Most films about cyclists, climbers, and any other solo athletic endeavour will, naturally, focus on the individual performing it. It should be the most interesting part, and be the source of most or all of the conflict in the story. A new documentary from Matt Dearborn (Even Stevens) and Rick Weis (The Office), Until the Wheels Come Off, follows 50-year-old cyclist John Tarlton as he participates in one of the most grueling bike marathons in the world. The Race Across America (RAAM) is 30% longer than the Tour De France, and must be completed in about half the time – 12 days. It’s punishing for just about anyone, but Tarlton is certainly racing against the odds.
But where Until the Wheels Come Off deviates from most documentaries like this is that it becomes clear early on that the real story isn’t John, or at least it’s not the only story. Because of the way that the documentary is shot – from the perspectives of Matt Dearborn and Rick Weis who were embedded with the support crew – John comes across more or less like a vessel in the movie. It’s John’s dedicated and diligent support team – composed of close friends and his family – that are the main focus, and show how much goes into an athlete’s regimen as a long-distance race like this wears on. John is the one to “execute on the bike” as he puts it, but the gargantuan level of backup from his family and friends is essential, and their efforts to get John to the finish line are really highlighted here. The interplay between family members and John’s friends, making sure that he can eat, heal, and closely monitoring his performance in each leg of the race is fascinating.
All of John’s personality is revealed through his relationships with his wife and three kids, as well as coworkers who volunteer to help get their boss through RAAM. They say that your friends are the best reflection of who you are as a person, and if that’s the case here, John is loyal, dedicated, and driven to elevate everyone around him. From meal preparation, to route navigation, to making sure that his equipment is functioning properly, the team is there at a moment’s notice to step up when they’re needed. There’s conflict, of course, as any family experiences (especially when crammed into a van for 12 days) but it’s clear that they’re all looking out for John first and foremost.
Until The Wheels Come Off is a fresh look at one of the most taxing long-distance competitions on the planet, the athletic endeavour of long-distance cycling, and more importantly, is the story of how the relationships we build can carry us to lengths that even we didn’t think we could achieve.
Until The Wheels Come Off is currently available on VOD from Gravitas Ventures