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 / dominiquepowers.com

The Leaders of Gravel

Canyon-SRAM

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

brazodehierro.com

Feature image by Kike Kiks

#allbikesonthefloor

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

Cristina Sanser / Badlands

With 85% of the route off-road, Badlands is an unsupported, ultracycling gravel challenge that rewards self-sufficiency. So what happens if things take an unexpected turn under the searing sun of Andalusia?

Cristina Sanser had taken a whole year to prepare before rolling up to the September startline. But finding herself riding through a beautiful but unforgiving landscape, she needed to find the inner strength to stop and say enough.


Why Badlands? I suppose I should start by explaining that I’ve only been riding a bike for four years—and only consistently for a year and a half. With the whole Covid situation, I had to work from home and everything was so boring with no travelling allowed. My friends and I saw the Badlands documentary from last year and when the bars once again opened, we went for a drink and decided why not?

The year I spent training for it, in the back of mind I was doubting whether I would ever be ready. I’m pretty fit but everyone taking part in the challenge is super strong and I’m still working my way up the ladder in terms of technical ability. So in the end, I decided to just treat it as a holiday. I would sign up and whether I finished the race or not, this would be an excuse to visit another part of Spain and have some fun.

I was riding – unofficially – as a team. We entered two as a pair and one more as an individual but the plan was to ride together. Freya had recently moved to Girona from the UK and is super strong with a racing background—very much a mentor to me and really helpful advising on things like bike gearing and clothing. My other friend, Laura, is a sports scientist and cycling coach and my pre-race level of fitness was all due to her help and encouragement.


I was fully aware that we were facing certain metrics—the distance, the terrain, the allowed time window of six days. But we’d prepared well with a first training block that built up an endurance base, a second block with a higher intensity and then a third which combined elements of both. Quite a commitment when working office hours in a demanding role.

In terms of a bike and equipment, budget played a part in the decisions we made. Everything is so expensive but fortunately I managed to upgrade to a BMC URS gravel bike—the geometry works better for me and it gives me more confidence if the surface is poor. And all of these different strands of preparation came together on a test ride in the Pyrenees—lots of climbing, super technical sections and sleeping outside. Mentally, we’d been planning this for so long that it felt settled in my brain. So I suppose, in a sense, I was prepared to suffer. To suffer a lot.

Perhaps inevitably, the closer we got to the start date the more our nerves began to build. I’d never raced before – ever – so the thoughts going through my head involved what would happen if I crashed in the first ten kilometres. Or maybe I wouldn’t be able to unclip and everyone would see me and laugh. And in hindsight it was a mistake to book a hotel outside of Granada’s city centre. We walked a lot before Badlands got underway but then we walked a lot during the race too.

Attending a rider briefing a couple of days before the start, we got to talk to people who had already raced Trans-Pyrenees and the previous year’s Badlands. Very simply, this proved to be super motivating and I left the briefing feeling that, yes, I could do this.

Race day arrived with Laura waking to a painful wisdom tooth. Typically, she cast aside any thoughts of not riding in the time it took to take some paracetamol and we rolled up at a park area to set off as a bunch. Riding amongst all the other competitors during the first 20 km, I was close to tears. What was I doing with all these super strong and experienced riders? But we’d spent 12 months preparing for this moment and that thought carried me through those initial nerves.


Climbing upwards and upwards, the gravel trails gradually became more technical and on some sections we were jumping on and off the bike. But even though the heat was intense and the riding hard, the first day was fun. I even have a picture of me smiling.

With the sun setting in the sky, we rolled into the village of Gorafe. My friends and l felt tired but seeing all the other competitors who’d also chosen this location to snatch a few hours rest gave us an emotional lift. We grabbed some food and then laid out our mats and sleeping bags on the roadside to sleep. Three hours later we woke up – not to say that I actually slept with all the night time noises – and got underway again to hit the desert before sunrise. 

This proved to be truly an amazing experience. Very technical – especially descending with bike lights – but it felt like an epic adventure. Approaching another small village, we stopped briefly for a couple of quick coffees before continuing. But even though we’d refilled all our bidons and hydration packs, we eventually began to run short of water and needed to ration how much we drank despite the intense heat. 

Freya had pushed on ahead – she’s such a strong rider – as the landscape gradually changed from gravel to sand. Really technical to ride but we’d managed to maintain a good race position and our spirits were up. And then, without warning, I crashed. Maybe because I was dehydrated – my Wahoo was reading 49°C – but my front wheel hit a soft patch of sand and I lost control. A silly mistake rather than a tragic accident but I hit my head when the bike went over. Taking a moment to gather my senses, all the good feelings that had buoyed our progress so far seemed to evaporate into the cloudless sky. Climbing back on my bike, for the next couple of hours I was dizzy and disorientated—cresting every rise with the expectation of a village and water but finding only barren nothingness.


Catching up with Laura at the end of a long and draining climb, I discovered her crying. And Laura never cries. A true lover of nature and always happiest in the mountains, seeing her upset made me realise that our race was starting to fall apart. Then Laura’s mum called to ask if Freya was still with us—she’d been dot watching and could see she was off route. I immediately called Freya and thankfully she answered. She’d taken a wrong turn and then had to backtrack – uphill – to regain the route. We’d already booked a hotel earlier that morning so we agreed to meet there and decide what to do. What she didn’t tell us over the call was that she’d been continually vomiting due to dehydration.

