16 Sep 2009 9:00 am   //   Filed under: Bicycles, Movies

The best bike movie of all time

Note: I’m riding in the Bike MS ride on October 4 (info) and so every post this week is about biking!

I was originally going to call this post “The top 5 bike movies of all time,” but who would I be kidding? There is only one that matters: “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”


“I wouldn’t sell my bike for all the money in the world!,” Pee-Wee declares. “Not for a hundred billion million trillion dollars!”

Right on! Fact: This movie launched director Tim Burton’s career. Fact: This movie spawned the sugary 1980s Saturday morning classic Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, beloved by millions of children. Fact: Every time you hear the song “Tequila” by The Champs, you picture Pee-Wee dancing on the bar.

This movie also has the best bicycle chase scene ever committed to film. Beyond dispute.

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure isn’t just incidentally about a bike. It captures something about the mind of the cyclist. Pee-Wee is obsessive. After his bike gets stolen, he drags his best friends into his basement for a three-hour presentation of all the meaningless evidence he’s collected. Then he gets offended when they leave. Convinced of his own rightness, he sets off alone on a quest, following a sort of trippy version of Route 66.

Later, while gazing at a sunrise from atop of a giant roadside dinosaur, he encourages his new friend Simone to follow her dreams. It’s a speech about being driven, about having a work ethic. Following his own advice, Pee-Wee keeps going. But it turns out Pee-Wee is tilting at windmills. Who hasn’t invested a great deal of effort in a project only to discover there is no basement at the Alamo? This is how Pee-Wee learns humility. He fails and he is better for it. What could be more American?

“Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” reminds us of all the good things about childhood we were too young to appreciate at the time. This film lets us indulge in the dream that obsessive perseverance always pays off. It’s even delivered as a resurrection story: If your bike gets stolen, it just might come back.

In the movie, Pee-Wee eventually finds his bike. In the real world, Paul Reubens would fall from grace, his career as a children’s entertainer never to recover. Reubens is now trying to stage a Pee-Wee revival with a new theatrical show. Seems misguided, but who knows? Skinny gray suits have finally come back in style.