Sanne Hitipeuw / Journeys of the self

On the evening of June 21st, Sanne Hitipeuw stood on the start line of Den Store Styrkeprøven. Translating as The Great Trial of Strength, ahead lay a 540 km race from the Norwegian city of Trondheim to the capital Oslo; a tough enough proposition before even considering the requirement to cross the finish line in under 24 hours.

Driving up to the event from her home city of Amsterdam, Sanne admits to burying any thoughts of trepidation beneath her default position of ‘it will be alright’. But as the race unfolded and the worsening weather contrived with an unforgiving route to slow her progress, an overall time of 29 hours left her with a sense of disappointment rather than feelings of elation at completing such an audacious undertaking. A reaction to this epic feat of endurance that speaks of Sanne’s steely spirit but also an ongoing search for balance between a determination to meet self-imposed expectations and the happiness that riding her bike brings.

After studying a Master’s degree in Corporate Law, Sanne joined a large, international law firm in 2014; an adrenaline-filled, high-pressured work life that left little time for outside interests and not at all what she’d previously envisaged as a potential career path.

‘Even though I’d enrolled on the course I never seriously considered becoming a lawyer. But when I was still studying, my father got sick with a very aggressive form of cancer. 6 months later he passed away.’

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‘My method of coping was to block all of this out and not focus on the emotional side of how I was feeling. Throwing myself into my studies which then resulted in a job offer; such a high-paced environment that I could easily work in excess of 80 hours a week. Keeping myself so busy, I guess, that I wouldn’t have to feel anything.’

It was at this time that Vincent Engel returned to the Netherlands after working overseas and challenged her to buy a bike and ride up Mont Ventoux with him. Conquering the climb after a mere two days of training, Sanne enjoyed the experience to such an extent that it prompted the purchase of a good bike and a determination to use cycling as an opportunity to reflect and discover another side to herself. A change in focus perhaps best illustrated by her decision to spend a couple of months riding in Jakarta and Bali before then planning a solo transfer ride between Amsterdam and Berlin.

‘After my father got sick and passed away I’d been focusing only on others. Trying to help my family and friends – feeling responsible for them – but in the meantime I was losing grip; rushing through life without being able to stop, enjoy and appreciate. Suppressing all my feelings didn’t help so I decided to take some time for myself. To try and find some peace of mind. To go riding.’

‘My trip to Indonesia and then Amsterdam to Berlin,’ Sanne continues, ‘was an extension of that. To focus on myself and get back to who I really am. Being alone on the bike; totally independent without anyone wanting something from me.’

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Over the 800 km route to Berlin, Sanne discovered that the freedom of moving from one place to another and the new people she met on the road all gave her a real sense of living in the moment. But the ride didn’t come without its challenges.

‘There were minor mistakes such as telling myself that I couldn’t stop for lunch until I’d crossed the German border and then, after 180 km, being so tired I didn’t eat enough; decisions that with hindsight you realise were rather foolish. But there was also a navigational mishap that sent me down a gravel track into a forest; no internet connection to help me re-route and after flatting twice it started to go dark. You’re in an unfamiliar country, you don’t speak the language and it’s easy to feel lonely and scared.’

‘But looking back I now realise that overcoming these obstacles is something to be proud of and was quite an achievement. Rationally you might argue that you can’t afford the expense or the amount of time travelling but life can be short and my emotional side now says do it. That is what I learnt from my trip to Berlin.’

With such a gifted photographer by her side, Sanne has a wealth of captured moments with which to reflect on past journeys. Vincent’s images taken on a trip to Switzerland in which she’s pictured pushing her bike through heavy snow particularly resonating; Sanne feeling they have a pure quality that perfectly defines exactly what cycling means to her. The challenge of discovering places that are almost inaccessible but not quite enough to discourage a desire to see what’s around the next corner. Or the overcoming of obstacles that extends to the inclement weather which can be a feature of riding over winter in the Netherlands; the wind whipping off the North Sea and driving the rain almost horizontally across a rider’s path.

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‘There’s this picture taken in the snow which we very rarely get in the Netherlands. That particular day we had a Code Orange weather warning which means you should stay indoors where it’s safe. But we decided to go out and enjoy the city from a whole different perspective. With a snow-storm blowing, my hands were burning with the cold but we still wanted to take that picture because it can feel good to meet the conditions head-on. Of course we prefer sunny days and feeling the heat on our skin, but life can be boring and monotonous and it’s not always a good thing to stay at home and wait for the comfort of easier times.’