We now had a strong headwind and 25 km of super technical riding between us and the hotel. More walking than riding, it felt an impossible task and by then we’d run out of water. But somehow we managed to keep moving until we finally reached the hotel to be greeted by Freya. She’d cooked food for us – such an angel – and when we began to feel more comfortable we talked about our options.

The next day was 140 km with no stops for food or water. Food had never really been an issue but the availability of water in this scorching heat was a real concern. And what Freya and I hadn’t realised – because she didn’t want to burden us – was that Laura now had an infection in her tooth and had exhausted her supply of paracetamol. Weighing up these different factors, we all felt the same and decided to stop.

Will I return to race Badlands again? Looking back from the comfort of home, there’s a part of me that still questions whether we should have continued. I feel tears begin to well-up when I think of all that preparation and how we’d pictured ourselves finishing. But we made the decision together and we cried together.

Sometimes things are just out of your control and it would have been foolhardy to continue with Laura suffering and in pain. And I do recognise that mentally I’m very strong. Who knew – even if we didn’t finish – that I would find myself rolling up to the start line of Badlands? That I’d be happy to sleep in the street? And being able to say enough and accepting that it was the right decision—that proved far harder and took more strength than continuing to ride.


Cristina / Laura / Freya / Over&Out

Photography by Juanan Barros and Carlos Mazón

Badlands

Jean-Baptiste Delorme / Easy riding

“A couple of years ago I was riding my track bike down the street from my house. I had my hands off the bars adjusting my helmet and my feet were locked in the toe-clips. All of a sudden the seat post broke in two and I cartwheeled off the bike. Landing on my ass, it took me a moment to realise what had happened before I dusted myself down and walked back home—the frame in one hand and the saddle in the other.”

For someone with such a relaxed approach to cycling, photographer and videographer Jean-Baptiste Delorme’s introduction to riding was anything but. After being presented with a new mountain bike at the age of 12, he was sent off to take lessons at a local cycling club. Already skateboarding and relishing the freedom of practising whenever he wanted, Jean-Baptiste (or JB as he’s more familiarly known) disliked the rigid routine of the bicycle training to such a degree that he stopped riding altogether.

“I hated it and still have bad memories of that time. But a few years later, my Uncle invited us for a week’s vacation in Morzine in the Alps. You could rent downhill bikes and this I loved!”

Having discovered how much fun cycling could be, JB took to riding the hills around Auvergne where he lived at that time. A year later saw a move to Montpellier to study architecture and a switch to riding a track bike following a chance encounter with another student from his school.

“I tried his bike, really enjoyed the feel of it and like everyone else was doing, I got my own road-bike conversion. And then one night I saw a group of young people out riding on the street. I mentioned this to my friend and he told me it was a crew called La Nuit Noire* that met up after work. Making contact, I started to ride with them and soon discovered how much I loved being part of a group of friends rather than a traditional cycling club. In a sense, it took me back to when I used to skate—just hanging out and pushing ourselves to see what we could do.”

*The Dark Night

Having previously studied photography before architecture school, JB lost motivation without a defined purpose for the imagery he was creating. But now, with his friends from La Nuit Noire, he discovered a newfound desire to document what they were doing as a crew.

“It was creating images for social media and to make some prints that pushed me to pick up my camera again. And then after graduation, I chose to work in photography and video. My Mum still asks me why I did the studies but never worked as an architect. But I tell her I regret nothing because there were aspects of the course that I’ve since found very useful. Studying architecture, you’re encouraged to ask yourself questions with regard to the process and the endpoint—if I do this, for this purpose, what will be the outcome? So maybe it’s provided me with a way of thinking that I still subconsciously make use of in my work?”

Mentioning the stereotypical cycling imagery of roadsides lined with fans and riders’ jerseys covered in the brand names of sponsors, JB conjures up this visualisation to illustrate why he instinctively prefers a simpler aesthetic and a more minimalistic approach to representing movement—a pureness in sport that he finds particularly beautiful.

“I grew up watching skate videos and they’ve always been a big influence on my work. You see things differently because they use the space in a certain way and there’s a rhythm to the movement. So I try to create a tension in my pictures—a graphic approach that’s pure and free. Much in the same way that a track bike is stripped back, it’s about removing what disturbs the eye from a composition and taking away any unnecessary noise.”

Working in both photography and film, JB believes that both mediums can be used to convey an emotion but expressing this in video is more challenging as it requires a bigger team of people to create a quality product. That unlike photography – where it’s easier to control all the different variables – with film it’s harder to get exactly what you want. An analysis of method that JB extends to how he shoots from two opposing perspectives.

“Static viewpoints are good for more composed images. When I have a specific idea and I say we’re going to do this and this and this. But I really like shooting from a bike because it feels more spontaneous. Like you’re floating with the other rider – a sense of a shared experience – and you can move around to see how the light works from a certain angle. And sometimes you get lost and the photos have an element of surprise. A combination of luck and locality that can add that magical ingredient.”

