Patrick Grant / The Great British bike ride

Running five businesses and adding a judging role on BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee into the mix and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a case of all work and no play. But although he admits to working incredibly long hours, fashion designer and businessman Patrick Grant proves to be cheerful and charismatic company and clearly relishes this portmanteau of professional roles.

Illustrated with images from a ride with friends, Patrick took time out from his busy schedule to discuss a relationship with cycling that proves vitally important in balancing a stellar career with the need to relax and reflect.


You rescued Savile Row bespoke tailors Norton & Sons from near insolvency in 2005 and then went on to relaunch E. Tautz as a ready to wear label in 2009. A year later you were awarded the Menswear Designer award by the British Fashion Council and you also have other business interests in Hammond & Co, Community Clothing and Cookson & Clegg. So I really can’t fathom how you get any time to ride?

I was living in Rossendale for a couple of months at the start of lockdown. We kept working all the way through so I was running the factory and living in borrowed accommodation on a farm at the top of a hill. But the weather in April and May was so fantastic that I took every opportunity to jump on my bike. So even when I’m really, really busy with work I can usually find the time to spend at least a couple of hours on the bike.

How do you view your rides? Exercise, escape. Time to think or to switch off?

I suppose in many ways it’s all those things. I enjoy the physical exercise and occasionally I post pictures on Instagram of bits of countryside that I’ve cycled around. People comment that I’d enjoy it more if I got an electric bike. But it’s completely the opposite. I wouldn’t enjoy it at all [laughs].

Does cycling offer more than purely the physicality of riding?

There’s definitely the mental aspect. The clearing of the head and having time to reconnect. I really enjoy just being in those places and the speed that you pass through the scenery on a bicycle seems to be optimal. I love hill walking as well but in five hours on the bike you can move across so many different landscapes whereas, on foot, this sense of journeying is a little more limited.

So the bike is a tool for exploration?

I’m about to move again on Sunday down to London to film Sewing Bee for six weeks. So I’ll have lived in [counting on fingers] one, two, three, four, five different places in four and a half months. And I find cycling a great way to get to know where I am. I’ve always loved maps and feel rather transported by them. I like to visualise the terrain and picture how nice it will be.

Do you like to plan a route or follow your nose?

I’m working from home this week as I’m in isolation ahead of going into a full bubble to start filming. And I was looking out of the window last night and it was so lovely that I just threw some kit on and set off towards the Forest of Bowland. I wanted to try this road I’d noticed but it was very, very narrow and quite apparent that the line of grass in the middle indicated there wasn’t much traffic using it. I got to the bottom where I knew the river cut across only to discover the road was closed. But like most cyclists you ask yourself how closed is it [smiles]? And I quite like that aspect of riding.

Welcoming the unexpected?

On one particular ride with some friends we ended up on a trail with our road bikes. I’m not precious in the slightest about my bike but one of my friends is the exact opposite and he was horrified that we were cycling through gravel and grass. And that was the best bit of the whole day [laughs].

You’re hinting at a slightly rebellious side to your nature. Are you a well behaved cyclist?

Well, I think so. No, I am. But I suppose it depends what you mean. I’m quite happy to climb over a fence next to a road-closed sign to see what’s happening. But when I cycle in London I stop at red lights and I’m a courteous cyclist. But that’s just the way I am in life. And as I’m nearly 50, it’s just not dignified to be behaving badly at my age [smiles].

And when you were younger?

When I was a boy I had a racing bike and I rode it everywhere. Up and down hills. Through rivers. And maybe that’s why I’m such a big fan of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship. I found it all so inspirational that I was a Kickstarter backer of the book. And it’s funny because a friend and I did a coast to coast ride across Scotland with a middle section that included long sections on forest trails. And before we set off he was asking whether I had a cross bike but, as I haven’t, I explained that I’d be OK on my tourer. So I just did it on my Dawes Galaxy and was absolutely fine because the bike is built to withstand anything. There were a couple of tricky downhill sections but you get on with it. And when we were kids you’d ride those sorts of bikes everywhere and you didn’t think anything of it.

Speaking of the bikes that you ride, I was mulling this over and for city riding I initially pictured you on a Brompton but then – considering your engineering background – whether it would be a Moulton?

You credit me with having a) too much money and b) too much time on my hands [laughs]. But no, I ride a big, old Pashley. The classic frame with the double top tube. It’s got big wheels and big tyres and a sprung Brooks saddle. The roads in London are atrocious with potholes the size of your head so I want to be safe and comfortable. And I don’t ride in Lycra in London. I cycle at a pace which means I don’t need to shower when I get to work. The bike is used to dot about all over the place and you can stick two massive panniers on it for all your clutter. And you’re also very tall on it – above the height of most cars – so people can see you.

And what bike for the open road? I was going down the custom steel direction.

I have a couple of things other than the Dawes. My best bike is a 20-year-old Trek. The US Postal, Lance Armstrong era carbon frame. I bought it second hand from a guy in my triathlon club and it’s really lovely. He was the kind of person that when a new bike came out he’d have to get it.

And it’s still going strong?

At the time, it was the best bike you could buy. But it’s got to the point now that when I take it in, the guys in the bike shop are saying, ‘Look at this, it’s a classic.’ But it’s still a beautiful bike and it handles incredibly well. I’ve ridden modern bikes with electronic shifters and, for me, that 9-speed Dura Ace still takes some beating.

You mentioned a couple of bikes?