With this love of adventure, Sanne prefers the thrill of discovering new places to simply riding a familiar loop. Choosing to pressure herself to reach the limits of her endurance in the knowledge that she can still dig deeper and carry on. Sharing her time with a close group of friends, exploring gravel paths, stopping for coffee; simple pleasures that riding a bike affords but a stark contrast to the challenge of Den Store Styrkeprøven.

‘Ever since I learnt about this Midsummer race I’ve wanted to give it a shot. It sounded impossible but I just couldn’t get it out of my head and decided to make it happen. I got talking to people with a view to riding with someone but no one wanted to do it. And when you consider the numbers then maybe they’re right [laughs]. But with every new challenge it’s not just about the thinking; there’s also the doing. And that’s partly why I travelled to Norway because it doesn’t always come to you. Sometimes you need to seek out adventure; to make life happen.’

In her friend Cyril Chermin she finally found someone who – according to Sanne – was crazy enough to agree to partner her. He’d cycled to Japan from Amsterdam so shared the same need to experience new places and both decided to treat the race as a journey that they could then write or talk about. As it turned out, they had plenty of stories to tell when almost from the off their carefully-laid plans began, one by one, to fall apart.

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‘Our original idea was to form a larger group and take turns on the front. But this just didn’t happen and we ended up riding on our own. And the first 100 km is basically all climbing before the road plateaus across the top of a mountain for another 40 km; fully exposed to all that the weather was throwing at us and seemingly never-ending. We pulled into a feed station and everyone was wrapped up in those foil blankets. Not a good vibe and we still had such a long way to go. Mentally we were close to being fried as it was taking far, far longer than we’d imagined and I’ve never felt so up against it when riding a bike.’

‘But you re-group and carry on. I felt like crying at some points but the thought of stopping never entered my head. I did wonder how on earth we’d manage to finish but we were always going to finish. Vincent was following by car and taking pictures but never once did I consider climbing off my bike. And I do recognise in me this sense of perfectionism that doesn’t always make things easy. We completed the 540 km in a moving time of 21:59 but I’d set out to finish the ride with an overall time under 24 hours. I didn’t do it and I felt disappointed.’

‘In my family there’s a history of debilitating depression and it’s something that I also have to struggle with. Each day asking myself why am I alive? Do I like life and facing up to the responsibility of making those necessary changes if the answer is a no. And that’s why I push past my comfort zone. Why I still want to finish Styrkeprøven in under 24 hours.’

Although there’s still a sense of unfinished business, allowing time to fully reflect has also resulted in Sanne framing her experience in a sense of personal empowerment. Whether an individual decides to ride 500 km or 50, that it doesn’t have to be about the numbers because the experience is just as important. Maybe even more so.

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‘Most of my life I’ve allowed my decisions to be dictated by my rational, ambitious side; following my head rather than my heart. That’s how I ended up being a lawyer which in the beginning I really liked but it reached a point where I felt I was rushing through life and becoming increasingly unhappy. Using work to distract from the grief of losing my father that I’d never really processed and still haven’t. So when I consider why I love riding my bike so much – even though sometimes I can be pretty hard on myself [smiles] – it’s my emotional self that’s been buried for so long at last being allowed to surface.’

Now working as a freelance legal consultant and project manager, Sanne’s professional life is by necessity hectic but she is trying to prioritise time spent on the bike and the balance in her life that this brings.

‘I try to live my life now – I owe it to my father – knowing that I don’t want to regret the choices that I didn’t make. Which is why, when I look at the images of the trip to the Swiss Alps that I made with Vincent, there’s a realisation that being in an environment where I can be with my own thoughts – exploring new places, taking on challenges and doing the seemingly impossible – is helping me put my feet back on the ground. That the sense of being I achieved pushing my bike through the snow made me feel alive again.’

‘Simply put, I need cycling to make me happy. It gives me the energy and drive to explore new places and plan the next adventure. That’s why I travel so much and take my bike wherever I go. I want to ride new roads and meet new people along the way. For me it’s all about connecting. But not only with others. Mostly with myself. Making me feel alive; helping me find peace on an emotional level. All of this, I guess, the reason why I ride.’

