How Miami’s bike scene provides solace and sanity to its community

A captivating short film, Bikes Up, Guns Down, documents a thriving subculture that rails against gun violence, crime, and gangs

On a suburban road lined with palm trees and bungalows in Miami, Florida, a group of bikers rev their engines before tearing away at 50mph – on wheelies. Welcome to the Bike Life scene. The movement bringing together disparate communities across America and shouting ‘fuck you’ at the constricting nature of US laws.

The new short film Bikes Up, Guns Down offers a fleeting yet intimate glimpse into the scene’s Miami community. Born out of disenchantment with ‘The American Dream’, the movement attracts those who feel alienated from the hedonistic Miami lifestyle available to only a privileged few. Working ordinary, often exhausting manual jobs by day, biking acts as a stress relief–  “it takes my mind off work and all the bills and shit we’ve got to pay down here, it ain’t easy,” one member says in the film. “Keeps me sane” another declares. The group regularly gather to blow off steam after work, and whilst predominantly male, the movement transgresses typical social boundaries, welcoming anyone with enough bollocks to give it a go.

“It’s a bunch of people with a passion that all come together with a very communal mindset. Traditional barriers fall away,” James & James, the directing duo behind the film, explain. Unique bonds and a strong sense of community are often forged. Importantly, it is also associated with the Bikes Up, Guns Down movement, offering an alternative to the lure of gangs and organised crime. “What’s the point of all of this?” a reporter asks in the film. “Put the gun down and come together” a man tells him matter of factly. “They have to form up in big crews as that’s what will protect them individually from the law, but they’d do it anyway. Then they cruise the city together. It’s pretty amazing to see and be amongst. Everyone looks out for each other – helps each other out and keeps everyone safe”.

“We don’t want our films to be our perspective on a thing, but more an opportunity for people to present themselves and their lives so that the viewers can form their own perspective” – James & James

The film spends time with members on their own doorstep. On the road and outside of their homes, we are briefly drawn into their circle, meeting family and friends, and discovering the powerful role biking plays in their daily lives. “It’s in the blood,” one member states as he sits with his young daughter on a Quad Bike. This sense of intimacy comes in part from the rapport the film-makers cultivated prior to shooting, initially speaking to member’s via Instagram and then filming in their own spaces once in Miami. “We took a very laid back approach without trying to set up much. We could come hang out and we could see what they do and that was it,” the directors add. “We don’t want our films to be our perspective on a thing, but more an opportunity for people to present themselves and their lives so that the viewers can form their own perspective”. This relaxed ethos is also reflected in the films visual aesthetic. A mellow golden haze envelops the biker’s throughout, with a soft graininess gained through the use of Kodak film – perpetuating the stereotypical concept of sun-soaked Miami, despite its non-conforming content. “It’s one of those places that’s got an almost mythic quality to it,” the directors say.

Despite the protestations from local police, biker’s continue in their pursuits with absolutely no shits given. There are “a bunch of laws and rules that suit the purposes of a very select type of citizen and then the weight of the law ready to step on everyone else,” but with biking “there’s definitely the taste of protest in the air,” the directors add. “The Bike Life scene is a focal point that proves the resilience of society and people. In the face of massive barriers people will find ways to unite and show solidarity”. 

Watch Bikes up, Guns Down above