I’ve also got an early 70s Raleigh Team Ti with Campag Record that’s also rather lovely. But the gearing is terrible if you’re going up a hill and you haven’t got the super slight build of a climber [smiles].

Thinking along the lines of aesthetics, as a fashion designer is there an expectation that you should look super stylish at all times?

I think people are often surprised when they see me not wearing the same clothes that I wear on Sewing Bee. Because that’s where most people know me from and, on the telly, I’ve pretty much always dressed the same way. A shirt, a tie, a jacket and a pair of trousers and I look reasonably smart. But funnily enough, people don’t really recognise me when I’m not in that gear [laughs]. Most of the time I wear a t-shirt or sweatshirt with a pair of jeans. And my facial hair changes every six months so I manage to live almost entirely incognito.

And on the bike?

Again, it’s not that I don’t care. It’s just that I haven’t got time to be worrying about cycling clothes. I’m very fortunate that I know David Millar and I’ve a few nice pieces of Chpt3 kit. Lovely bibs and jerseys and they make great socks [smiles]. But I’ve also got a bunch of dodgy old team jerseys that I bought on Wiggle. So I suppose a little surprisingly – considering my business interests – it’s not a fashion parade at all.

A time when you’re not thinking about that aspect of your life?

I like wearing functionally great gear but I’m not standing in front of the mirror making sure I’m fully coordinated. It’s funny because I get asked what I see people wearing that makes me cringe and I always answer, ‘Nothing!’ If you look forward to putting on your box-fresh socks and matching your outfit to your bike, then absolutely go for it. More power to you. And I do have an old woollen Raleigh Ti team jersey which I wear for Eroica where it’s about the look as much as the ride.

I was speaking to your friend Stuart Clapp and he has some very opinionated – and very funny –  views on the do’s and don’ts of cycling attire.

Stuart’s very funny about everything [laughs].

He also has access to a lot of gear as Desire editor for Rouleur. And you mentioned another friend of yours, David Millar, who was speaking on his podcast about wearing a pair of socks with a pattern on them and how they should line up correctly. But I’m guessing you don’t prescribe to on-the-bike etiquette and rules?

If I’m wearing something, I’ll wear it properly. And I say that I’m casual about it but it’s probably not true [laughs]. Even to the extent that if I throw something on and I’m wearing a black jersey and black bib shorts, then if they’re not the right shade of black I might just reach for another one out of the cupboard. So I’m probably more fastidious about it than I’m admitting to. And Stuart is always very well turned out but he must have 75 pairs of cycling shoes. He’s wearing a different pair every time I see him. I’ve got a road pair that I’ve had for years and a crappy old pair with SPD cleats that I use for the tourer. But it’s like all my kit, I’m not going to buy more until something wears out. I like to use things until they stop being useful. And if I can, I’ll fix something. I’ll patch and repair so I’ll still be wearing the same kit when it comes back into fashion. If shit 90s graphics are ever in again, I’ll be right there in the sweet spot [laughs].

In a sense, cycling can seem rather tribal. Serious roadies, mountain bikers, the fixie scene, retro. Do you feel defined by a label?

No, not really. I cycle with a few friends and other than that, I’m out by myself. At the moment I don’t have a lifestyle that allows me to be a regular club rider. When I was living in London I was a member of Dulwich Paragon and I’d go out on Saturday rides with them and some track at Herne Hill. I’ve got a really nice steel Pete Matthew’s track bike which looks very odd leaning up trackside amongst all the whizzy carbon frames.

So maybe a foot in different camps?

I do a bit of whatever comes along. The Dirty Reiver a couple of years back and the London to Newcastle 24. But I also like to get out into the mountains and l find the idea of carrying all my gear with me very appealing. I’ve got a lovely little Terra Nova tent that packs down really well.

Your brand E. Tautz originally made a name for itself manufacturing sporting goods. I believe Winston Churchill was a customer but had a problem paying his bill?

He did pay it eventually [smiles].

Any plans for a line of cycling apparel to continue that sporting heritage?

E. Tautz & Sons – as it was known then – did actually make bicycling clothing. They designed specific breeches for all sorts of sports and cycling was one of their lines. But the truth is, we wouldn’t want to do this on that brand just because there’s lots and lots of people doing really good cycle wear and I think you’ve got to be fully committed to that. But there is a chance we’d do something cycle related through Community Clothing which is the other ready-to-wear business that I do myself.

I believe it’s got a very innovative business model?

The brand supports British manufacturing through the work that we give them. We use UK factories and we sell our products at a very affordable price. It’s all about creating really simple, high quality everyday bits of kit. Until now we’ve done this with clothing but there’s no reason why collaborating in producing a bike wouldn’t be quite Community Clothing. Because what we do have is a growing audience of people who like supporting homegrown companies and we’re a go-to place for nice simple, well made stuff.

Thinking once again about the time you spend on the bike – everything simplified down to the turn of a pedal – I was wondering whether this allows you to balance the demands of all these different business interests?