Preferring to shoot with a mirrorless camera, much of JB’s recent work was captured with a Sony A7iii—the tilt screen proving invaluable in allowing him to position the camera away from his eye when riding.

“What makes a huge difference when you’re shooting on the go – it can get a little sketchy – is knowing your camera is up to the job. It’s important to have really good autofocus but there’s still a certain amount of praying that the images turn out how you want. So if I’m shooting from the bike, I’ll move around from spot to spot, just following the rider wherever they decide to go. When I have the feeling that the light and the environment is interesting, then I’ll shoot hundreds of photos in a short period of time knowing that maybe only one or two will express what I want. Fixing in a fraction of a second a mix of light and attitude that gives context to the moment—a little like casting your fishing line in the hope that you’ll catch something interesting.”

Without my bikes, I wouldn’t get done half of what I do each day. I’d be stuck in traffic.

With an All City track bike for short rides around his home city of Montpellier – rides that JB says put a smile on his face – his main bike is a Bombtrack Hook EXT equipped with a frame bag and flat pedals that he uses for commuting, riding gravel or the bike packing trips he loves to take.

“For me, riding is a lot like skateboarding. A good excuse to create something, to have fun, to meet people and explore what’s around you. But even though my whole world has been built around cycling, it’s not an end in itself. I would rather have a 10km ride to reach a cool spot and the rest of the day hanging out with my friends, than spend the whole day riding but not talking to anyone.”

“It’s funny,” concludes JB, “that some French people watch the Tour de France just to see the countryside. What I want to do in my work, is to give people the inspiration and confidence to ride their bikes for all sorts of reasons and not just for sport. A bike is the perfect tool to live your life and I want to communicate that sense of opportunity and freedom.”

All photography by Jean-Baptiste Delorme

jb-delorme.com

Reimagining Rapha

‘The original Brewer Street Clubhouse opened in 2012 so it’s one of our oldest locations. And with the Rapha head office just up the road, it’s a place that’s very important to all of us at Imperial Works.’

Tasked with delivering the redesign of Rapha’s flagship London clubhouse, now that the final finishing touches are complete and the doors once again open, Edwin Foote is feeling a huge sense of relief after weeks of back-to-back 12 hour days.

Responsible for the look and feel of Rapha’s physical locations in his role as Retail Design Manager, Foote works closely with the inhouse Visual Merchandising and Brand Design teams but also pulls from a range of design cues he records as and when inspiration strikes.

‘I have a single folder called ‘Image Bank’ where I keep everything from Instagram posts to photos taken around town. I also dedicate quite a lot of time to reading blogs and keeping up to date with fashion trends, interior design and architecture. And all these ideas go, unsorted, into this one folder. I did try organising it once but it just felt an impossible task. And if you are looking for inspiration, there’s a danger you’ll close off huge chunks of this visual library if it was too ordered.’

‘What I do isn’t necessarily that complicated. It’s matching forms with materials and neither of those things needs to be radical. There’s lots of small design touches that build together to create this refurbishment but it’s the balance of the overall space which is important rather than any one detail’

Modest as this self-appraisal of his role may be, what has become evident over the past decade is that Rapha clubhouses might share a recognisable look but all, equally, reflect elements of their location. And with this project an updating of an already well-loved physical space, Foote was conscious of leaving untouched what was seen to work well.

‘This wasn’t a case of starting from scratch so we knew what we wanted to change. The way it was quite industrial with exposed services and the desire for it to feel a little cosier and more comfortable. And when the adjacent unit to our original Clubhouse became available, it was too good an opportunity to miss.’

‘The old space was struggling to hold our growing product range and accommodate 30 or so riders and their bikes all arriving at the same time from Regent’s Park laps. This also meant we rarely had the space for events, activations and storytelling—key aspects of the Clubhouse experience that were being compromised due to a lack of space. So not only has expanding into the adjacent unit given us more shopfloor to play with, it also came with a basement which meant we could move our stockroom downstairs and free up even more space on the ground floor for customer-facing touchpoints.’

Having worked at Rapha for almost 5 years, it was clear to Foote that flexibility belonged at the heart of this refurbishment. With a variety of customer types – riders seeking refreshment to people shopping, watching racing or holding business meetings – the challenge was to implement the three pillars of content, community and commerce without the space feeling sterile or intimidating.

‘The original Clubhouse had an amazing energy to it. The café was always bustling and the shopfloor just on the right side of chaotic. So with the new refurbishment, we didn’t want to lose this personality. We want everyone who visits the Clubhouse to feel comfortable and at ease—to absorb our love of cycling, enjoy a coffee and maybe find a new piece of clothing for their cycling wardrobe.’

To help achieve this aim, pilot projects were introduced in the Copenhagen and San Francisco Clubhouses to trial ideas for the Soho concept. Simple design flourishes such as flexible shop fittings to allow a less rigid way of displaying product and easily taken down to open up the whole space for a movie night or guest speaker. A preparatory process that underpinned the project until it was finally time to knock through into the adjoining unit.

‘Joining the two spaces and raising the floor to a single level meant there were quite a few unknowns in the early stages of construction. Amazingly, the discoveries we made between our initial surveys and the finished build all worked out in our favour and we were fortunate not to hit any major roadblocks.’

