Sergio Villalba / A simple life

Photographer Sergio Villalba is describing a memory from childhood. Growing up by the sea, he conjures up images of a young boy – maybe five or six – playing in the surf near his family home on the island of Tenerife. A relationship with the outdoors – and the sea in particular – that he would later express through an obsessive desire to capture all those precious moments experienced out on the water.

“I was 14 years old and decided photography was the way to do this. But when I think about it now, I still find that a little strange. My parents had a Pentax point-and-shoot they used for snaps of Christmas and family holidays but that was it. I didn’t grow up in a particularly artistic environment and I wasn’t trying to be creative with my first photographs. I just wanted to document the waves my friends and I were surfing.”

Purchasing a couple of Kodacolor rolls whenever funds allowed, Sergio now recognises that despite not showing the resultant images to anyone, the seeds for his future professional path were sown.

“But then, when I was 18, my parents got divorced and the situation for myself and my sister was unbearable. Longing to escape, I sat down with my mum and told her I was planning on moving to Barcelona. A few months later I left the island where I’d grown up.”

Suddenly thrown into an urban environment and knowing no one, Sergio started to reach out and build a new set of friends. One of these acquaintances was a graphic designer who worked with several music venues in the city including the jazz club Jamboree. Sergio’s interest in photography led to a job offer shooting cover images for the club flyers. With digital photography in its infancy, he had to quickly master the art of capturing fast moving subjects in low light and smoky conditions—Sergio relishing the creative freedom until the appeal of city life began to wane and a return to the island of his birth.

“The ocean was still my passion and I got it into my head to build a career through surfing photography—setting myself the goal of making a living from photography within a year of returning to Tenerife. It was around 2005 and luckily a golden era for surfing with budgets big enough to make a photographer’s wildest dreams come true.”

Over the next few years until the 2009 recession began to bite, Sergio founded a creative agency with another two photographers and travelled the world. With two bags permanently packed – one for cold weather and a second for warmer climes – each year saw eight or nine months on the road. An enviable position for any photographer seeking to build a reputation but eventually costing Sergio his relationship.

“My girlfriend ended up admitting she was used to being alone at home and felt uncomfortable when I was around. By that time, the recession was killing off surfing brands with consumers not willing to pay 40 euros for a tee when fast fashion enabled you to only pay five and get a new one every two months. The dream was over.”

With the hard reset of a recession, Sergio’s photographic style evolved to embrace a more varied range of brands—selling rather than storytelling now the main focus for his strong and visually appealing imagery.

“Even though you’re shooting a product range, you can still be playful and enjoy the process of creating beautiful images. And like everyone else, I love sunrise and sunset. Who doesn’t? But I must admit that the harsh midday light is also very appealing. If you know how to use it, you can deliver some great results and I especially love it for portraits of sweaty athletes or for playing with architecture and projected shadows. With a little bit of imagination you can get the best out of any situation.”

“What I plan is not always what I get and one thing’s for certain: you learn from everything—even from your mistakes. And I’ve gradually grown to understand that I get attached to certain images not because of the photograph itself but the process of making it—how difficult it was to get it or the risk I took to achieve it. But that’s a mistake, I know. Whoever’s viewing your work takes what they’re seeing at face value. So a photograph must speak for itself and – in the best case scenario – tell a story.”

With a self-declared obsession with what he describes as believable images, Sergio is cryptically referencing the professional period that followed his surfing days. Working on tourism campaigns and shoots for luxury hotels, Sergio explains why none of this content was ever posted on social media or displayed on his website.

“Was it good money? Yes. Did it help me through a commercially slow period of my life? Yes. But I got this weird feeling of doing something wrong after every shoot. So I promised myself I wouldn’t do this type of job anymore and that I’d put all my efforts into getting back to what I like the most. And for me, that means documenting a life lived outdoors.”

Describing himself as the quiet guy behind the camera, on a shoot Sergio is happy to let the models do their own thing—an approach he believes pays dividends in the resulting images.

“If you over direct someone you´ll drive him or her crazy and kill any naturalness in their actions. Other times there’s no choice—you have to make it happen so you can get the shot. But as soon as everything is working, I take a step back and become the quiet guy again. But that’s not to say I don’t enjoy the connection of working with other creatives. Photography can be a very lonely profession when you’re doing backups after the shoot and everyone else is drinking beers. So I enjoy working with my own team of trusty professionals who are first and foremost my friends. But it’s also good to maintain my freelance status. As we say in Spain, juntos pero no revueltos. Which in English translates as together but not in each other’s pocket.”

“Sometimes it’s a question of balance and work has been so intense in these post-Covid times that I need a rest from looking at everything through a viewfinder. I love documenting my own life but you need the freedom to touch more, see more, smell more. And though younger people may hate me for saying this, I think travelling is a little overrated nowadays. I’ve seen so many places go from having a stable, traditional life to being overdeveloped in a very short time span. People stop farming and fishing and try to get easier money from the tourists. And though we seek out places like modern day Robinson Crusoes, unless it’s completely frozen or full of malaria then it’s already swamped with digital nomads and content creators living their best life.”

Finding he now appreciates home more than ever and happy to travel less, Sergio recognises how the rise of mass tourism inevitably means it’s not the same place as where he grew up. A situation that prompts collaborations with organisations and individuals campaigning to protect the sensitive socioeconomic balance of the Canary Islands.

“I live a very simple life that I love. I’m the father of two boys and partner of the greatest woman I ever met. I have my gravel bike and live within walking distance of the sea. If you scroll through my Instagram feed you´ll recognize many places that I use over and over again. The little rocky harbour in my hometown, the waves that wrap around the shoreline where we surf, the Teide National Park. Together with my family, all these places are part of my daily life. I couldn’t be a fashion or architecture photographer because that’s not how I live. I have a peaceful, outdoorsy life and that’s what I try to project in my work.”

All photography with kind permission of Sergio Villalba /

Ryan Le Garrec / The easiest crossing in the world

“I’m working out of my flat – editing from the couch – so there’s the challenge of getting in some steps. Basically, I’m a potato.”

Filmmaker Ryan Le Garrec is perhaps over emphasising this current period of inactivity. Working on the edit of his most recent film – a 1600 km bike packing journey into the Atlas Mountains of Northern Morocco – clearly he’s exercised enough to balance a few days stuck behind his laptop.

Dressed casually with a tousled head of hair and a beard traced with grey, Portugal is now home after a peripatetic life lived on the road. Growing up in Paris with a French father, a Tunisian mother and a British passport courtesy of his London birthplace, Ryan studied in Belgium before taking a job in Sweden where he met singer / songwriter Damien Rice.

“Someone once said that home is where they hadn’t been yet. And for years I was on tour with Damien as a kind of Swiss-Army-Knife video and pictures guy. I didn’t have anywhere permanent to live because it wasn’t necessary. You’re on the bus or maybe there’s a cab ride, but it’s mainly the venue and your hotel room that you see of the city you’re playing in. So I decided that when I was done, I would find a little apartment with a bakery down on the street which I would visit every fucking morning. And since then, I’ve become really hooked on routines. To such a degree that my wife despairs with me wanting to go to the same place to eat all the time. But that’s the point—it’s good, it doesn’t change and that’s reassuring. I didn’t need that before but now it’s increasingly important.”

With routines fixed and a bakery within easy walking distance, Ryan’s days are now filled pursuing his first love as a profession.

“I’ve always wanted to make films. Maybe because I was born into a family that worked in French television. My Dad was a war reporter, my Mum a news producer, my Uncle a news anchor and my cousins were journalists.”

Tasked with describing his style of filmmaking, Ryan recounts – with a wry smile – how his wife tells him that he’s terrible at telling stories. That he often misses the point.

“Maybe it sounds a little pretentious but the word poetry feels appropriate. That fits and doesn’t seem like a lie. Because what I try to do, rather than simply telling a story, is to convey the emotion of the moment. Most people can say how happy or sad they are, for this or that reason. But expressing that in a single shot and without words? That, for me, is where it gets interesting.”

With his current project, it’s this emotional intensity that leaves Ryan visibly upset in the final frames of the film. A powerful and unexpected conclusion balanced by dreamlike vignettes of everyday life – gas stations, city street corners, farmers tending fields – that intersperse the scenes of riding.

“I’d planned to work with three cameras and each had a different role to play. The DSLR in black and white was totally personal. A sort of image journal made up of random stuff that touched me somehow. Sequences that conveyed another layer of the story—my own personal state of mind. I wasn’t depressed before embarking on the trip but I had my own shit to deal with. And what’s interesting is how we process our feelings and the subconscious decisions we then make. Looking back at the Morocco edit, the scenes outside Casablanca speed up after I mention how much I was missing my kids. Something I did during the editing almost without thinking.”

Asked what metrics he uses to measure the success of a particular project and Ryan initially struggles to arrive at a succinct answer. After a momentary pause for thought, he suggests that even if the reaction is negative, it is a reaction.