It is great thinking time. And I don’t use Strava. I choose to disconnect myself from all that sort of stuff as well. I carry my phone because I like to take photographs and it’s a more convenient size than my camera. And in my job, I’m on the phone for sometimes six or seven hours a day and receive constant emails. A steady stream of interruptions to any train of thought so it’s difficult to think about one given thing at a time. And because we have five different businesses, I’m constantly juggling between one and another. So the only time I get to really step away from all of that is when I’m cycling. I find I have a very busy mind but that all dampens down a bit when I’m riding and allows me time to reflect. And of course, once you disconnect, your mind takes a moment to suppress itself before it starts to wander. And from there, well…

Patrick Grant

Leicester to Blackburn

Photography with kind permission of Alex Jacobs and Chpt3

And special thanks to Stuart Clapp and Roger Seaton

Sami Sauri / Bali and beyond

As Komoot’s community manager for Spain, Sami Sauri has recently settled down to a comparatively 9-5 routine (if you count Sufferfest collaborations with Wahoo and making plans to ride with Specialized as everyday life). And finding she had some vacation time over winter but wanting a holiday rather than a new project, Indonesia was decided on as the destination. With no filming schedule or post-production commitments – Sami just taking a camera to capture her days on the road – this was to be a biking holiday with her friend Jack and an opportunity to soak up and experience an unfamiliar culture.

Now back in Girona but housebound due to the Coronavirus lockdown, Sami took time to reflect on her trip and chat candidly about the intense heat, her interactions with the local population and why it’s perhaps inadvisable to eat in low lit restaurants.


So, Indonesia?

Oh, man. I enjoyed every single moment of this trip. Well, nearly every minute [laughs]. It was my first time in the Far East and my first time riding in such a humid environment. And they drive on the other side of the road which also took a little getting used to. So everything was very different but also incredibly photogenic. I just wanted to stop everywhere to take a picture. Which can sometimes get a little tricky if you actually want to complete your journey [laughs].

But if you see something amazing, you kind of want to document it?

It’s a balance because we did have a plan. An A to B route with a flight to catch when we got to our final stop. So we couldn’t not get there.

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How did the idea for the trip come about?

I’d talked to Jack [Thompson] about going somewhere over winter. He rides as a living so is fairly flexible and I was owed some vacation time so we just decided to go for it [laughs].

And why this particular destination?

Jack had a good contact in the Bali tourism office and we thought it would be fun to spend Christmas somewhere sunny. Not something I’ve ever done before. And because I had a few spare days we also planned to have time on the beach so that I could surf. So we had 10 days for riding and another 5 for Christmas and just chilling out.

You mentioned that Jack rides bikes for a living?

On Instagram he’s @jackultracyclist. He thinks up these crazy challenges like doing three Everestings over three days in three different countries. Or riding 1,200 km from Girona to Portugal in 56 hours non-stop.

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With Route 66 you’ve done some pretty big rides yourself, so riding together on this trip, how did your personalities bounce off each other?

To be really honest it was interesting because all my other long trips have been with Gus [Morton] and we’d be filming and working on a project. Indonesia still had the element of photography but it was like starting from zero and learning about each other. And we did have one little meltdown.

Of course [smiles].

Yeah, of course [laughs]. It happened before when [Gus and I] were filming Thereabouts and I think it would still happen if it was just two friends. You’re a little tired and irritable and you need some space but that’s hard to do if you’re travelling together. So we had this one night and then in the morning it was fine again. And Jack’s a very easygoing person in general and he speaks Balinese – is that a language [smiles] – or is it Indonesian?

That must have come in handy.

He was speaking with the locals along the route which was really cool.

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Your photographs show a variety of very different landscapes. Farmland and rainforest but also arid and rocky highlands.

Jack had this route figured out that linked together all these volcanoes. The first one we rode up is the most active volcano in Indonesia. Impressive because people are just living right below its ridge. All these little houses and places to eat jumbled together and the most recent eruption was only in 2011.

That’s quite recent?

Yeah, right [laughs]. And we rode right up to the top.

So you had this route planned out but what were your first impressions when you flew in?

It was 9:00pm at night, I wasn’t even moving and I’d started sweating. So I was, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die.’ So hot that I was really concerned whether I’d be able to ride. But then we took a taxi and as we drove away from the airport you could see the people in the street and all this life going on outside. So energetic and vibrant that this sense of excitement took away any worries.

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It’s very noticeable that many of your photographs feature the people you saw on the road or talked with in the towns and villages.

Thanks to Jack it was a little easier to communicate. And the first three days we were still in modern Indonesia. There’s a lot of tourism on Bali island so you get the recognisable restaurants and supermarkets. But then we took the boat across to Java. And suddenly, no tourists.

That must have been quite a contrast?

Indonesia has lots of different cultures and religions and in the fishing town where we were dropped off you could see evidence of this in the sights and sounds of everyday life. And then we pitched up and I’m wearing a t-shirt and shorts – it’s super hot – and girls would stop and ask to have their photograph taken with me as this was the first time they’d seen a woman with tattoos.

The centre of attention?

Absolutely. We’d be riding and people would pull over their car to take a photo. Some of them could speak a little English and everyone says hello. Wherever you ride in Bali and Java; hello, hello, hello [laughs].

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The colours in your images are also incredibly vivid.

The landscape was super varied as we rode. A lush green that gradually changed to the oranges and browns of rock and sand the higher we climbed. A very sensory environment with woodsmoke and the smells of cooking from early in the morning.

Is travelling by bike a common sight?

There’s an established community of cyclists in the big cities. But in the more remote areas, sometimes they’d spot you and shout the whole family to come out and see.

And you were stopping off and eating on the road?

I’ll be honest. It was hard. For me, it was the first time I’d ever travelled to this part of the world. So I didn’t really know what to eat. Jack had more of an idea and he’d recommend this or that. And we ate a lot of ice cream to cool us down [laughs]. One evening we were in a restaurant on the beach and it was pretty dark. We’d ordered this plate of rice mixed with different types of vegetables. Everything is usually covered in chillies and I’d asked if they could keep them separate. But then what I mistook for a carrot…

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I can see this coming.

