Dan Craven / Onguza Bicycles

Our name comes from an old Namibian word ‘okuti-onguza’ meaning, “the great expanse of desert out there.”

Perhaps the cowboy hat helped but ripples of global interest greeted Onguza Bicycles’ first posting on social media. Featuring a brightly coloured frame – casually slung over the shoulder of a Namibian cyclist – and set against the rocky backdrop of the world’s oldest desert, there was an immediate sense of exciting things to come. At the time a fledgling new brand founded by ex-professional road cyclist Dan Craven, a year later and the first batch of gravel bikes was unveiled at the handmade bicycle show Bespoked.

Over a call from his home in Namibia, Dan took a look back over the past 18 months and beyond—an eloquent and fascinating commentary on his own experiences with frame building, how the Onguza dream finally became a reality, and why this next chapter is firmly rooted in the land of his birth.

cyclespeak
So you’re at home in Namibia?

Dan
That’s right. It’s a beautiful morning here in Omaruru.

cyclespeak
It’s good to finally sit down and talk.

Dan
Even if I got here late [laughs].

cyclespeak
Could you set the scene? Are you living on the farm?

Dan
I wish [smiles]. I did grow up on a farm just outside of town but my family and I are now living on the main street. I’ve been coming and going but they’ve all just arrived, so this is more a launch pad for our life in Namibia.

cyclespeak
That’s quite a big change for everybody?

Dan
Considering my wife is American, went to university in Montreal, lived in London for 13 years and now lives in a town that even Namibians consider small—then yes, you could say that. But Omaruru does have many things going for it. If you ask any Namibian to name an artistic town, this is basically it.

cyclespeak
But I’m right in thinking you were born in Otjiwarongo?

Dan
That’s the town next door. But in Namibian terms, next door can be 140 km away.

cyclespeak
I put Otjiwarongo into Google Maps and it looks like an interesting place. There’s a fashion museum and a crocodile farm.

Dan
The crocodile farm, yes. But a fashion museum?

cyclespeak
The Museum of Namibian Fashion. According to Google.

[Dan entering a search on his laptop]

Dan
Wow. Now you’re teaching me stuff. Because that’s the town where I was born and went to school but I never knew about the museum.

cyclespeak
I changed the setting on Google Maps to satellite and zoomed out. There’s a lot of empty space in Namibia.

Dan
Namibia used to be the second least populated country in the world in terms of people per square kilometre. I think we’re now third so when we say we have wide-open spaces, we really mean wide-open. If we drive from where we live in Omaruru to the country’s capital, Windhoek, that’s a journey of 240 km and you go past two towns.

cyclespeak
Can I ask – and I’m conscious this might be a cliché – but Namibia appears to be a rather rugged – possibly extreme – physical environment?

Dan
That’s a pretty fair assessment.

cyclespeak
And you’re very softly spoken.

Dan
No one has ever put those two statements together before.

[pause while Dan is thinking]

So, yes, Namibia has got the oldest desert in the world. Namibia is rugged and dry. We like to say we’re built a bit different to live here. But, interestingly, the people are super friendly because of it.

cyclespeak
Because life is so hard?

Dan
I’m being playful but there’s a certain European country not known for its friendliness. But if you look at that country, it’s full of farming and wine and abundance. In Namibia, we have an abundance of sand. So if you want to get by, you have to smile and be happy.

cyclespeak
Is that what you remember from your childhood?

Dan
One of my parents’ friends that I knew when I was growing up – a chap called Garth Owen Smith who’s unfortunately now passed away – he won awards from the British Royal Family for his work in saving the rhino. He was this super tall man who lived out in the desert and drove Land Rovers—a real gentleman, very softly spoken and he thought about every word he was saying. So maybe some of these traits rubbed off on me?

cyclespeak
If we cast our minds back to March 2021 when you posted that first picture of an Onguza frame, I clearly remember the excitement it prompted across social media platforms. But I believe you had the initial idea for Onguza bikes way back in 2010 when you were still racing professionally.

Dan
Oh yes.

cyclespeak
And the notion that there’s no such thing as overnight success – that it comes from a long process of chasing ideas – made me wonder what planted the seed?

Dan
I was racing on a steel Condor at the time but didn’t really know anything about steel bikes. And then Rapha approached a few frame builders to fabricate one-off bikes for their Rapha Continental series. One of them was built by this American chap called Ira Ryan and it just blew me away. So I did some research – expecting to learn how this guy was a mechanical engineer and could build rocket ships – but it turned out he had no such background. And then I discovered he’d only been building bikes for five years. So here’s this chap with no formal engineering education and only fabricating frames for a handful of years, and he’s collaborating with Rapha. Which, at the time, was one of the highest compliments a builder could receive.

cyclespeak
It was a very well-respected build series.

Dan
These ideas kind of hung around in the back of my mind until a couple of years later when I grabbed the opportunity to attend the Bicycle Academy on a five day frame building course.

cyclespeak
That sounds like fantastic fun.

Dan
It just blew my mind that I could walk into this workshop and five days later I’d walk out with my own bike frame. So off I went and then two weeks later I went to a different workshop belonging to a friend of mine and built another frame in five days. I returned to Namibia with this second bike and promptly won a race on it.

cyclespeak
Can I ask what kind of race?

Dan
It was 350 km through the desert that I won on a bike I’d built 10 days beforehand. So that was a ‘wow, I can do this’ moment. But…

cyclespeak
But?

Dan
The big takeaway that I haven’t alluded to yet is that I’m a privileged, white man with a beard [laughs]. And does the world really need another white man with a beard building bicycles?

cyclespeak
And this got you thinking?

Dan
It did. Because what about the people in Namibia? By necessity, it’s a country of makers. When you have very little, you take that and turn it into something. So what happens when you give someone a bit more? Some beautiful steel tubes that come all the way from Italy and the necessary training to combine these into an amazing bike frame.

cyclespeak
And Onguza was born.

Dan
We have these two gentlemen – Petrus and Sakaria – that have worked for my family for 20 years as farm labourers. And I can remember countless times when something was broken on the farm and the next day they would have figured out how to fix it. So if I can build a bike frame in five days, what can these guys do? And that’s where the whole idea originated.

cyclespeak
So what happened next?

Dan
Fast forward to 2017 and I invited the frame builder Robin Mather to visit Namibia. He stayed with us for a month to help teach Petrus and Sakaria. And to be honest I was a little apprehensive because I’d spent a fair amount of money arranging Robin’s trip and what if he thought I was wasting my time with these two chaps?

cyclespeak
I suppose it was a meeting of two very different worlds?

Dan
Robin had been working at the Bicycle Academy teaching student after student. And when it came to Petrus and Sakaria, he immediately recognised how they lacked a formal education in terms of mathematics but their innate understanding of making simply blew him away.

cyclespeak
A sense of relief for you?

Dan
It was amazing—and a massive validation. But then I had to catch a flight for a race in Canada and things once again kind of petered out and came to a halt. Which was really painful because every time there was a speed bump, everything would stop. And considering we’re sitting all the way out in Africa, speed bumps happen pretty frequently.

cyclespeak
So what happened to change this situation?

Dan
My career finally ended and I was faced with that classic question—what am I going to do with the rest of my life? I did have the luxury of a number of paths to follow but looking back at this pivotal time, I really only had one option because all the others were meh. They had certain advantages but they weren’t worth leaving my young family for.

cyclespeak
Are these internal monologues something every professional cyclist experiences as they approach retirement?

Dan
Which monologue are you referring to? As there can be multiple [laughs].

cyclespeak
The what next.

Dan
I personally said for many years that the moment I knew what I’d be doing after racing, would be the moment I stopped racing. And my career was more interesting than it was good. I wasn’t making tons of money from cycling but I was doing better than surviving and having loads of fun. But when injuries finally ended my career, I spent the next four years just floating around looking for this next step. By then I was married and didn’t really want to come back to Namibia because it’s such a big place but also such a small place if you know what I mean?

cyclespeak
But you did come back?

Dan
I did. Because I had this nagging thought that I couldn’t put aside—that returning to Namibia was what I needed to do.

cyclespeak
When you say you knew you had to come back, was that to start building bicycles?

Dan
If it wasn’t for Onguza, I wouldn’t be here now.

cyclespeak
I suppose it’s a certain state of mind? When you’re visiting somewhere on holiday, mentally you engage but only on a certain level. Now you’re building a business but also a sense of place with your family?

Dan
Yes. But…

[Dan pauses]

We lived for a while in London and my wife thought she was going to live there forever. And then we lived in Spain and then California and then back to Spain and had similar thoughts. And every time we arrived at wherever, we’d decide to go hard and build a connection. Now we’re here in Namibia and all I can say is that after a difficult couple of months we’re beginning to feel at home. And you have to factor in that for me, as I’m Namibian, making friends is relatively straightforward. For my wife who’s American, it’s a bit different. On one level this land is all about sand dunes and elephants and cheetahs. But she’s really creative and interesting and she’s now discovering this group of people that reflect those characteristics back. And, interestingly, everyone we really get on with seems to be a maker in some fashion. Our best friend in town, as an example, is a carpenter.

cyclespeak
You became a maker yourself when you built your bicycle frames. And now you’ve returned home to Namibia to continue that journey with Petrus and Sakaria. And what interests me, is that you raced professionally on the road for 15 years but your first Onguza bike is for gravel. What determined that design decision?

Dan
For the very simple reason that a gravel bike suits me really well. I live in a town that has one tar road that goes north to south. If I want to ride to the next intersection with another tar road, then I would need to travel 65 km south or 140 km north. Needless to say, as tar roads are in relatively short supply, the number of trucks and other cars is absolutely insane. And when I was a professional cyclist, if I was spending time in Namibia, I didn’t want to train on a mountain bike because the geometry is so different. But a gravel bike was pretty close, so that’s what I rode and still do. In fact I built myself a steel gravel bike back in 2016—only then the term gravel bike hadn’t become a thing. We called them monster cross and if you Google my name with that term you’ll find an article with some pictures of the bike I built with Matthew Sowter at his Saffron Frameworks.

[I did and you can]

Dan
It’s always made sense to ride a gravel bike in Namibia but, that said, the second Onguza frame we’re going to build is a road-plus bike. And then our third bike is either going to be a mountain bike or a different take on gravel.

cyclespeak
Which would be?

Dan
Imagine a 1980s road bike with a lugged fork that can take mountain bike wheels. Very thin tubing balanced with deep section wheels and electronic shifting.

cyclespeak
I do like a classic frame silhouette with round tubes but dressed up with carbon wheels. To me, that just looks cool.

Dan
Exactly. The thin tubes will flex just enough when you’re riding over rutted roads or trails to add comfort but without being too skinny so the thing is a noodle.

cyclespeak
Exciting plans.

Dan
That’s another reason why we came back here. In the sense that the world doesn’t really need another bike brand but Omaruru needs this one. And Namibia needs this one.

cyclespeak
Petrus and Sakaria, they’re shareholders in the business? So both are invested in your long term goals?

Dan
I’ve got a desk in my office and if there are any problems I’m happy to help. But I’m not building these bicycles. Petrus and Sakaria are the frame builders.

cyclespeak
Can I ask why? Because you’ve built frames before.

Dan
Many reasons and it’s not because I can’t. But running a company – and running a company from Namibia – there’s just so much to do. Getting export permits, trade agreements, ordering parts and looking after my babies because there’s no daycare in a small town like Omaruru. So, as you can see, spare time is in short supply but I was never planning on being a frame builder. One of Onguza’s objectives has always been to put a spotlight on African engineering and making. If I’m in the workshop, people might make the assumption that Petrus and Sakaria are merely assistants. No, no, no, no. I assist them if they need an extra pair of hands. These guys, they’re masters of their own destiny.

cyclespeak
You’ve documented how launching Onguza and getting to the point of delivering the first batch of bikes has not been without its challenges. And I imagine you’ve had days racing your bike that pushed you to the limit of your endurance. Are you by nature persistent and goal orientated?

Dan
When I really want something, other things can fade into the background. I’m very obsessive when I get a bee in my bonnet.

cyclespeak
Can you relate that to your cycling career?

Dan
Becoming a professional athlete, you have to be obsessive. Moving your family to a tiny little town in Africa, you’ve got to be pretty obsessive [laughs].

cyclespeak
And speaking of challenges, one scene of the rather lovely promotional film that can be viewed on your website features your blooded nose?

Dan
Basically, I was having too much fun. The scene that follows shows us swimming at the bottom of a mine shaft which was all the way down this steep, rocky slope. I was descending too quickly, hit a rut and got taken out. But I laughed it off in the knowledge that if you roll with the punches, it makes for entertaining TV.

cyclespeak
It certainly does.

Dan
We found the music, my wife provided the storyline but we left it to the director to decide what would be included or left out. At the time, I was just concerned that I wouldn’t be able to film the scene of me racing the horse the next day.

cyclespeak
But you did. And the film certainly gives an impression of the Namibian landscape which, as we’ve already mentioned, is pretty rugged. Which reminds me of a post you made featuring a Land Rover you’d just purchased. How is it working out?

Dan
It’s very, very lonely.

cyclespeak
How so?

Dan
Because we only have the one. It’s a very big problem [laughs]. But I actually found another for sale earlier today [Dan holds up his phone with the online advert].

Collyn [Dan’s wife talking from the next room]
You’re actually talking to a journalist about Land Rovers?

Dan
He asked [laughing].

cyclespeak
That’s true. I did.

[Collyn enters the room to look at the image on Dan’s phone]

Collyn
He’s actually sort of joking and sort of not.

cyclespeak
In another scene from the film, you’re pictured with a bottle of beer. Is that the Namibian equivalent to the European coffee and cake ride?

Dan
In the capital and on the coast, we order a coffee. In Omaruru we go for a ride and come back for a beer. It’s so hot that beer is almost an electrolyte drink.

cyclespeak
I imagine it’s not without its challenges but life sounds pretty good?

Dan
With the boys being small, we have a family tradition of waking early and starting off each day all together with coffee in bed. And we’re now settled in a place that I never thought I’d come back to—to do something that I’d rather do more than anything else in the world. What more amazing thing is there? And my wife who’s from the other side of the world believes in this journey so much that she packed up the kids and cats and brought them all here to build a home with me.

cyclespeak
And here you all are.

Dan
As much as there are so many hurdles ahead of us, we’re doing something that we personally feel needs to happen. And if no-one else is doing it, then why not us? We’re on this crazy adventure and it’s like a dream.

cyclespeak
I’m guessing it was a particularly poignant moment, unveiling your first batch of frames at Bespoked?

Dan
I catch myself watching Petrus and Sakaria in the workshop and when I think back to where we started five years ago, it’s just mind-blowing to see how confident they are. And then I pick up one of the frames and I’m thinking, look at this. Look at how far we’ve come together. And that’s just…

cyclespeak
Priceless?

Dan
Yes. Priceless.

[pause]

If you believe that Africa has potential – that Africa can make beautiful, handcrafted things – then our bicycles can speak for themselves.

Dan Craven / Visit onguza.com to order a frame or complete build

Photography by Ross Garrett with kind permission of Onguza Bicycles

Oniria Café / Coffee is the bridge

cyclespeak
More or less?

Jannik and Nora [simultaneously]
Less.

cyclespeak
Does that apply to everything?

Nora
Not love [laughs].