 

Sanne Hitipeuw

All images with kind permission of Vincent Engel

Sami Sauri / Letting things happen

Sami Sauri has spent the past 18 months freelancing; most notably riding and producing the Outskirts film series alongside her partner Angus [Gus] Morton. Now based in Girona, we first meet on an uncharacteristically wet day; Sami’s demeanor mirroring the falling rain as she’s feeling a little under the weather since returning from a testing Dirty Kanza. Fortunately the morning of our arranged coffee dawns a beautifully sunny June day and Sami walks into Federal café with a broad smile. Seating ourselves at an upstairs table and to the distant accompaniment of a street musician playing Spanish guitar, what follows is an impromptu and candid conversation that takes in everything from behind-the-camera insights into the making of the Outskirts films to a way of living a life that embraces change and new opportunities.

You look really happy.

I’ve just been offered a position working for Komoot. Super exciting because I’ve been freelancing for a year and a half which is cool but I just need some stability.

So where will you be based?

Right here in Girona [laughs]. It’s remote. Komoot works with regional managers so I’ll be looking after Spain. Building a community and taking care of events which is kind of what I do anyway. It’s cool because it’s something you can combine with other projects.

That sounds exciting?

I’ve had two weeks off after racing Dirty Kanza with my body feeling weak and I was like, oh my God the stress. But then I got the message from Komoot.

That reminds me of something Gus said in Route 66. He talked about wanting a life of chaos…

And he’s got it. Totally [laughs].

But he also looks back to a time when life was much simpler. So for you, having a regular job brings with it a similar outlook?

Maybe it’s good to have a little bit of chaos but with some structure. Is that even possible [laughs]?

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Structure brings with it routine.

For me, that can be boring. But the thing with Komoot – working remotely – I can be in the south of Spain one week and then back in Girona.

So was it advertised or did Komoot approach you?

I was working for a communications company in Berlin – handling all their influencer programmes for the Netherlands, France, Italy and Spain – so I knew the role was coming up but went through the usual process just like everyone else. And it’s pretty much what I do anyway [smiles].

Is a varied work life important to you?

Since forever I grab opportunities as they come. I was head barista for Rapha in Berlin and then when Gus came into my life it totally opened up a completely new world. And having lots of different interests and projects is really cool because you keep things fresh.

So if you had one role – Monday to Friday – that maybe wouldn’t work?

I don’t know [laughs]? I worked regular hours in Berlin with Rapha but for the past 18 months I’ve been enjoying the freedom of not being stuck inside the same four walls. I see me with a job every day but just not working in the same place every day.

So how far ahead do you look? Or is it simply a matter of reacting to things as they happen?

I’d been living day to day but riding Dirty Kanza kind of changed all that. Because I went to the race totally unprepared and it was sooo tough and that taught me a very important lesson. So I’m considering maybe looking a little further ahead than the next weekend [laughs].

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You mentioned that meeting Gus – having him in your life – opened up new possibilities. Is that in terms of attitudes or opportunities?

I think it’s both. With regards to work but also to life in general. Travelling to ride and shoot and then also produce on the Outskirts films; that came from him but then things start to happen organically and lead to other projects. And it’s not as if we’re always searching for these things. Sometimes they just come up and you need to be ready.

How does that way of working relate to a project such as Outskirts?

You take Route 66. I absolutely love it but that was the most unplanned film ever [laughs]. A full-on feature film made day by day; just letting things happen. All filmed hand-held without a camera crew. And we were just happy to go with it; to see where it flowed. Riding big distances on our bikes which dictated the rhythm of the way we worked. And even though my knee was hurting; to be part of that, it felt amazing.

Is that a way of travelling you enjoy?

I love it [smiles]. Whatever comes, it comes. Like when we’d finished filming Big Land we decided to keep on riding another 1500 km with Chaz and Nico; two fixed gear boys from Chicago and San Francisco.

Why the decision to continue?

Just to see if we could film totally unsupported. And at some point it will get released but we’re just taking our time. It’s one that we wanted to do for ourselves.

Were the mosquitoes as bad as they appeared in Big Land?

They were really bad. But then on the second part we didn’t have any [laughs]. It was amazing weather and insane roads but just nothing. Huge distances between towns and these were proper mining communities. For the last stretch we bought 16 sandwiches to eat on the road and slept under an abandoned mobile home.