…was this huge chilli. And I hate spicy things. I just can’t deal with it. And this blew my mouth wide open and next morning I woke up with a massive allergic reaction. My face was blown up like a balloon. And this was also the same day I had the meltdown with Jack [laughs]. But we had a flight booked so I had to keep riding and then we had this torrential rain so it really couldn’t get any worse. Rivers of water flowing down the streets; it was impossible to ride. So we just took a taxi and headed back to Bali where I enjoyed a few days of surfing. A nice way to end our holiday.

Looking back at the whole trip, what were the most memorable moments?

The friendliness of the people definitely stood out. As for the riding, we had some steep-ass climbs but then you’d get an awesome downhill section. An unbelievably beautiful landscape where we’d turn to look back and see a volcano rising up out of the rainforest below. The spicy food I’m not going to include in this list [laughs] but everything else was pretty amazing.

 

Images with kind permission of Sami Sauri

Photographs of Sami by Jack Thompson

This interview was first published on the Far Ride journal

 

 

Hannah Barnes / The Wild Ones

Having a palmares that includes a British national road title and the UCI Team Time Trial World Championship, Hannah Barnes is no stranger to leaving it all on the road. And with a season start racing Omloop Het Nieuwsblad alongside her Canyon-SRAM teammates, Hannah [pictured above, left] reflects back on her early days as a professional, how she transitions from the off-season and how it feels to ride with the ‘Wild Ones’.

In your online journal you reference the off-season and not needing to worry about form and power numbers.

After last year’s final race I had 5 weeks of doing nothing. No bike, no riding. Eating and drinking a little more and having loads of fun. The 25th November was my first ride and over the following 6 weeks it was pretty slow and steady. Getting the base miles back in until the New Year after which you start to add in the intensity.

So now that you’re at the Canyon-SRAM pre-season training camp, I was wondering what emotions run through your mind when you look ahead to the coming year?

Well, numbers do matter [laughs]. From mid-January it’s quite specific training with a lot of intervals. But it’s been good to see the progress this winter which is a positive. We’ve been enjoying some good rides together and pushing each other. And everyone knows that we’re close to starting the season and that brings with it a sense of excitement.

Is it possible to predict form?

Even though you’ve had 5 or so months away from racing you still have some idea of how well you’re going but you never really know until you’re standing on the start line. In December it’s very relaxed – the training is just long and social – but now we’re at the camp it’s much more focused. Riding out to the climbs; a lot of meetings where we talk through how we’re going to approach the races and the strategies we can use.

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Looking at the Rapha ‘Wild Ones’ promotional launch for Canyon-SRAM, I noticed that certain words seem to resonate: uniqueness, power, trust, family. And I was wondering about the dynamics of building a new team for a new season?

Some of the team are more experienced than others but I feel that’s a really good way for individual riders to build on performances and develop their race craft. And it’s nice to appreciate the riders that are new to the team; so super motivated and excited to race.

You’re quoted in the promotional material as stating, ‘We’re all wild women…some are quiet, some are loud.’ Where do you sit on that spectrum?

More quiet. It takes me a very long time to open up. I’m fine once I feel comfortable but I’m quite shy if I’m walking into a room of people I don’t really know.

Does that translate into how you race?

Yes [laughs]. It’s actually very noticeable that the louder riders that we have – in the sense that they’re not afraid to say what they think or shy away from their opinions – they’re definitely the ones that race more aggressively. Not in a nasty way but in the sense that they instinctively don’t hesitate.

Speaking of race craft, one of the overriding memories I have of watching you race was the time in Woking when you crashed heavily. You picked yourself up, chased back on and took the bunch sprint to win the race before receiving any medical treatment. 9 stitches to the face, I believe. And I thought that spoke volumes about your drive and determination.

I didn’t really appreciate how bad it was [laughs]. Going on to win the race, it’s quite astonishing what adrenaline can do. But as soon as I crossed the line it suddenly hit me. They had to delay the podium because I was sitting feeling faint in the little tent they have behind the finish.

Your teammate Christa Riffel is pictured in her new kit but with a broken foot and this made me think back to 2015 when you broke your ankle and attended the January 2016 pre-season camp on crutches. Have you been able to help Christa get through this temporary set back?

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We’ve had quite a few injuries on this team so we definitely reassured her and told her not to panic or be worried. Because even though she won’t be racing until the middle of April, the season is long and she’ll be able to feel the benefits of this later start in August and September when everyone’s pretty tired and she’s still really motivated and got some energy left.

And feeling fresh?

Well, fresher [laughs].

Because 12 months on from that 2016 pre-season camp you posted a picture on Instagram showing how the muscle mass had reduced after you had your plaster cast removed. So I was wondering what sustained you emotionally as you worked back to full fitness?

I think coming back from the injury in some way mirrors the drop in fitness you have in any off-season when you’ve been completely off the bike. Just more exaggerated because you’re starting from ground zero and there’s just further for you to go. But you put in the work and every day you see, not massive steps forward, but a gradual improvement that’s motivating in itself.

Your team has seen a number of new signings through the Zwift Academy competition and I know that you benefited from support from the Rayner Foundation [formally the Dave Rayner Foundation] when you were starting out. How did this support help and what are your memories of the Foundation from that time?