A stone’s throw from Girona’s Plaça de la lndependència, look through the glass doors to the warmly lit interior of Oniria Café and you will recognise all the usual paraphernalia of a city centre coffee shop: countertop, espresso machine, bagged beans on display. On entering, what next becomes immediately evident is the warm welcome served up by co-owners Nora Salvat and Jannik Schäfer with every cup of specialty coffee—a passionate approach to their profession fuelled by indomitable energy and a truly empathetic nature.

In an extended and candid conversation, Nora and Jannik offer up a glimpse into their life together—discussing the origins of Oniria, how they both seek to balance busy lives and why, ultimately, theirs is a love story rooted in a very special locale.

cyclespeak
How was your day?

Jannik
Good. The usual ups and downs.

[Nora laughing]

cyclespeak
Can we start by talking about your individual backgrounds and how they led to Oniria?

Nora
Me?

Jannik
You first [laughs].

Nora
Since I was very young, I’ve always seen myself as an artist. But I could never stick to just that one discipline so I decided to broaden my horizons and visit Australia when I was 19—the farthest place I could go without heading back home. And while I was there, I worked in hospitality and that was the first time I really understood what a barista was and what specialty coffee meant.

cyclespeak
That obviously had an impact?

Nora
It was like a mental click. And when I returned home to Girona, I started working at Espresso Mafia.

cyclespeak
Beginning your own coffee journey?

Nora
At that time, the Espresso Mafia concept was really difficult for some Catalan people to understand—they thought it was very expensive. But I’ve always liked things that are new and different and I loved working there. I practised my latte art – doing it nice – and I also valued the everyday contact I had with our customers.

cyclespeak
And Jannik?

Jannik
I’ll do the short version.

[Nora laughs]

Jannik
I’ve been interested in coffee for seven and a half years now. Alongside my normal work, I helped a friend build his own shop and did a few coffee events. 

cyclespeak
Just out of curiosity, what was your normal work?

Jannik
That’s an interesting question.

[Nora laughs]

Jannik
After studying international business and enterprise at university, I would say I’ve specialised in entrepreneurship. So when people ask how I ended up making coffee in Girona, I explain that the city is very international and our shop is a business [smiles].

cyclespeak
You’re partners in both life and work, so can I ask how you met? Those first impressions that led to your story as a couple?

Nora
While I was still working at Espresso Mafia, this new shop – Eat, Sleep, Cycle – was having an opening party. I was having fun and then went outside to get some air and saw this man. He was looking very nice and elegant—different from your average Catalan guy. And because I’m very impulsive, I just walked up to him and started talking. Straight away, I saw something in him that I really liked but at the end of the evening we just went our separate ways.

cyclespeak
That’s a nice memory.

Nora
He stayed here for three months – taking some time off from Germany – and I kept seeing him at Espresso Mafia. He wasn’t available at that particular moment but I knew we had a connection. It just wasn’t the right time.

cyclespeak
So what happened to change that?

Nora
The day we spoke the most was the day he returned to Germany. He came back a year later but over all that time I had him in my mind. And the first person he saw when he did come back was me. It was a very beautiful moment and this time he was available. And we smiled because we both knew something might happen.

cyclespeak
Jannik, that was quite an impression you made?

Jannik
It does sound that way [laughs].

cyclespeak
So what’s your take on first seeing Nora?

Jannik
I’d temporarily left behind life in Germany and just fell in love with Girona’s energy, culture and surroundings. But because this was a contemplative time for myself, I kept changing my mind whether I should attend the opening party at Eat, Sleep, Cycle. In the end I didn’t stay long but I stayed long enough [smiles].

cyclespeak
That’s a nice way of putting it.

Jannik
It was a difficult time for me. I was struggling with depression so wasn’t really available for friends – new or old – or even for myself. But Girona proved the catalyst for the internal development I needed and when I returned a year later, I was walking over the stone bridge in the centre of town when I bumped into Nora.

cyclespeak
You were fated to meet again [smiles].

Nora
Yes, just like that.

cyclespeak
You both grew up in quite different cultures and I was wondering whether, at that time, your friends and family were surprised at your mutual attraction?

Jannik
I was recently talking about this to my family and it turns out they weren’t surprised at all. They knew I wouldn’t make a life for myself in Germany.

cyclespeak
In England we say a square peg in a round hole. And just because you grow up with certain cultural values doesn’t necessarily mean you have a sense of belonging. And it can take a geographical or emotional removal to find this.

Jannik
I feel more connected to Girona than where I grew up. Like I belong.

Nora
I hope [laughs].

cyclespeak
So what language do you speak at home?

Nora
Spanish.

Jannik
The first week was English but it just didn’t feel like the right connection.

cyclespeak
You appear to have moved towards Nora in terms of locality, culture, language?

Jannik
We did both move to Germany to see how it felt living there. But we knew pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to work.

Nora
It was really difficult living in Germany. So I’m happy that Jannik enjoys living in Girona—that he feels free to be his true self.

cyclespeak
And now you have Oniria but I’ve been struggling to find out what it means. I even tried Google Translate but with no luck. So can you tell me the story?

Jannik
I have a quick description before Nora explains it better than me.

[Nora laughs]

Jannik
It comes from the word oneiric which I interpret as the world behind closed eyes. That moment between a waking and dreaming state.

Nora
It represents what I like to paint—the surrealist landscapes that I portray. A world of dreams but also a place where anything is possible. It might not make sense – it doesn’t have to reflect real life – but it can offer a different way of living and being.

cyclespeak
Were these concepts and visions always going to be rooted in a coffee shop?

Nora
We have a lot of ideas – a lot of dreams – and we believe that Oniria is just the beginning. The first thing we built together.

cyclespeak
From the outside looking in, I find it difficult to imagine you ever standing still. That there’s a constant questioning and reimagining of the journey you’re both on.

Nora
Thinking about the future, we might have certain goals but then you meet someone, share ideas, and that can alter your pathway.

cyclespeak
I’m guessing you had to weather some challenges in launching your business?

Jannik
This wasn’t our first location—we started just around the corner in a friend’s shop so we didn’t have rent to pay and could breathe freely and see where this path would take us.

cyclespeak
But you had to contend with a worldwide pandemic?

Jannik
We quickly realised that it was more of an opportunity than a risk. We couldn’t leave the city because of the restrictions but it allowed us to really connect with the people in our immediate neighbourhood. But there are still challenges – the daily routine of running a business – which is why we don’t work on Sunday and Mondays. You need space for yourself.

Nora
We started very small and grew the business organically. And then our current location became empty and we managed to come to an arrangement. Our next step.

cyclespeak
Now that you’re established, can you talk about your customers and the connections you’ve made?

Jannik
We’re both very interested in the psychological aspects of our relationships with our customers. And we’re not so much serving coffee as openness—Oniria being 25 square metres of conversation. That’s naturally what happens here. And because I ask questions and have a talent for remembering names…

[Nora laughs and nods]

…90% of the people that visit frequently, I know something about them. It’s what drives me—that we can provide a space that is free from any kind of judgement. You can be who you are and feel at home. As if Oniria is an extension of our living room.

cyclespeak
And for you, Nora?

Nora
What I’ve discovered is that listening to what people have to say is a very powerful thing. Because people don’t always have that in their lives or maybe they find it difficult to open up emotionally. And Oniria is a space where these things become possibilities.

cyclespeak
Do you think the same environment, the same impact, would be possible if Oniria was a bigger space?

Nora
It would be a lot more difficult. 

Jannik
I think we could but only for limited hours. We both have finite energies and if we had a bigger shop and more customers, something would have to give. It needs to be a slow rather than fast environment.

Nora
And the next step might not be a coffee shop. Maybe something different.

cyclespeak
Sometimes things start small and have that magic ingredient. And that can be lost when you scale it?

Nora
It’s a decision that most businesses face at some point. When you have to choose between making more money or keeping to your original vision. But maybe it’s possible to do both?

Jannik
It’s about finding a sense of equilibrium and questioning whether you want more?

cyclespeak
I can see you’ve got some conversations ahead.

Jannik
Whatever happens, this shop will stay. The size and energy is just too good.

cyclespeak
You mentioned painting, Nora. Is this aspect of your life intertwined with Oniria? Or is it something you purposely keep separate?

Nora
That’s a good question. Because I’ve also been struggling with the same thoughts. 

cyclespeak
Have you found any answers?

Nora
On balance, I think these things should go together. Being an artist is me and Oniria is me. And painting is not something I do all the time. I paint when I feel inspired and everything aligns. But this takes time and, right now, I don’t have that much [laughs].

cyclespeak
Jannik, any hidden talents that I’m not aware of?

Jannik
That’s another very good question [smiles].

Nora
Many talents!!

cyclespeak
If Jannik is too modest, then maybe Nora should list them?

Jannik
It’s difficult to narrow it down because I like so many things. But actual talents? I did have this conversation once with a colleague and he said that my art is the way I approach and interact with people. Which I considered a very big compliment but maybe not a talent?

cyclespeak
Can I respectfully disagree? The ability to make a connection in a matter of seconds is a real gift. A talent that can mean so much to any individual in need of an empathetic ear.

Jannik
Well, for me, that’s good enough.

cyclespeak
Working together, is the line between the café and home blurred?

Jannik
In the beginning, when we’d just started, a little obsession grew that we had to be active on social media. I don’t feel that anymore and I think we’re both pretty aware when it’s time to disconnect.

Nora
We work a lot but we also have our days off and enjoy them as a couple or with friends. Some of these friends we made at Oniria so I suppose that’s a link with work but a nice one.

Jannik
There’s always a little part of life that’s related to work so you need to take control. And I have been guilty of prioritising others and not having enough energy to sustain myself. But this is the real challenge of being self-employed.

cyclespeak
Could Oniria exist elsewhere?

Jannik
It could work in different cities because it’s more about the experience than the physicality of the building. People need spaces where they can speak up, be open and authentic. It’s what we often say—coffee is the bridge.

Cyclespeak
And Girona?

Jannik
The setting is just perfect and both Nora and I feel this sense of connection. Very much our feet on the ground.

Nora
We both know that we have to be here. It’s our place.

cyclespeak
And as your place is a coffee shop, can I ask what you would order?

Nora
I always have a flat white. With oat milk.

Jannik
For me, it depends on the day but I’d rather go filter coffee if I can.

cyclespeak
And after a busy day, is it home cooked food or going out to eat?

Nora
We do both a lot [laughs]. We love cooking – very healthy usually – but we also love to eat out. The environment and energy of somewhere else and having people serve us is a welcome change from Oniria.

cyclespeak
Together as a team, you’ve worked so hard to create this special space. Can you describe each other in three words?

Nora
For me, I would say Jannik is brave. Very brave. And a perfectionist. And very empathetic.

cyclespeak
Jannik?

Jannik [looking at Nora]
Beautiful. Creative. And emotionally intense. Is that three or four? But definitely, always, beautiful.

Oniria Café / Nora

All photography with kind permission of The Service Course

Sami Sauri / Hours in the day

From snow-capped mountains to desert sands, the past year has seen a plethora of professional projects for photographer and creative producer Sami Sauri. Based in Girona but rarely in repose, her full-gas approach to work and play brings with it a creative energy that enlivens each and every shoot. Open and honest in how she depicts the highs and lows of a life lived on the road, Sami’s innate sense of fun threads through a conversation that casts a humorous light on lost bikes, a rain soaked search for surf and her wishful desire for more hours in the day.

Sami
Sorry I’m late.

cyclespeak
No problem whatsoever.

Sami
I was getting a new bike fitted and it took longer than expected. And then I got home and the bike wouldn’t fit.

cyclespeak
Fit where?

Sami
In the elevator [laughs]. I had to take the front wheel off and then I couldn’t find my keys.

cyclespeak
What kind of bike is it?

Sami
A YT Industries. They’re my new sponsor.

cyclespeak
We all love a new bike day.

Sami
I’ve got a big trip coming up and don’t want to fuck up my body which is why I arranged the bike fit.

cyclespeak
Speaking of looking after yourself, did something happen yesterday when you were riding back to Girona from Andorra?

Sami
My bag flew off on the second big downhill section. Very strange because I’d checked the straps and I’ve used the same setup on some pretty gnarly stuff. And the funny thing is, I didn’t even realise. I kept going and it turns out there was this car behind me, trying to attract my attention by peeping their horn. But I had my music on and a buff over my ears. Luckily, I had to stop at a red light. The car pulled up and the guy driving explained what had happened. I was like, ‘What!’

cyclespeak
If it wasn’t for that stop light, who knows how far you would have ridden?

Sami
Exactly. And the bag was holding my computer and hard drives. But another car had stopped and they’d picked it up from where it had fallen. Luckily, on a previous trip I’d been working with a sponsor called Urban Armour Wear that makes protective cases for phones and laptops. So at least my stuff was super well protected [laughs].

cyclespeak
And you provided the perfect real-world test.

Sami
In Spanish, to be lucky, we say we have a flower in the ass.

cyclespeak
The past few days I’ve been busy working out what questions to ask you but there’s just so much to cover over the past year.

[Sami laughing]

cyclespeak
And I can’t start a call with four pages of questions. It’s ridiculous. So I’ve had to hone it down as you never sit still. 

Sami
So it’s the highlights?

cyclespeak
That’s right. So starting with the tail end of last year and you were premiering the first episode of Into the Atlantic Islands. Towing a surfboard behind your bike up those Madeira climbs looked hard work?

Sami
They were so steep and I did it wearing sneakers.

cyclespeak
How was the response to the film?

Sami
Looking back, maybe it was a mistake to split it up into little mini episodes rather than one full-length film. And I always find it difficult to edit myself. Hearing your own voice and seeing yourself on camera. And if you think about it in a marketing sense, we shot the film when it was sunny and warm but it had a wintertime release. So maybe a little out of context?

cyclespeak
And the audience response?

Sami
That was really good and we’re now taking those lessons learnt into our second chapter.

cyclespeak
Shortly after your Madeira trip, you went off to Saudi Arabia to film the Dakar Rally.

Sami
That was an experience which I would happily do again. But spending 20 back-to-back days filming in the desert, I did really miss my bike. Kind of my body asking what the fuck I was doing?

cyclespeak
But shortly afterwards, you posted from Fuerteventura where you were taking a well-earned rest.

Sami
It’s a special place for me. Somewhere I go to recharge and relax. I ride but usually spend more time surfing. They have waves all the time so why not [laughs].

cyclespeak
And then quite a contrast in landscape when you visited your friend Gaby in the Alps to help celebrate her birthday. Is there a particular emotional connection you have with mountains?

Sami
Ahhh. Now you’ve got me. Because I’m finding it more and more.

cyclespeak
The call of the mountains?

Sami
There was a time when I was seriously planning on moving to Fuerteventura. There’s endless gravel riding and of course the surfing. Two sports that merge really well and work all of my body. Surfing is so chill with no phones or anything and you get a sense of discovery with your bike.

cyclespeak
But you decided not to move?

Sami
It’s a pretty small island so I’m still happy to stay in Girona for the time being. But the mountains appeal in both a personal and professional way. So I’m not going to say when but I’m already considering a move there.

cyclespeak
Andorra maybe or the Alps?

Sami
No, definitely the Alps.

cyclespeak
I can imagine you in a little cottage on the side of a mountain.

Sami
It might not be a place, exactly. Maybe I’ll just get a car or van and move around. I’m in this limbo at the moment trying to sort stuff out.

cyclespeak
After saying goodbye to Gaby, you’d planned to ride home but the weather was pretty awful so you decided to take a bus. And what happened next was pretty incredible?