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Very much a working environment?

You would never go there as a tourist. Our final stop was Fermont; a mining city that’s contained within a single building that’s more than a kilometre long. A school, hotel, shops; all inside this one building. But I get that because when we arrived there was a 60 km/h wind blowing and it’s easy to imagine what would happen if you combine that with heavy snowfall.

How is the knee now because it seemed to be really painful?

After Route 66 the pain went away which is kind of why I came back for Big Land but about 3 days in it returned. And then there was the gravel and some problems with Gus that made me just blow-up [smiles].

I find that interesting because in Big Land your personal life crossed into the film. In the final edit you allowed some aspects of those arguments to remain.

Oh there’s some that we had to take out [laughs].

But in the film you also talk about love. So was it an easy decision to include those particular scenes?

I think it’s important to understand why I was sitting in the car. Because that day there was a big fight; the boys being boys and still trying to go fast and I was struggling but Gus thought I was doing it on purpose so I just decided to climb off the bike. As it turned out, a good decision as the gnarliest parts were the next few days.

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And you were also there as the producer. What does this role actually entail?

Basically, you pre-plan everything; all the logistics. For Big Land and Shadow of the East – the ones that I really produced – I had to book all the flights and get everyone there at the same time. For Dan [Craven], that only happened two days before we started riding. We needed a fourth rider and originally Taylor Phinney was coming along but he had to race. I knew Dan through his wife and he’d just finished shooting with Rapha so it all came together at the last moment.

Does your personality lend itself to this role?

No, not really [laughs]. But I like the producer job because I get to meet loads of new people and take care of everything.

I assume if anything goes wrong, they immediately come to you?

That’s right. So I just hope there aren’t too many problems [laughs]. Like on Big Land when we arrived in that town after the night with all the mosquitoes and there was only one room for 6 people. Oh man, I was cooked; on the phone and checking the original booking until we finally managed to get another room.

And when the filming has finished?

During post-production I’m tying up any loose ends, figuring out whether we should do a screening, sending images to sponsors. Just taking care of every small detail and helping Gus with the editing to try and save some time. I mean, it’s a feature film. People take 4 years but we did 3 in one year [laughs]. It’s brutal; Gus caged up editing in that black room for such a long time.

You chose not to ride in Shadow of the East?

That was a different type of project. Beautifully shot, very filmic. And originally we didn’t want to have anybody else; not even me [laughs]. We set out to reference the first Thereabouts film when it was just Gus and Lachlan. But then the boys wanted Juan Antonio Flecha who I originally knew from surfing.

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Lachlan looked so cold in Shadows. Was it a challenging shoot?

Oh man. It was totally crazy. After we’d filmed that scene we started running downhill to try and get warm.

And then Juan Antonio got sick after eating the lamb.

I’d woken up and we were speaking Spanish and he was telling me that he’d had no sleep at all and that he wasn’t feeling great. He still wanted to ride and I was trying to reassure him that he’d be fine. But it turned out that everyone who’d had the lamb – not me because I don’t eat meat – had drank a shot of this digestif which kills everything. Everyone, that is, apart from Juan Antonio. And I was like, that’s it, you got it [smiles].

It really looked like he was suffering…

Juan had to stop a number of times – more than the couple we showed in the film – but we needed to keep moving. Lachlan was using the trip as training for the Tour Down Under and we had set distances for each day. So we were trying to encourage Juan to get in the car but he didn’t want to and it was just really funny.

You must be aware that there’s a recognised Outskirts look on the bike?

A lot of the time I manage the Thereabouts Instagram account and people tag us in when they post a picture riding and wearing a t-shirt. It’s all about being comfortable. Something made from merino; it just feels so good. When you’re going bike-packing, the clothes you wear on the bike are the clothes you’re going to wear when you climb off. And this concept just came into Gus’ head that when we were riding and filming we’d look normal and just fit in with the people we’d be meeting on the trip. And that made such a difference when we were talking to them on camera.

The images you take on the road and the portraits in particular; they have a kind of gentle intensity with the subjects appearing very comfortable and open. How do you achieve that?

There’s a few that came about simply by talking; just asking – super honestly – if I can take a picture. And then when I’m shooting Lachy [Lachlan Morton]; I just love him. He just doesn’t care which is what makes him such a good subject. Gus is the same; he can be so natural in front of the camera. There’s this image from the day I jumped in the car on Big Land and he was so pissed but I had to do that portrait [smiles].