“One of the first films I made with a long-distance cycling theme featured Josh Ibbett riding in the US. And a lot of people hated it. If you look on Amazon, the reviews are nasty—the film has maybe 2 stars. But there’s also the odd comment from someone who really loved it, so that’s okay. And someone once said to me that if no one hates your film, there’s something wrong with it. You’ve played it too safe. And do you really want everyone saying how nice they thought your film was? Do you want a viewing experience like when you’ve eaten a hamburger and a half hour later your body has forgotten the meal and you’re hungry again?”

Coupled with the vagaries of viewer feedback is the changing way we choose to consume media. The argument that the purposeful environment of a cinema screening allows more creative freedom compared to a project streamed over the internet where the focus is on holding someone’s attention before they swipe to the next video.

“But there’s two sides to every story and streaming perhaps offers an easier path to building an audience. We might not have everyone gathered in one room at the same time but we can release whatever we want, whenever we decide it’s ready. And a cinema release demands a production budget which, in turn, requires you to pitch an idea and have someone put their faith and funds in your hands. YouTube doesn’t give a shit what you’re doing.”

“I do hear complaints that attention spans are getting shorter but people still binge on a television series so if your content is engaging, they will watch. There’s nothing I’d rather do than share my work but if it didn’t find an audience, I’d still be doing it. Ultimately, you make films for myself, no?”

Looking back at his work for television, Ryan would be filming a Japanese chef on one day and a drummer from a rock band on the next. He couldn’t simply start by poking a camera into the subject’s face—he needed to invest some time in getting to know them a little. But with his cycling films, Ryan is literally passing through with a camera so there’s a need for more immediacy.

“Perhaps strangely, considering my job, I find it so difficult to film people. I guess it’s called shooting for a reason but that’s a harsh word with its own connotations. Which is why I’m such a big fan of smartphones and tiny cameras that are way less intrusive. For shy filmmakers like me, they’re such an advantage as they make you look harmless. And whenever people ask me what I do, I say it’s like when you go on holiday and take pictures or record a video—and I just do that for a living. But what do I really do? I have a bike that I ride and I make myself miserable and I try to meet people on the way and I take pictures and then I write some words to go with the pictures. But not about what is happening but how I feel about what is happening.”

Here Ryan is perhaps being a little playful—especially with reference to feeling miserable on the bike. Not owning a car, an electric cargo bike is his chosen mode of transport for picking up groceries and taking his children to school. A lifestyle decision that harks back to how happy a girlfriend looked whenever she rolled up on her bike.

“I was taking buses and subways—usually arriving late and in a nasty mood. But she would have this massive smile on her face as she climbed off her bike. So I got my own bike because I wanted some of that too. Later I became a bike messenger so the bike was also a job as well as my daily transport. And you experience so much more that is pleasurable about city life when you travel by bike—the little neighbourhoods that you’d never discover travelling underground from one metro stop to another.”

“I can’t say that it’s ever been a sport for me but at some point, I did fall in love with long-distance riding. Such an amazing experience the first time I crossed a border and the meditative state you get from passing through a landscape. This interest led to the Transcontinental where you push your limits and learn to deal with shit which in turn inspires you to switch things up in your life. If I can deal with saddle sores for three weeks, maybe I can question my boss about a particular decision. And it was these thoughts that gave me the impetus to quit working in television – where I was so comfortable – in favour of focusing on my filmmaking. So it’s fair to say the bike is my favourite object and if I couldn’t film or take pictures and just ride my bike, then I would do that. I’ve worked as a bartender, a bike messenger, a sailing instructor and I loved all of these roles. But working with stories just adds another level and I can’t not do what I do.”

All photography with kind permission of Ryan Le Garrec /

Luft Los Angeles / BlackHeart Bike Co

I’m on a call with Zach Lambert—partner in Luft Los Angeles and founder of the BlackHeart Bike Company. Looking suitably West Coast casual in a shop tee, he’s recounting the time he first moved up to Lake Tahoe only to discover a bear was living under his house. Not a brown or grizzly he points out with a smile—choosing instead to compare his black bear (and roomy) to a large dog with a penchant for mischief making.

Growing up in New Hampshire – there are black bears there too – a mountain bike was his chosen ride. But when Zach moved to Los Angeles in 2008 he decided to give road biking a go. Researching local cycling clubs, he remembers calling in at the Rapha clubhouse in Santa Monica and what a great space it was. But he was left wondering whether there was this perceived notion that you needed to ride in their kit.

“LA is very big,” Zach suggests, “and that’s encouraged the cycling scene to grow and become more inclusive—lots of interesting characters from a range of backgrounds which, in turn, means there’s more diversity. And then there’s gravel which has helped out a huge amount. Instead of feeling that you’re not wearing the right thing, there’s almost a sense that anything goes and you can create your own unique style. A case of celebrating rather than chastising the differences.”

With the opening of Luft – more on this a little later – rather than any slavish adherence to the so-called rules of cycling, a focus on individuality extends to the items the store carries—a curated range of products based on what Zach and his colleagues actually like and use themselves.

“In much the same way that there’s no right or wrong why to say Luft – we have a wall of cycling caps to help us explain the concept – we’re trying to evolve cycling culture away from one that is elitist and has all these unspoken rules regarding sock height and how to wear your glasses. We’re more, let’s have a coffee and hang out.”

“It’s almost like people discount themselves when they say they’re not a cyclist,” continues Zach. “When maybe they just don’t race or ride thousands of miles a year. So at Luft, we strive to make cycling magnetic and inviting in all its different forms.”

Regular shop rides provide one popular mechanism for achieving these goals. Ranging from large events with riders numbering in their hundreds, after-hours photo walks and a running club help attract a diverse crowd of participants.

“It’s always good fun to finish a ride at the shop for pizza and a few beers,” says Zach with a smile. “And when we hook up with the Venice Photo Club, people show up on bikes and scooters – even roller-skates – before cruising through the neighbourhood with their cameras.”

With a relatively small footprint, the store’s central 10ft long bar inevitably acts as a fulcrum around which people rub shoulders—free cups of coffee encouraging the eclectic mix of customers to hang out and interact.

“Cultural nuances are what makes LA society so interesting,” Zach observes. “It’s not uncommon, if you’re eating out in New York, to have perfect strangers sitting at their own table, six inches to either side of you. In LA it’s the opposite—the tables are all spaced out. In fact, pretty much everything is spaced out. And these norms also dictate behaviour when I’m out riding. Where I grew up on the East Coast, everybody speaks to everybody. Here it’s not as common but I still wave and say hi regardless.”

This riding that Zach describes – and more specifically a search for the right bike – proved the catalyst for starting his own bike brand. A story he tells with a wry sense of humour when referring to certain cycling industry clichés. 

“The bike I wanted didn’t exist—a combination of titanium aesthetic and performance but at an affordable price. And I also came across this sense of seriousness in the bike world. Claims that this bottom bracket is 13% stiffer and saves you 3 watts at an average of 40 kph over 40 km. I mean, who do they think they’re talking to? Because for the vast majority of cyclists, none of that matters.”

“I was looking for a good quality product along the lines of a high end watch. Something with a sense of class and inherent longevity. And it was my girlfriend Kristen that came up with the name—along the lines of having a BlackHeart for all this marketing BS that was coming out from the big players.”

Work started on BlackHeart in 2017 before the brand was launched in January 2020. Zach initially running the business out of a storage unit in Venice Beach which gave a real insider feel to the operation—awareness limited to people Zach knew, their associates and the local cycling scene.

“Pretty cool but not exactly scalable so I started looking for a proper commercial space, got talking to Kristen and our friend Cody, before deciding that we’d open a bike shop instead.”

Looking around at what cycling retail infrastructure already existed on the West Side, Zach counted a handful of high end shops that covered bike sales. But apart from Rapha, there wasn’t really a place where you could simply go and hang out. So talks were instigated with a few brands Zach felt would be a good fit to partner with for the launch and Luft opened its doors in April 2021.

With BlackHeart bikes framed by the store’s street-facing windows, there exists a kind of symbiotic relationship with each venture serving the other in different but complementary ways. Luft builds a sense of community and encourages foot fall—the bikes on display just beg to be ridden.

“If you’re competitively road racing, our titanium Allroad is not for you. It’s also not the kind of gravel bike that just ploughs over ridiculous rocks and roots. But what if you want one bike that will perform on road and gravel really competently—sharp and nimble on the smooth stuff but with 40 mm tyre clearance? And we have the exact same frame design for our aluminium model so you get to enjoy the sweet ride but at a more accessible price point. I would even argue that our aluminium BlackHeart performs way better than low end carbon bikes. Like they say, you can make a great – or terrible – bike out of any material.”

The option to choose a painted fork adds an element of customisation to the build process—a reasoned response to Zach believing it’s “kind of lame” to spend upwards of $10,000 on a mass-produced bike only to find someone riding the exact same colour scheme when you pull up at a stop sign. This thoughtful approach to growing the BlackHeart model range accounting for the flat bar version of the aluminium Allroad that uses an Enve fork for bigger tyre clearance.