Sami
The rain was torrential so I stopped in this middle of nowhere town. There was a restaurant but it only had things with meat available. So I just sat down with a tea and watched the rain get even heavier. I asked them if there was a bus and they told me it was round the corner before helping me find an online timetable.

cyclespeak
That sounds a better option than riding in the pouring rain.

Sami
The bus was running late so I was waiting at the stop in the freezing cold, wearing every layer I was carrying. There was a girl driving and she helped me put my bike underneath in the luggage compartment. But when I came to pay I realised I’d left my wallet in my bags so, once more, out into the rain and cold.

cyclespeak
You paid your fare and found a seat?

Sami
15 or 20 minutes later, the driver suddenly braked and brought the bus to a stop. She was shouting that the door was open but I didn’t immediately realise she was referring to the luggage compartment. And then it suddenly hit me and I raced down the steps and outside – not wearing any rain jacket – to discover my bike was missing.

cyclespeak
That must have been devastating?

Sami
My bike, my clothes, my computer, two hard drives containing recent projects. All missing.

cyclespeak
I can only imagine how that feels.

Sami
And then this car pulls up and explains that they’d been flashing us after they saw something fall out of the bus. I asked them to take me back along the road which they kindly agreed to do. And they were saying it was here, or maybe along here, or actually a little bit further. And all the time I was thinking, where the fuck is my bike!!

cyclespeak
So you couldn’t find it?

Sami
While all this was happening, thankfully the bus was waiting because my wallet and phone were still resting on my seat. So I thanked the car driver for trying to help and climbed back onto the bus to shelter from the rain. I called my friend who was putting me up for the night and I’ve never been so upset in my whole life—breathless, hardly able to speak and sobbing down the phone.

cyclespeak
How do you explain to someone that your bike fell out of a moving vehicle?

Sami
She offered to come and pick me up but I decided to stay on the bus and she’d meet me when we arrived in her town. An hour or two later – after a few more calls of me crying – we pulled up at the bus station. My friend and I were still hugging when I got a notification on my phone to say I’d received an email. This, it turned out, had been sent from a local police station to let me know they had my bike in detention [laughs].

cyclespeak
They’d arrested your bike?

Sami
Yes! And when my friend drove us over, there it was.

cyclespeak
But how did they know it belonged to you?

Sami
They’d opened the bags, powered up my laptop and saw my name on the log-in screen. Searching on Instagram, they’d found my profile and had sent me messages. But checking my Instagram feed was the last thing on my mind as I was panicking about my lost bike so I’d missed them. But from the profile they did manage to find my email and that finally worked.

cyclespeak
That’s quite some detective work!

Sami
And the funny thing is, the boyfriend of the girl I was staying with has this labelling machine and he made me name labels for everything I was carrying and my bike [laughs]. 

cyclespeak
Not long afterwards, you spent some time in Paris shooting for Rose Bikes. How did you find working in an urban environment with its street culture undertones?

Sami
That’s possibly one of my favourite shoots of the year. I love working with El Flamingo Films—the best times ever. And they always seem to use beautifully edgy models and locations that are random, remote and crazy places.

cyclespeak
Random and remote in Paris?

Sami
We went to this neighbourhood that definitely matched that description [laughs]. And I liked how Rose wanted to tell a different kind of story compared to the usual editorial content. We even featured an actual taxi driver in some of the scenes.

cyclespeak
After a spell of surfing and skiing, you signed up for the Gravel Augusta; a 450km route from Barcelona to Valencia with 4000m of climbing. An enjoyable return to long distance racing?

Sami
Looking back, my decision to sign up was crazy [laughs].

cyclespeak
But you raced it nonstop—the first woman home. Pretty impressive.

Sami
I’d been on a ride with some friends and then had lots of wine at a restaurant so I was completely shitfaced when I agreed to do it.

cyclespeak
And then the reality sinks in the following morning.

Sami
In my head, I had the best day ever on the bike. I hadn’t trained so I wasn’t focusing on my speed or where the other riders were. And then during the night section, I’d stopped for dinner – for an hour and a half [laughs] – when another girl arrived. That’s when I realised I was leading and when she asked if there was food available, I pointed the way inside before jumping on my bike.

cyclespeak
And off you went.

Sami
I was riding with this group of men but unfortunately they were too slow. It was 3:00am in the morning and I was feeling good. So I pushed on alone until about 6:00am when I thought I was going to die. 

cyclespeak
Time to refuel?

Sami
A coffee and doughnut at a gas station. And that got me through to the end.

cyclespeak
Without any focused preparation – only the basic fitness of your regular riding – you cover 450km in one go. Good for you!

Sami
But people should not do this [laughs].

cyclespeak
It’s a big ask, certainly.

Sami
And I do know what riding long distances over gravel feels like. So I would suggest working up to an event like this.

cyclespeak
You raced Unbound in 2019 – that’s 200 miles of gravel – and returned this year to photograph the event. Were you tempted to pin on a number and ride it again or happy to stay behind the camera?

Sami
The day before the start, I was ready to race it again. I had my bike with me and rode some of the first sections. And whenever I’m not racing, it always feels like I’m missing something. But on the day of the race, I was sooo happy that I was there as a photographer.

cyclespeak
Was it the weather?

Sami
It was super nice in the morning but then it started to rain. So I was out on the course – wearing a poncho – and sheltering in the car when it got super heavy.

cyclespeak
And you got your picture taken by Dominique Powers.

Sami
Yes! My God, that girl is amazing.

cyclespeak
You had a muscle injury after returning from the US and decided to take a break from Instagram to avoid the temptation of endless scrolling while you were resting up. Did you miss it?

Sami
It can get to be a habit so it’s nice to have time away from the platform. But you also have obligations to your sponsors so I’m still searching for that balance. I do enjoy sharing my adventures and I’ve made some great connections and friendships that way. It’s become another tool for messaging and reaching out to people.

cyclespeak
Another photoshoot – this time for Pas Normal Studios – took you to Iceland. I thought your photographs were particularly beautiful. A landscape you found inspiring?

Sami
The first time I visited Iceland – back in 2019 – I came back with this amazing impression. And the more I work, the more I understand how the right location for a shoot is one of the most important aspects. For me, it works best when I first discover these places by bike, so some of the locations for the Pas Normal campaign were inspired by racing the Rift.

cyclespeak
You returned to Iceland later this year for the next in your Atlantic Islands series. The riding didn’t go exactly to plan which you referenced very openly in a social media post. Do you feel it’s important to be honest about life’s highs and lows?

Sami
I’m been thinking a lot about this since I came back. Because I do wonder whether there are people that assume I’m flying around the world, living my best life, and it’s all flowers and rainbows. But that’s definitely not always the case.

cyclespeak
Is anyone’s life that perfect?

Sami
Some people choose to only post about the good times but I’m working my ass off and sometimes things don’t go to plan. And going back to Iceland, it wasn’t the cycling aspect of the trip but the surfing. You depend so much on the weather, which you can’t control. I have a limited number of days and if you don’t have waves, you don’t surf. And that’s basically what happened. I pedalled for 270km towing a trailer with my surfboard. In the rain. And then there’s no waves. I was disappointed and upset and it’s like when you have a partner. You take these emotions out on them.

cyclespeak
I think that happens to us all.

Sami
Well, in Iceland it was two of my friends. And afterwards I was super sad because I didn’t handle it very well. So after thinking over how I’d behaved, I did post about it. Maybe I was being too honest? Too much drama? But when these things happen, that’s real life. The ups but also the downs.

cyclespeak
The way you come across, it’s not contrived. You say how you feel and I believe people appreciate your honesty. Because everything isn’t curated.

Sami
The photo that went with the post was taken after riding six hours in the rain, only to find no waves. And my expression says it all—what the hell am I doing here? [laughs]

cyclespeak
In another post you mention wanting more hours in the day. Do you find it difficult to fit everything in?

Sami
Every single day I think the same. When I’m out of the house – maybe it’s a shoot that starts at 5:00am – then you have a structure and things usually work out. But at home? Today I was an hour late for our call because there’s never enough time—I’m still wearing my kit from the bike fit. So I could definitely do with a few more hours each day [laughs].

cyclespeak
Can I take you back to the start of the year when you made a post that mentioned how you were facing some life difficulties but looking forward to new decisions and experiences. And it ended with you reaffirming the joy and strength you get from riding your bike. Can I ask whether you’re enjoying life at the moment?

Sami
I definitely feel it’s been a good year in the sense that I said yes to everything I wanted to do and had time for. So I went all in, again, and that’s after promising myself that I would ride more than work. But that didn’t happen [laughs].

cyclespeak
Because there’s always the next project?

Sami
Maybe now, I’m reaching the point where I don’t feel the need to say yes to everything? And there’s so many good memories from the rides I have done this year. We recently released the film of me and my friend Henna bikepacking above the Arctic Circle—such a fun trip. And I’m heading back to Iceland to pick up where we left off. This time, hopefully with some waves and a happy Sami [laughs].

Feature images by Dominique Powers

All other imagery with kind permission of Sami Sauri / samisauri.com

Into the Atlantic Islands

María Guðmundsdóttir / Full gas and see what happens

Beaming a broad smile towards the camera, María Guðmundsdóttir’s personality is writ large on her playful social media posts. A passionate advocate for more women cycling and multiple Icelandic National Cycling Champion, the past year has seen her racing a series of events with the Café du Cycliste Gravel Team. In a conversation punctuated with laughter, María discusses the reasons she rides, the joy she finds in time spent outdoors and why we should all dance a little more.


cyclespeak
You’re at home in Iceland. Is that where you usually work?

María
If I need people around me, I just go to a coffee house but most of the time I work from home.

cyclespeak
I’m intrigued by your family name: Guðmundsdóttir. Has this got a special meaning?

María
Here in Iceland – we are not many [laughs] – and every girl is named daughter of their father. 

cyclespeak
What was it like growing up as a child?

María
I was born on the west side of the island. Quite remote with high mountains and hard winters. I lived there until I was 20 years old and spent most of my spare time skiing. I just loved bad weather as it meant more snow.

cyclespeak
Do you have any personality traits that are typically Icelandic?

María
In Iceland, everything depends on the weather. You can make a plan but the chance of it not working out as you imagine is huge. So it’s really Icelandic to not think too much about things and we have this phrase Þetta Reddast that basically means ‘it will be fine’. And that’s very much the kind of person I am. I love to have my life open to whatever comes to me.

cyclespeak
You mentioned growing up skiing. So where does the bike fit in?

María
Naturally I had a bike as a child. But every child can cycle in Iceland because if your parents cannot provide a bike, the Government will. And when I got pregnant in 2007 after I’d moved to Reykjavik, I decided to buy myself a bike as a present for giving birth to my first daughter [laughs].

cyclespeak
That seems fair.

María
And then I saw an advertisement for the biggest mountain bike race in Iceland—the Blue Lagoon Challenge. How could I have such a fancy bike and not participate? So I signed up and that’s how it all started.

cyclespeak
Did you enjoy the race?

María
The course was 60km and it never stopped raining. I was really tired and covered in mud when I finished but I’d never felt more alive.

cyclespeak
You mentioned the weather. Can you ride year round in Iceland or are there distinct seasons?

María
I ride all year but there are many days when you just have to turn around and head home because of the crazy weather. Last winter the snowfall was so heavy that it was difficult to ride anywhere but on the snow ploughed streets. So I went out during office hours when people were at work and made sure I was home before 4:00pm when the roads got busier. And they usually keep the cycle paths in Reykjavik pretty clear. If they don’t, the people quickly let them know about it [laughs].

cyclespeak
This year’s race season got underway with you riding for the Café du Cycliste Gravel Team at the Traka.

María
I’ve been working with Café du Cycliste on their photo shoots for almost three years. And then late last year they contacted me to ask if I wanted to compete in the Roc d’Azur gravel race out of Nice. That went really well – I came second – and they explained how they were building a gravel racing team and asked if I would be interested in joining. My first thought? Do they know how old I am?

cyclespeak
Maybe they were focusing, not on your 41 years, but on your 20 Icelandic National titles?

María
Possibly [laughs]. And this was a serious venture. They explained how I needed to be in good shape and train but also keep having fun on my bike. So I thought, well, the last condition is easy enough.


cyclespeak
So you joined the team.

María
I did. But at first I’ll admit to feeling a little shy about racing for Café du Cycliste. It was the first time they’d had their own team so it was a big honour to be asked.

cyclespeak
With the greatest respect, I’m finding it difficult to imagine you feeling shy [smiles]. You always appear so in the moment and relaxed.

María
When they asked me, I didn’t even tell my boyfriend right away [laughs].

cyclespeak
Café du Cycliste is a brand with quite a unique design aesthetic that I’m guessing appeals to your sense of fun?

María
I was already a huge fan and loved how they made fashionable cycle wear that also performed brilliantly on the bike. And I can remember when I first talked to them, how I explained that I was a little starstruck.

cyclespeak
With your personality, you make a great combination.

María
I guess so. And it’s perfect for Iceland. I look at the weather and pick an appropriate outfit.

cyclespeak
Once again riding for Café du Cycliste, June saw you line up for Unbound—considered by many to be the calendar’s biggest gravel race. But I believe the logistics of travelling to the US were also pretty testing?

María
That’s a crazy story. My journey began to unravel before I’d even left Iceland when I was standing in the wrong queue and nearly missed my flight. I had to run [laughs].

cyclespeak
You were flying to Newark?

María
And then the plan was to take a connecting flight to Texas and finally Kansas. But first I had to pass through US Immigration Control. After two hours of queuing, I finally got to the border officers and they asked if I had any foodstuffs. I answered, ‘Yeah, I’m fine, I’ve got a banana and some other things’. So they immediately took me to one side and started to search all my bags which meant I missed my flight. So I had to wait in Newark for hours and to end a perfect day the thunderstorm came. And everything just stopped [laughs].

cyclespeak
I remember the storm was on the news.

María
After spending a night sleeping on the terminal floor, I had to quickly decide which flight to take. Choosing a connection through Denver, I finally got in the air again only to discover I was flying over Kansas [laughs].

cyclespeak
Not what you call perfect preparation for a 200 mile gravel race.

María
It took me 39 hours in total from leaving home to arriving in Emporia and when I did finally get there I had no luggage. No clothes, no helmet, no shoes, no bike. It wasn’t until the Friday evening, 12 hours before the race start, that my bags turned up. But even though I was desperately tired, lining up at the start line was pretty awesome. 

cyclespeak
How did you find the race? Did you – and I’m quoting a post you made – cry halfway round in all that heat? And was there an ice cream waiting for you at the finish line?

María
I started well but after two hours I was just empty. So when I got to the first aid station I stopped. I wasn’t sad – I didn’t cry [laughs] – because everything had been such a mess and it just wasn’t my time.

cyclespeak
And the ice cream at the finish?

María
Of course! And because my team is so awesome we celebrated the race at a typical American bar with country music, dancing and everyone wearing cowboy hats.


cyclespeak
Is Unbound unfinished business?

María
I don’t know.

[Pauses]

Some people need to tick boxes. I don’t.

cyclespeak
After Unbound you raced on home soil in the Rift. As a 20x Icelandic National Champion, does that bring with it a sense of expectation on how you’ll perform?

María
Yes, I suppose it does.

cyclespeak
Is that a good or bad thing?

María
In the past I thought about it a lot but now? I’m riding for myself and there’s less pressure.

cyclespeak
Maybe that comes with age. There’s less of a need to meet the expectations of others?