It really helped because, back when I was 19, I was living in Holland but wasn’t getting a wage. So I had to work through the winter at a hotel. Six in the morning to three in the afternoon before getting home, changed and out again on my bike. Long days and not that enjoyable but I needed to save up as much as I could ready for the start of the season. And there were times such as when I’d raced and won the Smithfield Nocturne when I had to email the organisers to ask if they’d please give me my prize money early as I needed to book a ferry home to go to the Nationals. Really hard times and the financial support I received from the Rayner Foundation was so very important in allowing me to carry on racing.

Going back to talking about training, are you happy to get out rain or shine?

It depends on what mood I’m in on the day [laughs]. And I moved to Spain so they’re fewer days when it’s too miserable to ride outside. It also helps that we’ve got a really good relationship with Zwift if I do decide to stay indoors.

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So as a professional cyclist, what do you think are the biggest misconceptions from the outside looking in about the life that you lead?

That it’s glamorous [laughs]. Because that’s not always the case at all. And people think that being able to ride your bike every day must be so much fun but there are days when it’s a job. Though I still wouldn’t change it for the world.

Racing, training or off-season; what does it mean to ride your bike?

When I’m at the airport, people will see the bike box and ask what it is. So maybe I take for granted that wherever I go, the bike goes too. And, for me, that suggests a certain sense of independence that a bike gives you. I can remember my Dad saying when we were little that a bike is fast enough to get you somewhere but slow enough for you to see everything on the way. With Canyon-SRAM we’re all riding our bikes for a living and there’s days when I do wonder how I’ve got myself into this situation; how cool it is [laughs]. My bike has taken me to some pretty crazy places and allowed me to meet some really amazing people. So what does it mean to ride my bike? Freedom, I guess.

 

Hannah Barnes

Canyon-SRAM

Rapha / The Wild Ones

The Rayner Foundation

All images by Ana Cuba with kind permission of Rapha UK.

 

 

Gus Morton / Here Or Thereabouts Part 2

In this, the second part of our conversation, Angus ‘Gus’ Morton muses on the future of professional cycling, his striving for a life of simple pleasures and whether love is, indeed, all you need.

Looking back at the films you’ve been associated with, one of my personal favourites is Rapha’s short feature ‘Riding is the answer’. Did you direct that?

 I didn’t but that’s actually a funny story because I had no idea I was going to be in that. Or even the level it was on. I’d just shot the first Outskirts and was living out in LA and this guy from Rapha was explaining that they were in town on these dates and would I be available to be part of the shoot for a day. So I was like, sure, and didn’t think anything of it. A month goes by and I get this call from the executive producer at a creative agency and so I’m wondering what they’re doing getting involved because I’m only going to feature in this film for a second or two. Then I get a lady wanting to take some photographs and I have to go to wardrobe but I was super late because I rode there and when I finally arrive there’s 30 people waiting.

 I imagine not particularly happy?

 Oh, man. They were pissed [laughs]. And then they start talking about the days we’ll be shooting and I’m telling them that I won’t be in town that long. Apparently the shit hit the fan and there was this huge meltdown. I woke up in the morning and there’s 30 emails and millions of missed calls. Turns out I was the main character [laughs].

 That tiny detail kind of passed you by somehow?

 Man, it was a bit of a stitch up. And I honestly had no idea. I just thought it would be a van with a camera in the back but it was this huge production. They’d closed parts of Downtown LA and I was riding around on empty streets. No cars.

 Just the amount of work to get those permits.

 Yeah. It was insane. Comical. A proper LA shoot.

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But, for me, the film was perfectly pitched. And thinking on from the tagline – about riding answering questions – looking back at your professional racing career I was wondering what kind of rider you were?

 Not a very good one [laughs].

 I’m sure that’s not the case.

 I was a worker. Just a team guy. That was my job riding for Jelly Belly. I was pretty good at cobbled stuff but never that good when it came to individual success. Though I must admit that the first time I was pro I had some decent results but most of the time I was sick with this parasite.

 They didn’t know what the problem was?

 No and my body was doing all this weird stuff like it stopped producing testosterone. It took a while to figure it all out and kind of plagued that first part of my professional career. And then when I’d finished racing for the first time and got into film, this guy asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to be a director. I was young, probably 22 at the time, and pretty bull-headed. And he looked at me and then told me to go away and do something else for 10 years.

 10 years?

 Just go out into the world and experience. Because what perspective do you have when you haven’t done shit? So I really took that to heart and it played a big part in me getting back into racing for a second time.

 From the outside, professional cycling can seem a very brutal career. All about performance?

 It is. Exactly right. And it’s kind of funny how you’re judged. Some riders do one good thing and somehow hang onto that. Others are consistently up there but without the recognition they actually deserve. And I don’t really think that cycling truly understands that it’s in control of its own destiny. Everyone’s racing to get first but what the fans also buy into are the characters and stories. Yet the professional sport almost wants to eliminate personality. And it blew me away that, year after year, Team Sky riders were literally getting piss thrown over them and yet they continued with the same MO. Was it successful? Yes. But what’s the point of it all?

 So what’s your take on Education First’s Alternative Calendar?

That’s where it’s going. We look back at bike riding and all we talk about are the epic stories. Because that’s what captures our hearts and the general audience doesn’t give two fucks for science and system. It’s all romantic; all emotional. And brands are already beginning to change their focus so ideally we’ll see the sport continue in this direction.

 So you think other professional cycling teams are watching?