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What’s going through your head when you’re taking photographs?

It’s an immediate response. I have a little eye but I’ve never studied photography. And I don’t call myself a photographer. It started with Route 66 and when you’re in America it’s really easy to get good shots. The space and the colours. And I love doing photos because it’s something you can do anywhere and at anytime but then I kind of like the process that producing a film involves.

And there’s also your riding?

In Spanish we have a saying that roughly translates as ‘non-stop ass’. And that’s me! I’ve always been a little hyper-active from when I was very small. My mother took me to every single sport that was available to tire me out [smiles]. And I still can’t sit around doing nothing.

Being based in Girona must make it easy to get out on your bike?

It’s a little of everything. In winter I spent a lot of time bouldering which is a good fit with cycling in terms of building strength. And I like riding with friends but I’m just as happy going out alone. That way I can do whatever I want because I might start on a road but I always seem to end up finishing on gravel [smiles].

What’s it like being recognised? People knowing who you are?

Living in Girona it does happen. People don’t always approach me but I can hear them whispering. And then if Gus is with me, well [laughs]…it’s just crazy.

But do they expect you to behave in a certain way? Is there a sense of ownership by the public?

I’m a very open person and I don’t really care what people think. People do mention the arguments we had in Outskirts but I’m not shy in saying that, yes, sometimes we all have a bad day. And then thinking along those same lines, it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Like when we were in Norway recently riding this beautiful, insane, next-level gravel. I just couldn’t stop myself smiling [laughs].

Sami Sauri

samisauri.com

Photography: Thereabouts

Komoot

Rapha

 

Jonas Klock / Accidental Journeys

Woodland trails, loaded gravel bikes and coffee brewing over a camping stove. Images on Jonas Klock’s Instagram feed that perfectly illustrate his profile’s exhortation to get out and free your mind. But whether by design or accident, the journeys we make – in life or when out riding – can sometimes take a direction never previously imagined.

‘I get out to free my mind. Using cycling as a valve to bleed off the restrictions imposed by work and all the other stuff. While some people might go clubbing, I go riding. It helps me recharge and find new energy for functioning during the week.’

‘Going back to my teenage years,’ Jonas continues, ‘riding was always the main focus in life. Even to the extent that it set me back a little with my studies [smiles]. Racing at a very competitive level right through to my high school graduation before I got into partying and stuff like that. Normal teenage distractions.’

Distracted he may have been but this didn’t stop Jonas graduating from The University of Fine Arts in Berlin before working in Rotterdam for some of the biggest players in world architecture. In retrospect, an intense period that left little time for riding and also coincided with a growing disillusionment with the professional aspects of the sport.

‘I never got to the point where I fell out of love with cycling – I still commuted by bike – but the racing scene was unbelievably competitive with everyone striving to be noticed; to get the contract. And my architecture firm had these huge projects in the Far East aligned to the rapid economic growth which in turn meant I was working incredibly long hours. Struggling to fit in any exercise around work commitments and increasingly fed-up with 16 hour days.’

A move to a new architectural office back in Berlin only seemed to fuel these feelings of discontent; reaching a point where Jonas quit his job, put the computer aside and began experimenting. Making models and small concrete objects that slowly evolved from lamps into whole interiors and leading him to found his own design studio; Accidental Concrete.

‘The material itself was the tool I used to rediscover my roots; to help create my own language of design. And the term accidental was just something – a word between friends – from when I was making small objects and could never simply repeat the process in an exact fashion. With concrete there’s always something surprising that happens and before the name was even considered I’d say to somebody that it happened by accident and it just stuck. It’s got an element of irony and I like the sound of it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. And I never wanted to turn into a manufacturer with an order book demanding a couple of thousand identical copies. I want each piece to be individual; unique.’

As all Jonas’ projects are by nature custom, the fact that he’s supported by a relatively small team means the whole process can be handled in-house from the first sketched design through to on-site construction. A flexibility to adapt that allows him to respond and manage any problems. Dotting the i’s as Jonas sees it.