María
I can see that. And I wonder if María is changing. I love racing and pushing hard but I also enjoy just riding my bike purely for pleasure. Taking in all the surroundings rather than staring at the wheel in front of me [smiles].

cyclespeak
Your boyfriend is also an Icelandic National Cycling Champion. Do family rides ever get competitive?

María
No [laughs]. He’s faster than me.

cyclespeak
You’re fast enough to get second place in a recent race in Italy which means you’ve qualified for the UCI World Gravel Championships in October. That’s kind of a big deal?

María
But I’m not nervous.

cyclespeak
No?

María
Just excited. Which means I have no expectations and will just hit it. Full gas and see what happens [laughs].

cyclespeak
Leading such a busy life, is timetabling a challenge you welcome?

María
Yes. And that’s my problem. I like being busy. But I recently made the decision to only work part-time as I need time with my girls and time to ride my bike.

cyclespeak
No matter whether you’re riding, racing or on a photo shoot, you always have the biggest smile.

María
It’s how I am. Often my boyfriend says, ‘María, you need to cool it down’ [laughs].

cyclespeak
And you also love to dance?

María
I do. I dance a lot. With my girls, by myself. If you allow yourself to move – and I’m not a good dancer – then you’re more open to all kinds of situations.

cyclespeak
Does this same sense of movement apply to your bike?

María
Before I go to bed and when I wake up, I often go outside and [Maria breathes in deeply and exhales]. For my sense of wellbeing I need to spend time outdoors and cycling gives me that. It just feels so good to be pedalling.

María

All photography for Café du Cycliste including images by Benedict Campbell, Christophe Flemin and Violette Franchi

Jan Sprünken / Rad Race

Rad Race? In German, rad means wheel and it can also be a shortened term for bike. But it’s not supposed to translate simply as bike race. There’s a lot more to it than that.

I’m on a video call with Jan Sprünken [pictured second left]; one of the original 12 friends that first founded Rad Race. After I semi-seriously apologise for my store cupboard background, he smiles and suggests that it’s a filter I’m using. A nicely judged off-the-cuff comment that sets the tone for our conversation—Jan responding to my questions with a thread of answers and anecdotes that place a sense of fun and community equally among all other considerations.


Jan
I’m currently living in Berlin but Rad Race was founded in a city called Münster. It’s known as the bicycle capital of Germany because when you arrive at the train station there’s just a shit load of bikes everywhere. And we were a group of friends all with a Münster background—either studying or born and raised there.

cyclespeak
And the initial inspiration?

Jan
Like a lot of the best ideas, this one grew from us sitting round a campfire, talking and drinking beer. Just us bullshitting and saying why don’t we do this or that. But then you never really do whatever you suggest. It’s a campfire thing that feels good in the moment and you’re not really considering all the down sides.

cyclespeak
But, in this case, the idea stuck?

Jan
That was Ingo [Engelhardt]. To give him credit, he’s the kind of guy that gets things done. And the next day when we were sitting in a café, he showed us his phone and there was this Facebook page which he’d created. So all of a sudden there was an idea, a name and a visual identity.

cyclespeak
And from there?

Jan
We set about drawing up a business plan but none of us had any experience with start-ups. So the process was driven by gut feeling. Whatever felt wrong we ignored and what felt right we followed.

cyclespeak
Before the concept of Rad Race was first dreamt up, how were you all riding?

Jan
Some guys had single speed bikes. Some were more road. My background was professional basketball. I had a mountain bike but I only rode it about four times a year [smiles].

cyclespeak
Was there a common interest?

Jan
This was the tail end of 2013 so the fixed gear scene was still peaking and we all loved watching them race and admired the skills they had to control the bike.

cyclespeak
Now that you’ve established your own event series, I was wondering where you see Rad Race in terms of the broader cycling industry?

Jan
It’s not supposed to be this excluding, elitist thing. It’s not one, narrow definition of riding.

cyclespeak
So what would be a broader definition?

Jan
It’s an attempt to enjoy cycling and build a community. To be a platform for people to come together and explore what the bike can offer.

cyclespeak
That reminds me of a quote on your website: ‘We don’t care where you come from and why you ride’. 

Jan
That’s from the early days. But we still like it so why change? And it’s a reminder for us too, that as long as you get a kick out of riding, then that’s the most important common denominator.

cyclespeak
Is this an attitude that needs constant curating?

Jan
Unfortunately, it’s human nature to create an us and them. It happens everywhere so we always want to be open and welcoming.

cyclespeak
I think it’s really cool that you place so much emphasis on people having fun.

Jan
It’s like the first time we organised a multi-stage ride that started in Munich before ending up close to Venice. It was meant to be a race but we did the test ride with a handful of friends and ended up questioning whether it had to be a race? Because why would you want to drop each other? Fuck no. So we turned the whole concept on its head and the Tour de Friends was born. 500 people crossing the Alps together and every night we gather at the finish of each stage and drink a couple of beers. The perfect platform for doing what you enjoy and having a good time.

cyclespeak
You organise a variety of events including fixed gear racing, ultra distance non-stop challenges and multi-stage tours. Is there an element of Rad Race DNA that runs through each and every event?

Jan
There is but it took me a while to understand this myself. At first I only saw these exciting bike events but it was later that the concept of community struck me as a crucial aspect of what we do. I’ve known some of the participants for close to ten years and many are now good friends. They come to have fun, to ride their bikes and to share in something that’s bigger than the individual.

cyclespeak
Races such as Last Wo/Man Standing; I’m guessing there’s an awful lot of hard work that goes into hosting such an event?

Jan
Yes, indeed [laughs].

cyclespeak
And you naturally need a suitable venue?

Jan
The first time we ran this event, we knew we wanted it to be in Berlin. So we rented an indoor karting track in this really hip area of the city.

cyclespeak
And things grew from there?

Jan
A little too well because they kept increasing the fees. Doubling the price each year and demanding they take over the concessions. Especially for this event, the after-show party is off the charts and we can recoup some of our expenditure on the food and drink sales. So we ended the relationship and that proved a liberating moment for us.

cyclespeak
So a good decision?

Jan
It was but we still needed a new place which was obviously a problem. So myself, Ingo and one of our track riders Axel spent a day in Berlin going round all the other karting circuits and writing down the pros and cons. Is there room for spectators? Is the track wide enough for passing. Maybe there’s a bridge with limited headroom that would decapitate our riders? In the end we decided on our favourite and shook hands with the guy who owned it.

cyclespeak
So it all ended well?

Jan
You could say that but we did have one year when he complained that his restrooms had been destroyed. People partying hard and [pause] you know…

cyclespeak
I guess I do [smiles].

Jan
So we immediately asked him to fix it and we covered the cost. It’s a relationship we really value and a venue that works well. In fact one year – just before the pandemic – Fabian Cancellara participated.

cyclespeak
That’s pretty special.

Jan
I can still picture the looks on the faces of the other riders when they lined up with him at the start. But that’s the really cool part too. He’s not automatically the best rider at Last Wo/Man Standing because it’s completely different to what he’s used to doing. Obviously he’s one of the greatest cyclists of all time but he still got eliminated in Round Two by a street messenger guy who spends every day riding fixed and dodging cars on the city streets.

cyclespeak
I’ve rewatched your Final Lap video numerous times and the camera work is mindblowing? How do you capture such awesome imagery?

Jan
It’s a drone.

cyclespeak
But the kart track is inside?

Jan
The operator is a friend of ours. And we explained about the ceiling height, the spectators and all the gantries. But he was confident that he could get the shots we needed.

cyclespeak
You feel like you’re in the race, on a bike, immediately behind the other riders. Simply stunning.

Jan
Watching him navigate the drone was almost as exciting as the race itself [laughs].

cyclespeak
And then I watched another of your videos. Carnage, corners and crashes. And this one made me question what type of rider is attracted to your way of racing? It’s very cut and thrust.

Jan
I don’t know that term but it sounds cool. Actually, it sounds exactly what it is [laughs].

cyclespeak
So maybe not for everyone?

Jan
It appeals to people that love to ride their fixed gear bikes on the street. Who commute in that fashion or maybe earn a living as a messenger. But the people that do well also train really hard. The guy who won this year’s competition – Alec Briggs – he’s not riding his bike to a bar to have a beer and then home again. He’s a legit cyclist and has all the skills.

cyclespeak
Speaking of training, you have your own teams. The Rad Pack and Grl Pack.

Jan
They do race but they’re not really racing teams. They developed after we did trips together where we all wore a specially designed jersey. So we all felt like a team.

cyclespeak
In the team images you have on the website, there’s lots of laughter and smiles and not taking yourselves too seriously? Maybe a little different than the grim suffering depicted in some race photography?

Jan
Our riders are ambitious and want to do well but it’s not their job. If they don’t enter a race for five or six months, that’s perfectly okay. Yes, there are races we participate in but it’s not really a race team. It’s more of an open and fluid definition of team.

cyclespeak
Alongside your race and event series, you now have a physical presence in Hamburg with your Rad Race shop.

Jan
Hamburg happened when we needed to swap this small rented workshop we were using as an office for something bigger. We saw this amazing space next to the fish market which is a really prestigious area down by the river. And because it was a lot bigger, we started thinking how it could be more than just an office and that’s how we arrived at the shop concept.

cyclespeak
So an unexpected outcome?

Jan
More jumping in at the deep end because we didn’t know jack shit about opening a bike store [laughs].

cyclespeak
I notice that you’re hiring. You’re looking for mechanics and baristas?

Jan
Yes. Always [laughs].

cyclespeak
Always?

Jan
We completely underestimated how busy our bike workshop would be. We had a good friend who was a mechanic that we thought would be perfect. He’d get a paycheck and we’d have someone we could trust. But leading up to the official opening we had this pop-up and even at that early stage we could see how busy we’d be.

cyclespeak
Which explains the job advert.

Jan
Because of what we do with the race series, we meet so many people that are enthusiastic about cycling and we often get mechanics asking if they can come and work at our place. And we say, “Yes, you can!” [laughs]

cyclespeak
I work a couple of days a week as a barista but I’m based south of Manchester. That’s quite a commute to your Hamburg shop so I didn’t apply for your position [smiles].

Jan
You could spend your vacation with us. As an intern? You could show us how to fix great coffee?

cyclespeak
There’s a certain Berlin-based bicycle brand that – rumour suggests – has the fastest shop ride in the world.

Jan
I think that might be true [laughs].

cyclespeak
So your Hamburg shop isn’t out to steal their crown?

Jan
We do have rides but we just invite people to meet there and sometimes they happen and sometimes they don’t. From what I’ve heard, the one you mentioned in Berlin is legit [smiles].

cyclespeak
Does this go back to what you mentioned earlier? About just letting things follow their own course?

Jan
What we do and what we don’t do?

cyclespeak
Yes. Exactly that.

Jan
We only want to go in a direction where things feel good to us. And the decisions we make aren’t always financially driven. I don’t think we’ve ever made a single euro in profit with the Last Wo/Man Standing events. It’s actually the opposite but we feel it’s worth it. It’s a fun event that feels good and we know that eventually they’ll be a benefit. We like to earn money too – we’re not angels – but we stick to our way of working because some of the best things we’ve done have happened in this way.

Rad Race

Photography with kind permission of Rad Race: Arturs Pavlovs / Bengt Stiller / Björn Reschabek / Chiara Redaschi / Tom Schegel / Nils Laengner / Christoph Steinweg / Dennis Arndt / Yunus Hutterer

Ansel Dickey / Vermont Social

“It’s a massive refinement of small moments that the viewer ends up seeing.”

After eschewing college for a career racing bikes, Ansel Dickey [pictured far right] combined his love of photography and film in Vermont Social—the creative agency he founded that delivers beautifully realised visual media with a focus on storytelling.

Referencing his latest film for Wahoo Frontiers, Ansel discusses in detail the logistical demands and production processes that such a project entails—a freewheeling conversation that takes in barn envy, motorbike chases through Austin, Texas and telling secrets to the camera.

cyclespeak
So how are things in Vermont?

Ansel
We’re in the middle of a long mud season.

cyclespeak
I’ve heard about that. When I spoke to Ian Boswell* he was saying that winter is sort of prolonged but it’s proper snow so you can go fat biking or cross-country skiing.

[*Wahoo Frontiers athlete and winner of Unbound 2021]

Ansel
Yeah, I mean winter is actually quite enjoyable but when all the snow is gone it’s still really cold and the dirt roads – which are like 80% of all our roads –  are just gnarly and rutted.

cyclespeak
And you end up coming back with a filthy bike that needs cleaning.

Ansel
If I have to wash my bike after a ride, then I’m not going out. There’s no requirement for me to train on the bike anymore and I’ve been converted to running. It’s super time efficient so if I’m busy I can just do 20 minutes and feel like I’ve accomplished something. But lately I’ve been really missing the bike so I went out on this nice long ride yesterday. The first in five months. It’s finally dry enough and warm enough to go out.

cyclespeak
I’m right in thinking you bought a house a couple of years back?

Ansel
Yeah. My fiancée Gertrude and I found a place in West Windsor. We’d been looking for a while but couldn’t find anything and then this house popped up. So we jumped on it.

cyclespeak
Are people still working from home and wanting more space?

Ansel
The remote work environment has been picked up by a lot of companies and people are realising that compared to metropolitan areas, Vermont is still relatively cheap. People understand that their money can go a lot farther. But then they get to mud season and it’s like, fuck, I wanna go back to the city [laughs].

cyclespeak
The question is – and this is an important question – have you got a big barn like Ian?

Ansel
I wish. His barn is next level. We do have a two car garage but, unlike Gertrude, I don’t use it for my car because my side is full of bikes and crap.

cyclespeak
Speaking of possessions, I can see the neck of a cello poking out from behind the couch. Who’s the musician? 

Ansel
That’s mine but I haven’t played in a while. My Dad is a musician so I grew up playing a lot of instruments. I play more guitar now.

cyclespeak
I’ve seen pictures of you with a banjo.

Ansel
Yeah. And my dog’s name is Banjo. Unfortunately he just tore his ACL playing fetch.

cyclespeak
Is that fixable?

Ansel
It is but we still don’t know if it’s fully or partially torn. And it’s a real shame because mud season is his favourite. Especially if it’s been raining. He’s that kind of dog [laughs]. 

cyclespeak
When Banjo was a puppy you were still racing bikes professionally. Can you talk me through your transition to content creator?

Ansel
Bikes were always a big part of my life. I started racing when I was 15 or 16, slowly improved and got on the national team. And then right out of high school I signed my first professional contract. So that helped me decide that I didn’t really want to go to college and I’d rather go off racing. I travelled loads and met a lot of great people. But even though I did the Tour of China and raced in Azerbaijan, I never really made it to Ian’s level—never made it to where it was totally justifiable with me making a huge living.

cyclespeak
So what changed?

Ansel
I had a teammate called Sam Rosenholtz who was also a portrait photographer. We went to a training camp in Spain and I remember watching him carry around his camera and take photographs. I was, okay, cameras are cool and I want to play with them too. So I started just doing it for fun—taking my camera to races when I was travelling.

cyclespeak
And from there?

Ansel
At the same time I had already started Vermont Social but as a social media marketing company. I was basically helping small business clients like a bike shop in New Hampshire or a beer store in Vermont—running their social media for them while I was abroad racing.

cyclespeak
And the photography?

Ansel
It was the realisation that a lot of these same social media clients also needed photographic services and that eventually evolved into video. And because I was becoming more invested in getting better at film and photography than getting better at racing my bike, I knew it was time to quit.

cyclespeak
Was that a head or a heart shift?