‘One part of the project which did cause me a few sleepless nights were the custom tiles used on the cash desk that contain shreds of the signature pink Rapha Gazzetta tissue paper. These were made for us in Liverpool but needed to be posted to the Czech Republic where the counter was being manufactured. Delays caused by Brexit and thoughts of the tiles arriving in thousands of pieces were definitely a worry at the time but fortunately they all arrived safely and I could relax again.’

Describing the Clubhouse as almost unrecognisable, Foote believes the biggest change is how calm the new space feels. A characteristic he suggests is partly due to the material palette and the use of douglas fir timber which adds a level of warmth to the space. Likewise, above the eyeline, a framework spans the ceiling, wrapping the top half of the walls and covering all the electrical and air conditioning systems.

‘The focus is now on our products, staff and customers—not this huge industrial-looking room full of pipes and cables. Previously the café was busy and loud and this carried through to a slightly crowded retail area and a fitting room experience that wasn’t exactly luxurious. There was a single look and feel across the whole space and in the way that music has moments of both loud excitement and quiet contemplation, the same is needed in a physical environment. As you walk around the new Clubhouse there are subtle changes in mood prompted by lighting, audio, TV screens, imagery and product display.’

‘But what I’m most proud of, is the one-off items we’ve created which are totally unique to the London Clubhouse. As a nod to the original Citroën H Van, we took the signature fluted panels and wrapped them around the new cash desk. That’s where you’ll also see three custom-made pennants that were sewn by the Rapha Atelier department using recycled jerseys and fabrics. The flags celebrate the London RCC chapter as well as the Women’s 100 and A Day in Hell – two rides which started in London and are now popular across the world.’

‘These showpieces, and the many smaller touches, all add up to create a unique space which I think has Rapha’s signature all over it. And as the brand continues to appeal to more and more cyclists – providing them with the inspiration and clothing they need to get out on their bikes – I feel the new London Clubhouse is the perfect place to enjoy everything Rapha has to offer.’

Edwin Foote

Rapha London

Images with kind permission of Rapha UK

Steff Gutovska / A Look Back

It’s early evening and Steff Gutovska is relaxing on an apartment block balcony in Altea. Dressed casually with her long hair framing her face, in the morning she’s due to return home to Norway after an extended period working on a number of creative projects. Mentioning how I’d previously spent a few days on this stretch of Spanish coastline and was surprised at how accepting the local motorists were when the training rides returned to the hotel along the autoroute, Steff explains how together with her partner Christian she enjoys spending winter nights in Norway watching British road rage videos. This throwaway comment just one indication of a wry take on life in general and cycling in particular—a considered and amusing perspective that encompasses her views on social media, emerging trends in cycle culture and how riding in the rain can help mend a broken heart.


I’m Ukranian by birth but after a year on a civil engineering course I left to study abroad when I was 19. Instead of basing my decision on really intense research, I went for the university with the nicest looking website. That happened to be in the Netherlands and it wasn’t even a university. It was a Hogeschool – which is more vocational – where I enrolled on their international media and communications programme. So, basically, three years of pouring one glass of water into another.

As these things happen, I fell in love but the guy didn’t. Deciding to ease my pain with consumerism and looking around for something to buy, I had no idea about riding bikes but I did recognise that fixed gear was very popular so I bought an old road bike. It was a 53cm frame—which for someone my size is impossible to ride – and it was autumn – so obviously it was raining. But the raindrops hitting my face mixed with the tears that were rolling down my cheeks and I felt so beautifully bad for myself. Somehow cycling just fitted with this delicious sense of loss and I found I enjoyed riding a little faster than I would on a heavy commuter. Six months later I moved to Madrid, took the bike with me and then, a little while later, I once again met a guy.

He had a café and they wanted photographs of customers with bikes. Deciding that could be me, I kept calling in and locking my bike very slowly until he finally noticed me. We started talking about the fixie scene – I mean, why would anyone ride a bike without any brakes – and two months later I was riding a bike without brakes. But then you hurt your knees and you try wearing lycra and riding a road bike and discovering gears are actually fun. And the boyfriend? The usual happened and I was sad and riding through the rain.

When Erasmus ended I’d already decided that I was never going back, so my parents kindly drove to the Netherlands to pick up my stuff and brought it to me. I now had to enrol in a Spanish university and chose the Business Administration faculty. But studying taxes and finances – in Spanish! – really wasn’t working so I applied to film school, got in on a full scholarship and then called my parents. Drama, drama, drama…

Instagram

In terms of how I try and portray myself, I feel there’s really only one way to go. If you pretend to be super cool, people are going to be ugghhh. But if you stay humble, they can relate to that because sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. Yes, I might have this expensive bike and be living in Norway but I also have super shitty days.

I recently posted a story about a bike packing trip through Georgia. I understand that we were six people in fucking lycra riding through the mountains in the middle of Eastern Europe but there was this guy trolling me on Instagram saying it looked like a Paris fashion show. On the other hand, you see certain well-known cyclists riding bikes costing $12,000 and acting like they’re not bothered with their look and just happy to ride in a t-shirt.