‘I’m trying to use materials that are very haptic. I like it when people interact with the objects or interiors we’ve designed. I don’t want to create spaces that feel untouchable; that feels wrong to me somehow. If you go into a coffee shop or a bakery you want to use it without the fear of making a wrong move. Sometimes I notice that people don’t always have a sense of their environment at all – wherever they are they treat it like a McDonald’s [laughs] – so it’s good when people see and appreciate my work.’

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Busy as he is, Jonas now tries to stick to normal working hours. Something he admits to previously never managing and forcing him to consider whether maybe it’s a question of age. He gets up early to fit in some exercise in the morning – cycling, swimming, running or yoga – and especially in summer when the evenings are lighter he’ll go for a ride after finishing work. ‘Weekends,’ Jonas explains, ‘are spent riding in the forest. I need to refresh my mind away from the traffic and crowds of people.’

Forest riding that characterises Jonas’ Knetkommando circle of friends; a reference to the German language term for kneading dough but which can equally be applied to pushing really hard. Intense cyclocross sessions in Berlin’s Grunewald that are lots of fun but leave the muscles tired and aching.

‘I occasionally do the odd triathlon or cyclocross race but generally I ride with a cooker and an AeroPress. We find a lake and have a coffee outside. It’s all about being with friends and just having a laugh. Coming home feeling a little exhausted but satisfied. A way of riding that grew from the fixy scene and is now definitely more popular in Berlin. All about making the turn that you might have passed a hundred times on your road bike. About the range of possibilities gravel riding provides that make your cycling life so much richer.’

Weather-wise Jonas admits to not being a particular fan of riding in wet conditions but that in Berlin it’s impossible to avoid and a necessary evil if you want to ride regularly. A recent bike-packing trip through Portugal illustrating that you can be so wet it actually doesn’t matter anymore.

‘Once your shoes are soaked through and you can feel the water with every pedal stroke, as long as you’re warm then it’s OK. But it’s those moments in between that aren’t particularly pleasant [laughs]. And commuting all year by bike? If it’s raining I put a jacket on. I’m not a roller or home trainer kind of guy and I much prefer to be riding outside despite the weather than sweating in my living room.’

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‘Portugal was about taking time off from work with friends,’ he continues, ‘and I really enjoy the process of being outside on the road. Moving from place to place with your whole life strapped to a bike. A way of travelling that makes you appreciate your body and its ability to move you through the landscape.’ 

A viewpoint that last year prompted Jonas to ride from Berlin to Stockholm; the frequent flights he made visiting his girlfriend when she was based in Sweden causing him to question whether he actually understood what that distance represented.

‘You step onto a plane and two hours later you’ve arrived; the process of flying divorcing you from the landscape and the people that inhabit it. I wanted to work my way there; to feel those miles in my legs.’

Not that the process of separation always has negative connotations; Jonas noticing with every bike-packing trip he makes, the more items he actually leaves at home. Gradually reducing what he carries to absolute essentials; a process he finds interesting as he feels the older you get, the greater the temptation to own more things.

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‘I had a pretty interesting talk recently with a friend of mine who’d designed the Accidental Concrete logo. We were discussing how I’m fixed to Berlin professionally speaking. I have my network here, my workshop, my tools. I’m not flexible enough to work on the road. But I’d like to reach a certain point where I’m able to spend a couple of months working in California where my girlfriend is from. So maybe I need to consider going back to my roots and focusing more on architectural design. Concrete has been an important catalyst for professional growth but the closer I get to this new phase in my working life, the more I see it developing beyond simply a material. And I’m not afraid of transitioning again as there’s nothing worse than being stuck in a situation and not being able to move forward.’ 

‘Change always comes with a little bit of fear – stepping from the known to the unknown – but it can also be pretty rewarding. It’s the same with riding; if you move out of your comfort zone you’ll soon start to notice new things about yourself. Each step over the line – like the rings of a tree – creating a new layer of experience.’

Along with completing his first 300 km ride, Jonas is planning a bike-packing trip from Berlin to Amsterdam. Another journey he’s done countless times by plane but never taken the time to experience by bike.

‘We have a saying in German – Ich will mir die Distanz erarbeiten – that roughly translated means you want to work hard for something. And taking the time to ride a bike between two places – truly understanding how that distance feels – can be just as fulfilling as arriving at your eventual destination. And with cycling, it’s all about appreciating the journey.’