“As yet not a model all on its own,” explains Zach, “but something that’s fun with a capital F and puts a smile on your face when you ride it. There’s a bunch of trails near my house that on a mountain bike would feel far too tame. On this bike, you feel like a kid again but without risking life and limb sending it down some technical single track. Maybe a niche product but one that speaks to the idea of placing ride experience front and centre. And whenever I have that flat bar locked up outside Luft – sandwiched between Pinarellos and S-Works – I’ll notice people stopping and taking pictures of it with their phones.”

As our transatlantic time is drawing to a close, I’m curious to know that when looking at Luft – the community, the café, the shop – how it all makes Zach feel? Whether he still gets the same thrill when a shop ride returns for a slice of pizza or a BlackHeart bike is taken out for a test ride?

“I still respond to all our email queries and even the website’s instant message function—these all come through on my phone. And for the first two years all of this traffic was the result of personal interactions, speaking to people at the shop, doing test rides. But over the past year, it’s becoming more and more common that an order will come through from a person that I don’t actually know. And I’m surprised and humbled every time that happens because they obviously must like what we’re doing.”

If the cap fits, I suggest?

Zach smiles as I picture him mentally reviewing his journey so far.

“There’s been a lot of steps,” he concludes, “and there’s still a lot more to come. But we’re all having fun and just taking it one day at a time.”

Zach / Kristen / Cody

Unless individually credited, all imagery with kind permission of Luft Los Angeles / BlackHeart Bike Co

Mattia de Marchi / A dollar in the pocket

In gravel, we all line up together.”

After taking an early race lead, a final non-stop stint of riding saw Mattia de Marchi less than 100 km from the finish line of Badlands 2021. The virtual field of dot watchers globally urging him on to victory then noticed his tracker had stalled—as if Mattia had pulled up and stopped on the side of the road. What later became apparent was a crash in the town of Murtas saw Mattia dusting himself down and continuing without realising he’d lost his tracker. But rather than any sense of despair when it did finally sink in that his progress wasn’t being recorded, the Italian gravel racer calmly shared his location with the race organisers over WhatsApp before pushing on for the win.

“Even after riding for close to 750 km and without any sleep for the final 48 hours, I don’t remember any moments of panic. But I think our heads have a crazy strength and can do things that we can’t even imagine.”

With this combination of mental and physical resilience carrying the day, it helps frame Mattia’s mention of always keeping a dollar in his pocket. A reference to leaving enough in the tank that, whatever the eventuality, he can marshall reserves even when sleep deprived and at the limits of his endurance.

“There’s a difference in events of about 48 hours where the tendency is to start very strong – almost like a Gran Fondo – and then find a pace that allows you to advance. In multi-day races you look for regularity and minimising your stops. You can gain or lose hours each day depending on your strategy for eating and sleeping. But it’s a delicate balance and you don’t always get it right.”

Growing up near the Italian city of Venice, bikes were always a family passion and Mattia fondly remembers visiting the Udine region to the north where he would ride with his cousins. As an energetic 9 year old, the racing handlebars and coloured helmets were what first delighted but it wasn’t long before he recognised the competitor within.

I don’t like to lose and I’m prepared to dig deep if I find someone stronger than me in my way. But I was definitely not born with extraordinary gifts. I’ve worked hard and made sacrifices to be who I am now. And I’m not just talking about being strong on the bike.”

This mental strength was needed when Mattia turned professional but didn’t quite make it to the World Tour—a stage win at the Tour of China proving a highlight and demonstrating an innate talent that has continued to reap rewards since a switch to gravel at the 2020 Atlas Mountain Race.

“That first gravel event proved quite a contrast after racing professionally on the road. There, you have mechanics in the car shadowing the peloton but when I broke my handlebars and cut my thumb in the North African mountains, I had to deal with these issues on my own. Even now, I always carry a tube of superglue when I’m racing to help fix things and seal up any open wounds.”

With experience teaching the tactical advantage that paying attention to details offers – in a race as gnarly as Unbound, a cut tyre wall can lead to a significant delay or even a DNF – Mattia would still argue that it takes luck as well as skill to secure a win. And that mental resilience is just as important as the ability to plug a tyre.

“It all stems from the head. If you really want something, you have to go for it. Listening to your body and training makes a significant difference. But you have to be hungry!”

The thought of racing against Lachlan Morton at Badlands certainly appealed to Mattia—the Education First rider, a source of inspiration with his Alternative Calendar of gravel, mountain biking and ultra-endurance events. Morton ultimately chose not to defend his Badlands win from the previous year but the pair did line up at the 2022 Traka and what ensued proved to be an entertaining mix of determination and doggedness. After taking an early lead, the pair battled it out until Morton’s seatpost broke. Fixing it (after a fashion) with a combination of duct tape and prayers, the Australian chased but not before Mattia took his second Traka win in successive years.

“I’ve spent three weeks in Africa with Lachlan. Racing our gravel bikes but also the transfers in between by jeep and bus. And Lachlan is as you see him—genuine, true, and most of all you can tell he has fun riding his bike.”

This sense of camaraderie between competitors is often mooted as a significant difference between the professional world of road racing and the privateer model of the gravel calendar. And looking back at his own road career, Mattia well remembers how his teammates all sat wearing headphones on team bus transfers – himself included – and that sharing a few beers was reserved for the final evening before flights the following morning. Some might argue the antithesis of the simple pleasures that riding a bike affords and one possible point of inspiration that led Mattia and friends to found the Enough Cycling Collective.

“The idea was born from what fundamentally makes us happy—riding a bicycle and sharing this joy with people from all walks of life. It’s our vision to help them grow through cycling in all its different and wide forms. And if you look at gravel, it isn’t just dirt. Gravel is something that every person can experience in a way they like it best. There’s fewer of the boundaries that still persist in the world of road cycling. In gravel, we all line up together.”

This mention of riding together leads to Mattia admitting – with a smile – that he wasn’t brave enough to enter this year’s Silk Road Mountain Race singularly—preferring instead to ride as a pair. Even so, the brutal nature of such an extreme parcours took its toll and Mattia was forced to withdraw. A difficult decision made harder by the thought of leaving his friend to continue on alone.

I often talk about listening to your body but before the Silk Road Race I didn’t. I hate not accomplishing something and I tried to move forward with my head but sometimes it’s not enough. But you learn a lot from these experiences and in the following weeks I took some time for myself and especially for my body. I’m fortunate enough to travel the world and do events that many people can only dream about. But still, it is not as easy as some may think. You take this year’s wet Unbound—it was a fucking battle. But over the years I’ve tried to work on not being affected with weather conditions. If it rains, it rains on everyone!”

Closing out the season in his first national jersey at the UCI Gravel Championships close to where he grew up, Mattia was pictured pre-race making pizza and chatting informally with his supporters—a lighthearted interlude that reflects his innate capacity to seek enjoyment in life’s simple pleasures.

I’m constantly travelling from race to race and feel very fortunate that I can discover these new cultures. But I’m also very attached to my home and always like to come back. Maybe I focus a little too much on the bike, so spending time with family is very important. Life is not always straightforward and it’s important to find a balance. And like I say, keep a dollar in your pocket because you never know what might happen next [smiles].”

Mattia de Marchi

Photography by Sami Sauri (including feature image) and Chiara Redaschi

See individual images for photo credits

Chiara Redaschi / Captured moments

I eat a lot. A lot of pasta [laughs].
Is that the secret?
Yes. The Italian secret!

I’m on a video call with photographer Chiara Redaschi but have to pause while she catches her breath. With her phone unable to connect, she’s just run across town to sit on the terrace of her boyfriend’s restaurant where the WiFi is better. 

“I live near Milan but I’m spending the summer here in Tuscany. It’s a little town called La California not far from the sea and when I’m not taking photographs, I help out in the restaurant. Lots of seafood and Italian classics like spaghetti.”

With a body of work that combines dramatic vistas with emotionally charged images of faces that fill the frame, now that Chiara’s heart has stopped racing, I ask whether growing up with artistically inclined parents helped determine her own creative path.

“In many ways it was kind of normal for me. My Mom would paint outside on the terrace and my Dad and his brother were both interested in photography. My Uncle passed away when I was 11 but I do remember that he was very experimental—much like an artist. And this might sound a little silly but when I started making my own photographs, it felt like my Uncle was continuing to express himself through me. Like a book with chapters and I’m carrying on the writing.”

Growing up in Novara in the north of Italy, as a teenager Chiara would skip school to soak up the atmosphere of nearby Milan and Turin—the energy of these urban environments finding an outlet in her first runway images shot in the style of a street photographer.

“I was studying a degree in Artistic Management but an internship with a fashion brand made me decide not to go back. The designer told me they needed some pictures taking and then I spent the summer travelling across Europe following the fixed gear racing circuit with my camera. Before I knew what was happening, photography was my job [laughs].”