There’s a view that pretty much everything on social media is curated in one way or another. So let’s take me as an example. If I’m riding in a beautiful place and I make a beautiful photograph which I then post, is it still authentic or curated?

I feel there’s a lot of tension in the Instagram community at the moment. As if the whole cycling industry and how they use social media is this big bubble that’s about to burst. But even though everybody judges everybody, it’s only human to be liked and to be loved. Right?

I admit that I will post a picture of myself standing in front of a certain colour wall because I prefer to see 2000 likes instead of the 500 I get if I post a picture of my parents. And I have to be completely fair and acknowledge that most of the people that follow me are middle-aged men in lycra. And when they scroll on their phone – sitting in the morning eating their breakfast or having their coffee before going to work – an image of me against a simple white background will pop out more and stand a better chance of getting a like.

So I’m very aware of what drives engagement. And that’s sad but it’s also true. I mean, I don’t cry if a post doesn’t do very well in terms of a response but I have created this little world around my persona. And I’m constantly struggling with whether I should post this or that because I love it or because I want to get some likes. Maybe we should consider why the vast majority of Instagram users make a post?

It can sometimes be a case of, fuck, I haven’t posted anything for ten days and I feel obliged to do it. But on the whole, it’s still fun and a good tool to meet new people and make connections.

A few years ago I was riding with friends down the coast road south of Barcelona. Very beautiful with views over the Mediterranean but so many cars. It was pretty late as we’d been held up, it was getting dark and we didn’t have lights. All the drivers were really pissed off — beeping and overtaking far too close to us. But then, all of a sudden, no one was passing. I could still hear car horns but the cars had stopped overtaking. We decided that someone must be protecting us and then a couple of kilometres later a car passed with someone waving as they drove by. Later that evening after I’d had a shower, I got a message from this random guy who follows me on Instagram saying that he’d seen us on the road and decided to hold back the traffic. And I felt like crying. Such a nice thing to do.

I was already making videos and doing photography and the film school teacher suggested – this will come over as sooo pretentious – that I would be better waiting and entering the second year. Having a couple of months to waste, I was helping out a lot of people with photography which kind of led to little paid jobs and those, in turn, led to some more. I was then approached by a start-up that needed an intern and, by the time my course was due to begin, I was offered a full time position. So it was a case of, hmmm, fuck study.

They were basically trying to be like LinkedIn but with aspects of Tinder. My role was to travel around and make profiles of strange and weird IT companies so they looked attractive to the IT people wanting to relocate to them. But after a while this got boring so I moved to Barcelona to finish my education and did another three years of another bullshit course involving communication and PR.

But one particular highlight from this period was meeting Christian. We were following each other on Instagram and he messaged to ask if I could recommend a ‘cycling friendly hostel in Barcelona’. Reading between the lines, he was checking to see if he and his friend could crash at mine after riding from Salzburg to Barcelona. I said that it wouldn’t be a problem but miscalculated the days—realising that I would be in Slovenia on a Pas Normal trip. So I asked him if he felt like joining – which he did –  and he liked it so much that when we’d finished, we travelled together for another ten days. The rest, as they say, is history—with me trying to win over his cold Scandinavian bachelor heart.

Meanwhile I was taking on the odd photoshoot and when my friend and current professional partner suggested we start working together creating lifestyle content for platforms like Shutterstock, I thought, let’s try it, why not. It took off and I’ve been doing that ever since. This new direction also coincided with a downward curve in my cycling career. I still love riding but I constantly struggle with how easy it is to lose fitness. You have a few weeks off the bike and it’s back to fucking zero. That makes you feel like shit which demotivates you even more. And it’s so hard to get back to the point where you go for a ride and think, hey, I kinda feel good.

But when I do go for a ride, I honestly feel I perform better the worse the conditions. I would never choose to leave the house to go riding if it’s raining – who would in all honesty? – but whenever we’re bike packing and it’s really shitty, I’m not going to complain. I will complain if it’s sunny and everyone is pushing and I’m dying. But if the weather is bad, I shut the fuck up, embrace it and go.

Trends and tribes

Compared to some other mainstream sports, I think there’s way more pretentiousness in cycling. Even at an entry level, you need so many accessories. A bike, shoes, helmet – the list goes on – which can be a great starting point for conversations and make it very easy to meet new people because you can always talk about bikes and kit. But on the other hand, it can encourage some individuals to act a little smug. And to be totally honest, we’ve all been there. A few years ago I was all ‘look at me’ in my Rapha or Pas Normal kit.

In terms of what’s next, I think we’re definitely going down the bike packing direction. You see lots of well-known cyclists posting pictures of themselves riding gravel and camping out under the stars—in much the same way that van life so quickly became a thing and now you can’t park anywhere because everybody is pissed at people living in a van and pooping in a park.

Maybe it’s the only way of cycling at the moment that people feel OK about? The simple pleasures of travelling by bike and feeling humble. Not washing for days on end and letting that go. I’m dirty, I smell, it’s fine.

