Bikepacking The Mongolian Steppe: The Film & Its Maker

Bikepacking the Mongolian Steppe is a beautiful, intimate look at four riders’ adventure through the heart of Mongolia. Watch it here and gain a behind the scenes perspective from Jay Ritchey about making the film, and the gear he used…

The film tells the story of a journey made by four riders through the Khangai Mountains – a lush, forested steppe in central Mongolia – during the summer of 2015. It shares their experience of the country’s rugged terrain, its rich culture, and the hospitality they receive from every herdsmen they meet. Read on for more insight into how Bikepacking the Mongolian Steppe was filmed, as well as additional photos from the trip.

Music: HUUN HUUR TU, used with permission.
Filmed and edited by: Jay Ritchey, Jay Bird Films.

As a member of the crew, I asked film maker Jay Ritchey to share a few thoughts with regarding the story he wanted to tell, as well as the gear he carried and how he filmed in such remote conditions.

“The style I was going for was an observational documentary, with minimum personal involvement. I was interested in capturing the people we met and our interactions with them, because I think that cultural interaction was a valuable part of our trip. It helped that most people were okay with being filmed, though some were not; I often had to ask using hand gestures.

Another aspect I wanted to show was where our plus and fat sized bikes (Tumbleweeds and a Surly) could take us, in a country made up almost exclusively of dirt roads, or faint tracks along the open steppe. It was tough finding a route beforehand because there were few off road cycling routes published.

At times it was a challenge trying to capture important moments that we experienced; I was torn between being involved with overcoming obstacles and being detached in order to film them. In a way, the best footage is when I’m unsupportive and I can’t lend a hand because I’m trying to capture the story on camera.

Bikepacking The Mongolian Steppe, Jay Ritchey
  • Bikepacking The Mongolian Steppe, Jay Ritchey
  • Bikepacking The Mongolian Steppe, Jay Ritchey

While editing, the footage of people and landscapes really stood out, and I wanted to pair it with music from a regional group called Huun Huur Tu. I’m grateful that the band gave me permission, because it helps the film feel complete to me. All in all, the film was an experiment in blending anthropology, a cycling travel log and cinematography.

In terms of camera equipment, I had to pack light as we were out on our own for a month. My photography gear was compromised of the following:

  • Panasonic GH3 body
  • Lumix 12-35 2.8 lens
  • Variable ND filter
  • Rode Stereo Mic
  • Zacuto Enforcer
  • Porcelain Rocket DSLR Slinger
  • Two 128 SD cards
  • The GH3 has a low battery draw, so I figured I’d be good with 2 batteries charged every week or two.

For the wresting matches, I borrowed Daniel’s Olympus 40-150 “PRO” lens, given that he was also carrying a Micro 4/3rds camera. As for sound, I used the Rode Stereo Mic recording straight to the footage.”

Amongst the images above and below, we’ve included a few of Jay in action… seeing as he doesn’t appear in the film!

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  • Bikepacking The Mongolian Steppe, Jay Ritchey
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In case this beautifully crafted and thoughtfully paced film provides the inspiration you need to head east… we’ve already posted a part of the route on the site.



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