The Original

“Dave Wonderly said he always took his mountain bike along when he went climbing in Joshua Tree, a mecca for climbers from around the world, who congregate there every year in the off-season to hone their bouldering skills. For his two-minute sequence, I shot three 100-foot rolls of 16mm film—six minutes total—with my hand-crank Bolex and three fixed lenses in some of Dave's favorite rock formations.” Wonderly wheelies in front of Ruck’s van in 1984, a decade before Joshua Tree was closed to mountain bikes.

The Original Wolf Ruck's Freewheelin'

It was my friend Kevin Wilkins, founding editor of The Skateboard Mag and an avid mountain biker, who first came across the film on YouTube and sent it to me.

The upload date said 2010 and the quality of the video was grainy at best, a poorly digitalized version of old celluloid that made it hard to view details.

But you didn’t need a sharp image to see the obvious— if dated — skills of the mountain bikers it portrayed. The mustaches, the fanny packs and cutoff jeans, the insane bike setups with everything from drop to bull-moose bars, the riders’ radical style; it all added up to a masterpiece both timeless and purely 1980s.

The film was titled Freewheelin’, and was made with a windup 16mm camera by someone named Wolf Ruck. I immediately emailed Kevin back, and our conversation went crazy from there. We scoured the internet for more information, but beyond the grainy YouTube video, Freewheelin’ seemed to be completely forgotten. The original publishing date said 1985, ancient in mountain bike terms — so ancient that, as far as we could tell, the poetic, funny and, by any standard, action-packed romp was the first mountain bike film ever made.

I found myself fascinated with Freewheelin’. This was partly for its historical importance, but mainly because it was so much fun to watch, both as a biker and a fellow filmmaker. This Wolf Ruck had made something informative, but had done so while blending abstraction, fast-cut motion and unique “point-of-view” angles (quite a feat in the days before GoPro), then layered the edited film with a jamming and funky score. I decided I had to talk to the man behind this beautiful film.

After a few internet Hail Mary messages, I got a response from Wolf via his YouTube account and we set up a time to talk on the phone. Now in his 70s and living outside of Toronto, Wolf immediately came across as a happy, humble grandpa (which he is), entertained that someone had taken the time to track him down to ask him about an old film.

As our conversation continued, it became obvious there was more to Wolf than just Freewheelin’. Born in Germany, he moved to Canada in his teens and quickly demonstrated his dual passions for art and sport. He’s been painting since he was 10 years old, an artistic outlet that has remained a constant throughout his life. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto’s School of Physical and Health Education in 1969, graduating with academic majors in English, German, zoology and physiology. And, he told me almost reluctantly, he’d been a paddler for the Canadian canoeing team at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

It was his experiences at the Mexico Games that inspired his first film, the 1978 short Paddles Up. Canoes and the Olympics were also the subject of his second, 1981’s Winning!, an award-winning documentary about Canadian canoeist and Olympic silver medalist John Wood and coach Mac Hickox. The next year he followed with a film about another of his childhood pursuits, Nordic skiing, in the 27-minute motivational-instructional video This is Cross-Country, first released in 1982.

This article is for our Subscribers and Plus Members.

Gain access by purchasing an online or print subscription.

Basic Free Subscription
$0 / Year

  • Access to the FH Dashboard

  • Bookmark favorite articles for easy access

  • Browse articles by issue

  • Receive our weekly newsletter for the latest content and special discounts

Sign Up

Plus Online Subscription
$19.95 | Year

  • Online access to the latest print issues the day they hit newsstands

  • Download print articles and take them with you on the go for offline reading

  • Access to the FH Dashboard

  • Bookmark favorite articles for easy access

  • Browse articles by issue

  • Receive our weekly newsletter for the latest content and special discounts

 Get Plus 
Free Trial

Premium Print Subscription
$34.95 | Year*

  • 4 Issues/year of our print magazine mailed directly to your front door

  • Online access to the latest print issues the day they hit newsstands

  • Download print articles and take them with you on the go for offline reading

  • Access to the FH Dashboard

  • Bookmark favorite articles for easy access

  • Browse articles by issue

  • Receive our weekly newsletter for the latest content and special discounts

Go Premium

Already a Member?

Login