Ansel
I think the heart took a lot longer than the head. Analytically, I knew how hard I’d worked at my racing but did I want to waste another five or ten years doing the same races and getting the same results? Or did I want to pivot?

cyclespeak
How long did it take for riding your bike to not feel like training?

Ansel
Oh man, I think it’s still an issue. Being an athlete at that level, you’re tortured because of this desire to do well. But I also think that anything in my life, when I enjoy it, I enjoy the feeling of getting better. I think that’s why I got into running because I’m not that good at it yet and I can see the progression. When I get on my bike, I’m just reminded of how good I used to be. So it’s tough [laughs].

cyclespeak
Why the name Vermont Social?

Ansel
I like the way it sounded. Like, pretty cool.

cyclespeak
And the brand logo comes from your love of fishing? 

Ansel
Yeah. I grew up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts where I fell in love with fly fishing. I’ve always liked companies that had a mascot, so I was like, why not just make it a fish? And because I like an organic approach to things, the only native fish to Vermont is the Brook Trout.

cyclespeak
And that all came together and just felt right?

Ansel
I always thought that with branding and design, things need to look good as a base but beyond that, your brand is really created by the interactions you have with your customers. And like the layers on an onion, it takes years and years to build.

cyclespeak
Your latest film for Wahoo Frontiers – 24 Hours in Old Pueblo – is 11 minutes and some seconds of brilliance. Beautifully filmed and depicting these four young women, out racing in the desert and having fun. Can you describe the processes you follow in a project such as this? From conception through to delivery, and how do you use the event to tell a story?

Ansel
As you probably know, Wahoo Fitness is a big client of ours and a lot of the original ideas come from them. Once the idea is on the table, then it’s my job to do the research and come up with what the story is. With this film, the idea centres around community and camaraderie.

cyclespeak
So you have your story. What’s next?

Ansel
Pre-production involves researching the athletes—who they are, their past results and a little of their character. And then there’s the event. How long has it been running? What’s the format?

cyclespeak
So for this film?

Ansel
The women are four individuals – really good in their own right – so it’s cool to see them come together to form this team in a fun and funky event.

cyclespeak
And the logistics?

Ansel
We knew the event was way out in the desert. Everyone calls it the Burning Man of bike festivals which I would say is super accurate [laughs].

cyclespeak
Which means you were camping?

Ansel
We set to work making a list of everything we’d need to take with us and decided to rent a sprinter van so we could camp out with the girls and charge our equipment. It was myself and Josh Bernales—another DP who’s just moved to Colorado but used to live in Vermont.

cyclespeak
What about the actual filming?

Ansel
The pre-production plan has all the story ideas and interview questions. The production plan is, okay, we’ll do sunset shooting here, interviews over there and we’ll film the race in this way. Beyond that, you’re on the fly. Documenting things as they unfold and constantly looking for opportunities to tell the story that’s always in the back of your mind. 

cyclespeak
Is that story influenced by what’s happening on the ground?

Ansel
It totally evolves and you just have to be okay with that because we don’t want to put words in their mouths. So you have to be ready to change direction, ask another question or reshoot something in a way that helps explain where it’s going. And it’s also important to have fun. We were camping in the desert so you’re hanging out with the girls and cooking with them. You’ve got to build a rapport before you expect to get good stuff on film.

cyclespeak
I can see how it would be fun but it also sounds a little intense?

Ansel
You shoot all day, dump cards at night. Then go to sleep – or not in this film’s case – and begin all over again the next day. And then you go home and start the editing process and, honestly, that’s where the story really comes alive. You have an idea of what you shot but you really don’t know what it’s going to turn into until you get it onto the timeline.

cyclespeak
As I already mentioned, the film runs to just over 11 minutes. But how much footage did you have available to edit down?

Ansel
I don’t know the exact length but it was 4 to 5 terabytes. And that’s pretty typical for a project such as this. Basically, if you’re there, shoot it. Because you’ll get into the edit and wish you had it. It’s a massive refinement of small moments that the viewer ends up seeing.

cyclespeak
A semi-serious question but who had the tidier camp?

Ansel
We managed to keep the inside of our van pretty organised but outside was just trashed. There’s so much going on and we didn’t have a producer on set organising our stuff. We’re helping the girls cook, bringing them a jacket when they’re cold, helping fix their bikes—and all the time trying to film. So cleaning was the last thing on anyone’s mind and it showed at the end. If you wanted to eat something, you would just pick up a dirty bowl, brush it out and find some food to put in it [laughs].

cyclespeak
Moving on to other projects, when Ian shared his secret to the camera in your film documenting the 2021 Unbound, I welled up myself*. How do you balance the need to film what’s happening without being too intrusive? But also building these relationships that allow the subjects to share their thoughts and feelings so freely?

[*In the final scene of the film, Ian let slip that his wife Gretchen was expecting their first child]

Ansel
Unbound was super cool because Ian won. And he’s a really good friend so it’s really easy to work with him. Beyond that, we try to approach these stories and the humans behind them with respect and humility. You can’t just barge in—you need to wait for them to be comfortable opening up. And it’s also about getting the best out of them as opposed to putting words in their mouths.

cyclespeak
I do feel that your films go beyond purely documenting. And I’m guessing the athletes that you feature trust that you’ll take what they do and say and treat this with respect. And I was wondering, now that you’ve been working with Education First, whether there are any challenges particular to the World Tour?

Ansel
There sure are [laughs]. The fact that everything is orchestrated and organised around the athletes means you’re a fly on the wall watching things unfold. You’re basically like paparazzi following them around—spraying and praying and documenting that way. But it’s also really cool because I always wanted to go to the World Tour as a bike racer and now I’ve finally made it as a filmmaker which is kind of cool. 

cyclespeak
You posted a really nice photograph of you and the team taken by Jered Gruber. Do you enjoy collaborating with other professionals?

Ansel
Having two cameras, another person flying the drone and someone doing audio—it all adds up to make a much better experience for the viewer. Everyone’s devotion to the craft really comes into play and most of these projects simply aren’t possible without teamwork.

cyclespeak
What are your thoughts on social media? Because that’s where Vermont Social started.

Ansel
I’m personally and professionally thrilled that I don’t have to manage other people’s social media anymore. That was a 2-3 year period when we did it as a service and it made money but was just absolutely brutal. Anything you did wasn’t good enough and there was always a problem with an angry commenter or the client not being happy with what you were doing. With the film and photography stuff, you’re delivering this product and if you’ve done your job well, when they get delivery they’re like, holy crap, this is amazing [laughs].

cyclespeak
Any social media positives?

Ansel
On the flip side, it’s relatively easy to build a big audience and you can get your work out to the world really, really quickly and that accelerates everything else. So maybe it’s a two-sided coin and like I always tell people, use it as a tool because that’s what it is.

cyclespeak
Any past projects that proved particularly challenging?

Ansel
We had fun with both the Colin Strickland and Sarah Sturm Frontiers episodes. It was at the height of COVID during the early fall of 2020. No one was flying at that point but Wahoo Fitness really wanted us to do the projects. So we figured out that if we rented a commercial sprinter van, it would take our air mattresses, camera gear and mountain bikes. And then we drove from Vermont to Texas.

cyclespeak
That’s a long way.

Ansel
It was a three day drive with us sleeping in the van because we didn’t trust hotels. When we got to Austin ready to start filming with Colin, he just opened up his garage and there were all these motorcycles in a row. Both Nick [Keating] and I ride so, calm as you like, Colin throws us two sets of keys and hands over some helmets. Follow me, he says, we’re going out to dinner. So we’re bombing through downtown Austin, trying to keep up with Colin and it’s like ten minutes since we first met him. Absolutely insane [laughs].

cyclespeak
That sounds pretty cool to me.

Ansel
And then once the project was done, we drove straight to Colorado to film with Sarah Sturm—still sleeping in the van and still not showering. After spending four days camping up in the mountains with Sarah and her boyfriend, we drove all the way back home to Vermont.

cyclespeak
How long were you away from home?

Ansel
That was a month-long process of living in a commercial sprinter van that wasn’t built for camping. Just to shoot these two projects during COVID.

cyclespeak
Speaking of projects, you’ve got a big day coming up in June? I’ve been sneaking a peek at your wedding webpage and then I saw a super nice portrait of Gertrude on your Instagram feed. In the post’s comment, you describe her as strong, thoughtful, fierce, loving, caring, compassionate, sometimes impatient and always, always beautiful. And I wondered what words Gertrude would use to describe you?

Ansel
Ohh man.

[pause]

Disorganised. Impulsive probably. Serious at times. Maybe overly serious. Motivated. And throw in disorganised again [laughs].

cyclespeak
Disorganised twice [laughs]?

Ansel
Yeah. But we’re a good match. Gertrude is definitely the organised one and I’m more go-with-the-flow. Or thinking about something totally different – head in the clouds – and not interacting with what’s going on in the moment [laughs].

cyclespeak
Does your mind wander to hopes and dreams for the future?

Ansel
That’s an interesting question. Because I’ve never really been that good at setting long term goals. I’m very good at setting short term goals and working really hard to achieve them. But long term? I do know that I don’t want to grow Vermont Social into this big media conglomerate. At the moment I get to work with amazing people and tell stories that really interest me.

cyclespeak
And on a personal level?

Ansel
Long term is obviously to have a family and hopefully build our own house somewhere with a bit more land.

cyclespeak
A house with a barn?

Ansel
Yeah [laughs]. A barn is key and maybe a couple of border collies and some other animals. I think that would make for a really happy life.

Ansel Dickey / Vermont Social / Vermont Overland / Wahoo Frontiers

Feature image: Jered Gruber / All other images with kind permission of Ansel Dickey and Vermont Social

Pete Stetina / Gravel privateer

I’m a racer for hire. Kind of a lone wolf mentality.

Sandwiched between racing Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the Tour of California, Pete Stetina lined up at the 2019 Belgian Waffle Ride in the colours of his World Tour team Trek-Segafredo. A 133-mile gravel race out of San Marcos, California, his first place finish set in motion a seismic shift in the way he now rides a race bike; Pete swapping team buses for van life as he balances the demands of training with negotiating sponsor deals and maintaining his social media presence.

Engagingly honest and self-aware, Pete sat down to take a deep dive into the reasons he races and the reality of life as a gravel privateer—a candid conversation that freewheels from flights of beer to family time on the couch.


cyclespeak
It’s eight in the morning for you. Have you already got a ride in?

Pete
God, no! My wife works a normal 8 – 5 so we’re up at 6:30am getting the coffee going and walking the dogs. The usual morning routine. And then come 10:00am, if the weather is good I might head out. Old pro habits die hard [laughs].

cyclespeak
You’re out on the West Coast?

Pete
That’s right. Northern California; about one hour north of San Francisco.

cyclespeak
Quite a kind climate?

Pete
It’s Mediterranean. Where all the Napa Valley wine comes from. So it’s vineyard riding and steep coastal hills. You get a lot of rain in the winter and a big temperature swing but you can ride 350 days a year.

cyclespeak
On your Instagram bio you describe yourself as a bike privateer—a term I really enjoy as it sounds kind of outside the law, almost swashbuckling. What does it mean to you?

Pete
It can be a little bit of that. I suppose it denotes a way of riding outside the traditional format. A little bit mercenary, I guess. I’m a racer for hire that contracts out to different companies. I’m not beholden to a set template so I can do what I want and make ends meet that way. Kind of a lone wolf mentality.

cyclespeak
A new concept when applied to bike racing?

Pete
It’s always existed – especially in mountain biking – although no one particularly used the term privateer. But then I did this film project during the 2020 lockdown called ‘Let’s Privateer’ that talked about following your heart. And it’s funny, once I started to promote this attitude, how it kinda grew to be an industry-wide term [laughs].

cyclespeak
And how does the term apply to you?

Pete
I’m a team of one. I’m doing my own contracts, my own deals, my own logistics.

cyclespeak
That’s an interesting point you make – you being a team of one – especially considering you enjoyed a 10-year career as a World Tour professional with eight Grand Tours along the way. Is there anything you miss from that time?

Pete
The camaraderie you get with your teammates in a Grand Tour—you feel like you’re going into battle together and long-standing friendships can be built on those shared experiences. And I do miss the simplicity of World Tour life. And when I say simple, I don’t mean that in a negative way. But your job is your body and you just have to be fit and pedal—everything else is taken care of. So whilst it’s very hard physically – the suffering, the diet, the monk lifestyle – it is simple.

cyclespeak
I get the impression that what you do now is anything but?

Pete
It’s so vast [laughs]. I was recently having to do some documents that involved entering my weekly hours and it’s not unusual for me to do a 70-hour week. So I’m doing pro hours training for these ultra-distance events but then everything else on the back end. Emails, social media and all my sponsor obligations. But like they say—it doesn’t always feel like work if you love it.

cyclespeak
Did the World Tour feel like work?

Pete
Towards the end, I did begin to feel a little disillusioned with some of the politics. Constantly having to deal with team managers who act friendly but, come contract time, try and undercut you to get a better price with your agent. So the whole business side of things did begin to grate on me. I don’t mean anything negative about that system but I’m more effective doing it my own way and definitely feel in a better place.

Image: Jake Orness

cyclespeak
Does that translate into performance gains?

Pete
During my best climbing days I was doing top ten finishes on mountain stages but I was never going to win a Grand Tour. And just because someone has a bigger engine doesn’t at all mean they will succeed at gravel at the moment. There are so many other factors that influence whether you’re successful. With this whole privateer model and how it fits in with gravel and its anti-establishment roots, you have to be entrepreneurial.

cyclespeak
You made gravel racing headlines with your BWR [Belgian Waffle Ride] win in 2019. A pretty awesome achievement and I was wondering how it felt to cross the line in first place?

Pete
I honestly didn’t realise how big it would be. I was still racing professionally with Trek-Segafredo and had it in my contract to do three of these alternative races. BWR was the first one and, living as I do in California, it was this super big gravel race. The week before, I’d raced Liège–Bastogne–Liège and was flying back to the US for the Tour of California. My team director wasn’t at all happy that I was returning a week early for some gravel race. And I remember he dropped me off at the airport in Belgium, looked at me and said, ‘You better win’ before shutting the car door and driving off. And I was like, ‘What the hell?’ [laughs].

cyclespeak
But you did win.

Pete
Crossing the line in first place, I guess it was a feeling of relief in that regard.

cyclespeak
And, in a sense, life changing?

Pete
It was an amazing day on the bike and I loved every minute of it. But I never expected it to be this catalyst for changing my career. And then afterwards, the attention it got was like this lightbulb moment when I finally realised that something had shifted. A feeling confirmed a week later as I’m going up a climb in the Tour of California – swinging off after helping Richie Porte – and people are yelling, ‘There’s the Belgian Waffle winner!’

cyclespeak
That’s so cool.

Pete
It helped me to understand that people care and that got the gears turning. And then my second place at the 2019 Dirty Kanza – or Unbound as it’s now known – just acted as confirmation. But it was the BWR repeat in 2021 that was a much more emotional moment.

cyclespeak
Was there a lot more pressure lining up as the previous edition’s winner?

Pete
A lot. Mostly internal but there was public pressure too. I was the guy who’d jumped away from the World Tour and staked his career on gravel racing. But then 2020 didn’t happen with all the races being cancelled, so 2021 was my first, full gravel season. And the reality is that I’d sold all my sponsors on my ability to perform and win some of these races—that BWR 2019 wasn’t a fluke and just down to World Tour watts.

cyclespeak
A lot of mental baggage to carry?

