 2004, mountain bike film making was affected profoundly by the visionary film, the Collective. When the Collective was released, everything changed. Clips were longer, the riding environment was as important as the riding itself, and stunning new technologies like cable cams and wide angle follow cams were showcased to amazing effect. Each susbsequent release in the Collective collection further refined their methods enough so that the basic MTB movie formula has remained essentially unchanged since then. Thanks to the far-reaching vision of Darcy Wittenburg and Jaime Houssian, modern film makers have only to go down the list, with a few modifications reflecting current popular culture, in order to create the Modern Mountain Bike Video™, which is exactly what seems to be happening these days. Whether a proper fifty-minute movie or a two-and-a-half-minute web clip, it doesn’t matter: the recipe for success is still the same, and is presented below.

    • Dubstep soundtrack—Preferably awolnation’s Sail. If you can’t swing the rights to that one just substitute Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. Neo-folk soundtracks are slowly taking over as hipster film students realize that fixies suck and mountain bikes fit much better with flannels and beards.
    • Cable cam, being taken over by the quad copter—When the cable cam angle debuted, it was mesmerizing, earth shattering, and served to convey the elation of riding like no footage ever had before. As standard issue for every MTB film since 2004, however, it might be time to come up with something new.
    • Water dripping off a fern—Close up, atmosphere shot. This clip must be available on iStock, as it is showcased in every film that tries to convey the soul of riding, along with the…
    • Water splashing out of a mud puddle—Shot in slow motion, preferably from multiple angles, ranging from close-up to several feet away. Either the sheets of water or the parting tide shot will serve to check this requirement off the list.
    • Slow motion drift featuring dirt spray—Because the more roost you throw the faster you are. Never mind that any pro downhiller will tell you that drifting tires equals slower times. All that roost looks so moto, no one can leave it out.
    • Extra spray for extra drama.

      Two turns for the price of one.

      Canadian kick out—Also known as the So Cal Skid, Braking Bump Builder, Keene Carve, and our favorite, the Schleyer Shimmy. This little skid, performed the wrong way into a turn, ostensibly to provide drive and momentum for when you whip the bike around the correct way through the turn, is standard issue for expressing how hard someone is ripping. If your riders can’t perform a Canadian Kickout around every turn, how hardcore can your movie be?

    • Soulful panning shots across roots, singletrack, tree bark, bikes in a truck bed, or a water surface with rain drops falling—Speaks for itself. Just make sure you have it in your film, because everyone else does.
    • Bonus Clip: making espresso at the campsite—Not as widespread as the above-mentioned requirements, but if done correctly—with close-up detail shots highlighting each step of the process—your credibility as a film maker and dedication to expressing the soul of mountain biking will no longer be questioned, and capital for your future projects will come rolling in like a backlit shot of dew drops dripping off an evergreen

The Trail Snob goes by several pseudonyms, but is most recognizable as the Guy With All the Answers. He was around when the trails were so much better than they are now and is way cooler than you’ll ever be. Well, at least that’s what he thinks…