Hands rarely still as her movements punctuate each sentence, Chiara describes how these first formative years working for a fashion house still influence her current style of photography.

“Researching a shoot for a cycling brand, I’ll often include elements of fashion photography. I love their crazy viewpoints—how they position the models and sometimes add something into the frame to help tell a story or convey a particular emotion.”

Describing herself as instinctual and less of a planner, being present in the moment and getting in amongst the thick of the action is Chiara’s preferred style of shooting—an approach she recently adopted when she was following the Trans Balkan Race.

“You’re so remote – in the middle of nowhere – and then you spot a rider in the distance. And it’s so amazing to be out there, capturing these moments. To me, it feels…[Chiara checks her online translator]…like a magnet! A sense of attraction that’s particularly strong when I take a portrait. All that emotion etched on a face—when I see this, I have to take a picture. I can’t just stand and watch. It’s stronger than me.”

Travelling extensively for her work – Chiara can be packed and out of the door in 30 minutes – this sense of movement reminds her of childhood summers spent visiting Spain and Portugal with her parents. But time spent in Novara is also precious and acts as a counterpoint to the inevitable stresses of a life lived on the road.

“When you’re constantly on the move – something I love to do – you rarely have time to process everything that you’ve done. So home is where I take the time to stop and reset. I open the door and breathe out [Chiara sighs deeply]. I spend time with my parents and visit my grandma. She’s 103 years old and we do the usual Italian stuff—talk, eat and talk some more.”

Sandwiched between work trips and family time, riding her bike is another passion Chiara loves to indulge. So when she’s not at the restaurant, summer days in Tuscany often involve a gravel loop with time to stop and enjoy the view.

“I have my phone but rarely carry a camera. It’s good for me to not always be thinking about taking pictures. And I feel safe away from the cars when I’m riding off-road. In Tuscany we have our white roads so why not [laughs].”

Relishing time spent outdoors, Chiara illustrates this sensibility with a story from a recent photographic assignment in the mountains to the north of her birthplace. Standing by the roadside, taking pictures on the Gavia Pass, a butterfly passed so closely to her ear that she heard the flutter of its wings.

“It was such an amazing experience and it still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.”

A description that leads me to ask whether, when pressing the shutter, Chiara ever has an inkling that the stars have aligned in one particular shot?

“I photographed Petra on this year’s Transcontinental as she arrived at a checkpoint. At first, the riders passing through were racing but later there was a switch to those that were simply fighting to keep on riding. And when I saw Petra – riding alone in the middle of the night – her raw emotions affected me so deeply. I’m crying now, thinking about it. I could feel the pain, the emotion, and I knew that shot was good.”

Pausing a moment – the birdsong of her terrace location a stark contrast to remembered times of mountain tops at midnight – Chiara gathers herself before explaining how she sometimes needs to stop and take a breath when she’s working. How it can be so emotional that her hands start to shake.

“But I know that I have to keep going because I want to capture all these moments—a record of what I see and feel. And I’m laughing when I think it’s my job because it never feels that way. It’s a part of me that was always there. I took my first photograph in Venice when I was five years old with a Barbie camera. And I wouldn’t be doing it as a profession if it was just a way of paying the bills. I want to enjoy what I’m doing—to make something that will last forever.”

All images with kind permission of Chiara Redaschi /

Zero Neuf / Gather

Working long hours and struggling to find satisfaction, 2014 saw Mike Tucker and his wife Joss sell up everything before leaving the UK with their young family for a new life in rural France. Settling in the Ariège with a view of the Pyrenees, the couple set out to create a base – the Zero Neuf of their 9th department location – for guests to experience and escape in a relaxed and rule free environment.

Fast forward eight years and the various strands of this holistic vision for vacationing all came together in Gather; a ‘leave no trace event’ that saw guests enjoy four days of music, conversation, hiking and cycling, in and around the beautiful setting of the couple’s 19th century farmhouse.

Reflecting back on this community-based festival, Mike talks candidly about his own struggles with mental health, the highs and lows of building their Zero Neuf business and the joys of sharing this country idyll over a long weekend in June.

It’s early evening and the mid-summer sun casts lengthening shadows across the farmhouse garden. Cutting a youthful figure in t-shirt and shorts, Mike Tucker has finally found a spare half hour in his busy schedule to sit and chat. But as he points out with a smile, every day is busy when you run your own business and live on the premises.

Swapping a daily commute through city suburbs for the early morning ritual of coffee on the patio – the stone flags warm to the feet in summer and with a view across snow-capped mountains in winter – this calm, peaceful environment is certainly a contrast to Mike’s previous professional life.

“Prior to our move to France, Joss and I had two very young children and I was working in a particularly intense environment that involved a lot of travel. So I was often away from home and, when I was home, I was absent because of my stress levels.”

“Something had to give and as Joss is half French on her Mum’s side and had spent large parts of her childhood in France, the decision to relocate actually wasn’t that difficult as I just wasn’t coping.”

Putting their house on the market in April, by August the last box was packed and Mike drove south through France after putting Joss and the boys on a plane for their leg of the journey. Initially considering the Loire Valley, the couple had fallen in love with the rural landscape of the Ariège and a stone farmhouse and outbuildings that would become their new home.

With a focus on the simple things in life  – good food and company with a healthy dose of outdoor adventure – now that Zero Neuf is firmly established as a welcome retreat for an eclectic mix of guests, Mike is happy to reflect on the nature of their business model but also, perhaps more pertinently, on what it isn’t.

“There’s no need to worry about what you’re wearing, the height of your socks or what bike you’re riding. We’re a very laid back couple and, as a result, the business we run also has a relaxed feel. Basically, you’re staying in our home. We live here, our two boys live here, our cats, dogs and hens live here. So our guests also become part of the family.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Mike admits that initially they took on far too many of the everyday tasks—an approach that left them both exhausted.

“Neither Joss or I had run a small business before embarking on this journey. I still find it hard to delegate tasks and, on the flip side, Joss previously worked for a large corporation which was quite structured and Zero Neuf is anything but.”

“We’re still involved in absolutely everything – from making beds to cooking dinner and serving beers – but now, thankfully, we do at least have some help. I suppose we were just swept along by it all.”

Willing to open up as Mike is, I’m reticent about asking my next question but decide to plough ahead with the caveat that he can always decline to answer.

“What’s it like to be married to your business partner? On the whole, it’s a joy. I guess there aren’t many people who get to wake up next to their CEO before doing it all over again the next day.”

“But nothing is perfect and there are times when it’s incredibly stressful. And because the business has been a success, we’re very busy so perhaps we spend less time as a family than we would doing 9-5 jobs. A little ironic as we live where we work.”

Another interesting observation is the length of time it took for the family to feel accepted in their local neighbourhood. Perhaps a little surprising as Joss speaks fluent French but an aspect of rural life the couple respected and that subsequently resulted in a true feeling of belonging.

“We now feel part of something really special. Very different to living in the UK where we witnessed a lot of keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ behaviour. If anything, it’s the opposite here and there’s a real wholesomeness to our friendships. As a person who’s struggled with their mental health, I really appreciate our local community and the people that visit as they all contribute to our sense of wellbeing.”

This mention of visitors prompts me to ask about Gather; recently enjoying a welcome return after a pandemic-enforced hiatus. An event that grew from Mike and Joss’ concept of a community-led festival and supported by a range of partners with komoot as headline sponsor, tickets are purposefully limited to a lucky one hundred.

“Gather is an opportunity for like-minded people to come together—to meet, mix, learn and share. An event that one of our guests described as a big family reunion where everyone can be themselves and not feel under pressure to be something they’re not. So if you don’t want to ride it isn’t a problem but the riding we do is on beautiful tracks and trails and with a real emphasis on a connection with nature.”

Look through the images shared over Instagram and everyone is smiling and clearly having fun. Whether tucking into a communal feast, listening to talks on the farmhouse lawn, cooling off post-ride in the nearby River l’Hers or enjoying an early morning yoga session next to the saltwater swimming pool—the festival goers appear relaxed as they mingle and make friends.

“Events like Gather don’t just happen in isolation. We work with a wonderful team of friends, volunteers and partners to pull everything together. Very humbling when you consider the time and energy they’re willing to devote to a common goal.”

“So even though we own the Gather name, the event belongs to many. And we’re purposely keeping it small because we want it to remain intimate and personal. It’s an amazing thing to be responsible for, to be part of and to continue.”

Admitting to feeling a little sad as the final guests pack up ready for return journeys home, now that the festival is finished for another year Mike can resume the regular rhythm of each working day.

“My favourite time at Zero Neuf is undoubtedly the morning—that 15 or 20 minutes I get by myself, listening to the birdsong. As for the seasons, I particularly love late spring and early summer when there’s such a vibrancy with everything coming back to life. But what’s also interesting is that back in the UK I used to dread the onset of autumn. Leaving home to commute into the city in the dark and it being dark again on my return. Here I manage to enjoy the winters; helped by our beautiful view of the Pyrenees and the season’s first snowfall.”

