Does “127 Hours” Harm Mountain Biking’s Image?

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The commercials say that “127 Hours,” the new movie about the Moab-area rock climber who cut off his hand to save his life, is based on a true story. But the mountain-biking segments won’t leave viewers with an accurate depiction of our sport — at least, the parts shown in the movie’s trailer. Unfortunately, most of the impression will be negative — of a reckless and not very bright rider — rather than building on mountain biking’s progress as an increasingly mainstream activity.

Of course, it’s not the purpose of the movie to burnish mountain-biking’s image. But we didn’t want to let its portrayal pass without defending mtb either.

It may be that Aron Ralston, the climber who got himself into a mess in Bluejohn Canyon west of Moab by simply neglecting to tell anyone where he was going, is the kind of guy who:

1. Rides without a helmet. In the movie, James Franco (who by all accounts gives a tour de force performance) is shown cruising across the desert in a baseball-type cap. It may well be that Ralston chose not to wear a helmet. But it’s something almost no mountain biker would do, simply because the risks are so great.

We’ve spent a lot of time riding the hard rock of Utah and can’t remember any time we saw a mountain biker out on the trails without a helmet.

2. Rides an outdated bike. The kind of Rocky Mountain hardtail shown in the film was a decent ride in the 1990s, but mountain bikers in the past decade went almost exclusively to dual suspension. Especially around Canyonlands, where suspension really shines in rugged trail slickrock country.

You do find hardtail holdouts from time to time, and maybe Ralston was one. (The argument for a hardtail is fewer things to go wrong, break down, etc.) The incident took place in 2003, when hardtails still popped up now and then. But we’ve been riding in Moab and vicinity since the early 1990s and by 2000 the scene was mostly full suss.

3. Rides with a backpack better suited to 50-mile hikes than mountain biking. Ralston’s orientation was to rock climbing, so his pack probably reflected that more than biking. No mtber is going to want the big, bulky thing that “127 Hours” shows on his or her back in the southern Utah desert.

4. Rides without gloves and other bike equipment. Again, maybe Ralston did so and the movie is accurate in that regard. But it doesn’t make for a very astute rider in the perilous back country.

5. The header Franco/Ralston takes could’ve been more realistically staged. We’ve seen lots of mountain biking crashes, and been in more than a few ourselves, and this one — where Franco flies off the bike for no apparent reason, having struck nothing or otherwise forced out of control — looks dumb. Franco, or his stunt double, lands neatly on his back. It’s a great way to crash, but hey, you don’t get to select technique when you go off the bars. That’s why all the broken ribs and separated shoulders.

Is any of this really germane to a film which is actually about getting stuck while rock scrambling? Probably not. It also may be the case that the trailer oversimplifies the film itself.

But if you’re a mountain biker watching the film, you may find yourself wincing at its characterization.

To the film’s credit, if everyone comes away from it with greater resolve to tell loved ones where they’re headed the next time they go out on a long ride — well, our other points are just nitpicking.

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15 thoughts on “Does “127 Hours” Harm Mountain Biking’s Image?”

  1. Seems kind of a silly movie when there are so many action sports movies that show exactly a different tone of our activities. But that is Hollywood. Dumb everything down and sensationalize it. Don’t know if the real guy ever rode without a helmet, but I can hear the discussion by Boyle and crew when they decided to go that route to show a hazardous personality. They would have made it about constructing a character.

  2. Reading your title, I expected a drug and alcohol loaded misfit, tearing up/defacing private property, and causing general public mayhem… all while on a mountain bike. Seriously, none of your points even support your title of “harming the image” of mountain bikers or the sport in general. If anything, the preview shows an outdoor enthusiast, using a mountain bike to get from point A to point B on soft sandy dirt roads in the middle of nowheresville. Other than not wearing a helmet, do you really think non-mtn bikers will care or even notice for that matter if he’s on a 2011 Niner Rip9 vs his 1992 Specialized Stumpjumper? Or that he’s wearing a hiking pack instead of a Camelbak Mule? I doubt it.

  3. “hiking pack vs camel back”

    It makes total sense that a guy going climbing is only going to want to haul climbing stuff and not Mt Bike stuff on the trail. Also, it doesn’t really take much to take a header off the bars. I’ve landed on my back, mostly because mid-air I decided that it would be a “safer” fall. So glad I’ve missed the broken bones from it though.

    Besides anyone looking to Hollywood movies for a realistic view of anything has never been to the movies. Documentaries are closer but rarely perfect either.

    For me, the reviews citing the number of people walking out due to the gruesome scene where he cuts off his own arm. Well I doubt that it was even close to how awful it actually was and even then people can’t stomach it. So I doubt I’m going to want to watch this either.