 

 

Jonas Klock

Accidental Concrete

Photography credits:

Feature image and Accidental Concrete content by Constantin Gerlach / Bike-packing and San Francisco by Jonas Klock / Rocacorba by Robert Wegner / Gravel Kings by Chris Hargreaves / Coffee by Mirko Merchiori

 

 

Pau Tena / Clementina Bicycles

I first interviewed Pau Tena back in 2017 following the launch of his Clementina Bicycles brand. Fabricated in Italy before being shipped to his native Barcelona where the frames are painted and built-up, Pau sees them as Mediterranean bikes; rooted in the rocks, soil, wild flowers and native flora of this region he calls home.

After recently enjoying a 4 day bike-packing trip out of Girona with my photographer friend Ian Walton – each riding a beautiful gravel variant delivered in person by Pau – I felt it timely to revisit this interview; inserting WhatsApp and email excerpts taken from the actual build process.

I try to create something special with every bike. Reliable and practical; the perfect tool. The classic Mediterranean canon of racing geometry; everything fast, everything easy and everything under control with comfort.

We’ve all heard conversations where a change of direction or discipline is first voiced; the practicalities of work and family balanced against the excitement and opportunities of following a different path in life. Even after pursuing a particular career that has met with recognised success, it’s not unusual to dream of starting afresh with new goals. The choices these lifestyle adventurers make are perhaps dictated by individual passions but I imagine Pau Tena would entirely understand the temptation of new challenges that many consider but few act upon.

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After accompanying the Spanish Paralympic Squad to the Rio Olympic Games in his role as professional biomechanic, Pau then chose to establish Clementina; a bike brand that captures the spirit of the Mediterranean with a range of race-bred steel bikes. ‘I’ve always been a painter,’ he volunteers, ‘and wanted to marry this artistic background with my 20 years of experience working as a biomechanic. Clementina encompasses a mix of my culture and tradition with the latest technology. All in a bike where speed and beauty are the objective.’

I know your winter so the colours and materials need to be indestructible in the rear with polished inox to reflect the light. The front? A poem of strength and hope with a radiant blue to symbolise our sky and our best wishes when riding your hard and rainy miles.

Speaking about his brand’s identity, it becomes clear that Pau wants the designs of his bikes to represent – symbolically, conceptually and aesthetically – a return to a creative culture. ‘When I think of the Mediterranean,’ he explains, ‘I can see the grapes on the vine, the orange groves. I can feel the sun on my back, smell the sea air and hear the road under my tyres. All of these sensations I want to combine in a performance driven bike. Blending beauty and geography with my values and beliefs in the steel tubes that I use.’

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With a build process that usually starts with a conversation over coffee in Pau’s Barcelona-based workshop, increasingly these initial discussions of form and fit are made via an internet connection as word of his brand spreads internationally. ‘Unlike a bike, the body is rarely perfectly symmetrical. You need to understand the union of the two,’ Pau comments before explaining how he prefers to work intuitively and conduct a bike fit by eye; taking a series of measurements that will translate into a finished build.

I need to confess one thing. I’m a Mediterranean son; it’s my culture and my heritage in competition. I design bikes with a modern geometry and a sportive spirit. As for paint? For your build the Impressionist Joaquim Mir is a starting point because he was a master at capturing light.

With frames constructed from Columbus tubing, Pau supplies complete builds tailored to an individual’s riding needs with colour options that conjure up his Mediterranean surroundings. ‘My favourites are a deep maroon that suggests a glass of red wine and a white that references the stone of the buildings where I live in the Gràcia district of Barcelona.’

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Viewing the process of collaboration between himself and each client as the start of a journey, Pau believes this offers a sense of shared loyalty that mirrors the investment, not only in terms of the financial outlay, but in the longevity of the relationship the customer will enjoy with their Clementina bike. ‘People can buy whatever they want from the established manufacturers but, with steel, there’s a sense of soul. Speed and performance but with a sweetness to the ride. And it’s the combination of the fabricator’s experience and passion for steel as a material that is then influenced by the client’s locality and the roads they themselves ride. A build doesn’t stop when they collect their bike. Each climb and descent, the miles that roll under the wheels; all these add to the story.’

For more information on Clementina bikes or to place an order, contact Pau Tena: info@pautenaciclisme.com

Images by kind permission of Ian S Walton; documentary photographer and himself a Clementina owner.