Leading such a busy life, it’s the bike that offers a sense of escape. Mike describing how he might be having the worst day possible – which admittedly is now a rarity – but when he clips in and turns the pedals, then all his worries seem to disappear.

“I do feel incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved when you consider we had little, if any, experience in the hospitality industry. Watching Zero Neuf grow and the community we’ve built—in some ways it can feel quite overwhelming. But we’re both very conscious of never getting too carried away or losing sight of what we’ve got.”

“It would be easy to keep growing and adding to what we do here but both Joss and I feel that would be a mistake. Sometimes you’ve just got to accept that what you’ve got is enough. Too often we strive for bigger and better when it’s maybe wiser to take stock and stay where you are. Deep down I know this feels right and my previous life felt utterly wrong.”

Zero Neuf / / Gather Festival

Images by Dan King and Tomás Montes

Dominique Powers / Telling stories

In the late summer of 2021, Dominique Powers loaded up her hatchback with camera gear and camping equipment, attached her gravel bike to the rear rack and set off on a three week, 3000 mile road trip. Stopping off at parking lots, trail heads and open prairie, she set up a portable backdrop before awaiting the arrival of each next subject. The photographic series that resulted – The Leaders of Gravel – was subsequently published on The Radavist to great acclaim and set the pulses of commissioning editors and marketing directors racing.

Over a transatlantic call we discuss this breakthrough moment and Dominique’s passion for storytelling. How she fell in love with cycling during the pandemic and, with a life lived on the road, the simple joys of coming home.

Dominique is taking our call at the kitchen table of the house in Los Angeles she shares with her partner Ken. On the drainer sits a ceramic coffee dripper, sunlight is filtering through the windows and if I’m not mistaken I can hear the squawk of parrots. “Oh that’s just LA,” she confirms with a smile. 

During the course of our conversation, Dominique mentions a time from her childhood when she left a library book out in the rain. The outcome of a meeting between her Mom and the librarian was deciding between paying for a replacement or volunteering in the library until she’d cancelled her debt. A voracious reader, Dominique chose the latter and it wasn’t until two years later that she found out her Mom had promptly paid the fine on her behalf.

An everyday story but one that illustrates how Dominique, even from an early age, understood the importance of owning the moment. An attitude she applied to her years as a digital technician working on high fashion and advertising campaigns.

“As with anything you do, your past experiences inform the way you approach new experiences. So all the time I was investing in being the best digital technician I could be, it taught me what working hard feels like.”

“But the longer I worked as a technician, the further away I felt from making that shift to being behind the camera. I was taking photographs the whole time but there were months on end when I wasn’t creating images with presence and purpose. And it took a sense of getting a little bit bored to prompt me to make the move.”

Continuing to work as a technician paid the bills and allowed Dominique the freedom to choose the stories she wanted to tell—in many cases the paycheck coming second as she set out to find her own voice and sense of authenticity. A process further guided by Dominique discovering cycling.

“I’m a very competitive person and grew up doing all these different endurance sports. And then during the pandemic, cycling quickly took over my life because what else do you do when you just want every day to pass? You spend hours and hours on the bike and it continues to provide motivation for the work I do now.”

These differing strands of interest and insight eventually coalesced in her Leaders of Gravel series—Dominique setting out from her home in Los Angeles on a circuitous route from one scouted location to the next. But before capturing a portrait with her medium format film camera, she took the time to converse with each subject to better understand their own experiences and stories.

“Trust takes time. You need to know, to a certain extent, the person holding the camera in order to feel comfortable lowering your guard. And I was very open about why I was doing the series and what I wanted from them. They didn’t necessarily need to smile or even be serious. It was all about who they were as a person so it was important to create a safe space where they could be a bit more vulnerable.”

With each subject’s eyes seemingly focusing through and beyond the camera to Dominique herself, she realised the profound impact the body of work had made on her own understanding of the creative process.

“On the road during the trip—even then, I knew this series would be with me forever. It was hard work – so many early mornings – but I felt this huge amount of gratitude that people agreed to do it and made the time. That they were willing to meet me at whatever deserted destination I had decided. And how this sense of magic found a place in the resulting portraits.”

“It came at a time when I really wanted – and needed – to reconnect with myself. An opportunity to explore my own sense of adventure and be present in the moment. I’d brought along my tent – fully expecting to be really roughing it – but the hospitality I experienced meant I only camped out the one time. People were so generous in opening up their homes to me that I just wanted to put that back out into the world. You can’t help but be changed by experiences like that.”

Hanging out at Sea Otter a few weeks after the story came out, every marketing director Dominique bumped into said they’d seen it—one notable outcome that followed involving another journey but one with a transatlantic flight.

“I’m very fortunate to be on a retainer with Giro and I’d mentioned this goal I had of shooting the Tour de France Femmes. They made a few phone calls and the project was given a green light. And then, knowing how establishing a relationship with my subjects is important to my work and that I’d never attended a World Tour race in Europe, we agreed that I’d spend a week with the Canyon-SRAM women’s team in the lead up to Paris-Roubaix.”

Landing in Paris, Dominique picked up her rental car and drove up to join the team on a course recon.

“It was such a blast and I’m so grateful – thank you, Mom – that I learnt to drive on a stick shift. And then once I was settled, every morning I’d show up an hour early to hang out with the soigneurs and mechanics so that on race day I really felt part of the team.”

Not having the same level of direction that she would usually enjoy shooting editorial content, Dominique quickly adapted to reacting to what was happening—building a level of trust with the riders such an integral part of the trip that Dominique was conscious of not getting in the way or asking too much.

“I went with the goal of meeting the athletes and team and to experience the culture of European World Tour racing. In effect, my pre-season training, so that when I return in the summer for the Le Tour Femme I can hit the ground running.”

Although a relative newcomer to cycling, Dominique is well placed to offer an opinion on how the sport is changing. And back home in the US, it’s gravel that is currently all the rage.

“Women want to exercise more and spend time outdoors. They want to create authentic experiences and cycling is the answer in so many ways. And because of the number of cars on the road, gravel is a perfect fit. That was how I discovered cycling and my own journey has taken me to the start line of Steamboat Gravel which was so much fun. Quite a challenge but I went into it wanting to test my metal. To see what I was made of.”

“I believe in ‘go big or go home’ so why not take a risk and roll the dice. I could have decided to line up some e-commerce photographic jobs and get well paid for my time. But I chose to do a photo series of the top women in gravel and then see what would happen.”

If Dominique does ‘go home’, right now that means LA and the house she shares with Ken. A place where she can feel emotionally open and where she disconnects from whatever outward pressures she might be feeling.

“I’m an early bird and generally wake up around 6:30am. I’ll have a cup of coffee with Ken and we’ll do the Wordle together before he starts his first morning meeting. Meanwhile I’ll have breakfast and write out a to-do list for the day. But even if I’m not working, having that early morning hour to greet the day and be reflective is really nice.”

As we wind up our conversation, I ask if she finds it easy to feel a sense of satisfaction in her work? Or whether, like some creatives, she’s always looking to the next project?

“You take the Leaders of Gravel series—that happened over a three week period and once I had all the images I needed and I’d written up the story, it was done. I don’t plan to ever go back and add to it. But I do feel this sense of forward momentum and there’s always something more that I want.”

And more stories to tell, I ask.

Dominique pauses for a second and smiles broadly before answering.

“That’s really what it’s all about.”

Feature image and video by Alex Colorito

All other imagery with kind permission of Dominique Powers /

The Leaders of Gravel


Journeying with Fara Cycling

We’re a relatively small company but that makes us very personable. Every customer and every bike we build is so important to us.”

Speaking over a video call from his office in Taiwan, Jeff Webb has an easy manner that suggests he’s just as comfortable solving problems in the workshop as he is sitting around a boardroom table in his role as CEO of Fara Cycling.

Canadian-born, when he was 19 years old he travelled to Europe to pursue a dream of racing his bike professionally before subsequently settling in Norway. Following a successful career as a sports photographer and years working in the sporting goods industry, Jeff founded Fara Cycling in 2015 with a vision of building a bike brand for a new breed of cyclists. One that’s inspired by adventure, emotions and nature.

“When I first started Fara Cycling, it was typical me—bullheaded in the face of a lot of naivety but just going at it and not feeling that I was prepared to back out. And right from the off, I wanted to make people feel comfortable and do away with any sense of intimidation, elitism and snobbery. You go to a trade show and it’s awash with all these images depicting gritted teeth and hollow-eyed faces. And I’m really not sure who these brands are talking to because at Fara we’re so far away from that. We never mention lactic acid or FTP—that’s not our world. What we do focus on is how the bike allows you to enjoy all these amazing places and experiences.”