  4. Please. The ONLY thing that was of issue was the lack of helmet shown in the movie. As a mountain biker myself, I would never ride slickrock–or anywhere else for that matter–without a helmet. But your other points are really far fetched, and certainly wouldn’t “harm” mountain biking’s image. Like when you mention gloves. Gloves?!?! You really think some fatass in the theater is going to be sipping on his coke and munching on Milk Duds and think, “Man, that mountain biking activity looks absolutely crazy! He’s not even wearing gloves! Mountain biking sure is a terrible activity.” Come on.

    And saying hardtails pop up “now and then” is a joke. Hardtails are still alive and well and extremely popular, and are seen a lot more often than now and then, unless you exclusively ride downhill/freeride or are a BC bike bum. Hardtails are an extremely popular choice for the type of XC riding Ralston was doing…the goal being to get somewhere, not see how fast he could descend a fucking bike park line. And saying mountain bikers don’t “ride outdated bikes” is hilarious. Steelies, hardtails, singlespeeds…they all have their niche. And there are still plenty of avid mountain bikers who ride bikes they’ve owned for years. Not everybody trades in last year’s “full suss” for this year’s hot new “full suss” just because they saw it in the pages of Dirt magazine.

    I am the last person to ever comment on a blog. But as a XC mountain biker for 10 years, this post was too terribly researched and written not to comment. Weak content, just grabbing for something when there’s nothing.

  5. Why was this article written?

    You’re picking apart a trailer for a movie you have not seen for its inaccurate portrayal of your brand of helmet wearing, soft-tail riding smaller backpack wearing mountainbiker that should be offended by this trailer.

  6. im sorry but who ever wrote this article is a damn nutcase, idiot, monkey whatever you want to call them what the hell does it matter whether or not he rode with gloves, wore a helmet, or wore a backpack to YOUR dislike. By you writing this article, you can go to any movie and criticize if a kid gets on a skateboard, bike, rollerbades etc “Oh wait, no no no, you see what he’s wearing NOPE that could never happen no person wears knee pads that are that big” i mean really come on this is in no way harming the image of anything, and if you truly believe it is go watch some other movies and waste the time in your day to write another article about how you feel personally cause someone did the wrong thing or “dissed” your sport, and you bring up that page and you write them one strongly worded letter about how you didnt like it. I cant believe anyone would even consider putting this on the internet

  7. Reality is stranger than fiction!!

    Where does cutting off a limb with a blunt blade fit in your biking commandments? I got a mountain bike to ride to work so I can burn 300+ calories every day & I have fenders, bell, kick stand etc. on my mountain bike.

    If they had shown a poser with a fancy bike in biking shorts, wearing all biking gear, it would have come across as a very bad thing to do… instead, it was portrayed as an excellent device to get one from point A to B in style.

  8. The only thing I thought was a little strange was the wasted energy doing half wheelies on the road. Other than that, the biking was pretty much just transportation, hardly ‘mt biking’ and really who cares about the image. It’s a good movie — though some of the shots with the chicks were a bit unrealistic.

  9. I remember thinking during the whole movie that the image of mountain biking was being harmed so bad that it was even harder to take than watching the dude cut his arm off.

  10. Rediculous article. If anything, the reason I stumbled on this article was because the movie hightened my interest in mountain biking.

  11. ((to the moderation team of “bikeintelligencer.com”””” I would like to correct my comment to be THUS: ((since it’s still in moderation to be posted))

    Really? I have heard several dozen personal reviews of the movie by people and never ever has any of them, which most if not all have been by people who also ride and are experienced riders, ever mentioned this aspect of the movie, which by all accounts is not even remotely, relative to the actual intent of the “movie”.

    Perhaps, the reason for this, is that seasoned riders will take note of the careless and reckless regard for safety, which results in being “pinned and shackled” to something that requires dire triumph of will to overcome.

    Drivers, divers,climbers, swimmers, partiers, bikers and an endless slew of other peoples who tackle life with gusto will take away pretty much one general thing from this movie;

    “idiocy sometimes usually, if not always results in and is the blame for tragedy and loss of life and limb when coupled with reckless disregard”.

    Bikers are not harmed by this movie or given a “bad rep”. It’s personal choice if someone wants to ride a hard tail where most ride full suspension rigs, with or without gear.

    Going out into the middle of nowhere, without letting anyone know is also idiocy.

    This movie is not about mountain biking, and if a biker thinks this movie will harm the image of “mtn bikers” in general, the harm is only in the bikers mind.

    You either choose to gear up and use safety nets, etc, or you don’t!

    In the end, you might end up having to gnaw a limb off, or maybe be so brain damaged you don’t even know someone is gnawing on your hand!

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