Before, it was all about serious roadies in their lycra or relaxed mountain bikers. But even mountain biking has become really, really expensive. The bikes cost a fortune and that chilled, mud-on-my-face look is very monetised at the moment. Which probably explains why I’m a little tired of the cycling bubble. Over the years I’ve been doing photoshoots for different brands and, especially in Europe, it can get a little samey. Skinny boys and skinny blonde girls riding in the mountains. I kind of want to do it more like the American way; all shapes and sizes and colours. But not all of the European based companies are prepared to challenge their customer base. So if a cycling project is interesting, I’m happy to get involved but otherwise, I just stick to my production stuff.

With the nature of my work involving a lot of travel, I’ve been based in Spain for a few months but I’m leaving tomorrow for Norway. Faced with the difficulty of travelling back and forth during the pandemic, it just made financial sense to stay for a decent length of time rather than keep paying out for the 24 hour Covid tests. And try getting anything in Spain in 24 hours!

I know my partner Christian won’t be happy when I say this but home, for me, is still the Ukraine. Probably because I have a very strong bond with my family and used to visit every few months. Moving to Norway was my choice but I don’t have a degree in IT that would allow me to earn enough to make living in Norway more bearable. Let’s be honest, summer is amazing but otherwise the weather isn’t that great. And the supermarkets! Only two types of cheese. So it was more a conscious decision to move to where Christian works in a nice bike shop. And it doesn’t really matter where I’m flying out from. Barcelona or Oslo—it’s potato, patato. And then Covid happened and it doesn’t really matter what airport I’m not flying out from.

So, for now, I’m just happy to adjust to living in Norway. Especially as whenever you meet someone new, you hope it’s forever and I really want it to be so with Christian. We’d been dating for a while and decided we just wanted to be together. I have a Polish residence card which allows me to live in Europe and that was working perfectly fine in Spain. But then Covid happened before I’d moved to Norway and I already had tickets to go to the Ukraine so I went home and spent a couple of months in lockdown. During that time Norway announced they were closing the borders to anyone who wasn’t Norwegian until the end of August. So I was crying my heart out and Christian – as any first world, completely naïve person would try and do – was going to call the Embassy and figure it all out. But I’m Ukrainian and we’re third world and nobody gives a fuck!

In the end, I drove into Poland with my parents after lockdown was eased. We had to quarantine for two weeks with the Polish police checking on us each day. We were counted – one, two, three – and had to send selfies of us all together at different times of the day.

Next, I grabbed a ferry to cross over to Sweden because they’d declared that Covid didn’t exist and from there I got a train north to where Christian’s mum lives. He’d sent me a bike which I assembled and then changed into cycling clothes before another train even further north, 80km of gravel, a 2km walk through the forest and into Norway.

When restrictions began to ease in the summer, we bought a van and left Norway so that when we returned I would have an official entry stamp on my passport. And then it was like, fuck it, let’s get married! So now I’m legally a spouse and should be able to re-enter. I suppose we’ll find out tomorrow* [smiles].

*Steff managed to safely enter Norway and was reunited with Christian. She’s since discovered waffles with brown cheese.

Images with kind permission of Steff Gutovska, Katia Lavrova and Christian Ekdahl

Stories About Georgia

Lucas Badtke-Berkow / Tokyo Tree Trek

Publishing their Tokyo Tree Trek edition in the spring of 2020, Papersky magazine offered an intriguing insight into the Japanese metropolis from the perspective of the city’s myriad green spaces and the trees that have long been a feature of Tokyo’s urban landscape. Catching up with Papersky’s co-founder and editor, Lucas Badtke-Berkow, we discussed the inspiration that led to the route’s design, why the original premise opened up to offer unexpected outcomes, and how walking or cycling can encourage a rediscovery of aspects of city life often hidden in plain sight.


We’ve managed to successfully navigate a ten hour difference in time zones for our video call but Lucas Badtke-Berkow is having a little trouble showing me a photo spread from a copy of Papersky—the magazine he co-founded with his wife Kaori in 2002. Sitting in front of his laptop, juggling an electric lantern in one hand and the open pages of his publication in the other, the beam of light momentarily picks out the photographs he wants me to see before illuminating his smiling face.

The lantern is on account of Lucas’ farmhouse location. A ‘workcation’ away from his Tokyo home that is proving an increasingly popular trend with a population freed from the office due to home working but needing to maintain social distancing.

Along with frequent bursts of laughter, Lucas talks enthusiastically with a tell-tale Japanese accent. A fascinating insight into cultural assimilation considering he was born in the North American city of Baltimore and grew up in San Francisco where he studied at the University of California.

“After graduation I wanted to go somewhere I hadn’t been to before. I was an American Studies major so there was a lot of focus on American history and American art. And I immediately thought of Japan because in San Francisco there’s a Japanese bookstore called Kinokuniya where I enjoyed looking at lots of different Japanese magazines and photo books. I was always fascinated by how totally different the perspectives and images were compared to the States.”

“So I decided to go and see Japan for myself. I had this tiny, little backpack and just set off for a two week stay. I arrived in 1993 and haven’t really left. I guess it’s a good fit for me.”

With Lucas making his own magazines since elementary school, he launched Tokion in 1996—the publication’s title translating from Japanese characters to mean ‘The Sound of Now’. Mixing Japanese youth culture, music and fashion with American trends in movies, photography and art, the magazine ran for six years and became very popular.

