It was directed by John Badham and written by Steve Tesich (who had previously won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for another film featuring a bicycle race, 1979's Breaking Away).
Sports physician Marcus Sommers (Costner) persuades his younger brother David (Grant) to train with him for a three-day bicycle race across the Rocky Mountains known as "The Hell of the West."
There is a history of cerebral aneurysm in the Sommers family, which killed their father. Their mother (Rule) is concerned that the condition may now be affecting David as well. Marcus convinces David to undergo testing at his sports medicine center. Following the test, David overhears a conversation in which Marcus says that he does not want to worry David about something. David assumes that he does have an aneurysm.
Marcus convinces David to embark on a cross-country journey to the bicycle race in Colorado, along with Marcus' girlfriend Sarah (Chong). Along the way, they pick up a beautiful, hippie hitchhiker named Becky (Paul).
Marcus realizes that David needs to train to be prepared for the race. The brothers engage in fun training, such as practicing sprinting against an angry vicious dog. They even go so far as have an impromptu bikes vs. horses race. The group also has run-ins with some of Marcus's old cycling rivals, including Sarah's ex-husband, Muzzin (Luca Bercovici).
In the three-stage race in the Rockies, with mountain and prairie backdrops, the brothers compete against the world's top cyclists on dangerous roads at breakneck speeds. David crashes his bike at the end of the first stage and barely qualifies for the next round. Marcus works out how much time David needs to regain and develops a strategy for the second leg of the race. During the race, it turns out that it is Marcus, intending to hide his condition from his brother, who eventually suffers an aneurysm during the second stage and drops out.
David faces a dilemma: to quit and look after his brother, or continue to defy the odds and win the race. David decides to quit the race, but is encouraged by Marcus to keep in the race. David sprints to an early lead, which the competitors put down to youthful exuberance. But after a few miles they realize that David is able to maintain the savage pace. As they enter the mountain stages one of the riders approaches David to throw the race and settle for second. He pushes on and races for the finish. As he hits the line, the clock ticks down and there has to be a gap of 11 seconds between him and the second placed rider to be assured of the win. As the clock ticks down David scrapes the win and runs to celebrate with Marcus.Kevin Costner as Marcus Sommers
Rae Dawn Chong as Sarah
Alexandra Paul as Becky
David Marshall Grant as David Sommers
Janice Rule as Mrs. Sommers
Jennifer Grey as Leslie
Robert Townsend as Jerome
John Amos as Dr. Conrad
Luca Bercovici as Barry 'The Cannibal' Muzzin
The 7-Eleven team that is featured in the movie was a real life team that competed in the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia in the '80s. The team was later sponsored by Motorola. Much of the race action was filmed at the Coors Classic, a now-defunct stage race that was one of the world's leading cycling events at the time of the film. Two stages in the film's featured race, the Morgul-Bismarck circuit race in Boulder and the "Tour of the Moon" at Colorado National Monument, were legendary Coors Classic stages.
Cyclist Eddy Merckx makes a brief appearance, starting stage 1. The character, Barry 'The Cannibal' Muzzin, played by Luca Bercovici was based on Eddy Merckx, who was also called 'The Cannibal'. Jennifer Grey made an appearance as a blind date, made hysterical by the brothers' arguing. John Amos has a supporting role running a training facility, and Robert Townsend has a minor role as a rival teammate.
ShaverSport, the company that sponsors Marcus and David in The Hell of the West, is an actual company. It was formed in 1980 by competitive cyclist Bob Shaver with its mission being to produce quality cycling wear. ShaverSport was asked by Warner Brothers to design the clothing for the film. To this day, the company exists and continues to produce not only cycling gear, but ShaverSport and Hell of the West replica jerseys that are featured in the film.
Marcus and David are seen riding 1985 Specialized Allez SE road bikes with red frames in the race scenes and most of the movie.
The film was released before Costner became a Hollywood superstar. It had a limited release on 16 August 1985 and grossed $1.4 million in the US. American Flyers currently holds a 63% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 19 reviews.