As Mitchell Scott speaks on a patio in downtown Nelson, the morning soundtrack is of cars driving by. Scott gestures to the street with incredulity.
“Imagine this was just all bikes,” he says pointing to traffic.
A new B.C.-produced documentary, conceived and written by Scott, makes a compelling case the world should run on two wheels instead of four.
The Engine Inside by Squamish-based Anthill Films, which premiered last month in Vancouver and Nelson, profiles six cyclists who are each changing the world in their own way with bicycles. The film visits locations including Egypt, Ghana, the Netherlands and the United States to show what can be accomplished when bikes are considered solutions to societal problems.
Kwabena Danso, for example, builds bikes out of bamboo to provide employment and affordable transportation for his small village in Ghana. Darnell Williams, known as RRDBlocks, used his online following to organize community rides in New York City and give free bikes to kids.
Jay Bearhead is a Kamloops resident who grew up in foster care and then in an American residential school. The Engine Inside shows how Bearhead has used mountain biking to heal from childhood trauma and a substance-use disorder while reconnecting with his Indigenous culture.
There are two billion bikes in the world, Scott says, and they can be used to address traffic congestion in major cities, lift people out of poverty and provide a healthy outlet for those struggling with mental health issues.
“It’s often been called the noblest invention. It’s super simple, and in that simplicity is its beauty. I think we make the world increasingly more complex, but here’s this thing that has to be the most beautiful connection between our physical body and our mental ingenuity. It’s brilliant.”
Bicycles are also often political.
The Engine Inside profiles Colorado-based lawyer Megan Hottman, who has made a career representing cyclists and was herself injured in an accident with a car during the documentary’s filming.
Women’s rights are also considered. The adoption of the safety bicycle in the late 19th century provided women a cheap way of leaving their homes, improving their fitness and becoming exposed to new ideas that led to demonstrations for voting rights.
The Engine Inside shows bikes remain an important tool in the fight for gender equality. Nouran Salah lives in Cairo where she is one of the few women to ride a bike. The act is a social taboo in Egypt, but Salah’s group Cycling Geckos works to empower women to ride.
“The women’s suffrage movement in Europe and North America is directly tied to women riding bikes,” says Scott.
Scott has been riding and writing about bicycles since he was first handed a little blue banana seat bike as a child. He grew up on two wheels, following the trends from BMX to mountain to, most recently, electric bikes.
His first published story was about an underground mountain bike scene near Nelson in 1998. Since then he’s worked for a bike magazine, as a marketing director for Kona Bicycles, and in 2010 wrote the mountain bike documentary Life Cycles.
He also noticed there had not yet been a movie about how bikes were used around the globe. In 2012 Scott wrote a pitch for a movie he titled The Engine Inside, which about six years ago he discussed with Anthill Films. They began to fundraise, but couldn’t get the money they needed to tell a story requiring travel to multiple continents.
Then, in the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began. With their travel plans cancelled, public transportation shut down and government encouragement to get outdoors, consumers remembered cycling.
“The greatest bike boom in the history of cycling since it was first invented happened, and all these bike companies were awash with money,” said Scott. “We took another run at it and were able to raise the money to do it.”
That boom has since gone bust, but the window lasted just long enough for Scott to make the movie he dreamed of. He hopes viewers reconsider their relationship with bicycles after having seen The Engine Inside.
“We wanted to tell the story of the bike,” he says, “and the story of the bike is global.”