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4/6/2006

Culture > Feature

POWER TO THE PEDALS

 

Lucas Brunelle, a computer technician from Boston, has discovered an even more efficient means than porn for creating great cinema: bike porn. With a pair of video cameras mounted on his helmet, he simply records the action as he and his fellow bicyclists recklessly careen through crowded city streets, dodging taxis, pedestrians, potholes and whatever else the constantly changing urban landscape throws their way.

Then he edits the results and posts them on his website, www.digave.com. Short, action-packed and nearly dialogue-free, the videos reduce narrative to its most essential form: Will these characters make it from point A to B without getting killed? Thanks to the immersive perspective provided by Brunelle's helmet-cams, it feels as if you're in the midst of a vividly rendered video game – one that might turn into a real-life snuff film at any moment.

There are no elaborate special effects here, just fearlessness, superb bike-handling skills, a blatant disregard for traffic laws and the vagaries of fate. Needless to say, Brunelle and his friends don't ride like the hero of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, who stopped at every intersection and telegraphed his intentions with careful hand signals. Instead, they roll through red lights and crosswalks like bowling balls in search of pins. They squeeze through the narrow channels between two buses in traffic. They grab cars and trucks and hold on as the vehicles accelerate.

These days, of course, there's no shortage of extreme-sports video. Compared to the virtuoso acrobatics on display at the X Games, Brunelle's efforts are almost antediluvian. These cyclists don't do midair spins off huge vertical ramps, and there aren't any spectacular cliffside wipeouts either. But the city and its inhabitants are unpredictable in ways that skate ramps and mountains aren't, and most importantly, there's the liberating, transgressive nature of it all. It's not only illegal to ride head-on into traffic at night without lights or reflectors, it's also not very prudent.

Indeed, if you've ever ventured into a busy city on your bike, then you know that even riding defensively and predictably is an adventure – amidst herds of stampeding SUVs, taxis and buses, anything nonmotorized is prey. But Brunelle and company turn the tables on that. They ride so aggressively, and they're so heedless of traffic laws and established conventions, that for a moment they become the predators. Alas, under the regimes of both car and renegade cyclist, it's the pedestrians who remain forever oppressed. The cyclists in Brunelle's videos leave more than few startled bystanders in their wake. No doubt their antics also inspire some drivers to exercise their frustrations on other cyclists they encounter.

So far, at least, Brunelle has dodged such ethical potholes in his videos. Instead, he presents a highly idealized vision of urban adventure. No one gets tickets, no pedestrians are clipped and only one accident is documented: A bicyclist runs into the side of a turning car, but it doesn't result in injury. (The cyclist politely apologizes to the car's driver, a little old lady.) There aren't even any instances of having to stop at a light or plod up a hill.

Instead, it's smooth sailing, sunny days and all-out sprinting through an endless maze of streets – the city as a chaotic but exhilarating two-wheeled paradise. That's what makes it porn, and what makes it so appealing. Indeed, as you see the cyclists moving so fluidly through gridlocked streets, acting almost as if the cars they're weaving through don't exist, you can't help but wonder: What if those cars really didn't exist? What would our cities look like if we designed them for people rather than motorized vehicles? Urban planners have been asking similar questions for years, but never in such entertaining fashion.

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