Pete
I’d put all this debilitating pressure on myself to do well at BWR 2021 – especially seeing as Canyon was the headline sponsor – and then the race went so poorly with stupid issues that I thought I was out of it five times or more.

cyclespeak
Is that just the nature of gravel racing? The unpredictability?

Pete
I kind of view a race as a test. If I prepare and do everything just right, then I ace the test which translates to me winning. A very analytical approach that I get pleasure out of. So once again crossing the line in first place, I’m not a very emotional bike racer but it felt like this huge weight that I’d been carrying since 2019 had been suddenly lifted. A sense of brief euphoria that I’d made good on what I’d sold to my sponsors. A very emotional win and something that still gives me a lot of pleasure to look back on.

cyclespeak
Hypothetically, would you swap your BWR wins for a stage victory in the Tour?

Pete
I don’t know if I can answer that. Maybe but…

cyclespeak
I realise they’re very different.

Pete
A stage win in the Tour—the one bike race everyone follows [laughs].

cyclespeak
It’s what many professional cyclists spend a career seeking?

Pete
But those stages happen 21 times a year, every year. So it’s huge for a day but in terms of your job as a bike racer, I’m not absolutely certain it moves the needle that much. Whereas, being the early gravel adopter and then going on to win the BWR twice—that’s been more of a career defining moment.

Image: Linda Guerrette

cyclespeak
You come across in the Wahoo films as a chilled, relaxed kind of chap.

Pete
It’s all a charade [laughs].

cyclespeak
No. Really [laughs]?

Pete
I think the relaxed figure that you see is my natural persona when hanging out. And I think, right now, I’m able to be more comfortable in my own skin. The perception of me was very different as a World Tour roady—because that’s what was needed of me to get the most out of myself. I had close friends in my professional racing days and people that probably didn’t like me that much. I wasn’t mean but very, very focused.

cyclespeak
And now?

Pete
I sometimes wonder if people think it’s a big act but it’s not. I feel I can let my hair down and be my own, organic self. But saying that, it’s also hard to switch off too. You think about the demands of social media and the need to have an online presence with the positives but also the negatives. And that’s something myself and my colleagues living this hybrid lifestyle do struggle with.

cyclespeak
You recently posted a reference to another struggle. This year’s race calendar.

Pete
The gravel race calendar is a headache in itself [laughs]. It’s a good headache because I’m very much a supporter of an unsanctioned gravel world. It doesn’t need a heavy-handed UCI influence—it’s healthy enough on its own.

cyclespeak
I’m sensing a ‘but’…

Pete
But the flip side to that is race organisers just checking their permits and choosing their dates. I’ll get texts about a new event in Utah and they’ve decided on the same day as the biggest existing gravel race in Utah. And I’m like, go a week before or a week after. Don’t fight over the same race entry. Just think [laughs]!

cyclespeak
So how did you go about building your own race calendar?

Pete
It involved a whole bunch of research on small grassroots events that would be fun in a storytelling kind of way. But also the big ones that demand your attention. And then this massive jigsaw has to come together to make sure I can physically get to the races. Because, as a privateer, that’s on you. And if you do miss the registration? Then you have to beg, borrow and steal to get that spot.

cyclespeak
You mentioned the UCI. As an ex-World Tour racer, what’s your take on their interest in gravel racing?

Pete
I don’t see how they’re going to help. I’m pessimistic and see it as a money grab. On the one hand you have this rapidly growing segment of the sport that’s unregulated and free of handcuffs. And the UCI see how they’ve missed the boat and want to come in because it’s lucrative.

cyclespeak
Is it a question of the UCI imposing their own vision?

Pete
You take mountain bike racing as an example. There’s a healthy scene in Europe but gone are the days of big, long loops. It’s a spectator sport on a short circuit with grandstands and concessions. But at the same time, we need to welcome inclusivity and recognise that Europe is very gravel-curious from a racing perspective. And it’s all about community so who am I to say what anyone can or can’t do? I’m not the gatekeeper and if the UCI creates events that people want to race, then good for them. You vote with your registration.

cyclespeak
When you’re not travelling to events and racing, do you train or just ride your bike?

Pete
Both [laughs]. This might be a relatively new race discipline but people are training as hard as they can. And road racing in the US is not particularly healthy at the moment so a lot of riders from the road scene are coming over to gravel. Not so much the sprinters because they have crit racing but if you’re an endurance specialist, you’ve got to do gravel.

cyclespeak
So that means more competition?

Pete
Gravel is only getting faster and the racing is so hard—I’m hitting career-high numbers that eclipse my World Tour days. Which means I do have to train but that’s only half my job. I don’t have a coach and I have to fit in training around media commitments and sponsorship calls.


cyclespeak
So what does your training look like?

Pete
You see this relaxed guy riding the Lost Coast and at home he’s really doing trainer intervals everyday? You’ve got to live what you preach and this sport was founded on adventure so a lot of my training is off-road—feeling the dirt and just being happy riding my bike. 

cyclespeak
I was hoping you were out, doing long rides into the mountains.

Pete
These events, they’re all attrition based. Six, seven, ten hours. So, in a sense, going out on long rides is training.

cyclespeak
Looking at your race calendar, you’ll need to cover a lot of ground to attend these events. So can you talk me through the various stages of your van life?

Pete
Coming from the World Tour, it was always planes, hotels, team buses. And when I started gravel, my plan was to just keep on doing that—have a bike bag, fly in, rent a car from the airport. The van life never interested me. It just seemed like a lot of work, having another automobile.

cyclespeak
So what changed?

Pete
COVID happened, air fares were sketchy and I needed a way of providing value for my sponsors. So I looked at the van thing again and decided that if I was on the road, sleeping in the back, then I’d be free. I wouldn’t be locked down—I could go anywhere in the great wide, western US.

cyclespeak
Sounds exciting.

Pete
I did my research and bought a very used van from a friend. And it immediately opened up this door of possibility. I love the lifestyle of freedom—you’re not beholden to air travel transfer times, lost luggage. I can drive into the evening, carrying all my gear, before sleeping somewhere quiet on my own memory foam mattress. And secondly, it’s fun. Every square inch of space in that van is used with infinite possibilities to customise it to your individual needs. 

cyclespeak
So you were off, exploring wide open places.

Pete
And then my van broke down. Multiple times [laughs].

cyclespeak
You mentioned it was very used.

Pete
Being a privateer, that was a big headache. But one of the benefits of the gravel scene exploding is other industries beyond cycling seeing promotional opportunities. So I landed a van sponsor and now get to drive a very swanky rig [smiles].

cyclespeak
I saw your post that showed the integrated bike racks. Very cool.

Pete
It’s this custom tray that fits beneath my bed that holds three bikes. My road, mountain and gravel bikes neatly slotted together without needing to take the seats off.

cyclespeak
Do you ever suffer from trailer envy when you see Colin’s* Spartan?

[*Gravel racer Colin Strickland]

Pete
I’ve never hauled. That just seems like another headache [laughs]. I like that I can parallel park my van downtown at the market.

cyclespeak
Speaking of Colin, I watched a short video he made before last year’s Unbound when he talked – in some considerable detail – about every aspect of his bike build and race prep. Do you also delight in the details?

Pete
Certain details. And with gravel racing, it’s so detail orientated. From how many tyre plugs and where to carry them for fast access. A much more holistic view on bike racing than just pedalling. And Colin’s a good friend but he’s an engineer in a bike racer’s body. So he likes making his own stuff and doing his own mechanic work. I’m not that way inclined so I have Big Tall Wayne rolling with me. We’re best buddies, he’s an amazing mechanic and we travel the circuit together, drinking beers.

cyclespeak
One notable date on the circuit is for Paydirt, your own event?

Pete
You could say it was part of my move to gravel. It started life as Stetina’s Sierra Prospect out of Lake Tahoe. I live up there for half the year in a little cabin—it’s where I do all my altitude training. I thought it would be good to have my own event and I wanted a way to give back to the community after my shattered leg in 2015 and the consequences of my Dad’s traumatic brain injury after a car / bike collision. So I created this road Gran Fondo with a local charity that supports brain and spinal cord injuries as the beneficiary. But I was still riding the World Tour and the team managers weren’t that into me having other non-racing interests.

cyclespeak
So you switched things up?

Pete
As I was transitioning into gravel, I would go out exploring this range called the Pine Nut Mountains just down the way from Tahoe. It truly is the Wild West out there so I decided to swap the road Sierra Prospect to a gravel format and because mining is a feature of this region, Paydirt was a fitting name for the event.

cyclespeak
It’s a great name.

Pete
We support the High Fives Foundation and it’s my idea of what an amazing day on the bike looks like. Instead of sprinting for seconds on the road, we have a mechanical bull at the finish line and you ride it for a time bonus. We’ve had two years of postponements with COVID and the Californian fires so it’s third time a charm for this year’s event.


cyclespeak
On a more personal note, you’re recognisable for sporting a luxurious moustache. Whenever I go down that route my wife gives me hell. How do you navigate these important issues of individual style?

Pete
You could say the moustache was born out of public pressure. I came out of off-season in 2017 with a very robust, winter beard. Travelling to the Tour Down Under where it’s 40℃, I went to a local barber and asked him to clean it up but he left the moustache. I still had it in the spring at the Giro but then I got sick during the second week of the race and had to go on antibiotics. I was on this one particular hour long climb and my nose was running and dripping into my moustache and it was so gross. So I shaved it off and the next day when I signed on, everyone was booing me. So I brought it back and it’s kind of become my calling card. And in gravel, a sense of individualism is appreciated.

cyclespeak
I haven’t signed-on at the Giro so can’t use that as an excuse.

Pete
If you keep with it long enough, it might grow on her? Maybe then it will become weird if it wasn’t there [laughs].

cyclespeak
I know that you’re passionate about craft beer and have your own namesake brew. I believe this hobby raised a few eyebrows back in your World Tour days?

Pete
The beer – Pete’s Secret Stache – was created for the event I had in Tahoe. I teamed up with a local brewery and the proceeds were going to the charity. And to have my face on a beer can was a point of pride. It’s better than a Tour de France stage win [laughs].

cyclespeak
So why was your team upset?

Pete
Every time I saw it at the local store, I’d take a picture for social media. But the team didn’t like that—they considered it unprofessional. And then later that year, I got a top ten result in a Fall classic and the team was really surprised. They assumed I’d just been partying and drinking beer [laughs].

cyclespeak
But now you don’t have a team to answer to.

Pete
Craft beer and the IPA thing is definitely big in the US and I’ve always been a bit of a beer geek. It’s kind of like fine wine, in the different varieties and tasting notes. Maybe not the best passion to have second to bike racing in terms of performance but there’s always a time and place. And with all the gravel travelling I do, there’s always a brewery where you can sample the local beers.

cyclespeak
Are you by nature a rule breaker? Does challenging the norms come naturally?

Pete
I don’t know if I’m a rule breaker. I’m a practicalist if that’s even a word [laughs].

cyclespeak
Well, it is now.

Pete
If something makes sense to me then I’ll do it. If it doesn’t, then I probably won’t.

cyclespeak
So what are the basic elements of life that you seek to be happy?

Pete
In terms of my career, a happy racer is a fast racer.

cyclespeak
And in more general terms?

Pete
Beer makes me happy. Hanging out with family at home makes me happy. The little things in your relationship or job that, when you add them up, make a big difference. Whether that’s making sure you give your significant-other a kiss when you leave the house, it’s these little things that bring a lot of joy and satisfaction. And I’ve learned that I need to stay true to myself—I have to follow my heart. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable but, so far, it seems to have led me in the right direction.

cyclespeak
What would be a pretty perfect day for Pete Stetina?

Pete
A really nice coffee in the morning. Preferably black—I think if you have to add milk, then you’re trying to hide something. And then an adventurous gravel bike ride followed by a flight of beers at a well-respected craft brewery. Just a three or four ounce taste of every beer they make that you can enjoy with some friends. And the day ending with some family time with my wife and the dogs on the couch at home. I do that a lot and it’s always a good day.

Postscript / A few days after I sat down to chat with Pete, he flew out to Colombia ready to race the Transcordilleras—an eight stage, bike packing gravel rally that traverses the Andes. Over 1,000 km in length and ridden at high altitude, Pete came away with three stages and the overall win.

Pete Stetina / peterstetina.com

Let’s privateer

Feature image by Transcordilleras. Unless otherwise stated, all other photography with kind permission of Pete Stetina.

RJ Agcamaran / The moments between

I’m on a transatlantic call with Photo Pace photographer Richard James Agcamaran. RJ to family and friends and cutting a youthful figure in a simple plain t-shirt, despite the early hour  he’s relaxed and smiling.

With a beautifully realised body of work that sets monochrome shots of San Francisco streets against the sharp shadows and golden hues of West Coast sunlight, it’s perhaps surprising that he chooses to first reference a teaching career in his Instagram bio.

But over the course of our conversation, it’s this passion for education that best exemplifies his thoughtful and conscientious character—RJ talking candidly on a range of topics from commuting by bike, telling stories with Photo Pace and the lessons we can learn from the young.


cyclespeak
I can see the morning light shining through your window. Living south of Manchester in the UK, that’s one of the reasons the Photo Pace imagery appeals so much. Those wonderful California colours and strong shadows.

RJ
San Francisco is this special, weird place. People paint their houses all kinds of crazy colours but it kind of works.

cyclespeak
So what colour is your house?

RJ
It’s normal [laughs]. But we did live in a neighbourhood where this house had a giant painting of a lion across its front. So, naturally, everyone just referred to it as the ‘Lion House’.

cyclespeak
Is there a particular pattern to your week? How does a typical working day contrast with the weekend?

RJ
I consider myself a full-time bike commuter so most weekdays start with a 5:30 alarm. I have a 14 mile ride to the school where I teach and I don’t start until eight so that gives me a little cushion if I get a flat tyre. But this extra time is also useful because I love to shoot photographs. And especially this time of year when the light can be pretty amazing.

cyclespeak
I guess it’s dark when you first set off?

RJ
Absolutely. But as I get closer to the city, the sun is rising and you get these awesome shadows.

cyclespeak
Do you vary your route?

RJ
Going in, I usually keep it straight but coming home I have more freedom.

cyclespeak
So quite an urban commute?

RJ
We recently moved outside of San Francisco proper so my ride takes in quiet neighbourhoods but there’s also a few main streets which can be a little scary. Four lanes of traffic with cars parked along the side of the road. You do have to watch out for doors opening and Ubers dropping off and picking up.

cyclespeak
How does this compare to the weekend?

RJ
If I have a really hard week – it can be a grind getting up so early – then I’ll sleep in maybe more than I should. But if there’s something planned with the Photo Pace guys, I’ll be up early so I can get into the city. We usually spend an hour or two talking at a coffee shop before we get moving.

cyclespeak
So coffee first?

RJ
I actually don’t drink coffee [laughs].

cyclespeak
But you’re a cyclist?

RJ
My friends tease me about it all the time. I’m a matcha fan.

cyclespeak
How often do you meet?

RJ
Every couple of weeks or so. But we talk to each other all the time over a DM thread.

cyclespeak
Are you all based out of San Francisco?

RJ
We live in different regions of the Bay Area so usually meet up across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin.

cyclespeak
What’s your own neighbourhood like?

RJ
I’m not exactly sure whether I’ve been lucky or unlucky but I’ve moved seven times in seven years [laughs].

cyclespeak
That’s quite a lot.