 Dude, you look at Education First during the Giro when Dirty Kanza was building up. There was more media focus on a one-day 200 mile gravel race across the backroads of Kansas than a fucking 21 day grand tour.

 I can see your point. I’ve watched the Dirty Kanza film three times. The Giro once. So in terms of a business model?

 How much would it have cost the team to ride the Giro? Two, three hundred grand? By contrast, for EF to ride Dirty Kanza it would have cost them basically nothing. And there’s still this disconnect between directly spending money in sponsoring a team and whether you can accurately measure a return. But you know exactly how many views you’ve had on YouTube. And I’m like, if you create a character you’re guaranteed to get ‘x’ number of views per race on whatever content you build around it. People switch on Neighbours every night and watch it. No one wins. They watch it for the characters and the stories. Why don’t you create something like that in sport?

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I recently saw an Instagram post obilqely referring to a current female professional cyclist. Arguing that she hadn’t placed well in a race or her own national championships for a number of years and the only reason she was still a member of the race squad was down to her being pretty and having a huge following on social media.

 But what’s the problem there? This post is arguing that she doesn’t deserve a spot on the team but is the problem the rider or the entire sport. Doesn’t that just demonstrate that no one gives a fuck about results? That there’s limited value in that for the sponsor and this rider is bringing something extra to the table? I mean, I hate social media. I don’t use Instagram anymore aside from contacting people. I had my own troubles with that but not from any particular high ground. It just took up too much of my time. But this rider is being followed for a reason. Maybe because it offers an insight into her life as a professional cyclist. Or she’s followed because she has something to say that matters to people. Whether she can still ride her bike and place well? Obviously lower down the priority list of her followers but also her sponsors because she’s got a contract. And that’s what I’m trying to say. All these sponsors are investing money into the sport in the hope that they’ll win. Is that a reasonable allocation of funds? One team is putting in ten million, another team their ten million. But the most interesting thing about bike riding is how dedicated these riders are and how far they’re prepared to push themselves. So many characters from so many different backgrounds. It’s a potential gold mine [laughs].

 Again, I’m hearing from you this focus on stories?

 The thing with Dirty Kanza – the way it played out – I still don’t think they fully get it.

 In what sense?

 We can all see the race. We understand what that is. But what would it look like if we threw these guys completely fish out of water? OK, we’ve just finished the Tour of California and we’ve got ten days to Dirty Kanza. Let’s ride there; training on the road as we go. Let’s sleep in a van. Camp. We don’t need all this other shit. We’re approaching it exactly the same way other people racing are doing it.

 Thinking about Lachlan [Morton], Taylor [Phinney] and Alex [Howes] riding Dirty Kanza; all of them professional cyclists for EF Education First and I did wonder how their entry in the race would be viewed by the amateur racers. But, as it turned out, they didn’t win.

 Taylor said it was absolute hell. And it shows they’re human and that’s all we want. To see these guys be genuine; that they’re not robots or beyond our realm of thought.

 That they suffer; that they have their highs and lows?

 And then when an amateur cyclist beats them? Well, that opens up a whole other level of narrative.

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This grassroots approach to riding your bike; is a life of simple pleasures important to you?

 I think that’s what I’m pursuing. What I’m exploring through these films. Spending all my time boiling things down to their absolute essence. What is satisfaction at its most basic, molecular level?

 Have you found the answer?

 No [laughs]. But the act of trying allows me the realisation that I don’t need much to be happy.

 And the understanding that enough is enough?

 Yeah. I’ve had problems with that [smiles]. Constantly asking myself what can we do next, how can we make it better? I’ve been staying with Taylor and we’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about that.

 With this mental and emotional exploration, I’m thinking of the Beatles’ song ‘All you need is love.’ Would you agree?

 I think love is an interesting one. It can be all consuming; whether you have it or are pursuing it. When you’re falling into it, then it is all you need. And then if it’s lost, it’s all you want. So maybe it’s about being comfortable with yourself first. For a number of years I’ve chased all these different things and in some ways they’ve offered a form of distraction. So what I’m trying to do now is to take stock and confront all these things that I’ve ignored.

 I found it interesting how you allowed references to your relationship with Sami [Sauri] to be included in the final edit of Big Land.

 I left them in there for a reason. Which is funny because we got a lot of backlash; people just didn’t get it. But my thinking was that something really interesting happens on these journeys. You go through all of these emotional states when you’re physically tired. So me including those scenes was all about highlighting how the dumbest, smallest, pettiest things can result in these ridiculous arguments. Which, from a distance, looks like a real hipster break-up but that’s the point of it.

 That it’s real?

 Absolutely. And it’s like in life, we sometimes need to take a step back and realise how the tiny, insignificant things that we’re focusing so intently on are, in fact, tiny and insignificant. But I’m not sure that this approach was totally understood when it came to the film. Which kind of backfired because Sami copped a lot of flak.

 Did people think it was contrived?

 I think they thought it was trivial. Which it was but that was the point [laughs]. And that highlights the fact that maybe a lot of our audience don’t watch the films in the way I thought they might. So that’s a learning curve that I also need to take on board. You put stuff out there but then you need to emotionally let go because you can’t dictate how people will choose to interpret your work.

 In the film you looked really pissed off. Are you the sort of person to make the first move?

