Free to Wander features interviews with custom motorcycle builders Paul Wideman, Keino, and Paul Cox and was shot on-scene in the American Midwest, Chicago, and NYC.
Free to Wander is a testimony to the spirit of motorcycling. The group of guys in the movie build the bikes they ride, many pieced together with salvaged parts, a compilation of old school jockey-shifting motorcycles with rigid frames that sometimes need an extra push from buddies to get started. The documentary is raw and unpolished, a big shift from the glamorized spin that motorcycle programs on TV have created.
The film follows a group of bikers and builders as they ride through the upper Midwest, across the plains of South Dakota to the Windy City and eventually landing in New York City. Along the way they stop and talk shop with custom builders Paul Wideman of Bare Knuckle Choppers, Paul Cox of Paul Cox Industries, and Keino Sasaki of Keino’s Cycles.
“It’s not stock, it’s not factory, it’s life as it comes, not as it’s supposedly supposed to be.”
These words spoken by the narrator in the film Free to Wander hold true for the movie itself. The scenes depicted in the piece are discordant at times as it displays small vignettes of Americana, from a trip to a corral in South Dakota and shots of a girl barrel racing to the scene where the guys are running around in animal costumes doing Jack Ass style shenanigans.
The movie combines still images, action footage, and interview clips with music arranged to complement the tone of a scene. The shots are often blurry and unrefined, strangely similar to the subjects in the film. Themes like brotherhood, freedom, and a sense of anti-establishmentarianism are unspoken but understood. These aren’t a bunch of leather-vest wearing weekend warriors.
The documentary develops a little slow, but the interviews with Wideman, Cox, and Sasaki inject life into it. In the piece with Bare Knuckle Choppers’ Wideman, he shares some of the trials he went through establishing his shop. It’s ironic to see how somebody as talented as Wideman initially couldn’t get a gig anywhere. “Nobody gave me a full-time job working on building shit, so I decided to create it myself.”
The interview with Keino is one of the best parts of the movie. I applaud Keino for having the guts to move from Japan because “he wanted to be involved in this custom motorcycle thing.” Until I watched the film, I wasn’t aware that he attended MMI in Phoenix when he first moved to the States, and was a line worker at a Mitsubishi plant. Seeing the end result of his work makes you think that it comes easy to
Paul Cox, one of the custom motorcycle builders featured in Free to Wander, talks about his latest build with a friend at Sturgis.
him, that he didn’t have to struggle as he sent resumes and cover letters to different bike shops looking for work. It’s funny how a kid growing up in Japan ended up in Brooklyn studying under Indian Larry. As did Paul Cox, who said that he started building as a kid, stretching forks on bicycles and tricking out go-karts. With his heralded custom motorcycle the Sword of Damocles on the lift behind him, Cox talks about being diversified and not being limited by categorization. Again, the interviews drive the film.
The first time I watched the movie, its randomness, lack of scene cohesiveness and slow pace left me wondering where the film was going. The grainy, jerky action footage gets tiresome to watch. But when I viewed it again without putting as much emphasis on story line and plot and absorbed it “as life comes, not as it’s supposedly supposed to be,” it all made sense. It deconstructs the sensationalism that TV has created surrounding motorcycling. It reminds me of Michael Lichter’s black and white photo called Early Morning that shows a bunch of bikers camping in Sturgis’ City Park and one rider has taken off his fake leg and has propped it against his chopper while he sleeps. I could see the pack from Free to Wander riding with this one-legged guy because they have the same attitude, doing it all for the sake of the love of motorcycling, filled with the notion that every day the bike starts up is a good day.