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Bike trip

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A beer sends a freewheeling couple on a 500-mile cycling pilgrimage

‘We were beautiful in our ignorance…’

On its hand-drawn surface, Bike Trip (2018) is a simple and delightful film about a Minneapolis couple – Tom Schroeder and Hilde de Roover – recounting the story of an impromptu, 500-mile (804 km) cycling journey. Schroeder pulls double duty as director and co-storyteller as he and de Roover recount how, after just one beer from Bell’s Brewery made them groggy the following day, they made the foolhardy decision to bike from their city to Bell’s home in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to ask about the product’s lingering effects.

It’s a refreshingly gentle, low-stakes ride. The only conflict that arises is between the duo – who quickly realise they’re unprepared for the trip – and the endless hills, beating sun and general wear and tear they take on along the way. But even these small obstacles dissolve as Schroeder and de Roover find their footing before the adventure reaches a serendipitous end. With the raw white-on-black animation style resembling chalkboard sketches, and the images spilling into one another alongside the words of the storytellers, the production is unified in its freewheeling approach, mirroring the spirit of the tale it weaves. Even the percussive soundtrack that propels the trip was improvised by the US jazz drummer Dave King of the Bad Plus.

But rich layers beyond the spontaneous charm of it all are revealed when you learn more about the production. The film represents the third in a trilogy of animation-and-drums collaborations between Schroeder and King. Each is done in a similar improvised style, and each explores different stages and shades of love via biking stories. The first, Bike Ride (2000), traces the story of one of Shroeder’s high school art students who embarked on a 50-mile (80 km) odyssey to see his girlfriend – only to be dumped shortly after arriving. The second, Bike Race (2010), recalls Schroeder and de Roover’s own meeting and courtship, which was born of a love triangle between drinking and biking buddies. And Bike Trip is, in Schroeder’s words, a ‘resolution of the three’, representing the middle-aged life he and de Roover now enjoy together. In that sense, it concludes a story of partnership and evolution – between Schroeder and de Roover, and between Schroeder and King.

Another theme that lingers just below the surface of Bike Trip is human kindness. At every turn, the chronically unprepared pair are ushered along by strangers who ask nothing in return. Fellow cyclers provide helpful tips for easing the journey. Friendly homeowners invite them to camp on their property. When they finally arrive at Bell’s only to realise the business is in the process of relocating, a bartender at a brewery across the street takes them in with welcoming arms (and taps), even capping their pilgrimage with a prized bottle of barley wine. ‘It was a very stupid idea, but it was one of the best experiences of my life’, Schroeder said at a live screening of the Bike Trilogy in 2018. ‘It gives you faith in humanity.’

Written by Adam D’Arpino

Director: Tom Schroeder

Animators: Tom Schroeder, Anna Taberko

Music: Dave King

24 November 2021