Cycles South (1971)
I’ve never ridden a motorcycle. Never. I am in love with the romanticism of the open road on a two-wheeled freedom machine though. Cycles South is a documentary about 3 guys (and a handful of crew)
Published on July 1, 2011 | Filed under Review

I’ve never ridden a motorcycle. Never. I am in love with the romanticism of the open road on a two-wheeled freedom machine though.

Cycles South is a documentary about 3 guys (and a handful of crew) driving tiny engine 2-stroke motorcycles all the way from Denver to Panama in 4 months. These dudes don’t just take the highways and bi-ways though. Oh no, most of the time they’re cruising through forests, deserts, and beaches on non-off-road bikes. Hell these aren’t even dual purpose bikes, they’re straight up street rides which is pretty amazing. Driving over tree branches, crashing through jungles and swamps, these guys are hardcore. They eat shit a lot too which the narrator points out to us viewers in his sarcastic, older-brother bullying way. Speaking of the narrator this film is filled with sexist remarks, women are annoying “beavers” and our fearless trio is always on the prowl for “their favorite kind of meat.” Personally I thought all the blue remarks were hilarious as they are a product of their time. Political correctness was an unknown idea at the time and it shows. Men used to be crass and pigs and although I’m glad my generation has grown up a bit it’s still refreshing to see a movie devoid of pretension and cautiousness. These guys are constantly facing certain doom being stuck out in the middle of nowhere with no help, no cell phones, and no medical attention so I can’t really blame them for being crass. They’ve got bigger worries.

The footage in this film is unreal. They ride their bikes through railroad tracks into pitch black tunnels with no idea of what’s inside. They ride along railroad trestles, one mistake from falling to their deaths. They ride through rivers, up mountains, through sand and dunes, all on bikes with smaller engines than are commercially available today on street tires! The most amazing footage features a handlebar view of racing through a busy street in Oaxaca, Mexico, riding between cars, dodging pedestrians (in one case grazing a man carrying a basket of oranges) and blasting past police. Truly white knuckle stuff. These dudes are bad asses from the old-school. Fearless, beer drinking, stream fishing, womanizing, hairy chested men. These guys crash left and right and get back up laughing, ready for more. They aren’t professional riders, just outdoors men with a bucket of balls.

The doc isn’t without its faults though. Many scenes in the film are staged, including a snake in the sleeping bag gag and other silly nonsense and the music has not aged well at all. At certain points I was ready to jab an ice pick in my ear for fear of hearing any more hippy dippy bullshit. Some of the riding montages run long and many scenes within the film have two shots in the frame, which sometimes works, but most of the time it just seems like a way to use footage that otherwise would be too dull to include.

The movie is 40 years old, and it does show its age but it also shows a slice of life no longer possible. Small 2-stroke motorcycles are illegal and riding around central America is ill-advised at best these days. Cycles South is an inspiring look at a life lived for adventure, without worry, or desire for material goods. The only desire these dudes had was for cheap women and good times. Screw the house and a fancy car. Give me freedom of choice any day.

Uncouth enjoys all manner of exploitation cinema. He is a video editor by trade and a cinephile by obsession. He runs Toxic-Graveyard.com and contributes to Lunchmeat Magazine. He is also a specialist at finding creepy crawly things under rocks for his kids.

  • Ric

    Just saw this last night and had the exact same take on it — creepily charming. There’s no way anybody today could include that footage of them casually slaughtering a sea turtle, and not because they were probably game poaching.

  • Beeser750

    Uh, actually, they weren’t on “tiny engine 2-stroke motorcycles” (though the one sure smoked like a 2-stroke). They were all on British-made four stroke singles, 250cc, made by the BSA conglomerate (BSA, Triumph).

    Ah, but that Colorado would be like this today….

    Mark in Lakewood, CO

    • Mmbrombe

      Half way through the documentary they dump their BSA’s and switch to 175cc two-stroke Kawasakis.

  • Jezene16

    They probably needed a “bucket of balls” because they had to keep changing them out! I’m watching it now. It’s like Roger Coreman does Disney. Far out stuff. Excellent camera work. I love the monkey riding on the sissy bar and the commune. I’ll bet the babies in this film grew up to be hard line republicans!

  • James

    “Men used to be crass and pigs…”
    “I’m glad my generation has grown up a bit…”
    Your wrong. Twice.

    Reading the first sentence of this article, I wondered if it would color its content and quality. It did.