Smut pedaling

Erotic, bicycle film series gears up for the Motor City

In literature, film and advertising, using an icon to evoke symbolism, emotion and, yes, even lust, is nothing revolutionary. The line between functional item and fetish is so often crossed, it's sometimes barely recognizable for cars, women's shoes, chocolate and guns, for example.

But on the crowded superhighway of erotica and porn, an Oregon cycling enthusiast has painted that line of distinction into a bike lane and is taking riders on a unique excursion.

And — unlike most modern porn — his isn't just being shared quietly and alone by viewers in front of their home computers, say, riding their stationary exercise bikes, if you know what I mean.

No, Phil Sano is in the midst of his fourth traveling tour of "bike porn" that he shows at sex shops, theaters and bike stores across North America, and will take to Europe for the first time this spring. And he doesn't sell DVDs or put any more than short clips on his website.

"That would change the nature of the way people experience this content," says Sano, better known as the Rev. Phil. "By forcing people to come into a screening and watch these films among their peers, they are necessarily admitting that they understand and are interested in sexuality and bicycling. They put a value on it."

Audiences do attend, sometimes by the handfuls, sometimes by the hundreds, often pedaling their way there. They view short films shot by amateur filmmakers of varying literary, artistic and technical quality, to be sure. Some are straight, some are GLBTQ. Some are just a guy or a girl and his or her bike. Some are group rides. Some are loving, some are more violent. Some are urban, some are pastoral. In some, the bicycle allows the intimacy to happen, in others, the rider is intimate with the bike.

Rev. Phil solicits the short segments from around the country, providing a theme for filmmakers to work along. Last year it was "Cycle Bound."

"Naturally we got a lot of movies that were about bondage and talking about the nature of giving up control in order to feel like you have control," Rev. Phil says. "It gave for a lot of introspection about what makes us excited: being able to say, 'I'm not in charge anymore,' or 'I'm in charge of you,' or witnessing people tying themselves up and each other and their bikes. That's kind of exciting."

This year it's "4:Play," in honor of the tour's fourth rendition. Like the cycling community itself, with riders on everything from unicycles to tandems in solo outings and large group rides, the filmmakers embraced the theme on varying frame sizes and styles.

"Some people took the theme as, 'We won't have hardcore sex,' but then other people were like, 'Foreplay? That's how you get to having hardcore sex.' That's why it worked out so well," Rev. Phil says.

The show is further explained, documented and promoted at, which we should warn you is probably not safe for viewing at the office unless you work in the industry. The cycling or sex industry, that is.

in Oregon, the undisputed capital of urban bicycling culture, the Rev. Phil says the connection between cycling and sex is easy, so to speak. Forget the bike as a childhood item to be outgrown or a utilitarian transportation device — bicycling has become as sensual as the riders make it.

"This is action around the country," the Rev. Phil says. "People riding bicycles are able to breathe that air and feel their bodies as they're moving in traffic. These are really simple pleasures that relate to a quality of life that's very important and makes people feel alive and excited. If you're feeling alive and excited, if sex is part of your life, that's great."

In the films, the bike may be the vehicle through which the partners meet. The bike may be part of the actual, uh, enjoyment. Or the bike may be central to the plot, and yes, plots do exist, though in varying degrees and depth.

Riders have complex relationships with bicycles too, which some of the films demonstrate. "It's something you're putting your trust in," Sano says. "That degree of trust lends itself to a degree of intimacy, more of a connection that's very powerful."

It may be a stretch to think that cycling's growing acceptance as a form of transportation — given such signs as bike racks on metro Detroit buses — has naturally progressed to bike porn as a cultural event. But in some pornography, the "ordinary" becomes the extraordinary and therefore more exciting.

Think of the stereotypical fantasy encounter with the deliveryman, for example.

"I sure don't find bike porn surprising," says Jeff Mapes, author of the book Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities. "Look how much cars and sex have been intertwined over the years, both in culture and in advertising."

Mapes' book, published in 2009, was part policy research project and part cycling manifesto. As a resident of Portland, Ore., and a regular cycling commuter to his job as a political reporter at The Oregonian newspaper, he's witnessed firsthand how that city has embraced and nurtured a cycling culture that has flourished into everything from television programming to roadway design.

As far as his chosen form of bike-sexy, Mapes leans more toward the blog. The site's wordplay name refers to the increase in recent years to 55 percent of people in Copenhagen, Denmark, who commute by bicycle. Postings encourage cycling, highlight cycling culture and promote cycling events.

"It shows cycling as stylish and sexy," Mapes says. "Guys like Rev. Phil are following a different artistic muse."

Whether he's chasing her on a fixed-gear ride or a road racer, the Rev. Phil's gears are turning. He's cleared a new path in the oversaturated world of modern porn.

"You won't see this kind of content anywhere else," Rev. Phil says. "We've got stuff that's absolutely unique — and that's hard to do in the porn industry."

"Bike Porn 4:Play" will show at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16, at the Burton Theatre, 3420 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-473-9238