RJ
I guess so. But it does mean I get to explore lots of different parts of the Bay Area.

cyclespeak
And do you always carry a camera when riding?

RJ
There was a point when I was carrying it every single day—even on my commute. I never wanted to miss an opportunity so I’d have my little point and shoot Ricoh GR to hand. But I’ve started to intentionally leave the camera at home every once in a while. It’s nice to simply enjoy the ride and not get drawn into this social media world where you feel you have to post a picture and tell people what you’ve been doing. Sometimes I don’t even upload my ride onto Strava.

cyclespeak
You know what they say? If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen [smiles].

RJ
Exactly. We joke about it but I know that some people treat that pretty religiously.

cyclespeak
In your Instagram bio, you describe yourself as an educator / cyclist. Was that a conscious decision to state those terms in that particular order?

RJ
It was absolutely intentional. I love being a teacher—it’s one of the many joys in my life. The interactions that I get to have with my students and seeing their emotional growth over time is a real privilege.

cyclespeak
I’ve read that you first got into photography through skateboarding—creating videos on an old camcorder. What’s your take on the ease in which smartphones can capture amazing digital content?

RJ
Maybe I’m biased as a teacher but I’m a big supporter of people creating. Kids are the future and the quality of content they’re putting out is just awesome. When I was at school, the only people that had access to content creating equipment were the adults who could afford the fancy cameras. So with the advent of smartphones and social media platforms, I’m rooting for the younger generation to go out and give the world a refresh.

cyclespeak
Patrick [Lee] told me that Photo Pace evolved from a group of friends that messaged over Instagram but initially hadn’t ever met in person.

RJ
Photo Pace started as an Instagram DM. At the time I was living in Los Angeles and when I moved to the Bay Area, we arranged to go out on a ride. We wanted to share the photos we’d taken so we started a group chat and then Chris Corona came up with the name Photo Pace. We wanted to distance ourselves from the mentality of riding at a certain speed.

cyclespeak
Life doesn’t have to be full gas?

RJ
That’s right. We were a group of guys tired at following the norms. We wanted to ride at our own pace, have fun and shoot photos. Photo Pace.

cyclespeak
This all started over Instagram and I’ve heard it said recently that the platform has had its day.

RJ
With Instagram – as with life in general – you either adapt or get left behind. When it was first launched, you took a photo of what you were doing at that instance which you then posted. Maybe now the content is a little more curated which is why I like stories because they retain a sense of immediacy.

cyclespeak
I look at the Photo Pace feed and see this amazing body of work. What are the most enjoyable aspects of your involvement with the group?

RJ
All of us are so different from one another. So we tend to feed off each other’s energies and inspirations. And we joke about it but we probably have the longest standing Instagram DM. I’m sure if I looked at my phone now, I’d see a hundred or so messages.

cyclespeak
Are these diverse viewpoints important?

RJ
We’re a bunch of x-ray technicians, air traffic controllers, emergency room medical staff, teachers. We have cycling in common but we also have these other areas of our lives that we can bring into the fold. It’s always different—never the same old.

cyclespeak
Do you ride out with a rough idea of the shots you want or is the process more intuitive?

RJ
Most are unplanned. And I feel there’s a finite amount of photographers who can create something truly original. Whatever image someone has shot, it’s either coming from something they’ve seen before or inspired by another photograph. To shoot something that nobody has ever seen before is incredibly difficult. So subconsciously I might have this idea but I’ll go about capturing my own version. And when I’m riding with Photo Pace, we like to share the experience and shoot on the go. People sometimes think it’s this point A to point B thing and that’s the end of the ride. But there’s so much that can get missed and that’s where I like to shoot—the moments in between. The coffee stop, fixing a flat tyre, the signs on the side of the road. To me, the parts of the ride that are the most important.

cyclespeak
The moments between point A and point B. I like that.

RJ
Some days are different than others. The time you ride, maybe the weather. And then later, when you look at a photograph, it takes you back to that particular time. You remember the sunlight, you remember the shadows.

cyclespeak
I see what you mean about capturing a moment in time.

RJ
Instagram gives you the option of sharing 10 slides but I feel that’s kind of a lot? So lately – and by that I mean two weeks ago [laughs] – I’ve been trying to limit the number of photographs I use to tell a story to no more than three.

cyclespeak
Is there a pattern to your posts?

RJ
I usually go off the feel and momentum of the other Photo Pace photographers. Kyle, for example, will post a photo. Then maybe five minutes later Patrick will post one of his. And they’re like really good photographs so I want to jump in too [laughs].

cyclespeak
I couldn’t help but smile when I read in one of your posts, ‘Nothing like a good black and white photo on a Wednesday.’ Any other days?

RJ
I tend to avoid posting on a weekend. Because you should be out having fun [smiles].

cyclespeak
You mention the weekends and I was wondering whether your bike building is just a hobby or a part-time job?

RJ
I grew up without that much money so I couldn’t afford to take my bike into a shop. The one time when I did – my tyre had flatted – this guy charged me $20 to change the tube! So I was determined to learn how to do this basic servicing myself and that grew to trying to fix more complex problems before I resorted to paying someone to do it for me.

cyclespeak
A case of necessity being the mother of invention?

RJ
The more I worked on my own bikes, the more I realised that I was getting pretty good and it was something I enjoyed. And as a teacher, I don’t make that much money, so I reached out over Instagram to see if anybody wanted their bikes working on.

cyclespeak
What bike would you most like to build for yourself? Or have you already built it?

RJ
For a dream bike, I wouldn’t particularly want something from one of the major players. I’d much rather have something different—something unique.

cyclespeak
And your perfect day on the bike?

RJ
That’s kind of an easy question to answer but also very loaded. For me, it’s not so much the weather or the location—it’s more the people I get to enjoy the bike ride with. Wherever I am, if I can have some really wonderful conversations and make a good experience out of a bicycle ride—then that’s more meaningful to me.

RJ Agcamaran

Photo Pace

Feature image by Kyle Thornhill

CHPT3 x Vielo / Just add dirt

After years spent working in the cycling industry, Ian Hughes decided it was time to channel his knowledge and experience of distributing brands into developing his own. Together with son Trevor, the pair launched Vielo in 2017 with a shared desire to place honesty and integrity at the forefront of their conversations with customers.

First with a gravel offering before following up with road, what connects both bike models is the absence of a front derailleur—a dedicated 1x set-up that pairs the range of 12 and 13-speed group sets with a boutique approach to frame design that negates a requirement for two chainrings.

A conversation between Ian and CHPT3 founder David Millar added the next intriguing twist to the Vielo story with a limited-run of the V+1 gravel frame paired with mechanical Campagnolo and a unique paint design—a collaboration described here in their own words and culminating in three magical days of photography and film set against a backdrop of Girona’s finest gravel trails.


Ian
I knew David from back in my Scott days when he was riding the pro tour. He went off and did his thing with CHPT3 and I worked on launching Vielo. I’d heard that David was in London doing a commentary for ITV4 and I suggested we meet up so I could show him what we were doing with our bikes. He explained how he was looking to do a collaboration with a UK-based bike company to complement a dirt range of their apparel and this led us to discuss ideas for a gravel bike based on the V+1.

David
When I first saw the bikes, I just fell in love with the concept. Both Ian and Trevor come from mountain biking and they were approaching gravel from this point of view rather than a road cycling perspective.

I can appreciate steel bikes – Speedvagen and all that super hipster shit – but at heart I’m a pro bike racer and I like hardcore performance. And Vielo bikes are super edgy, multi-purpose and carbon.

So we began talking over the idea of CHPT3 doing a gravel bike—how it should be beautiful, fast and well-engineered. A stunning design with some mountain bike heritage but also doffing its cap to road. Once we had these founding principles agreed, we then thought about how we could give these beautifully engineered machines some personality.

Ian
We knew that Campagnolo were bringing out their 13-speed Ekar group set. And when it came to the CHPT3 bike, that had a nice link because David used to ride with Campag back in his pro tour days.

David
I got into bikes from BMXing in the 1980s and then mountain biking in the 90s. Michael Barry and I used to ride gravel around Girona on our race bikes. So we kind of hid a chuckle when gravel became a thing because we’d always done that.

We have three categories in our CHPT3 range: road, dirt and street. Road’s fast, dirt’s all purpose – it’s adventure, discovery, getting lost and then found – and street is flow and elegance. Fashion almost. But dirt is the one that’s most versatile and allows you to cross over between disciplines. You can’t go street to road or road to street. Put all this into a Venn diagram and dirt is the meeting point. The crazy place. A little bit fuck you.

So with Vielo, I was choosing a bike that fitted my style of dirt riding. And Campagnolo just made absolute sense. It’s the most mechanical thing that exists in cycling—a sense of realness, super tactile and you can feel the gear shift. And with the paint job, it was a case of just making every single bike individual. They look smart when they’re dirty and dirty when they’re smart.

Ian
We got this excited call from David after he’d visited his painter Eduard. They’d used the colour palette from the CHPT3 Dirt collection – sprayed randomly over the frame followed by a layer of black – and then Eduard was hand-sanding this outer coating to reveal the colours underneath. And the beauty of this paint scheme is that every bike is unique and we’re strictly limiting them to a run of 50.

David
This bike is very much grounded in Girona. I’ve been here for years and I see other peoples’ bikes and the trends that come and go. And the paint was my cheeky little rebellion against all of that. Anti-fashion, in a way. And then when you go and ride it; holy cow, it’s just incredible.

Ian
As a brand, we needed to do a ride photoshoot. Normally we would choose a UK location but Antonio who looks after all our graphic stuff suggested that we really ought to do this in Spain. After deciding on Girona because David is based there, we began drawing up a wish list of who we wanted to take with us and I’m looking at the numbers and thinking OMG. But both Trevor and I could see how it just made total sense and we set the wheels in motion.

We’d rented this lovely farmhouse so the whole crew could stay together. When we first arrived, a deadpan Chris [Auld] – after years of mixed experiences with accommodation on shoots – immediately commented that it was another shit place booked by the client. Our videographer Chad was loving it, as were Antonio and Claire from the agency The Traveller and the Bear. I’d already made the decision to step back and let them work their magic with the direction of the shoot and I loved the moments when both Chris and Chad showed us some of the content and I could see the excitement in their eyes.

Each evening we’d go back to the farmhouse, share some food and talk over the day—random things like Antonio getting his drone stuck up a tree and it taking us so long trying to retrieve it that the local police turned up to ask what we were doing.

David
CHPT3 is a soft goods company –  we make what people wear – so we normally partner with companies that legitimise our decision to also make hardware. One of the ways we do this is to work with partners that are super authentic and, for me, Vielo absolutely nails that brief. I love what Ian and Trevor are doing so much—it’s a proper collaboration. A mutual appreciation society.

CHPT3

Vielo

Location photography by Chris Auld / Paint shop photography by Sami Sauri

Rémi Clermont / Café du Cycliste

“It’s Friday evening—almost the weekend.”

Calm and relaxed despite the upheaval of cardboard packing boxes in the Café du Cycliste headquarters, Rémi Clermont is looking forward to joining his friends for a gravel ride. Taking time out from organising an office move, the co-founder of the French Riviera-based cycle clothing company reflects on a decade of designing, why he’s more than happy to have a hood on his cycling jersey and how the brand’s lifestyle spirit reflects the way we ride our bikes.

cyclespeak
So how’s your day going?

Rémi
I’ve been busy sorting out our office move. Here in Nice we have the café on the port – the best place in the world – with our headquarters only 500 metres away. But this is the last month we’ll be spending in this office because we’re moving. Our team is growing and we’ve outsourced our logistics. Until very recently we were shipping everything ourselves so we were surrounded by boxes. This operation has now moved to the north of France and freed us up to find a nicer office that reflects our needs over the coming years.

cyclespeak
Not to dwell too much on the past but when your cycling friend and work colleague Andre Stewart quit his job to open a café in a small village to the west of Nice, it took another two years before you also left the company to join him.

Rémi
Andre was the boss of the IT company I was working for. Network security. But when you start working in a new job, you don’t often get to talk to the boss except if you cycle and the boss also cycles. And in this situation, the barriers between boss and stagiaire are not insurmountable [smiles].

cyclespeak
So you became friends through riding.

Rémi
That’s right. And when Andre quit, I had no real plans to leave the company. It was hard work and very fast paced but I liked the job, the salary was good and you could go to the office in flip-flops and shorts. But then my direct boss changed and everything changed with it. That was the point at which I decided to leave and the thought just came to me that I could join Andre at his Café du Cycliste and do the clothing. So no real plan—just a series of unrelated circumstances.

cyclespeak
Before launching your first range of cycle wear, I’ve read that you visited a host of trade shows and asked millions of questions. In hindsight, are there any questions you now wish you’d asked?

Rémi
I’m still learning every day but there’s nothing I discovered later that I thought, shit, if I’d only known that at the beginning. But the one thing I didn’t realise – maybe fortuitously – was the time scale of what I was getting into. I was 35 and changing careers to get closer to my childhood pastimes of kayaking and mountain biking. And when you start something new, it has its challenges and difficulties which requires time and effort. And it took at least four or five years until I understood the complexities of structuring the company and the need to hire the right people instead of me doing everything. And that’s also when I finally acknowledged that it would take the same amount of time to see the project to a point where it was commercially viable. So not knowing all this at the start was possibly a good thing or I might have decided to stay in IT [laughs].

cyclespeak
But then we wouldn’t have your Café du Cycliste designs.

Rémi
What I enjoy about cycling apparel is that whatever you like, you can probably find it. Whether that’s big flashy pineapples on your jersey or something much simpler. When we started, that wasn’t so much the case. You had the race and performance focused brands and there was Rapha with their classic, understated aesthetic.


cyclespeak
But you feel times have changed?

Rémi
The hardcore cyclist still exists who thinks a jersey should be pure racing in the spirit of past decades and anything else is a fashion brand. But the fact that we’re doing things quite differently today is not so much of an issue because a technical jersey is still technical even when it’s presented with a certain design spirit. It’s not a contradiction [smiles].

cyclespeak
So you’re not afraid to challenge design conventions?

Rémi
What I love about cycling is that everyone has their own opinion and their own reason for riding a bike. Which is as it should be.

cyclespeak
Even the hardcore cyclists [smiles]?

Rémi
In the beginning of Café du Cycliste I would send my Dad a lot of our products. And I would call my Mum at the weekend and ask if he was wearing them. And she’d tell me that he was out riding with his club mates and wearing Assos.

cyclespeak
I like that you called your Mum.

Rémi
But clearly the market in cycling has shifted over the past decade because now it’s totally the opposite and my Dad is wearing our products and all his friends are asking him for discount codes. And my Dad and his friends are nearly all in their 70s—possibly the hardest customers to convince. So when they change their minds about what it takes to look cool on a bike, then things are really moving forward.

cyclespeak
Have they changed or has your brand changed?

Rémi
They’ve changed. And the interesting question is why? You take my Dad—in the past he would only ride road but then he bought a gravel bike and now he’s also got a mountain bike. So his attitude towards cycling and his vision of what it means to ride a bike has clearly altered. And I’ve also noticed that when you’re getting to know someone they might tell you they’re a cyclist in the same breath they mention how they teach in a school or work in a factory.


cyclespeak
What was once a hobby is now a lifestyle?

Rémi
It’s the same in surfing, skateboarding. In mountaineering.

cyclespeak
If this is the case, who would you say are your customers?

