Woodland trails, loaded gravel bikes and coffee brewing over a camping stove. Images on Jonas Klock’s Instagram feed that perfectly illustrate his profile’s exhortation to get out and free your mind. But whether by design or accident, the journeys we make – in life or when out riding – can sometimes take a direction never previously imagined.
‘I get out to free my mind. Using cycling as a valve to bleed off the restrictions imposed by work and all the other stuff. While some people might go clubbing, I go riding. It helps me recharge and find new energy for functioning during the week.’
‘Going back to my teenage years,’ Jonas continues, ‘riding was always the main focus in life. Even to the extent that it set me back a little with my studies [smiles]. Racing at a very competitive level right through to my high school graduation before I got into partying and stuff like that. Normal teenage distractions.’
Distracted he may have been but this didn’t stop Jonas graduating from The University of Fine Arts in Berlin before working in Rotterdam for some of the biggest players in world architecture. In retrospect, an intense period that left little time for riding and also coincided with a growing disillusionment with the professional aspects of the sport.
‘I never got to the point where I fell out of love with cycling – I still commuted by bike – but the racing scene was unbelievably competitive with everyone striving to be noticed; to get the contract. And my architecture firm had these huge projects in the Far East aligned to the rapid economic growth which in turn meant I was working incredibly long hours. Struggling to fit in any exercise around work commitments and increasingly fed-up with 16 hour days.’
A move to a new architectural office back in Berlin only seemed to fuel these feelings of discontent; reaching a point where Jonas quit his job, put the computer aside and began experimenting. Making models and small concrete objects that slowly evolved from lamps into whole interiors and leading him to found his own design studio; Accidental Concrete.
‘The material itself was the tool I used to rediscover my roots; to help create my own language of design. And the term accidental was just something – a word between friends – from when I was making small objects and could never simply repeat the process in an exact fashion. With concrete there’s always something surprising that happens and before the name was even considered I’d say to somebody that it happened by accident and it just stuck. It’s got an element of irony and I like the sound of it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. And I never wanted to turn into a manufacturer with an order book demanding a couple of thousand identical copies. I want each piece to be individual; unique.’
As all Jonas’ projects are by nature custom, the fact that he’s supported by a relatively small team means the whole process can be handled in-house from the first sketched design through to on-site construction. A flexibility to adapt that allows him to respond and manage any problems. Dotting the i’s as Jonas sees it.
‘I’m trying to use materials that are very haptic. I like it when people interact with the objects or interiors we’ve designed. I don’t want to create spaces that feel untouchable; that feels wrong to me somehow. If you go into a coffee shop or a bakery you want to use it without the fear of making a wrong move. Sometimes I notice that people don’t always have a sense of their environment at all – wherever they are they treat it like a McDonald’s [laughs] – so it’s good when people see and appreciate my work.’
Busy as he is, Jonas now tries to stick to normal working hours. Something he admits to previously never managing and forcing him to consider whether maybe it’s a question of age. He gets up early to fit in some exercise in the morning – cycling, swimming, running or yoga – and especially in summer when the evenings are lighter he’ll go for a ride after finishing work. ‘Weekends,’ Jonas explains, ‘are spent riding in the forest. I need to refresh my mind away from the traffic and crowds of people.’
Forest riding that characterises Jonas’ Knetkommando circle of friends; a reference to the German language term for kneading dough but which can equally be applied to pushing really hard. Intense cyclocross sessions in Berlin’s Grunewald that are lots of fun but leave the muscles tired and aching.
‘I occasionally do the odd triathlon or cyclocross race but generally I ride with a cooker and an AeroPress. We find a lake and have a coffee outside. It’s all about being with friends and just having a laugh. Coming home feeling a little exhausted but satisfied. A way of riding that grew from the fixy scene and is now definitely more popular in Berlin. All about making the turn that you might have passed a hundred times on your road bike. About the range of possibilities gravel riding provides that make your cycling life so much richer.’
Weather-wise Jonas admits to not being a particular fan of riding in wet conditions but that in Berlin it’s impossible to avoid and a necessary evil if you want to ride regularly. A recent bike-packing trip through Portugal illustrating that you can be so wet it actually doesn’t matter anymore.
‘Once your shoes are soaked through and you can feel the water with every pedal stroke, as long as you’re warm then it’s OK. But it’s those moments in between that aren’t particularly pleasant [laughs]. And commuting all year by bike? If it’s raining I put a jacket on. I’m not a roller or home trainer kind of guy and I much prefer to be riding outside despite the weather than sweating in my living room.’
‘Portugal was about taking time off from work with friends,’ he continues, ‘and I really enjoy the process of being outside on the road. Moving from place to place with your whole life strapped to a bike. A way of travelling that makes you appreciate your body and its ability to move you through the landscape.’
A viewpoint that last year prompted Jonas to ride from Berlin to Stockholm; the frequent flights he made visiting his girlfriend when she was based in Sweden causing him to question whether he actually understood what that distance represented.
‘You step onto a plane and two hours later you’ve arrived; the process of flying divorcing you from the landscape and the people that inhabit it. I wanted to work my way there; to feel those miles in my legs.’
Not that the process of separation always has negative connotations; Jonas noticing with every bike-packing trip he makes, the more items he actually leaves at home. Gradually reducing what he carries to absolute essentials; a process he finds interesting as he feels the older you get, the greater the temptation to own more things.
‘I had a pretty interesting talk recently with a friend of mine who’d designed the Accidental Concrete logo. We were discussing how I’m fixed to Berlin professionally speaking. I have my network here, my workshop, my tools. I’m not flexible enough to work on the road. But I’d like to reach a certain point where I’m able to spend a couple of months working in California where my girlfriend is from. So maybe I need to consider going back to my roots and focusing more on architectural design. Concrete has been an important catalyst for professional growth but the closer I get to this new phase in my working life, the more I see it developing beyond simply a material. And I’m not afraid of transitioning again as there’s nothing worse than being stuck in a situation and not being able to move forward.’
‘Change always comes with a little bit of fear – stepping from the known to the unknown – but it can also be pretty rewarding. It’s the same with riding; if you move out of your comfort zone you’ll soon start to notice new things about yourself. Each step over the line – like the rings of a tree – creating a new layer of experience.’
Along with completing his first 300 km ride, Jonas is planning a bike-packing trip from Berlin to Amsterdam. Another journey he’s done countless times by plane but never taken the time to experience by bike.
‘We have a saying in German – Ich will mir die Distanz erarbeiten – that roughly translated means you want to work hard for something. And taking the time to ride a bike between two places – truly understanding how that distance feels – can be just as fulfilling as arriving at your eventual destination. And with cycling, it’s all about appreciating the journey.’
Feature image and Accidental Concrete content by Constantin Gerlach / Bike-packing and San Francisco by Jonas Klock / Rocacorba by Robert Wegner / Gravel Kings by Chris Hargreaves / Coffee by Mirko Merchiori