Although Fara Cycling is based in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, Jeff has spent the past six months in Taiwan overseeing the final pre-launch phase of the company’s new bike model: the F/GR.

“Because of the various travel restrictions and the need to hotel quarantine on arrival, it makes sense to remain for a longer period rather than travelling back and forth. And Taiwan’s a nice place to be—the climate is warm and there’s so much great riding to choose from.”

With Fara wanting to own as much of the value chain as possible, their Taiwanese facility allows easy access to component suppliers – SRAM are located just down the road – and the convenience of overseeing vital finishing touches such as paint.

“We decided to keep final assembly in-house which is a little unusual in the bike industry. Even the paint we use is purchased by ourselves from the supplier who’s also just round the corner. So all this gives us a pretty unique level of control over the various stages of manufacturing.”

Now that it’s a little over five years since the dream of creating his own brand became a reality, Jeff recognises how the time he spent travelling the globe as a photographer provided the inspiration that eventually led to Fara Cycling.

“I did a lot of work with small skiing and snowboarding brands—allowing me to see from the ground up how they created their own market. So I took all these insights and started Fara in Norway – this fascinating location – because I’ve lived there for the past 25 years, I speak the language and feel socially immersed in every way you can imagine.”

“In Old Norse,” Jeff continues, “At Fara means to journey or venture. So we have this cultural thread that ties together the whole brand and I truly believe that recognising this identity was a key moment in our growth. Something that really drove us and continues to do so.”

With this initial inspiration provided by the winter sports brands he was photographing, it was the years Jeff spent heading up sales management for a large sporting goods corporation that proved equally as motivational when it came to launching his own company.

“The more I worked in this corporate world, the greater the belief in me grew that we could do things better. That we could grow a brand that spoke more directly to the customer base.”

Determined to start his own company according to these firmly held principles, Jeff contacted his friend Kenneth Pedersen—the owner of highly respected brand design agency ANTI and also a keen cyclist.

“If you peek behind the curtain,” suggests Jeff with a smile, “you might be surprised at what we’ve managed to achieve with a relatively small team. We’ve recently expanded in response to the demand for bikes during the pandemic but it wasn’t that long ago – a little over two years – that I was the only full-time employee. I was building bikes during the day and answering emails at night.”

With teams now based in Oslo and Taiwan together with a handful of employees working remotely, not only has the Fara workforce increased in numbers but the model range has grown to encompass riding styles that range from road to gravel adventure.

“We’re heavily influenced by our immediate surroundings,” Jeff explains. “So we design bikes that work in the landscapes where we ourselves ride. Which is why we had a gravel bike from day one—before gravel was even a thing. And the idea for our all-road bike, the F/AR, came about when we wanted a bike that could go anywhere. A bike that’s fast and fun that you can ride really, really far. That really resonates with me and influences the way I myself ride. We weren’t looking to dumb down the ride experience—slow and sluggish was never an option.”

“Riding gravel – or whatever you choose to call it – is very much a social scene too. I regularly see groups of riders heading out of Oslo on a loop before stopping off to chat over a coffee or beer. A very different way of riding compared to ten or 15 years ago. And we saw this as an opportunity to design the whole brand – the concept and messaging – around this new style of riding.”

Another recent trend in the cycling industry is the enormous growth in online sales with Fara opting for a direct-to-customer sales strategy. A working model that sees Jeff taking a turn on customer services and replying to messages on his Instagram account.

“A couple of years ago we were contacted by a customer who had a bike that was making the most terrible noise. He’d taken it to his local bike shop but they couldn’t help so I loaded up my car with tools and spare parts and drove three and a half hours to this guy’s house. It only took 15 minutes to diagnose and fix the problem – the rear axle needed re-greasing – but taking care of this customer’s problem was well worth the time and effort.”

“We’re a bit of a ragtag bunch at Fara and I believe that one of my skills is to recognise the potential in people. So if I come across someone I feel might prove a good fit in our journey, I don’t hesitate in talking to them. I very much appreciate how everyone in the Fara team is so passionate about cycling and also the brand. And with that comes our uncompromising approach to the highest level of customer service—making sure that everyone is treated well and has the best possible consumer journey. After all, your customers are your most important ambassadors.”

Not only is Jeff concerned with implementing a robust system of customer support, his vision of building bikes that are fun to ride but also supremely capable has led his design team to explore issues of rider comfort and convenience—the recently developed integrated luggage system offering a clever method of fixing bike bags using a series of magnets embedded in the frame.

“It may appear deceptively simple,” comments Jeff, “but it’s a response to a set of circumstances familiar to many of our customers. You’re on a multi-day trip, pulling up at your overnight stop with frozen hands and you’re struggling to remove the straps of your bags. There had to be a better way.”

“So in the design phase of the F/AR – because we knew it would be used for this kind of adventure riding – it just felt like a wasted opportunity if we couldn’t find a way of integrating the luggage system. Yes, we wanted the bike to look great with or without the bags, and now that we’ve designed our first version of the system, we just need people to use it and enjoy it and then we’ll see where we can take it from here.”

For customers able to visit Oslo, the various aspects of the customer journey have been distilled into the Fara Cycling Experience Centre—the online process of picking a model to fit a particular riding style before selecting components that work with a customer’s budget complemented by in-person advice and the opportunity to see before you buy.

“Our Experience Centre offers a warm welcome and advice to everyone. We don’t care how long your socks are, if you shave your legs or whether you want to ride thirty kilometres or three hundred. All of that stuff doesn’t concern us—we’re all about the joy of cycling and that everyone should feel welcome. So the first thing you’ll hear as you walk inside is ‘hi’ followed by ‘do you want a cup of coffee’?”

Although it’s clear that Jeff still relishes every available opportunity to engage with his customer base, a typical working day as CEO can depend on a number of disparate factors with his current Taiwanese timezone proving a prime example.

“The mornings are generally quiet over here so I can go for a ride before things get a little crazy after lunch when Oslo wakes up. Then I’ll work into the evening – usually until midnight – but I don’t consider myself a typical executive. I’m just a bike guy and feel very fortunate to have lots of really talented and inspiring colleagues along for the journey. As the founder of the company, it’s really touching when other people buy into your vision.”

“Everybody in the Fara Cycling team works so hard which makes my job so much easier,” Jeff concludes. “And in return, I want to give them a great place to work and the feeling that they’re part of something that’s really cool. Money is money but a sense of collective achievement is priceless.”

Jeff Webb

Fara Cycling

Photo credits: Fara Cycling / Emil Nyeng / Steff Gutovska / Pål Laukli / Sebastian Mamaj

Brazo de Hierro / Sundays are for?

“I now live slower. More time with family. More time with my friends.”

Albert Gallego is a freelance photographer working under the pseudonym Brazo de Hierro [loosely translating as Iron Arm]. Based between Barcelona and Girona, his beautiful imagery depicts riders leaning into landscapes filtered through meteorological layers of cloud and dust with sharp shadows marking the progress of the sun. Sitting in his study – the walls covered by framed artworks and with a view of Montserrat from his window – Albert discusses his picture-taking beginnings, trips to the market and what it now means to be happy.

I started using the name Brazo de Hierro a long time ago after I’d broken my left humerus in an accident at work. A  friend drew a picture of the broken bone and then added ‘Brazo de Hierro’ so I asked if I could use it as my graffiti nickname. Often we would paint in disused factories and because graffiti is very impermanent, I began using a camera to capture the artwork. The more pictures I took, the greater my interest and because graffiti has links with hip hop, I was doing portraits of singers and this led to editorial work for advertising companies. By that time I’d moved to Barcelona which was where I first saw the Red Hook Crit races.

I was already aware of the West Coast bike messenger scene but fixed-gear bikes were new to the city. And to me, they just seemed the purest way of riding a bike—one gear, no brakes and moving in and around the cars. I started riding fixed with my friends and over time they gradually got into road, gravel and mountain biking. So I was learning more about the different types of cycling and all the time taking photos. Since then, I haven’t stopped and it’s fair to say that photography is both passion and profession.

Spring and summer is when the weather is better but, for me, they’re not always the best seasons for shooting. Winter is cold with rain and snow and all these things can make an image more epic. But autumn is my favourite time with the colours of the trees and the ground covered with leaves.

Sometimes the most important thing is to scout where you will be shooting next. And riding is my way of doing this. When I have some free time, I go out on my bike to find new locations and the next time I have a shoot I can remember those places.  And because I’ve been taking photos for 20 years, my eye is trained to read the light and to know how the sun will move and where the shadows will lie. This is the formula that I use which is why I talk about being in the right moment at the right time. The first prize I ever won for my photography was for an image taken on an iPhone. For another prize – in the Mark Gunter awards – I was using a borrowed camera remotely over video calls during the strict Spanish lockdown. It’s your eye that takes the photograph—the camera is just the tool that you use.

My dog Atlas is a really nice assistant. Every morning we go for a walk together and sometimes he rides with me in my backpack. Whenever I can, he comes along on the shoot and if I’m ever away travelling for work, when I get home he goes crazy. I love that moment.

