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


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

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…


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

The Modern House on wheels

To the uninitiated, navigating the London housing market might well hold parallels to an inexperienced cyclist’s first tentative pedal through busy city streets. Having to cope with the labyrinthine nature of the medieval street plan and a plethora of unwritten rules and nuances, it would be easy to excuse a feeling of utter bewilderment.

Although not – as yet – offering cycling proficiency classes, The Modern House is an estate agency uniquely qualified to support their clients when buying and selling property. A belief that design is a powerful force for good, driving a commitment to help people live in more thoughtful and beautiful ways. An ethos, according to Senior Director Rosie Falconer, that mirrors the cycling culture that exists within the company.

“Our vision is founded on originality, enjoyment, hard work, energy and passion. And the team love cycling because it embodies all these qualities in a physical manifestation. We even collaborated with London-based brand Freddie Grubb on a Modern House designed bike.”

Jointly responsible for the day-to-day running of The Modern House and with an enviable insight into the comings and goings of her colleagues, Falconer acknowledges that over three quarters of the 40 strong team ride to work and appointments wherever possible. An approach to cycling wholly endorsed by Charlie Monaghan as Head of Editorial and a keen cyclist himself.

“I joined The Modern House in February 2018 and for the vast majority of this time I’ve cycled to work. I had an old road bike that I adapted for commuting with practical considerations such as mudguards. For me, the bike is an everyday tool that I use to facilitate my life and not just a hobby I enjoy at the weekend.”

Asked to explain what he enjoys most about cycling through London’s boroughs, Monaghan cites an avoidance of public transport as the main motivating factor.

“Every time I use the Tube or get on a bus, it makes me realise how lucky I am to have an alternative. Buses are especially unreliable and there’s a loss of control in terms of your movement. Not knowing how long a journey will take means you seldom arrive at your appointment in a relaxed frame of mind like I do if I cycle. There’s an agency in travelling under your own steam with that rush of endorphins.”

With London – at least according to Monaghan – being quite flat and dotted with traffic lights, he particularly enjoys anything that replicates going up or down a mountain. Idiosyncratic aspects of city riding such as the climb up Swain’s Lane in Highgate, a downward bend in Richmond Park or Boxhill to the south of the city.

“I used to live in Newcross and would cycle out to Kent where there’s some nice views looking back towards Canary Wharf. Not the classic London skyline of St Paul’s from the river but I enjoy the contrast between the countryside and the urban environment you’ve left behind. Almost like a Renaissance painting that depicts farmland with the city in the background.”

A reference to covering distance that Falconer believes often surprises non-cyclists when they question how The Modern House team utilise a bike in their day-to-day work life.

“The majority of my colleagues live in South East London and clients are often amazed by the distances the team cycle to get to meetings in North London. We sell the best design-led homes across the UK with 55% of our properties located in the capital. And one of the biggest misconceptions about estate agents is that it’s necessary to drive to be one.”

That’s not to say that city cycling doesn’t come without its challenges. A viewpoint nicely illustrated by Monaghan as he rattles off his own list of annoyances.

“Traffic, rain, potholes, drivers, buses, bad urban planning, other cyclists, pedestrians; the list goes on. Cyclists are up against a lot in London but I still believe it’s worth it.”

Choosing to ride into work wearing cycle-specific clothing, Monaghan then showers before changing into more office-friendly attire. Unlike many city commuters, however, rather than locking up his bike ready for the return journey home, it’s immediately put back in service to attend any appointments during the day within a reasonable riding distance. Monaghan allowing himself enough time to cycle a little slower to avoid arriving in too dishevelled a state.

“The beauty of modern clothing is you can wear something really practical that works well on the bike but that also looks stylish in a professional setting. Though admittedly, if the rain is lashing down, then I’ll take my chance on public transport. But generally I prefer to ride. A bus on a rainy day is rather a bleak experience.”

Whether the bike allows Monaghan and his colleagues to do anything better causes him to pause before picking up his narrative.

“I’m definitely more in control of my day riding my bike. Journey times are consistent and it’s just quicker to cross London by cycling. Our offices are in Southwark and travelling south is much easier by bike as the transport links aren’t as good. But even crossing the river to Shoreditch – it can take an hour by bus but I’d only need to leave myself 30 minutes by bike.”

An aspect of The Modern House cycling culture echoed by Falconer:

“It keeps the team fit, is great for the mind and is carbon neutral. A fast and fun way to enjoy the incredible historic and modern architecture that London has to offer.”

This mention of architecture prompts the question of whether team members have a favourite property out of the thousands that cross their books. And what bike they’d choose if tasked with complementing the building style.