 I’m quite fiery [smiles]. Very emotional in that regard and I can be a real prick sometimes. But I’m getting much better at being able to apologise. Because it’s not always about accepting blame. It can be saying sorry for how you’ve behaved and then moving forward. Not an easy lesson to learn and I’ve done a lot of dumb stuff in the past. But I’m trying to get better and that’s why it’s good to take a step back.

With Gus

There’s that lovely black & white picture of you and Sami on Route 66. What were you laughing at?

 That was literally as we were crossing from Oklahoma into Texas. We’d all had a really dark time for a number of reasons and it was just a very cathartic moment as we stood – howling and yelling – sipping a beer. The sort of moment that I’m still trying to articulate to an audience. Because, for me, those are the fundamental elements of a trip like that.

 The sense that emotions should be expressed. That it’s good to let things out?

 And riding helps. Because you can ruminate on things before deciding to talk them through. Lachy and mine’s relationship is built on those moments. We won’t see each other for months and then we’ll ride and talk about whatever’s nagging at us. And these journeys that we’ve filmed are all about those shared moments on the road.

 From the outside looking in, it looks quite fun to be Gus Morton?

 It has its moments [laughs]. But, yeah, I have a great life. I’m very privileged to do what I love and to have the freedom to do that. It’s not easy in the sense that things don’t just fall on your lap. To have the life that I lead you have to chase it hard. And with the films; you want them to be aspirational. For people to engage and feel the need to go on their own journeys. In a sense, that’s the whole idea.

Photography: Thereabouts

Riding is the answer

Outskirts

Rapha Outskirts Collection

 

Gus Morton / Here Or Thereabouts Part 1

It’s a hot summer’s day in Girona and ex-professional cyclist turned documentary filmmaker Angus ‘Gus’ Morton walks into the cafe with his wrist strapped up. Unable to ride, this enforced period of inactivity mirrors the break he’s taking from his hugely influential Thereabouts and Outskirts film series.

Depicting long-distance bike adventures, in this first part of our conversation Gus candidly discusses the origins of these films, how he decides which shots make the final cut and why it’s not particularly advisable to eat a 72 oz steak in a single sitting.

To quote the last message you sent me, you’re doing fuck all at the moment. How does that sit with you?

 It’s good to sometimes do nothing but I guess I’m in a slightly odd situation in that I live in Boulder but I was recently back in Australia for my sister’s wedding and had my visa revoked.

 Your US visa?

 Yeah, that’s right. I’ve been resident since 2015 and every few years you need to re-apply and I pay a lawyer to do that. They made a clerical error so basically I need to go through the whole process all over again. Which is a huge pain in the ass but also means that I can’t travel back home.

 I was wondering whether you’d done anything to upset the current political administration?

 You could speculate on that [laughs] but it turns out that the visa I’ve been happily using for the past three years was in fact the wrong type.

 So you’ve got a home in Boulder that you can’t go to?

 Fortunately I was living in LA before moving to Girona to finish off a bunch of projects so I don’t actually have a place that I’m renting but all my stuff is there.

 And it looks like you’ve also been in the wars. What’s happening with your wrist?

 I was mountain-biking on some local trails and it was getting late. About 9:30 at night and starting to go dark. We were getting to the bottom of a run and I just didn’t see a drop; max speed into a 3 metre ditch and I planted face first. Knocked off part of my front tooth.

 You can’t tell.

 Dude, if you need to get any dental work done, come to Spain [smiles].

 And the wrist?

 It’s not broken but I’ve done something to the tendons. Because immediately after the accident I had to go out to Vietnam for a week-long photoshoot so I was straight away back riding. And it hasn’t been right since.

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All this travel – you grew up in Australia, you’re currently in Girona but all your stuff’s in Boulder – how do you define home? Places, people, belongings?

 For me it’s people; family. My brother and parents all live in the US so at the moment that’s where I associate as home. I certainly don’t see Australia in the same way.

 But that’s where you were raised?

 I’ve not lived there in a long time. I still love visiting and potentially that’s where I’ll end up but right now I’m just where the people are.

 Applying this sense of movement you’re describing to your recent films, they appear to be very fluid in the way they were made. Was that an aesthetic decision or simply how you like to work?

 It was very much a certain feel that I was going for. When you look back at the original Thereabouts film, Lachy [Gus’ brother Lachlan Morton] was in the World Tour but wasn’t super happy with it. I was working in TV, had got to a point where I was directing shows and I guess like with everything you always have a boss and I suppose I wasn’t feeling that creatively satisfied. Constantly being hemmed in and pushed in certain directions; making a product for a certain audience and accountable to someone else’s plans. So I was looking for a way to have a creative outlet, Lachy wanted to do the same thing and we just decided to go on this trip.

 With the freedom that brings?

 It was born out of this idea that you should take the time to go out and do things the way you want to do them. And I’d been working for the past 18 months on this long-form documentary and when they were condensing it down I was frustrated by the demand from the network that everything had to be really well explained.

 Dumbed-down?

 Maybe forcing a story that wasn’t there. And the style that came out of Thereabouts was to tell it how it happened and not scrap a bit because it was out of focus or the audio was shit. That we’re actually going to embrace that. The rawness of it demonstrating an honesty that reflects our own experience. This was the way it happened – it wasn’t smooth, it wasn’t polished because life rarely is – and I guess that became a kind of house style.

 A working method that continued into Outskirts?

 I wanted to hone in on that even more. To be as minimal as possible in terms of impact. Removing the requirement for a large crew size; a storyline reduced to meeting people on the road with no real agenda. Just seeing what they talk about and in doing so, gaining an authentic understanding of place.

