Over the past decade there have been some truly great documentaries made on motor racing. Not, I am not referring to anything involving Jeremy Clarkson and Co, but more the likes of Asif Kapadia's 2010 BAFTA-winning film Senna, TT: Closer to the Edge, a look at Guy Martin and Ian Hutchinson as they raced to try and win the Isle of Man TT race, among many others. However, most of these films that have received so much acclaim have focused chiefly on the professional side of things, but what about the amateurs who spend their weekends competing for regional trophies in motor racing. Well, the BBC have attempted to remedy the absence of such a film with the release of Road Riders, a three part documentary released here as a feature length single presentation, looking at the word of amateur motorbike racing in Northern Ireland.
Road Riders follows 10 individuals across the span of a season, telling the human stories of the motivation behind wanting to race, the obstacles they’ve found on the way, and of course plenty of footage of the actual races themselves. What is really interesting is the variety of different walks of life represented within the sport. From Melissa who is still very young, and for whom the sport has become a family affair, to Yvonne who essentially bought a bike as a hobby after some big life changes and then ended up joining the racing circuit. The documentary does a great job of showing the riders as people first and competitors second, but they just happen to be people who are utterly obsessed with a particularly dangerous sport. There are bereavements, injuries, scares and also moments of glory and bonding that are all part and parcel of what is an engaging and intriguing presentation of motor sports at a literal grass root level, all the way up to the verge of semi-professional motorsport.
The stories here are very interesting, but the juxtaposition with the stunning race footage is what really makes this documentary something special. From road side cameras, cameras mounted on bikes and shots taken from angles I wasn’t sure were physically possible, you really get the full gamut of imagery from the races which just rams home how much of an adrenaline packed, high octane sport road racing can be. At times it seems utterly terrifying, and even though you know as a viewer you are watching something pre-recorded, there is still a very tangible sense of anxiety and dread watching the riders as they go round sharp corners on country roads. It really is excellent, and makes for a visceral experience as a viewer.
For me, the key criteria for how good any documentary is, comes down to whether it mages to grab my interest and pull me into the personal, professional, intimate and wider stories of the people involved as well as the community at large, regardless of the subject matter. I'm not even a huge motorsports fan, but this series really achieves that goal, and it definitely comes highly recommended.