Chariots Of Fire, Cool Runnings, Raging Bull, I could go on… We have amazing movies about all kinds of sports.
But what about movies about cycling? Well, the good news is that there are a lot!
What are the best cycling movies? Read on to find out! We’re going to be talking about dramas, documentaries, and cartoons alike.
In this article, we’ll be covering the best bicycle movies of all time. So get ready to read about:
- Breaking Away (1979)
- American Flyers (1985)
- Triplets Of Belleville (2003)
- A Sunday In Hell (1977)
- Chasing Legends (2010)
- Icarus (2007)
- Rising From Ashes (2013)
Turn off the lights, grab your popcorn, and settle in for a bicycle racing movies marathon!
Breaking Away (1979)
Perhaps the iconic cycling movie, Breaking Away is beloved by cyclists and popular audiences alike.
It’s a quintessential coming-of-age story that follows four lovable slackers, with bike races and hammy Italian layered on top.
Our hero Dave Stohler is a cycling fanatic with a love for all things Italian. After impersonating an Italian exchange student to wow a local college girl, Dave begins a story about friendship, class, growing up, and, (of course) cycling.
Breaking Away explores the universal early adulthood experiences of questioning your place in the world and striving to prove your worth.
The film culminates in a bike race and sees Dave face off against the local university kids and international Italian racers who look down on him for his working-class background.
And while the film gives us a well-rounded view of 1970s American suburban life, it is on the bike that Dave is able to find personal fulfillment and connect with his father.
Not just for the cycling fans, there’s something for everyone in Breaking Away: the classic retro cycling movie.
American Flyers (1985)
American Flyers gave cycling the classic ’80s sports movie treatment. It’s Rocky on two wheels!
We follow a young Kevin Costner as Marcus Sommers, an embittered ex-pro cyclist who missed out on Olympic glory due to the 1980 Summer Olympic boycott.
Marcus and his brother enter the three-day “Hell Of The West” race in Colorado, riding 1985 Specialized Allez SEs for one final adventure.
American Flyers is a perfectly over-the-top 80s sports drama, complete with training montages, underdogs who just won’t quit, villainous rivals, and a sporting climax.
The film takes place against the backdrop of the LeMond era of American road cycling, with quill-stemmed bikes, toe-buckled pedals, block-colored jerseys, and ’80s mustaches.
The Hell Of The West in the film actually features legendary stages from the Coors Classic in Colorado, and the real-life 7-Eleven team who competed in the Grand Tours in the ’80s appear in their iconic red, white, and green jerseys.
The film gets extra cycling cred with a cameo from a post-retirement Eddy Merckx, who was also the inspiration for Marcus’ rival in the film, Barry “The Cannibal” Muzzin.
Whilst American Flyers puts in the work to get authentic cycling sets and outfits, any cycling fan will quickly notice that the actors are clearly not keen cyclists themselves.
The cyclists in the film aren’t exactly the image of souplesse, with janky form and noticeably sparse pelotons, but the passion is there and the inaccuracies add to the experience.
American Flyers gives you all the sweat-drenched drama and boyish fun of ’80s sports movies, and it may even inspire you to start training in a cowboy hat!
Triplets Of Belleville (2004)
For a more unconventional take on the cycling movie, check out the amazingly avant-garde Les Triplettes de Belleville!
The Triplets Of Belleville is an off-kilter animation told mostly through song, which follows an old woman named Souza’s quest to rescue Champion, her son who rides in Le Tour.
More cycling adjacent than a film about cycling, Les Triplettes is critically acclaimed.
The Triplets of Belleville was nominated for two Academy Awards, won the Canadian Genie Award for Best Motion Picture, and was screened at Cannes Film Festival.
The film is an experience. It’s wonderfully weird and a lot of fun, although it’s also quite strange – kids will likely be confused or freaked out by this one.
The art style and animation in the film are top-notch and unique, evocative of Studio Ghibli’s surreal imagery.
Champion is rendered with juiced-up calves and an arrow-thin midriff, perpetually cycling in an exhausted slump – an over-the-top caricature of professional riders.
The film’s climax is a highlight: a cartoonishly epic chase through Belleville as Souza races to rescue Champion from the mobsters.
Les Triplettes de Belleville barely has any dialogue or plot, you might have weird dreams if you watch it before bed, and it’s an all-time great cycling movie.
A Sunday In Hell (1977)
Long, long before the upcoming Netflix Tour de France documentary, there was A Sunday In Hell.