I still enjoy using film cameras and have a large collection. I like how you have to think the photo and we’ve all come from film so maybe it helps to know the history and to understand how the process works. For my digital shooting, I’m thinking it’s time to move to mirrorless. It’s the future and I predict that in a few years DSLR cameras will be obsolete. But if I take this step, I will also have to change my computer because the file sizes are bigger and you need more power to process the images. 

Many people ask if I also do video but I say, no, I’m a photographer. I’ll post videos on social media because my phone makes it so easy but if you want professional video, then I think you should go and ask a professional videographer. I have a lot of filmmaker friends and I’m always happy to connect them with a client. In English they say ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’ and it took me more than ten years before I was happy to call myself a photographer.

When it comes to social media, I don’t really show that much of my life. My Instagram is mainly pictures of Atlas, my riding and the photos I’ve taken. When I go to dinner with friends or visit my parents, I don’t need to show this because it’s my moment and I have the memories in my head. Last month I posted a video that showed my face and it felt strange because I’ve always enjoyed being anonymous. It’s nice to go to a place and not have anyone recognise you.

Before lockdown, cooking for me was a chore. It was difficult to find the time and I would buy things to make a quick meal. But when we were told to stay at home, I really got into cooking and now it’s my zen moment. I wake up in the morning and take my time making my filter coffee. And when I want to eat lunch or dinner, I don’t go to a supermarket. I prefer the street market because all the produce is from the local area. It costs a little more but I have the feeling that I’m helping the farming community. I ride to the market on my Brompton – sometimes with Atlas – and carry cloth bags so I don’t have to use plastic. The people know me as ‘the guy with the bike’ and it’s something that I really enjoy. All my life, the fruit and vegetables that we ate as a family we grew ourselves. So it feels good to buy what I need locally.

Back in 2015 I had a really bad crash on my fixed-gear bike. I was hit by a bus in Barcelona [Albert pulls a bike frame down off the wall and points to a deep indent on the top tube] and this is where my knee hit the frame. I flew over the bars and broke four ribs and my collar bone. And because I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I had a large contusion on my head and the bleeding on my brain forced the doctors to induce a coma for 24 hours. All this trauma had a massive impact on my life at that time. I’d been working in a shared office space with many creative people – a full gas lifestyle – and in a matter of a few moments, this all changed. But the bones healed, the bleeding stopped and I decided to live my life in another way. So now, if you want to be angry with me, you need to understand that I won’t be angry in return. I haven’t got room in my life for any negativity. I say okay, goodbye! 

Which brings me to what Sundays are for. This series of photos on my Instagram feed started when I was riding my gravel bike and didn’t want to spend precious time positioning my bike carefully up against a wall or a tree. I would just leave the bike on the path or trail and take a picture. A friend of mine suggested I make a hashtag and every Sunday I posted one of these images. Even during lockdown, when we couldn’t ride outside, I took a shot of my bike on the floor next to my rollers. So it grew from there and now I have professional cyclists giving me their bikes so I can photograph them on the ground. And it’s funny because when I first started this, my custom Belle Cycle was really new and I had people asking why I was leaving such a nice bike on the floor. They wanted to know if Enrico [Bellé] knew how I was treating his bike. And I’d tell them, yes, he knows and I’m always careful to have the drive side up. Now people from all over the world are using the hashtag. It’s crazy!

All these different threads have combined with the lessons I learnt in lockdown to make me appreciate the need to find balance in my life. Rather than just sitting in front of a screen – work, work, work – I now understand the importance of taking time out for me. To go for a walk, to play with Atlas, to meet friends for a coffee and a chat. And I feel very fortunate – like a rich person – when I go out on my gravel bike. Even if it’s only for an hour; riding without a route and getting lost acts as my therapy and I always come home happy.

Brazo de Hierro

Feature image by Kike Kiks


Krysten Koehn / Portage Cycling

When artist and adventurer Krysten Koehn slammed into the ground on a Hamburg bike path, the immediate consequences of a badly broken hand stretched to postponing a planned bike packing trip through Slovenia. With a move back to Amsterdam in time for the start of a new teaching position already arranged, Krysten decided to return home to Colorado and recover with the help and support of her family. But once reacquainted with the mountain landscapes of her youth, she quickly arrived at the realisation that this emotional reconnection with her homeland was questioning her sense of place.

‘Maybe it takes a stark contrast to unlock your understanding because it soon dawned on me how I’d underestimated the incredible beauty of Colorado. I’d spent so long living in a wet and windy Amsterdam – which at the time I loved – that I’d forgotten what it was like to have the sun shine over 300 days a year and the mountains right on your doorstep.’

With the decision to stay made, Krysten started to search for a temporary teaching job and almost immediately found a suitable position. A brief visit to Europe saw personal belongings packed ready for shipping and her bike boxed for the return flight—Krysten now recrossing the Atlantic as a returning resident rather than temporary visitor.

A few months on from this homecoming and we’re catching up over a video call. It’s just after 5:00am in Colorado but despite the early hour Krysten looks happy and content as she punctuates gaps in our conversation with a spoonful of oatmeal. I comment on the brightly coloured design of her closed curtains and immediately a smile lights up her face.

‘My belongings were sent from the Netherlands to London and 5 months later they’re still sitting in a warehouse waiting to be put into a container. The curtains were given to me by a friend who was moving and she kindly donated a bunch of stuff I could use in my new apartment. She found them in a thrift shop and now it’s my turn to use them.’

Although unsurprisingly frustrated at the shortcomings of transatlantic shipping, having her gravel bike to hand means weekends are now filled with rides as Krysten rediscovers a physical relationship with a landscape that prompts flashes of memory from her childhood.

‘I can remember being on the trail with the sun shining through the branches of pine trees—walking next to a stream with tall grasses parting as my legs pushed forward. And then, as I grew older, those experiences carried more weight and became more salient. My sense of being was formed by this landscape and when I left for Europe, I had this visceral longing for the mountains—like they were a magnet for future experiences. A compass for my life with the mountains at true north.’

Delighting in this process of rediscovery, Krysten nevertheless describes herself as a puzzle piece that once fitted neatly into a bigger picture but now has edges a little roughened from the passage of time.

‘Returning home, there was this sense of reverse culture shock. Even in the wilder parts of Europe, you’re never that far from some form of civilisation. And that’s just not the case in Colorado. Nature is so, so big and it’s taken a while to get my head round this lack of constraints. To ride out and the only thing that references the presence of other people being the tyre tracks left on the gravel trail you’re following.’

This boundless freedom that Krysten documents so beautifully in her Instagram posts and stories has now prompted a new chapter in her cycling journey. Taken aback by the overwhelmingly positive reactions to her social media snippets, Krysten has distilled her love of these landscapes and passion for community into Portage Cycling—a company offering custom cycling adventures that benefit from her unique insights into the best riding experiences Colorado has to offer.

‘I came to the conclusion that I want to be working towards something rather than simply standing still. So why not be really intentional about how I live my life and spend my time. And what really brings me joy – where the air comes from – is creating things, experiencing nature, riding my bicycle and making meaningful connections with people. Combining these four pillars is where Portage was born.’

With the dream of one day opening a cycling guesthouse that focuses all the elements of Portage into a physical space, Krysten is busy launching her new venture as a point of departure for this ultimate goal. A process that required her to name the initial concept and cause for another broad smile.

‘I deliberated for months—scrolling through endless lists of cycling terms to spark ideas. And then I landed on the name Portage. French in origin and meaning to carry but also a colloquial term for carrying your bike. And because gravel riding in Colorado can be pretty gnarly, on occasion you do find yourself hike-a-biking. But, to me, that means you’re truly on an adventure.’

Not limited to a literal translation, another connotation applies to Krysten’s desire to carry people through an experience so all that remains is for guests to relax and truly enjoy the riding.

‘I want the trips I organise to be highly customisable. Maybe you want to eat sandwiches on the trail before heading back to Boulder for dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant. Maybe you only have a weekend and want some sample routes to follow. However you want to ride, whatever you want to experience, I can accommodate that.’

With the process starting over a conversation that enables Krysten to drill down what her guests really want from the experience, with oatmeal now finished and a cup of coffee to hand, I ask her to describe a typical Portage day.

‘It would involve all of the things that you want and none of the things you don’t—highly specific to your individual ideas. A day that starts with a cup or two of really good locally-roasted coffee. And then picture a bowl of homemade granola or a giant plate of Eggs Benedict with bacon and homemade biscuit. We’d then head out on a ride together and discover magical views over endless mountains with red-dirt roads stretching off to the horizon. Lunchtime would see us stopping at a little general store before the ride continuing into the afternoon. Arriving back at base, after showering we’d enjoy a lovely farm-to-table dinner that’s made with locally-sourced, in-season ingredients.’

