By Merle Bertrand | March 28, 2001

Bet you didn’t know that the real movers and shakers in New York City aren’t the suits in Manhattan, but the ever-present bicycle messengers patrolling the streets of the Big Apple. That, at least, is what this strange and colorful subculture would have you believe…and by the end of Peter Sutherland’s workmanlike documentary “Pedal,” they just might succeed.
Sutherland interviews an assortment of riders with colorful names straight out of the XFL. Most of these guys talk as good a game as they ride. (Women riders, incidentally, seem to be rare, at least judging by the tiny number of them in this film.) There’s the predictable boasting about who’s the “baddest” of them all, as well as some intricate if never resolved introspection about why they literally risk their necks on the vehicle-infested jungle that is the street for a mere $100 a day.
Sutherland also introduces us to the natural born predators of the bicycle messenger species. Surly New York cabbies gladly acknowledge their willingness to embrace road rage as a way of getting even with the bikers for daring to try to coexist. Then there’s the bicycle patrol; a division of the NYPD that exists solely to crack down on reckless bicycle messengers; a redundant expression if ever there ever was one.
Most of all, though, “Pedal” is a POV lover’s dream. Using cameras mounted on bikes, on the riders’ helmets, on accompanying skateboarders and with fellow bikers riding in formation, “Pedal” gives us a look at the often harrowing rides these messengers take dozens of times each day. If they’re not dodging randomly opening car doors or skittering through cross traffic against the red light like Frogger on speed, they’re flying against the grain of a one way street or squeaking out of a tight squeeze between two oblivious eighteen-wheelers crammed into a roadway barely wide enough to hold one. The crashes caught on tape are as inevitable as they are spectacular.
In the end, it all seems to come down to an unspoken, possibly unknown allure; a mysterious stranglehold the job holds for these riders when they wake up and find those two wheels staring at them in the morning. “Pedal” helps the viewer to understand these riders as people who take pride in doing their jobs as best as they can. Just like those suits in all those office towers who would find life to be much more difficult without the ubiquitous bicycle messengers.

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