“We obviously have so many to choose from,” comments Monaghan, “but there’s a house in Wiltshire called Ansty Plum that I particularly admire. A modernist building which has been renovated to contemporary standards with the original design preserved and just updated to perform better environmentally. But I wouldn’t choose to match this with a vintage road bike from 1962 when the house was built. I think I’d rather have my own bike – the frame constructed from lightweight carbon – as I feel the modernist designers and architects would appreciate the very latest bike design in terms of efficiency and use of materials. They were all looking forward after all. So a modern bike for a timeless building.”

This informed analysis of form and function perhaps explaining Monaghan’s comment that when he views a bike in motion, more than likely it’s the person he notices first. How they look, their position and whether they appear comfortable. A way of seeing that he feels applies equally well to architecture and also interiors.

“I think ultimately, for The Modern House it’s a human first approach. It’s never been purely about the bricks and mortar. Apart from the sales listings, editorially we don’t feature homes without picturing people in them. And I think that’s what makes houses interesting. When you add the human element and then see how they live and function in that space. Much in a similar way to how I view someone riding a bike. It’s not about the bike purely as an object but what the individual is doing with it.”

“As for riding in London,” he concludes, “if I had to state one primary motivation, it’s that the city can sometimes feel relentlessly urban and occasionally a little oppressive. But when I’m cycling through the streets, it helps me connect with the seasons and offers a sense of the outside. And if there’s a little bit of London drizzle? Well, I’ve got my mudguards.”

Images with kind permission of The Modern House

Patrick Grant / The Great British bike ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does cycling offer more than purely the physicality of riding?

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

So the bike is a tool for exploration?

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

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

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

Welcoming the unexpected?

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

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

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

And when you were younger?

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s still going strong?

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

You mentioned a couple of bikes?

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

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

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

And on the bike?

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

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

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

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

Stuart’s very funny about everything [laughs].

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

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

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

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

So maybe a foot in different camps?

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

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

He did pay it eventually [smiles].

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Grant

Leicester to Blackburn

Photography with kind permission of Alex Jacobs and Chpt3

And special thanks to Stuart Clapp and Roger Seaton

Ben Richards / Tokyo Slow

When architecture and travel photographer Ben Richards first relocated to Tokyo, he immediately fell in love with the visual richness of his new home. And choosing to navigate the city by bike has allowed him to discover a different side to Japan that many visitors might easily miss. A ‘slow’ style of riding where every turn offers the unexpected.

When I was living in London my riding style was fixed gear. I rode a Cinelli track bike with the seat high and my shoulders down. For me and my friends, it was all about speed. Getting around quicker than anyone else. But even then it was a way to discover the city. On a bike, you have options to chop and change. To react and respond. And I guess my approach to Tokyo is the same but with a very different attitude to pace.

I’d already been introduced to tokyobike in London. Based on that connection, when I first arrived in Tokyo I met up with some of the team including Ichiro Kanai, the company’s owner. We went for a ride and then a coffee at the brand’s home in Yanaka. They wanted me to experience the city as a local so very kindly offered me a bike to use and my rides have just evolved from there. An ongoing project for both of us.

This is a city full of contradictions and there’s a common misconception that riding in Tokyo is all neon lights and incredibly fast paced. It can be but when you actually live here you soon discover that the neighborhoods are very calm and peaceful. Full of everyday details that when I walk out of my front door never cease to surprise and delight me.

And that’s basically the concept behind the Tokyo Slow rides. All about experiencing a different side of the city that people don’t necessarily see or even know exists. Challenging your perception by taking enough time to observe things at a slower pace. And the bike is the perfect tool to just see what happens. More of a focus on the journey than the destination.

As I shoot a lot of architecture and lifestyle images, I’m always interested in how people interact with the urban environment. I usually pick an anchor point for my rides – an interesting building or an area I want to investigate – but I’ll meander there and back. Following my nose and making turns as the mood takes me.

Coffee stops always feature in these wanderings. The classically traditional  not-really-trying-too-hard or the aesthetically contemporary shops that are very considered in their architectural design. But common to both is a meticulous approach to their craft. Maybe a smaller range of drinks on offer compared to European coffee culture but still the same focus on the origin of the beans and the roasting. And very often it’s the space outside that makes your visit so special. Where there’s room to park your bike, order your coffee and watch the world go by.

Whenever I go out it’s with my bike and camera. Never just the one. Whichever is leading, the other will follow. Because on every ride you’ll encounter something new and exciting. The city rewards an open mind with these random happenings.

When I first visited on a two week trip, it was almost a case of sensory overload. Which is why I strive to maintain that same sense of wonder from when I first stepped off the plane. Challenging myself to see everything anew with a fresh pair of eyes.

Tokyo is by nature a very graphic city with the road markings forming patterns and the tops of the cars often displaying letters and numbers. It’s a city of vertically-spaced layers; partly a density thing which in turn forces the architecture to respond. The restrictions inspiring creativity.