With a boundless energy and joie de vivre – undiminished even by the pre-dawn challenges of our transatlantic call – as a practising artist, Krysten’s desire to make artworks is inseparable from how she consciously chooses to live her life—a bike ride drawing imaginary lines on the landscape and the act of building Portage from the ground up, both outlets for her irrepressibly creative spirit.

‘To me, bringing an idea into existence and creating something from nothing is an artistic act. And my intention is to show people this awe inspiring land in the hope that, faced with its beauty, they have the same ache in their hearts that I do.’

Krysten Koehn / Portage Cycling

Feature image by Dennis Kugizaki / Ride images by Donalrey Nieva / Colorado images by Krysten

Saskia Martin / From Bad to Better

All my holidays involve riding bikes. I simply can’t sit still and I’m always on the quest for the right type of epic.

Mentally exhausted and with holiday plans in disarray, Saskia Martin looked to the desert wilderness of Andalusia to force a reset. Heading south to ride the Badlands route with her friend Cat Karalis, the redemption Saskia sought proved elusive but she did discover a sense of self and a way of once again moving forward.

Illustrated with her own beautiful photography, Saskia offers a warm and honest reflection on the healing properties of friendship and the freedom of the road.

As a senior product developer for Rapha, my job is to make our designer’s dreams and concepts into a reality. But as it’s a very fast-paced role – which I love because I thrive in chaos and under time constraints – that brings with it a certain degree of pressure and I was close to burn out.

With this feeling compounded by both work and home life revolving around bikes, I woke up one morning and didn’t want to ride. I was still commuting by bike but even that was exhausting. A physical tiredness but also an emotional sense of weariness that was devastating—I was basically going through a break-up with my bikes.

These issues couldn’t have come at a worse time because I’d signed up for the Atlas Mountain Race with my friend Cat. So when this was postponed and still having a window of annual leave to fill, we decided to book a flight to Málaga to see if I could rediscover my cycling mojo by riding the Badlands route. A fuck-it attitude of let’s see how we will do.

My friendship with Cat grew through working together at Rapha. From Regent’s Park laps to weekend bivvying, we’re always searching for our next cycling adventure and have a shared Excel spreadsheet permanently detailing our packing lists. All sub-categorised, a tick underneath each heading tells us who’s bringing what. 

Just getting our boxed bikes to the airport proved one of the trip’s biggest challenges. Cat was taking her Cannondale MTB so her box weighed in at 30 kg – my Juliana gravel bike a relatively svelte 25 kg – but both proved a burden as we pushed and pulled them across London’s Tower Bridge at 5:00am in the morning.

Landing in Málaga saw us building our bikes outside the terminal before riding to the train station and, unbeknownst to us, a train strike. With no news on a resumption of services, we decided to take back logistical control and ride to Granada and the start of the Badlands route.

Messaging my friend to ask if he could make us a route, he sent one through but warned us not to question the elevation as he’d just done an A to B on Komoot. It was Day Minus One and we had 130 km to cover with 2,500 m of climbing—no problem!

From the outside, our hostel in Granada looked really dodgy but proved to be a palace. Which added to our guilt when we got the camping stove going in our room to brew up our morning coffee. As we’d planned to bivvy each night, this would be our last taste of luxury until our pre-booked Airbnb in Colmenar. I’d used Google Maps to pinpoint each evening’s placement for our makeshift camps but that didn’t exactly go to plan either.

Setting off from Granada we got our first taste of the terrain with a few tumbles to fuel our adrenaline levels. Stopping to spend the night on the edge of a small town, we were pitted against a torrential downpour and gale force winds. These meteorological challenges prompted a shockingly-bad attempt at fixing up a shelter to protect us from the elements. With a tarparline stretched over our bikes, we resorted to supporting the centre of our ‘roof’ with a stick in an effort to divert the rivulets of water away from our heads. Surprisingly, considering the climatic conditions, I slept like a log—Cat, not so much.

Waking up on Day Two, I felt refreshed but Cat had slight bivvy eyes. Automatically slipping into my efficient mode, I prepped breakfast and quickly packed up everything for the off. Naturally we immediately began to climb—a rutted track that was so steep we were forced to push our bikes with outstretched arms and bent knees. Finally reaching the top, any sense of elation was immediately quashed by a British cycle-brand busy with their photoshoot.

Leaving behind the models on bikes, photographer, art director, assistants and cars – so much for seeking out the wilderness – we found our way through a series of gorges that sliced through the arid hillsides. A mini Grand Canyon with wild goats and an isolated monastery adding a touch of local colour—also provided by my Garmin and its coded difficulty ratings on the climb profiles. Ranging from a benign green through yellow, orange and finally a heart-palpitating dark red, I would shout out our colour zone at every opportune moment.

Feeling the need for some creature comforts, we decided to book a hotel for the night. On arrival – after we were passed on the road by the photoshoot crew – this establishment proved curiously reminiscent of a Hollywood film set. Embracing its quirky charms and taking the opportunity to wash out our kit, we slept without the need to take turns holding a stick and both woke ready to greet the next day’s challenges.

With this restful night providing an added vigour to our riding, the off-road trails gradually transitioned into a section of forest—both of us enjoying the changes in shade and light and a part of the trip where the chatter of our conversations proved particularly resonant. With our voices and laughter held in this timber-like lattice, it reminded me that what I love about bike-packing is the sound as you ride—the hum of tyres on smooth tarmac or the crunch of gravel on a trail. Very unfortunately I’d been advised that it would be okay to fit these really cheap disc pads and they were screaming whenever I slowed down. To such an extent that I dreaded descending and anyone who knows me, knows that I love to descend. All I wanted to do was climb because at least that meant I could avoid the anxiety of coming down again.

In the forest, however, this wasn’t so much of an issue as my style of riding at home meant I could confidently pick my line and brake less. And it was here that we first spotted through a gap in the trees, the white domes of the Calar Alto Observatory.

Struggling to work out the distance to this landmark, the road inevitably began to climb until I was finally sitting, eating some sweets, and taking in the architecture of this incredible mountain top cluster of buildings. Wishing we could stay and camp out under the stars, I also knew we faced a long descent and that my brakes would scream all the way down. Sure enough, the noise was so loud that when I finally reached the bottom I was crying—no fun at all and with an added sense of losing my thing. Because my thing is descending.

Searching for somewhere to spend the night, we decided on a lay-by next to a motorway. Admittedly it was a bit grim and we were bedeviled by swarms of mosquitoes but the sky was clear so we didn’t need to be covered by our tarp and we fell asleep under a blanket of stars.

Dawn saw us rising with the sun and counting our mosquito bites. Cat almost immediately had a puncture so, once fixed, we sought comfort in a café. Here I experienced one of the highlights of our trip – the shouts and laughter of the customers, the bustle of orders being brought to tables – and what I love about my rides in and around London. Lapping Regent’s Park isn’t exactly exciting but you do it with friends and go to a café afterwards. It sets you up right for the day—which was what I was witnessing in that little corner of Spain.

On our way again, this was the day we’d be crossing the Tabernas—the only official desert on the European continent. My favourite day as it turned out because the terrain was so technical that it cleared my mind of other concerns. We were riding tiny tracks with a drop off to either side and the knowledge that if either of us made a mistake the consequences could be severe. And although a barren landscape, the colours were truly vibrant and we loved carrying our bikes across rail tracks that disappeared either way into the distance.

Closing in on the end of our sojourn, in some ways I was feeling a little deflated. We were always behind in our plans due to the problems with our transfer from the airport and this meant we’d cut out some sections of the official Badlands route. And there was this voice in my head telling me that we should have done more. Cat patiently pointed out that we were on holiday and should only do what we want to do and not worry about the rest. It took me some time but eventually I managed to get to that place and this process was helped by our time at a campsite by the sea. We rented a plot and there were toilets and showers – such luxury – and you fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the beach.

To ride the route with Cat – an experienced ultra-distance racer and one of the most wonderful people in my world – was why I kept on moving forward. Every time I doubted or questioned, she was there with a gentle reminder of how to be present and embrace the moment. And what struck me as we wound our way back in the direction of Málaga and our waiting Airbnb, was the constantly shifting landscapes we’d ridden through. Road, desert, forest, beach, rolling coastal-California—jaw-dropping visual surprises like the desert train tracks and flamingos in a lagoon. Views and vistas that I tried to capture with my camera as an added reminder of the joys we had both shared.

In all honesty, I use cycling as therapy—I run away from my problems by riding my bike. But when we returned home and everyone was asking how we got on, I had to put on this front and tell them how amazing our trip was. Because I really wish I could say that I found my cycling mojo in the Badlands of southern Spain but I didn’t.

What I did find was a desire to ride my bike a little more. And our trip gave me the time to reflect on what’s actually important to me and what makes me happy. Everything in life shapes you to one degree or another—the next time you go and do something, you do it as a different person. We’re always growing and I do understand that Badlands has changed me. I just haven’t as yet figured out how.

All images with kind permission of Saskia Martin

Cat Karalis

Badlands 2022