“People didn’t have a clear image of what Japan was at that time. There was no internet back then and it wasn’t easy to see and understand the culture so magazines were one way that people shared and consumed media. We had a bi-lingual setup and published Tokion in Japan, republished in the States and also distributed to Europe. But then, as I got older, I came to the realisation that I couldn’t really make a youth culture magazine anymore. But making magazines was the only thing I knew how to do so I had to rethink what would work next. I’d grown to love travel and visiting different places – both in Japan and overseas – so with my wife Kaori we started to plan how to turn those interests into a magazine. I sold Tokion and we started Papersky in 2002.”

With each edition of the magazine having a central theme, when Lucas heard the announcement that Japan would be hosting the Olympics in 2020, he decided to offer an insight into Tokyo but from a unique perspective. Rather than simply a guide to the best place to eat or which museum to visit, he considered how Papersky could focus on the culture of Tokyo but in a way that people could experience for themselves.

“I had this idea of offering memories that would last a lifetime and discussed this with Kaori. My wife, she’s a very interesting person because she communicates with trees. She goes out very early in the morning when the neighbourhood is quiet and has conversations with several trees that she likes to visit. And then when she returns, over coffee she’ll talk to me about what they said.”

“So with Tokyo expecting all these visitors for the Olympics, it just struck me that maybe we should plan a trail that connects all the trees in the city. And the interesting thing for me is that, unlike a forest which might have only two or three varieties, in the city people have planted all sorts of different trees. Almost like a museum.”

Over the course of six months, the couple began by listing their favourite trees before asking people they knew to suggest one or two of their own. Once all these locations were plotted on a map, the next step was to design a route that would link all the individual trees together. With a certain shape called an ‘uzumaki’ in Japanese – the spiral you see on a snail’s shell – it was decided that the trail would start in Shinagawa and then pass through their own neighbourhood of Higashi-Shibuya before ending at the Imperial Palace.

“So we had this idea of travelling through Tokyo but from a totally different perspective. Along the way you get to meet all the trees and then there’s a nice cafe here and an interesting shop over there. And I’m friends with a lot of bicycle messengers and they know the roads better than pretty much everyone else. We wanted to connect up the route and messengers are usually thinking about how to ride from one building to the next so we just substituted the trees.”

With an initial route mapped out, Lucas cycled the trail with Kaori before they each walked individual sections on their own. A final run-through and the Tokyo Tree Trek was ready for publication in Papersky in time for the expected influx of visitors to the city. 

“Even though we’d originally planned this to coincide with the Olympics which were subsequently postponed, because the magazine came out during lockdown, many people wanted to spend time outside in the fresh air where it wasn’t crowded. Something that we didn’t foresee but an unexpected and satisfying outcome. The trail and the mood of the city were a really good match at that time.”

Another upshot from the trail’s launch was the conversation photographer and creative director Lee Basford initiated with Strava in Japan. A longtime friend of Lucas, he’d enjoyed the Papersky story and felt it would make an interesting ride feature and photo essay. With Strava in San Francisco also onboard, it was decided to make this a global project.

“The idea of seeing a city from a new perspective and to focus on the green spaces with a bicycle friendly route just resonated. So we started super early and went into the evening on two separate days. Lee taking the photographs of myself and my messenger friend, Yuki Tokunaga, riding our bikes.”

With the route avoiding busy roads in favour of quieter back streets and neighbourhoods, not only does it demonstrate how the city embraces nature in the form of parks and open spaces but also how the ancient and modern aspects of Tokyo are so inextricably  intertwined.

“There’s a cafe on the trail that has a number of bonsai trees sitting outside that are over 500 years old. And these places are easy to miss in a city the size of Tokyo. It’s probably the same everywhere but there’s something about Japan that can be really hard to figure out. Where things are and why they’re there. The story behind these places and how they interconnect. So we set out to offer an easy way of navigating the city that helps you to understand the connection between the built and cultural landscape. And these elements become increasingly apparent as you travel along the route. You’re going on a time trip as much as a physical journey.”

In a similar way to how the city of New York embraced the High Line, now that the Tokyo Tree Trek is established, Lucas is hopeful that at some point the city officially adopts the trail with signage to show the route.

“We walked the High Line with the photographer Joel Sternfeld before the city understood the potential. That was 15 or 16 years ago and we did a Green New York issue of Papersky. So it would be nice to see our trail live on in some form or other. Especially as I don’t really consider Tokyo to be a cycling city.”

As Papersky regularly organises its own bicycle tours, the fact they are always so popular suggests that maybe the potential does exist for Japan to embrace cycling on a broader scale. The 40 km loops the magazine plans – with stops along the route for riders to eat well and meet the local population – offering an appealing model for inclusive cycling events.

“There’s a particular type of bike with small wheels called a Mini Velo that are popular in Japan. On our tours we rent this type of bike because it helps to keep the pace even and the group together. It’s important to enjoy cycling and I can remember when I joined my University cycle team that I very nearly quit on my first ride. Watching everyone disappear up the road ahead, I was fortunate to have Harrison Ford’s son riding with me – you know, Han Solo – and he kindly explained that the more you do, the easier it gets. And because he did that, it made me stick with it.”