Rémi
Geographically, they are truly international—we sell less than 10% of our product in France. And the American continent, the Far East and northern Europe are particularly important markets. Perhaps even more interesting is that we sell 30% to women.

cyclespeak
So how do all these different markets determine your design decisions?

Rémi
To be honest, for the first ten years I’ve been designing for myself and the essence of that approach hasn’t fundamentally changed. The brand was born with the vision I have of cycling—there’s no real secret. What I like in life and what I like in cycling—clearly you can see in Café du Cycliste. And I’m an outdoor person – I come from a background of kayaking and mountain biking – so all of these different aspects feed into what the brand represents.

cyclespeak
You mentioned expanding the team?

Rémi
Until very recently I was the only person designing the products – a very simple way of working – but we are now building a design team and a marketing team. And what’s important is that everyone understands who we are and where we’re going. It’s not rocket science—it’s the DNA of the brand. But this process is made easier because we all spend time together riding.

cyclespeak
Where do you look for inspiration before sitting down to design a collection?

Rémi
Most of the time it’s anywhere but cycling. For the technical aspects we need to understand how a product will work on the bike but there’s a million reasons that people choose to cycle and those reasons need to be translated into our clothing. So we might look at a vintage tracksuit from a certain period and then use this as inspiration for a small collection that captures the same spirit. And from the very start, we’ve used the Breton stripe in our designs. Being French, being by the sea, it works very well.

cyclespeak
This might be a difficult question to answer but do you have a favourite Café du Cycliste product?

Rémi
I think it’s the gravel hoody. For me, this is a product that says it all. People might question why the hell we put a hood on a cycling jersey—it’s going to catch the wind after all. But who’s riding so fast they need to worry about the second or two they might lose not being aero? And having the comfort of a hood – off the bike or under your helmet – represents our move to a different vision of cycling.

cyclespeak
Is it stressful or a rewarding process to continually reinvent your collection?

Rémi
Sometimes I do question whether it will be a problem one day. For the moment it’s really fun and the reality is we’re not a fashion brand with the requirement to deliver a completely new collection every spring and autumn. I see no point in reinventing everything, every year, for the sake of it. We’ve now reached a balance with a few new products and a good chunk of the collection being carried over.

cyclespeak
In 2015 you moved into a new café location in Nice. A former art gallery. How do you feel when you walk through the door?

Rémi
In many ways a brand is intangible, so having the café allows our customers to touch our concept of cycling. It’s the flesh on the bones so to speak. So I feel proud and because I still ride all the time, I enjoy experiencing the atmosphere of cyclists going out to ride and coming back happy.

cyclespeak
It sounds to me that you value this interaction?

Rémi
I live on the opposite side of the port to the café and I love to call in for a quick coffee before I go out for a ride. I might have a little conversation with a customer or bump into someone I know. The café breathes a love of cycling in a sense that’s separate and distinct from the business side of the company. Anyone who runs a business on a daily basis has a certain degree of stress but the part of my professional life that is always cool is when I spend some time in the café.

cyclespeak
Quite a few times you’ve mentioned people. Is community an important aspect of your brand?

Rémi
I suppose it’s the reason many of us cycle—not just to push the pedals. But it’s also something of a challenge because although we have our cafés in Nice and Mallorca – London is more of a retail destination – up to 85% of our sales are made online.


cyclespeak
Can I respectfully disagree? Because the way you frame your web content – the photography, the journal stories – I think it is possible to build a community remotely. Surely if any aspect of the media you create inspires an individual to go out and ride, then there’s a connection being made. This might be at a physical distance but it still suggests a relationship with your brand and what you stand for?

Rémi
All of the articles that we do, they only exist because we do them with people. So I suppose, in a sense, you are right. And I hope more people ride because they’ve been inspired by something they’ve seen or read, than to know how many watts they can push. Which can be fun in itself but, for me, is not the reason I ride [smiles].

cyclespeak
Does the reason you ride include gravel? Because you have an online guide for routes out of Nice.

Rémi
When the concept of gravel riding was first conceived, I spoke to Victoire* and they built a custom steel gravel bike for myself and my Dad. At the back of his bike the bridge between the seat stays has a dash and mine has the opposite so when you put the two bikes together they make a V for Victoire. But to be honest, this style of riding wasn’t new to me. When I was a kid I rode a mountain bike because road cycling was so uncool. And then, when I saw people riding gravel bikes, I immediately wanted to ride that way too.

*A French bespoke bicycle brand

cyclespeak
And the way people are riding is reflected in your products?

Rémi
When we started Café du Cycliste, road was so far away from mountain biking and bike packing was so far away from road. If you toured by bike you were a loser. If you were a mountain biker you were the enemy. But now? Everything is coming together and we see a lot of people using our gravel collection on the road. Why not? It’s only in your head that you have to wear a certain type of jersey to climb Col d’Eze. So for us, we love riding gravel but we also love the free spirit it brings to how we choose to cycle.

cyclespeak
When you aren’t riding, is there a typical work day for Rémi Clermont?

Rémi
I still touch base with a lot of elements in the company so every day is different. And very busy [laughs]. I do focus a lot on product design and development—probably 50% of my time. Then there’s the brand and what we do and who we are. And of course we mustn’t forget the office move [laughs]. But ultimately, there’s nothing that makes me happier than finalising a new product. From a cool design on paper to constructing a prototype—and to loving the prototype so much that you want to keep wearing it. That’s what makes my day.

cyclespeak
Speaking of these processes that you love, what most excites you about the future of Café du Cycliste?

Rémi
A slight movement away from being purely a cycling clothing provider. That’s what’s exciting—a shift towards more of a lifestyle spirit. I believe that it’s better for everyone – for our health and wellbeing – to view cycling as more than just a sport. And hopefully better for us as a brand [smiles].


cyclespeak
For me, a good day is when I can ride. And performance is great but there’s so many other facets of riding a bike.

Rémi
I know road cyclists that look in envy at the person taking their kids to school by cargo bike. And it’s good to see more bike shops and cycle cafés opening up—even though from a business perspective it would make sense if we were the only one [laughs].

cyclespeak
There’s now more competition?

Rémi
At the beginning I thought, shit, there’s another and another. But at the end of the day, if people are getting out on their bikes rather than driving their cars, then we all get to benefit.

cyclespeak
Talking about getting out on a bike, when is your next ride?

Rémi
I’m actually going gravel riding tomorrow morning but I’ve absolutely no idea what my friend Stefan has planned for me. He regularly models for us – the guy with the big moustache – and all I’ve been told is we’re meeting at 9:00am at his house. But I do know it will be fun [laughs].


All images with kind permission of Café du Cycliste

Sami Sauri / New adventures

Constantly on the move – camera in hand – from one project to the next, when photographer and filmmaker Sami Sauri decided to commit 100% to her own production company, little did she know what a whirlwind year she would enjoy.

Reflecting on this period of transition in her usual candid manner, Sami considers life’s simple pleasures, why storytelling underpins her way of working and how failure can be a mechanism for growth.


cyclespeak
You’re just back from shooting in Austria. It looked fantastic.

Sami
It was for next year’s Jack Wolfskin spring / summer range.

cyclespeak
But it was snowing.

Sami
I know [laughs]. They chose Austria for the location – which was very nice – but maybe next time we can go to the Canaries? Because the first day it just rained and nobody wanted to wear shorts [laughs].

cyclespeak
Did you expect to be above the snowline?

Sami
No. Not at all. I’d packed a rain jacket but I was wearing normal shoes. And the main story behind the women’s campaign was a hike to a hut at 2100 metres and then down the other side. We were going to spend the night at this altitude – the story was amazing – and the whole crew was female. I turned down two projects just so I could do this shoot.

cyclespeak
But the weather wasn’t helping?

Sami
We had a mountain guide with us and she advised us to postpone for a couple of days. But when we did finally start to climb, on the first ridge we had snow. But I wasn’t going to stop there—this story wouldn’t make sense if we hadn’t got to the hut [laughs].

cyclespeak
So it all worked out in the end?

Sami
For me, I had a wonderful experience—I love those kinds of adventures.


cyclespeak
The last time we caught up, you were listing all your various mishaps. Your foot had been in a plastic boot and you later tore some ligaments when you were out trail running. How’s the summer been in terms of staying in one piece?

Sami
I’ve probably done less this summer than for the last five years. Not because of my foot but I’ve had so much work that I couldn’t find the time for intense bike trips. But I have started running again and trying new sports like motocross.

cyclespeak
Your road to recovery after injuring your foot brought to mind the issues you had with knee pain during the Route 66 and Big Land films.

Sami
The knee pain comes from riding fixed gear. You can’t help falling and it always seems to be on the same side. And I find it interesting that you get used to sleeping in a position that’s comfortable for your hip and your knee—your body quickly adapts to what feels best.

cyclespeak
So it’s something that you can now manage?

Sami
I feel that everything comes for a reason and when I started physio, I discovered that I’d been riding all those years and not using my glutes. There was very little muscle and this was the main reason my knee was hurting. So I now realise that I need to exercise in different ways to help relieve the pain—using bands or a simple 20 minute yoga session every morning to activate my body.

cyclespeak
So that’s your morning routine sorted?

Sami
I’m somebody who finds it very difficult to have constant things in their life [laughs].

cyclespeak
That doesn’t fit well with your personality?

Sami
It’s more my lifestyle right now. So busy and always on the move.

cyclespeak
Is racing the fixed gear scene something you miss?

Sami
I definitely miss that sense of community. And I’ve realised that I’m quite competitive. Which is why I often ride alone because nobody is watching and I can go as fast or as slow as I like and really enjoy it. When I go out with friends, I find myself looking back and wondering where they are [laughs]. 


cyclespeak
I saw a recent post where you were riding near Girona and someone had a bloodied knee?

Sami
The mountain bike ride? When I put my friends through hell [laughs].

cyclespeak
That’s the one.

Sami
I felt so sorry for them. I convinced these two girls – one of them is my physio – that we should take out our mountain bikes and just do some easy, smooth trails. Well, oh my god, we had some proper gnarly downhill stuff [laughs].

cyclespeak
When you aren’t shredding local trails, you spend a fair proportion of your time on the road filming. What do you miss most about home when you’re away?

Sami
I do miss my own cooking. Every time I come back home, the first thing I do is make a plate of my pasta. Maybe this comes from my childhood but I need that plate of pasta.

cyclespeak
Do you have a particular recipe?

Sami
Parmesan, olive oil and salt. That’s it. I don’t need anything else to make me happy. And I might put on some vinyl and turn up the volume [smiles].

cyclespeak
Simple pleasures.

Sami
But after three days, I’m already looking forward to the next adventure [laughs].

cyclespeak
From the moment you receive a phone call or a message, how fast can you be packed and out of the door?

Sami
It doesn’t take me long. 30 minutes?


cyclespeak
Really?

Sami
I pretty much know what I want and what I need—and I don’t need much. But I do always take a pair of cycling shorts because no matter where you are, you might get a ride [laughs].

cyclespeak
You sound very organised?

Sami
Before, everything was super tight with the packing and arriving at the airport. Massive stress [laughs]. Now, I pack two days before I’m due to leave and arrive at the airport at least two hours before my flight—something I never used to do. And when I get to the airport, I’ve figured out a good spot for breakfast, where I can work. And it means I don’t arrive sweating [laughs].

cyclespeak
What would you tell someone just starting out taking photographs or trying their hand at film making?

Sami
I do get messages about that—people wanting to change their lives. For me, I was just handed a camera and told to shoot. And I said, ‘Shoot what [laughs]?’

cyclespeak
That sounds like good advice.

Sami
The first thing I always say to people is just go and do it. Do it, do it and keep on doing it. And fail and do it right and fail again and then see if you like it. You’ll never know when that will be – or whether you will or won’t – until you give it your all.

cyclespeak
And where do you see yourself on that journey?

Sami
I’ve still not completely figured out what’s my vibe. I didn’t think I’d like commercial photography but these last two shoots for big brands I’ve absolutely loved. They were wonderful clients in giving me free rein – I didn’t have a shot list – so it felt like they’d put their trust in me.

cyclespeak
You enjoy an open brief?

Sami
Yes. It’s like for a recent cycling collection I’ve just shot. Super commercial but I gave them this idea that we could rent a motorhome, go to the desert, camp out and ride bikes. Basically shooting on the go.


cyclespeak
Personally speaking, how much is a sense of storytelling and narrative an important element to these projects?

Sami
For me, it’s super important. For the brands, they don’t always ask for it but they all want it.

cyclespeak
I love that.

Sami
Right now, this storytelling style of shooting is mind blowing. Everybody’s doing it.

cyclespeak
Whenever you’re pictured outside – walking, riding, running – very often you have a brilliant smile that lights up your face. And this made me think about a post from earlier this year when you referenced much darker thoughts and feelings.

Sami
I’ve spent time on both sides. I’ve been the happiest person ever and the saddest. And I can think of certain people that wanted to drag me down the wrong path but I think that happens to a lot of people. And the only thing that got me through, was opening the door and going outside. Not necessarily to do sports but sometimes it was a matter of just being out in the fresh air. To find my true self, it’s never going to happen inside a house. I could stay inside – alone with my thoughts – and look at the same wall for a million hours and not feel any better. But if you go out and talk to somebody – your friend, your dog, your horse, even someone you don’t know – then this can make a real difference. It’s like a door that opens or stays closed.

cyclespeak
I guess an open door lets in light? Which brings me to your recent collaboration with Megamo bikes—a custom Sami Sauri paint job for one of their full-suspension mountain bikes with a theme of ‘sunset’.

Sami
I suddenly got this idea in my head about painting a sunset on a bike. To me, the best time of the day because I just love all that colour—not so much on me but definitely on a bike [laughs]. I’m good friends with Megamo and they’ve been super helpful over the past year. Just before I went to Egypt, one of the guys on the trip broke his frame in Barcelona by crashing when we were eating pizza. We got a bike from Megamo in under 12 hours so the trip could go ahead and all their generous help made me want to return the favour.


cyclespeak
So what is it about sunsets that you love so much?

Sami
I’d much rather ride in the evening. In the morning I’m very active mentally and in a creative mood and want to get things done. But when I finish for the day, I can go out and ride into the sunset – it sounds a little like a movie – and that acts as a reward or a pat on the back.

cyclespeak
You’re always on the go – always busy – so how do you unwind?

Sami
I’m not sure I do switch off [laughs]. Maybe when I sleep? And part of me thinks that if I stop, I might miss something [smiles].

cyclespeak
I think that’s a state of mind a lot of people would recognise.

Sami
But I have started reading again—time with no phone or screens. And that’s why I like going on holiday to somewhere simple that doesn’t take lots of decisions to enjoy. Somewhere I can surf or go hiking.

cyclespeak
So do you prefer a 5 day, 5 week or 5 month plan for living your life?

Sami
Hmmm. Fuck. It has to be 5 day because nothing ever goes to plan [laughs]. I can receive a call today and I’m leaving for somewhere else. It’s crazy!

cyclespeak
There’s a post from earlier in the year where you write, ‘Do what you love and love what you do.’ Is that a fair description of how you’re currently living your life?

Sami
It’s not like I’ve always known what path in life I will take. But then somebody handed me a camera to film, photograph and ride at the same time. So I’m grateful for those special people that I’ve known—the ones who after years still see you as you are.

[pause]

It’s not been easy – there were times when I was working three jobs just to eat and put a roof over my head – but I’ve made it this far and I want to live every moment as if it was the last one.


Sami

Photographs of Sami in Egypt with kind permission of Sonam Gotthilf