But even the everyday aspects of life are surprising and I guess that’s why I fell in love with it all. The subtle differences that make you wonder how many hidden gems there are waiting to be discovered. And my bike rides play into that. Offering me the freedom to slow down and see what’s around the next corner.

Images with kind permission of Ben Richards


tokyobike Japan / London

A version of this feature was first published by Far Ride magazine


Chris McClean / Weathering the storm

With a body of work that beautifully captures the way we engage with the natural world, for photographer and filmmaker Chris McClean the call of the ocean remains the loudest. Training as a graphic designer before a move to Amsterdam, a surfing film followed that went viral. Ever since, the sea has repeatedly featured in images that often depict figures set against the ocean’s rolling waves.

‘The house I grew up in, I could hear the sea from my bedroom window. So it’s always been a part of me and when I eventually moved away, I had this sense that something was missing. Like I didn’t feel as comfortable.’

‘I’d started surfing in my mid-teens,’ Chris continues, ‘and it just connected with me. I can’t think of a better way of making a living than spending your time in and around the ocean. And everything I do, it draws me back, time and time again. Even if it’s a cycling shoot, I end up carrying a surfboard.’


This mention of a shoot references a chance encounter that led to an invitation for Chris to accompany a surfing trip down the North Carolina coast. An idyllic road adventure on fat bikes that saw the crew wild camping and stopping to surf whenever the waves looked promising.

‘I’d met Robin previously in Scotland at Grinduro. He’d seen one of my other surfing trips on Instagram and we were chatting about how we’d prepped the bikes. Trailers versus racks and such like. Then a year later he got back in touch to ask about North Carolina. Another of Robin’s friends, Gary, joined us together with Bri who’s a local surfer to those beaches. But as a group we’d never ridden together before this trip.’


Meeting up near Virginia Beach, they loaded up their bikes before heading south; the combination of camping gear, provisions and surf boards requiring a careful balancing act when moving off. Spirits were nonetheless high and the ride companions soon cemented as a group as they passed through False Cape State Park and across the border into North Carolina.

‘Bri was very easygoing. And Gary could talk motorbike mechanics or waves in Baja with ease. But I find that’s generally the case with Americans; they’re usually fun to hang with and the conversation is free flowing. Throughout the whole trip we joked about the southern hospitality we received. People would open their doors and we’d camp in their backyards and join them for beers.’


Being on the move, most of the days were different but they soon found their evening routine. Setting up camp before a surf or swim and then cooking dinner over stoves as they watched the sun go down. A relaxed pace to the trip that allowed Chris plenty of time to capture each day with his camera.

Travelling with the boards was a little cumbersome,’ he points out with a smile. ‘You don’t get the best of the surf and you don’t get the best of the riding. But by combining the two, you do get a really fun adventure.’


Stopping to surf if there were waves or putting in a good day’s ride if not, the crew wound their way down the coast with the idiosyncratic place names adding flavour to the route: Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills down to Pea Island National Wildlife Park and then Avon and Cape Hatteras.

‘As we got further south, we were told about the clean-up operation taking place in Ocracoke where Hurricane Dorian had recently made landfall. Robin mentioned this in a message to his Dad who, in turn, had a word with one of the church groups providing relief aid to ask if we could volunteer.’


As they approached the epicentre of the storm damage, the bigger the piles of rubbish waiting on the roadside to be collected. Piles of wood, waterlogged sofas and personal belongings so damaged they were being discarded. And even though the flood waters had subsided, the potential issues from black mould contaminating the houses meant that floorboards and wooden walls had to be stripped out. A sense of devastation and loss that Chris wanted to capture but with a respect due to the individuals stoically starting the process of rebuilding their lives. A nod of the head or a smile indicating they were comfortable with him taking the shot.

‘The morning we packed up our bikes, we had breakfast with all the volunteers before saying goodbye to everyone. We’d built a bond so quickly and felt like we wanted to stay longer. It’s like you can’t help enough and the rest of the ride was a little bittersweet considering what we’d seen. But we’d also grown closer in terms of our little group on the road. What we’d experienced proved, in a sense, to be bigger than the original idea for the trip.’

Images with kind permission of Chris McClean


Uncommon Ideals

Behind the designs / Rapha + Outdoor Voices

‘They were just mesmerised by the whole process of getting dressed for a ride. Why you wear a base layer and what goes over what. And we kind of let them run with it because we found it fascinating to see all the different combinations. Long sleeved base layers with a short sleeved jersey; the sock length conversation.’

Maria Olsson is describing the first face-to-face meeting between Rapha – where she oversees projects as their Head of Design – and recreational brand Outdoor Voices. Following an introduction by a mutual friend, the two teams came together in the summer of 2018 for a cycling adventure in Mallorca; the smile on Maria’s face as she tells her story hinting at the sense of fun and discovery they all enjoyed during this Mediteranean idyll.

