It is now common knowledge that cycling is on the rise in this country.

Some statistics have it that over a million Israelis regularly use their two-wheelers to get to work, and go to the shuk or stores; of course, there are thousands of more serious cyclists, both of the on-road and off-road varieties.

Until a couple of years ago, forty- something Tal Yoffe was none of the above. Then one day he discovered a beat-up bike by a garbage can near his Ramat Gan home ,and his life changed. Not that he has exactly become a contender for the Tour de France – he is strictly a utilitarian biker.

“I do six kilometers each way from my home to Tel Aviv every day, but that’s about it,” he says.

It is not so much the act of pedaling per se that plucked Yoffe’s heart strings. He became captivated by the whole scene – the aesthetics of the human-powered machine, and the sight of thousands of people cycling along the streets of Tel Aviv.

On July 14 members of the public will be able to get a handle on what about bikes gets Yoffe going when the Tel Aviv Cinematheque hosts a program of bicycle-themed films. The three-item lineup opens at 7 p.m. with a screening of Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves, followed by two documentary works by Yoffe – They Stole My Car and Freilauf.

Yoffe’s bicycle fixation actually started before he swung his leg over his patched-up rust bucket.

“I began to obsessively document cyclists I saw peddling along the streets of the city,” he explains. “I had all this material but I had absolutely no idea how I was going to turn it into a film.”

At his own admission, Yoffe is something of a research freak, and he got fixated on the topic, traveling the length and breadth of the country in a quest to meet people who simply cannot live without bicycles, to expose their addiction to one and all.

“Freilauf” in German means “freewheel” – it is the part that fits onto the hub of a bike’s rear wheel and works with a derailleur, or transmission system.

The movie title also implies a free-flowing, insouciant ethos which captures the spirit of Yoffe’s film.

This is a fun film which may evoke some positive vibes among drivers who generally view cyclists as a nuisance and would much rather we didn’t exist. That antipathy sometimes adds up to physical injury, or worse, so in fact, Freilauf may help to make our streets more biker friendly. The DocAviv international documentary film festival, in May is partial proof of that.

“Two people came up to me, after the screening and told me they had decided, at long last, to fix the punctures on their bikes and go back to cycling,” recalls Yoffe. “That’s a good sign.”

To be honest, though, Yoffe is not in the proselytizing business, and there is nothing missionary about the film. He just fell in love with bicycles and wants to share them with the whole world.

“It was so much fun to make the film and edit it. The whole process of making and producing the film was just a bundle of fun,” he declares gleefully.

There is a sort of serious side to the documentary.

“The film also addresses obsessions,” continues Yoffe. “I was also drawn into the bicycle thing so, to an extent, I am on their side.”

Again, Yoffe does not harbor any plans to ride from Metullah to Eilat, or even from Tel Aviv to, say, Netanya, but he is clearly a classic example of once bitten, totally smitten. After happening upon his first rickety two-wheeler, he embarked on a process of continually upgrading his equipment. He started off by shelling out NIS 1,000 on a striking blue Italian Wilier model, but soon progressed to a sleek Pinarello Angrilu. That was shortly followed by another Italian brand – Bianchi via Nirone – before plunging for a fetching Orbea from Spain.

By this time the situation was serious, and Yoffe eventually came to the conclusion that it was time for something custom-built. That required learning about bike parts, and he dove into the research work.

Yoffe’s progressive odyssey in the world of cycling brings us to different kinds of bicycle lovers – to Alon Wolf’s bicycle museum in Emek Hefer, to a couple of elderly bicycle manufacturers at their now somewhat dusty plant in the Kiryat Aryeh industrial area of Petah Tikva, to Noam Waxman who owns seven bikes and has several more frames awaiting assembly, and to Ari Rosenzweig, a former Batsheva dancer born in Denmark, who runs a workshop for putting custom bikes together.

“They all have an addiction, and they are all ‘afflicted’ in one way or another,” notes Yoffe. “Me, too. Part of the idea for the film was to find out where this craze, this passion, comes from.”

At the end of the day, however, it is all about getting out there on your bike, and making your way hither and thither in an environmentally friendly, health-sustaining, fun way.

For tickets and more information: (03) 606-0800 and www.cinema.co.il.

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