Bauch is currently in post-production for "Riding Bikes with the Dutch," his documentary on the bicycle culture of the Netherlands.
Bicycle in front of neon sign in Amsterdam.
Bauch's son Leo helps capture
b-roll footage in Amsterdam.
Trail Voices: Michael Bauch
"Trail Voices" highlights the work of rail-trail supporters around the country. Our interview subjects are anyone from high-level urban planners to local volunteers, and no contribution to the trails, hiking and bicycling movement is too big or too small—dedication comes in all sizes. We could never tell all the personal stories that make rail-trails a success, but we can share a few of the voices behind the movement.
For September, we caught up with Michael Bauch, who owns his own video production company, Pro-Vision Productions, and lives with his wife Rachel and 18-month-old son in Long Beach, Calif. Bauch moved to Long Beach about 10 years ago mainly to be closer to the water and mild coastal climate—perfect for his loves of kayaking and bicycling.
In 2005, Bauch filmed a promotional video for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. He's currently working on a documentary, "Riding Bikes with the Dutch," about the incredibly integrated bicycling culture in Amsterdam, where he and his family lived for a month last summer. His experiences with cycling in Europe have inspired him to live a largely car-free lifestyle. Indeed his car gets a little neglected among his other hobbies. "It's funny," Bauch says. "I've got a garage full of kayaks and bikes and no more room for a car. There's too much fun stuff in the garage, so my car sits outside on the driveway, slowly rusting away in the ocean air."
How did you first get into making movies?
I've had my own video production business for 14 years and I've done a variety of projects. What got me into the Dutch and their cycling was when I traveled to Amsterdam in 2003 while on my way to seeing family in Germany. I had heard bikes are a big deal there, but I didn't know the extent of it. And literally, as soon I got off train, there was a gigantic three-level structure, like a parking garage, dedicated entirely to bikes. You walk by it and it's always full. It blew me away.
After living most of my life in the car capital of the world, Los Angeles, it was ironic that I was now in the center of the bicycle capital. I had my video camera with me and immediately got a bunch of footage. I actually ended up making a short five-minute film that I've taken to conferences and entered into bicycling film festivals. The whole process was a great experience, and I received a lot of positive feedback so I decided to go back to Amsterdam to shoot a longer movie.
What was the result of your return trip?
My wife and I lived in Amsterdam with our son for a full month last summer. We did a home exchange and lived in the heart of the city, so I could really document how the people of Netherlands have incorporated bikes into their lives. I captured about 40 hours of footage and have been cutting it down to a full-length documentary. It has lots of different interviews and points of view about how biking is integrated into the Dutch lifestyle and some of the things we can learn from them. [Biking] is so natural, it's like breathing to them. Kids start at a really young age and you see people up to 80 and 90 years old out on their bikes. [Biking] follows them all the way through their lives.
In creating your film, are there things you have looked for or techniques you have made particular use of?
I built a special mount on my bike to get my camera in different positions. It allows me to ride while getting dynamic point-of-view shots from the handlebars and behind the rear wheel. I really want to draw the viewer into the excitement of riding through the city during rush hour. I also shot time-lapse sequences throughout the city using a wide-angle lens to show the vibrancy and movement of the people. Sometimes I used a large skateboard to get tracking shots through the central park and surrounding areas.
My goal is not to sound too preachy but to show that biking is fun and a practical way to get around every day. The characters I interview seem amused by my questions. They almost think I am stupid for asking them about biking, because it's so natural for them. I'm thinking, "What you're doing is groundbreaking," and they're thinking, "But that's how life is for us." The more you talk to them the more you realize they take a quiet pride in riding bikes every day. Bicycles seem to be an integral part of their cultural identity.
How do you believe your film promotes bicycling and the rail-trail movement?
Seeing Amsterdam can open people's eyes to what biking can really be all about, and what a great biking infrastructure can be. It can be a real democratizing force that brings people of all walks of life together, people who would not normally interact with each other. For people rich and poor in the Netherlands, biking is a connective force. It doesn't matter where you come from; everyone uses bikes. In fact, after my interview with the vice mayor of transportation, he casually mounted his bicycle and rode away, work clothes and all.
In contrast, cycling is very divided [in the United States]: either you're Lance Armstrong or you are homeless. That's a broad generalization, but I think there is some truth to that statement. You don't have to don spandex, use clip-on pedals and ride the latest carbon fiber racing bike to go to the corner grocery store for a gallon of milk. Attitudes are slowly changing in the United States and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is part of the reason. You can be an average Joe and ride a bike and enjoy it for recreation and transportation. I'm hoping by watching my movie people can begin to realize that.
What attracted you to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy?
I was a member of RTC for several years before I came in to collaborate on the promotional video. I really enjoyed getting the magazine and reading about all the great work RTC was doing. I've always enjoyed travel, and the magazine was a great way to see vignettes of different communities throughout the United States incorporating bikes into everyday transportation and recreation. RTC does a wonderful job of making the trail movement very personal, but at the same time integrating big ideas and the power of communities and government to work together to make things happen.
I think we are in desperate need of some change in the way most people see bikes. That's why I like Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, because you connect towns and make it so much easier to ride a bike. You guys are saying that bikes can be a practical part of your everyday life. I really like that.
How often do you use your bike?
I really try to use my bike for everything I can here in Long Beach. I have a basic commuter bike with a large double rear basket, which I use for most errands I do under four miles. It's amazing how easy it is to go shopping, the post office and bank on two wheels. I think most of the time I can get to Trader Joes on my bike a lot faster than most people can in a car. By the time they fight their way through the parking lot, I'm already inside shopping.
The best investment I ever made was the $25 basket in the back. I can carry a 30-pound bag of dog food and basic groceries without much of a problem. I really only use my car about twice a week when I really need to. I know I have a unique situation because I work mostly from home, but I really try to take advantage of that. Luckily Long Beach is an okay place to bike. If you get creative and use the bike paths in combination with small side streets, you can get almost anywhere you need to go and avoid the heavy car traffic. I even take my son to day care and walk the dog with one of my other bikes.
Do you have any favorite rail-trails?
The closest one is the Electric Avenue Median Park trail in Seal Beach. It's the one I use the most. The trail was once part of the historic Pacific Electric Railway. You can visit this trail and see one of the only "Red Cars" in existence today. It's ironic that Los Angeles had the best public transportation system in the world more than 50 years ago.
I also enjoy the Aliso Creek Riding and Hiking Trail, the one deep in Orange County. I actually did some test filming there before I shot the Amsterdam film, just to see what it would be like and gauge how people would react.
What do you think rail-trails offer communities?
I think they can offer a more balanced type of life. Everyone seems to be trying to do everything at once these days: driving, calling on the cell phone, texting, doing errands. Talk about multi-tasking—riding on a rail-trail is amazing. Not only can you escape the everyday rat race and relax if you want, but you can use trails to get your errands done and get your exercise at the same time. Also, riding on the trail can be a lot more social than the confines of a car. Instead of meeting bumper-to-bumper, people meet face-to-face, and that makes a big difference.
People sometimes get worried about property values when a trail runs behind their house. But statistics show that values actually increase. because people want places to get outside and recreate right at their front door. [Rail-trails] also just draw people outside, so you get to meet your neighbors—they make a community more connected.
If you have any questions for Bauch, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org