‘En forårsdag i Helvede’ is a Danish documentary directed by Jørgen Leth that depicts the oldest and most famous of the one-day classics: Paris-Roubaix.
Some cycling films make the sport look beautiful, emphasizing the elegance of the bikes, and the athleticism of the riders. Instead, A Sunday In Hell makes cycling look violent.
We follow athletes through the 1976 “Hell of the North” as they battle cobbles and dodge crashes to win the day. Losers crash out and winners have to go through hell.
Placed firmly in the Merckx-era, the great man himself features heavily, along with other legends of the time including Roger De Vlaeminck (the 1975 winner) and Freddy Maertens.
As much a piece of cycling history in its own right, ‘A Sunday In Hell’ is a brutal, ‘blood, sweat, and gears’ depiction of professional road racing from a bygone era.
The film is a better pick for cycling fans than for more casual viewers. Leth assumes the viewer is in the know and offers little explanation of the race’s rules and background, instead allowing the drama to take center stage.
Saunders’ English-narrated version of the film is well worth a look, but unfortunately, no subtitled version exists so English-speaking viewers miss out on some of the riders’ interviews and perspectives.
A Sunday In Hell is truly of its time, and some of its idiosyncrasies will put a modern viewer off.
We wouldn’t recommend screening it to get your friends into the sport – but for a cycling fan, it’s a great watch and a treasured piece of cycling history.
Chasing Legends (2010)
For the modern cycling documentary, look no further than Chasing Legends.
Chasing Legends follows Team Columbia HTC through the 2009 Tour de France, covering the Tour’s highs, lows, upsets, and triumphs.
Professional cycling doesn’t start and end with Le Tour, but it is the sport’s highest peak, the aspiration of every pro rider, and “the best you can do in cycling”.
We follow Mark Cavendish, George Hincapie, and Erik Zabel through the tour, and the legendary Eddy Merckx appears (again!) lending perspective in interviews and voiceover.
The film is a good entry point into the sport and there’s a good balance of explanation for newcomers and meat and bones for out-and-out cycling fans.
An all-time great cycling documentary, though the film is slightly hurt by the fact it doesn’t seriously engage with doping. Which brings us on to…
Icarus is not just a great cycling documentary, it is a great documentary in its own right.
After years of scandalous headlines about the pervasion of performance enhancers and blood doping in sports, documentary filmmaker Bryan Fogel set out to find the truth.
Icarus begins with a compelling premise: can Fogel win an amateur cycling race while using performance enhancers with the help of a doping scientist?
Fun, right? Well, things take a turn and become less fun.
Icarus morphs into a dark picture of illicit doping in professional sport and what starts as Super Size Me style entertainment descends into a seedy, tension-filled political thriller.
Documentaries offer a unique opportunity to better understand their subjects, and in Icarus, we have an unmatched peak behind the curtain.
From Lance Armstrong to Team Sky, doping in cycling has become a world of smoke and mirrors, so part of the draw of the documentary is watching the subjects speak candidly about how to cheat in professional sports.
Bursting the banks of performance enhancers in cycling and flooding into all professional sports, Icarus is a great cycling movie and well worth a watch.
Rising From Ashes (2013)
Rising From Ashes is a powerful documentary about the ﬁrst National Cycling Team of Rwanda – a country scarred by genocide – and their journey to the Olympics.
In the film, we follow Adrien Niyonshuti, and his teammates. Athletes who overcame trauma and beat the odds, inspiring future generations in Rwanda.
The team is supported by American coach Jonathan Boyer, a man with his own difficult history, who tells the audience: “cycling is about suffering”.
And whilst the horrors of the Rwandan Genocide loom heavily, Rising From Ashes isn’t a film about suffering; it is a film about hope and second chances.
“You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.”
Documentary films have huge potential to shape views and attitudes, and Rising From Ashes is uplifting and inspiring in equal part.
With narration from Forest Whitaker, we see the story of the men who carried Rwanda to the Olympics and inspired national pride in cycling.
Rising From Ashes is an all-time great cycling documentary. Though the subject matter can be difficult, the film endures with universal themes that anyone can connect with.
Now you know all about the best cycling movies…
It’s a wonderful experience seeing your feelings about cycling captured and expressed through the language of cinema.
It’s difficult translating a love for sport onto the big screen. But when it works, it works.
And now you have a sturdy watch list of the best cycling movies which you can identify with and deepen your love for the sport.
So take your seats – the movie is about to begin!