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It made for a very immediate style of film-making and there’s a quality in those interactions that maybe you’d lose if they were scripted?

 The first Outskirts [Route 66] was truest to our original idea. The others had to be somewhat modified to suit a particular audience but, again, it comes down to who’s paying your bills. And in essence, we’re using cycling as a film-making tool. The characters we met, that’s the sort of stuff that happens. Especially in America [smiles].

 More so than other countries?

 In my experience the people are more willing, when they see a camera, to engage. And that’s, at a fundamental level, what people have always done. They’d look you in the eye and express their opinion without this layer of separation we now have with social media. And that forces you to try and find some element of common ground or to at least respect someone’s views even if they differ from your own because they’re standing right in front of you. And, increasingly, we don’t have that anymore.

 And the fact you’re travelling by bike helped?

 Absolutely. It was a really remarkable way of achieving this connection because you’re vulnerable and an outsider.

 Some of the people you met had quite challenging views.

 They’re the ones that made the film [laughs].

 So there were some you chose not to include?

 We’d ridden quite a long day and went to a bar and started talking to a group of guys. One of them was a classical pianist even though – and I say this with the deepest respect – he looked like someone who worked on the land. So he can play Beethoven and Bach but then all of a sudden it turns into a discussion on guns and the right to bear arms. It then moves on to the mass shootings that had recently happened in the US and he’s explaining to me how the weapons used were not the best way to kill large numbers of people. Five minutes ago this guy bought me a beer and now he’s telling me, in some detail, how he would shoot people more efficiently. Obviously very challenging as your views are totally irreconcilable.

 Did you set out to document or react? How far along that line can you go?

 It’s sometimes hard not to react but the Outskirts series is about conveying what actually happened. And if we do any more we’ll continue on that path.

 Does that mean you’ll be eating more steaks*?

 [*Gus successfully took on the Big Texan Challenge to eat a 72 oz steak, baked potato and shrimp in under 60 minutes]

 Dude, that was intense [laughs]. I guess I’m competitive – nowadays more so with myself than others – and I wanted to find out what would happen. Which I did. Projectile vomiting. My body just rejected it.

 But, crucially, after you’d beaten the timer and got the t-shirt?

 We’d just ridden 3,000 miles but you’d pull in for supplies at a gas-station in New Mexico and an old lady would spot that t-shirt from way over and that’s what would impress her. And even though the whole episode is laden with so many moral complications, there’s also something kind of  wonderful about everybody in the restaurant whooping and high-fiving when I’d finished. People were loving it and it brought them together.

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But you’ve got to feel sorry for all these high-end manufacturers making cycling kit and Outskirts starts this fashion for simply wearing a t-shirt.

 It’s pretty funny, I guess [laughs]. It started with me and Lachy just doing it. A reaction to the team kit our sponsors would require us to wear. Kind of like our non-uniform day or dress-down Friday. You’re doing the same thing – in our case riding bikes – but your whole perspective is subtly changed. And then, with Outskirts, when we’d meet people on the road or stop off in a bar after a long day, we’d just fit right in.

 So what else is new and exciting you at the moment?

 When I finished off Shadow of the East I was in Australia – in exile [laughs] – living in this remote spot in one of the national parks. I couldn’t go back to America, I didn’t have a job and I’m not someone who likes to be idle. So I set out on paper a bunch of ideas that I’d had kicking around in my head and some of these projects are now slowly beginning to take shape. One of these, in particular, being pretty extreme and a big undertaking. Outside of that we have another serialised show tying into some adventure stuff.

 Is it important to have control over this process?

 Yes but it also helps if I have team members that can fit around my way of working. Handling communication with clients; telling me I’m a month late [laughs].

 Are you a natural delegator?

 Not naturally, no. With the first Outskirts we had a post-production company doing the edit after we’d shot over 70 hours of footage. The film’s structure was all in my head and the shit they decided to cut out is what we wanted to keep in. That’s our MO. So when we got the first edit back it was so far from what it was meant to be that I took it back off them and re-cut it.

 Because I generally find that with creative individuals, it’s often difficult for them to let go of something that they’ve invested emotionally in.

 Totally. But I am gradually realising that I need to do that [smiles]. And in terms of what’s next. Nothing but everything. Not being able to go home has put a lot of plans off because I’ve kind of been floating around. And, as I came to all of this from a directing background, I’m not really sure I want to be in front of the camera anymore.

 As your work is so influential and you now have a public persona, is the fact that you’re known and recognised ever a burden?

 I don’t think that many people are aware [laughs].

 Really?

 Maybe I don’t pay attention to all of it? And it’s interesting because the last three films that I’ve done, I’m not really happy with any of them. I’m thinking that it could of been better here or there.

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Can you see yourself ever being happy?

 That’s the thing. No, I don’t think so. Maybe someday I’ll produce something that I’m legitimately happy with [smiles].

 I wouldn’t put money on it. I think that people working in creative industries; they’ll always be something.

 I kind of like that. And I just want to be always working. Working on something that I like.

 Is that when you’re happiest?

 The only time that I’m truly happy is when I’m on location shooting. When I’m looking through the lens of a camera and seeing something that’s beautiful or if I’m standing next to someone who’s telling me something that you could never have imagined. When you’re editing and a sequence just clicks and then you know people have watched it and got something from it; that’s kind of cool as well [smiles].

Photography: Thereabouts

Watch Outskirts

Rapha Outskirts Collection