‘Outdoor Voices has a mission to Get The World Moving and this really spoke to us at Rapha,’ explains Maria. ‘But although they believe that Doing Things is the surest way to a happy and healthy life, they didn’t do cycling and that’s what we’re all about. So why not bring them along on a journey to discover how they feel about riding bikes?’


For the experienced Rapha cyclists, the group rides they hosted proved an informative opportunity to view the ride process from a non-cycling perspective. But as the trip coincided with the Mallorca 312 sportive, when it came to booking bike hire for their US guests, they soon came to realise that most of the island’s rental bikes were already accounted for. Managing to locate a bike shop able to accommodate their requirements, the Rapha team then discovered they’d been allocated a number of incredibly expensive titanium bikes. When the Outdoor Voices party turned up – in full Rapha kit but wearing trainers and asking how the brakes worked – Maria recounts how the young girl behind the shop counter appeared a little anxious.

‘After we’d reassured her that we all worked in cycling and would look after everyone, we got ourselves sorted and off we went. And they all excelled; shouting greetings to the other cyclists they passed as they pedalled up the climbs in their flat shoes. For us, so accustomed to all the etiquette and unspoken rules of riding – which can sometimes be a little daunting when you first start out – it was refreshing to spend time with the Outdoor Voices team who were so completely not precious about the whole experience. And in terms of this shared journey, we learned so much about how cycling should be and how it can feel for people when they get that first burst of excitement from riding a bike.’


Punctuating the group riding with team meetings, although Maria’s designers had arrived with a range of fabric samples, it was the island itself that ultimately provided the inspiration for the colours and graphics of each individual item.

‘The weather was beautiful and we’d all bonded over our sensory enjoyment of these beautiful landscapes. And this shared appreciation coalesced around the theme of terrazzo which is commonly used in Spanish architecture. A flooring material that you almost forget to notice in its subtlety.’

‘But this is what’s so exciting,’ Maria continues, ‘because we didn’t arrive in Mallorca with this reference but left with a unifying theme for the collection. The small pieces of brightly coloured marble and glittery granite that are set into the concrete flooring spoke to us of individual elements that brought together, form something whole and beautiful. Much the same way that cycling can build communities and enrich the lives of those that ride.’


Reflecting on the various steps her designers have taken since these initial concept stages, Maria describes how fundamentally they set out to make the best possible cycling kit but with a mindset that acknowledges just how much fun you can have when riding a bike. That the aesthetics of the range represent a certain lightheartedness and a sense of inclusivity that are vital aspects of the sport she herself loves.

‘We want everyone who buys into the range to feel happy wearing it on the bike,’ she suggests. ‘In terms of its functionality – because that’s what we do at Rapha – but also in their emotional response to the designs. We want you to know how amazing you look.’

‘So between us, we agreed who was going to own what parts of the range. My team at Rapha designing the specific cycling elements and Outdoor Voices taking charge of the t-shirt and sports bra because that’s what they do really well. We followed up with regular online catch-ups before they flew over to London where we had a fit session with the first prototypes. The whole process taking over a year and a half to come to fruition but that’s because we took the collaboration really seriously and wanted to launch a range that felt 100% right.’


With the individual pieces offering a host of innovative features and details, the idea for the overlapping panels in the wind jacket was influenced by the Outdoor Voices yoga clothes that wrap around the body to make the wearer feel supported and comfortable. An aesthetic motif that was translated into a Rapha functional feature with the ventilated back of the bib shorts.

‘We got through so many prototypes to get everything right,’ explains Maria with a smile. ‘The jacket alone had five or six versions before it was signed off. But it’s all about refining each stage so that it works exactly how we want it to work.’ 

‘Playing with this theme of transformations, we considered the on and off bike uses for each piece of the collection. Adding a sense of fun with these little discoverables such as the Essentials Case that you can take with you when you go to the shop. And because we had some excess material in the lay plan that we could put to good use, why not?’


Not only were Rapha and Outdoor Voices sharing the same design journey, the collaboration extended to feedback from the Canyon-SRAM women’s cycling team. Frustrated with traditional cap designs and wanting to accommodate their long hair, the professional riders requested a space in the rear panel that would allow them to ride comfortably with a ponytail. A female-specific problem that Maria argues isn’t a gimmick but a reasoned and functional response.

‘Every collaboration is different,’ she concludes, ‘and I really believe in what we’ve achieved with Outdoor Voices. There’s been an enormous amount of hard work from everyone involved but it’s also been super fun. I’m not sure exactly how it happened but for this project it’s been predominantly women on my team. We’ve compromised together and we’ve agreed together. And after years of working at Rapha, I can honestly say that my female colleagues are the most amazing women I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet.’


Maria Olsson


Outdoor Voices

Modelled in Manchester by Georgia Keats

Sketchbook imagery kindly provided by Agata Jasinska

Photography by @openautograph