“But would I call myself a cyclist? That’s a good question because I don’t really give myself any labels. I’m not on the bike everyday but I do use it to explore and to show things in a different way. And if I want more people to know about certain things – to discover the undiscovered – then cycling is a tool that I use to do that. And I think it’s a really good way of raising awareness of your immediate surroundings because you’re travelling using your own energy and feeling the atmosphere around you. It’s the same with walking; it’s just the speed difference. So if someone wanted to call me a cyclist, I’d be OK with that.”

Lucas Badtke-Berkow / Papersky

Photography with kind permission of Lee Basford

Lucas’ ride companion is Yuki Tokunaga

Visit Strava for more images and a detailed description of each stage of the Tokyo Tree Trek route

Kirsti Ruud / Coming out stronger

In a year that has seen many of us adapt how we ride in the face of unforeseen circumstances, a new plan was needed when Kirsti Ruud woke to snowfall on the first morning of a bikepacking trip in her native Norway. But rather than any lingering sense of disappointment, the adverse weather conditions ultimately led to an experience that was not only breathtakingly beautiful but underlined the return on embracing the fickleness of forecasts.

Along with her companions Sindre Grønli and Øyvind Brenne Nordengen, the group decided on two separate rides in place of their planned overnight stop. Routes that would take them into the six biggest national parks in Norway and a landscape devoid of cars and buildings—a true wilderness of river valleys and mountain ridges, threaded through by the gravel roads they were riding.

Looking back on this experience, Kirsti reflects on the reasons she rides, how it can be rewarding to brave the elements and why the occasional challenge helps build resilience for when the randomness of life derails your best intentions.


Until 2018, I rode seriously. It was all about competition. I combined a little job here and there with my training but then I accepted a full-time position with the National Cycling Federation. I was getting more interested in working with cyclists than being a cyclist myself and the project I lead involves helping recovering drug addicts integrate back into society through cycling.

So in place of a training plan, travelling and exploring have been more a part of my summers and falls for the last two years. When I can, I cycle the hour and a half each way to work. If the weather is good, there’s no reason to sit in a car stuck in traffic. And because I’ve been working from home due to the pandemic, this year I’ve been cycling more than everenjoying riding my bike as much as I can within the restrictions.

After I stopped competing, I hadn’t ridden for months when I was invited to go to Iceland with Rapha. The trip was pretty amazing and it gave me a taste for different kinds of riding. So I asked them to let me know when the next big trip was planned and to count me in. George Marshall – the photographer on the Iceland shoot – had kept in touch, and he contacted me with this plan to ride in the north of Norway. But then he couldn’t come over because of Covid and my friend Marius Nilsen was invited to do the photography. He lives further north than Oslo and works for the National Parks.

The idea was a two day ride with an overnight stop at a mountain hut. That’s how we like to do things – carrying everything we need on our bikes. It’s what makes it a trip. And we’d come prepared with stud tyres in case there was any ice. Usually I don’t use these until December – even with regular tyres, riding in snow isn’t a problem – but we weren’t sure whether it was going to be a mixture of rain and snow and wanted to be sure we didn’t ruin our trip by crashing

But as we left Oslo to drive north, it began to snow really heavily. It was forecast but not that much. Going to bed thinking it would melt the next day, we woke to find 15cm of fresh snow. Figuring that we wouldn’t be able to get over to the cabin before it got dark but still wanting to ride, we came up with a new plan of a different route for each day.

Setting off after breakfast, I was excited. I think the worst part of the year can be the fall when it’s dark and a little gloomy. Because you can’t really tell the different textures from each other. But with the snowfall, the whole day was lit up and the mountains just looked so beautiful. The alternative would have been rain and fog.

Before every trip, I’m kind of worried about my shape. Hoping that I’ll have a good day and not really struggle that much. But even though we had a lot of wind – 17 metres per second which is enough to blow your bike over – we were all happy and laughing and just going with the flow. The light was amazing when we reached the top of a mountain and we just stood there, looking out over the landscape below, as the sun slowly sank behind the horizon.

I think the best rides I’ve had are when we’ve spontaneously come up with an idea. If you plan too much and then the weather is bad, it can be so disappointing. It can take the charm away and it’s best not to be too uptight about how your ride will be. It’s OK to let go of plans and just get out there and ride. To go far or go short—to not really know where you’ll end up.

When I was competing, I had to ride regardless of the weather. Telling your trainer that you can’t go out because it’s raining and 5°C just isn’t an option. Now that I don’t have to ride, I do appreciate the good days when it’s warm and sunny. But you can enjoy amazing experiences because of the weather. If you have the right kit, then you’re able to embrace changing and unpredictable conditions. And I do need some challenges once in a while where you feel like you’re struggling because you kind of come out stronger at the other end.

So I ride now because I want to ride. It’s my free time. My quiet time. An opportunity to reflect on things, for solving problems, to get out any frustration. Just being out on my bike gives me the space I need and I come back feeling like a weight has been lifted. It’s such an important aspect of the way I choose to live my life.

Kirsti Ruud

Images by Marius Nilsen and Rapha