The pace and visuals of Sarah Menzies’s documentary Afghan cycles almost minimize the danger cyclists face in Afghanistan. The film follows members of the women’s national cycling team from 2013 to roughly the beginning of this year. There are shots of the women riding roads flanked by a rocky landscape mixed with talking-head interviews. There are few images of violence, none with any of the riders, so it can look as if Afghanistan is just an exotic place to ride. But violence is everywhere. Frozan, the focus of the documentary, talks about four boys driving up to her near the end of a ride, two with pistols. They said that whatever would happen to her if they found her riding again would be her fault. A member of the Taliban opines about how women wearing pants in the bazaar should be mowed down with a machine gun. He equates riding a bicycle with wearing a hijab improperly. The Taliban member keeps his face covered the the whole time, remaining anonymous. The women cyclists keep as covered as possible during their rides, and often ride in secret, yet they’re still known to the public, and even garner media coverage.
“We are afraid that if the Taliban comes, the first thing they will do is kill cycling girls,” says Masoma, Frozan’s teammate. She adds that even if the Taliban were to capture and release the women, they’d have to kill themselves. “We would have neither our respect, nor our honour,” she says of the condition they’d be in following such events.
So why do they ride? For Masoma, it’s the duty to finish what she calls a profession. “Some people sacrifice their lives so others can be comfortable,” she says. “We might be the first scrificers for cycling in Afghanistan.”
All riders know the sense of freedom that comes with riding a bike. For these women, cycling was a fight for freedom.