Culture

How Rick Denman went from bicycle stunt cameraman to ‘Bicyclean’ organizer

The technical consultant who made biking look realistic on the screen is hoping to inspire other cyclists to clean up their roads.

Remember the scene in American Flyers when David Grant gets attacked by the dog, and you can see the dog’s jaw clamp around his foot with impressive detail?

Or, in Quicksilver when Kevin Bacon’s taxi chases Nelson Vails as he weaves through traffic with the canyon-scape of New York City closing in on him?

All of those cinematic spectacles come courtesy of Rick Denman, the former track racer and coach turned Hollywood technical consultant (i.e., bike cameraman). It was Denman’s revolutionary front fork camera mount that captured Grant’s run-in with the dog and Vails’ sprint through the city, and hundreds of hours of his camera work have appeared in other cycling-centric productions, including 90s bike cop show Pacific Blue, and the Miller Tour de Lite commercial with Woody Harrelson and Run DMC. In fact, by 2000, Denman’s production company Bikes, Camera, Action! was responsible for over 75 percent of cycling-related stunts in both film and television.

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Denman’s groundbreaking camera mount in American Flyers.

Yet Denman had all but retired his cameras and their mounting systems until recently.

After moving from southern California to the Silicon Valley community of Los Altos a year and a half ago, Denman found himself positioned at some of the country’s best biking routes and amongst some of its best riders—Boels-Dolman’s Katie Hall is a frequent sighting on nearby State Highway 9. Although he participates in the area’s robust group ride culture, Denman has also taken a unique approach to getting involved in his local community.

“I’m just trying to maintain some form of relevance,” Denman says, “and I can use skills that I developed in mounting things, like manipulating a bike with one hand and doing something else with the other.”

Has he returned to his roots and become a stuntman? Not quite. “I’m just another dinosaur, a guy who raced in the 70s and 80s,” Denman says.

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Denman was able to recruit Vails to film because of their history racing together.

Just like his skills on the track in Detroit landed him a spot as an extra in a Universal Pictures film with Walter Matthau (in Little Miss Marker) which then led him to his career as a technical consultant in Hollywood, bikes have brought Denman to his current project: cleaning up the streets where he lives.

“I have the bike handling skills and the equipment,” Denman says, “and an annoyance of seeing the same piece of trash, ride after ride, for months on end.”

What began as a mention in one of the group ride emails has now become an earnest effort called ‘Bicyclean up the roads we ride.’

Right after she returned home to California, from Spain, and before the strict social distancing measures were enacted across the country, Hall sought Denman out, on a Wednesday group ride, to express her interest in helping out.

“That’s [HWY 9] her road,” Denman says.

Hall says that it was amazing to ride up the road she frequently uses for interval training, with a whole new set of eyes.

“We filled up Rick’s trailer three times in two hours,” Hall says. “I knew there was some trash, but I didn’t realize that anywhere there’s a pull-out, people have dumped bags of trash over the edge of the road.”

Denman and Hall prove that cyclists have the skills to make the streets cleaner.

Given what Denman has found on his trash-collecting missions — bottles of urine, 12 of the same coffee cups in the same location in varying states of decay, a dozen mini-bottles of Sutter Home wine — it’s fairly obvious that cyclists aren’t the ones littering. However, he says, cyclists are the ones who can see the stuff, which makes them responsible for doing something about it.

“Bikes are ideally suited for this,” he says. “We can stop anywhere and we can haul this stuff away. There aren’t pedestrians walking on these roads, and no car is ever gonna stop.”

Denman has outfitted his bike, an early 2000s Giant NRS full suspension mountain bike, with a BOB trailer that can fit a full-sized garbage can, a smaller bin, and another trash bag that he’s mounted over the bin. He uses a 36-inch “pick-up-and-reach” tool that he discovered on the Internet after trying various iterations of a ‘picker.’ The tool is so lightweight and affordable that Denman carries extras.

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You can haul a lot of trash on a bicycle.

“If I’m out working and someone comes along, I can give them a picker and a plastic bag to dangle between their handlebars,” Denman says. “Then, I can come behind and pick it up.”

Interest in Denman’s project has grown as the coronavirus pandemic has upended people’s daily routine and possibly granted them more time on the bike. There is now a ‘Bicyclean up the roads we ride’ Facebook page, and Denman gets regular inquiries about when and where people can meet him to ride along, or pick up trash on their own. He was grateful to Hall for coming out because he feels that the more publicity he gets, the more empowered people will be to do something similar where they live.

“We’ve got the skills, and we’ve got the equipment,” he says. “Say you do a hard climb, fine! On the way back down, pick up this stuff. Nobody else is gonna do it.”

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You can help!