Thanks to Parcours for the beautifully understated and lightweight wheelset that smoothed away the kilometres.

 

 

 

 

Constantin Gerlach: onthenorway

Berlin-based photographers Constantin Gerlach and Laura Droße document a shared passion for slow travel with their online cultural magazine onthenorway. Capturing the beauty of natural landscapes, the visual stories that result offer a fascinating insight into the culture and traditions of the regions the pair explore.

Here Constantin discusses the inspiration behind onthenorway, how exploration allows the couple to truly connect with life and why an appreciation of any locality is easier to achieve with a free spirit and open senses.

Your website lists a number of different professional roles. Have you always worked in the creative industries?

Originally I’m from Frankfurt; right in the centre of Germany. I studied a design apprenticeship at a specialist art college that focused on print before working mainly on layout and packaging projects at an agency for a few years. Around this time I’d started taking more photographs; discovering that this was more satisfying than sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours a day and eventually leading me to quit my job and a move to Berlin to study photography.

You describe onthenorway as a cultural magazine focusing on northern destinations. How do you define north? Is it a physical locality or a state of mind?

In one sense it’s the roughness of the landscape. And not necessarily to the north of Berlin because there are plenty of places in the south that share the same characteristics. But, purely from a personal perspective, I’ve been travelling to the north for as long as I can remember and I’m still drawn back to these places.

And your decision to call this project onthenorway?

I understand that it might be a little confusing as the name references Norway [laughs]. But in the ancient times this term also meant the way north and this is how we chose to use it.

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You work on this project with your partner Laura. How did you both originally arrive at the format?

The way we earn a living is very client-focused and necessitates following a brief. Onthenorway is all about doing what we want to do and how we want to do it. Without any compromises and a need to explain why.

On your website it mentions visible beauty but you also refer to the north’s roughness. Why is this so significant?

It’s honest. It helps you feel closer to your environment but also to each other. If you’re sitting in a tiny hut and a storm is raging then this bonds you together somehow. And I always get the impression, from the people I’ve met on our trips, that it results in a warmness and a willingness to help because they understand the unique challenges of where they choose to live.

So this connection with the natural world is very important?

In terms of onthenorway there’s definitely something liberating about leaving your comfort zone. Deciding whether to camp out in a tent when it’s -5°C in the middle of nowhere because you want to get a nice shot as the sun comes up in the morning. And, in terms of cycling, if it hurts and you really need to push yourself then these are the days you always remember. Which is why we go north and get wet and dirty. I feel the images we make are more true when you have to endure in order to take them.

And this leads to more lasting memories?

A friend of mine from the UK tells me it’s character building [laughs]. Like when I was bike-packing a few years ago in France on a fixed-gear bike; riding more than 1,000 km along the north coast and on occasion feeling absolutely destroyed. Looking back I wonder what made me even consider this to be a good idea in the first place but it’s something I will never, ever forget.

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Do you see a relationship between how modern society functions and a need for individuals to seek out adventure?

I get the impression that too often we watch from a distance rather than actually experiencing things at first hand. I recognise in myself that I spend far too much time scrolling through Instagram. Time that I could use in a more productive fashion. So it’s good to occasionally slow down and really focus 100% on things; totally immersing yourself in the moment.

Any aspects of modern living that you feel are particularly challenging?

For us it’s the expectation that you need to engage with social media almost on a daily basis. It takes us ages to select even a couple of images for Instagram so this pressure to post and maintain your digital presence is something we could easily do without. So much so that we made a conscious decision to only engage on our own terms; prioritising our photographs for the website or editorial features rather than putting all our energy into such impermanent platforms.

When you say you love to travel slowly, is this in a literal sense or a metaphor for how you choose to engage with your environment?

In a way it’s a bit of both. On one level we physically take our time on a trip but it’s also the curiosity that drives you to go where you’ve never been before. To do what you’ve never done. Taking you to the edge of the world or sometimes as simple as taking a different route home from work on your bike. And as soon as you start talking to the people you meet, the sooner you get an insight into their lives which allows you to truly connect with that locality.

Are there examples of northern culture, behaviour and habits that particularly resonate?

It’s the people that we’ve met; how they have this instinctual habit of keeping to themselves. They’re never loud in that look at me sense. And I suppose I recognise the same trait in how I feel and behave which is probably why I’m so bad at social media. And I’m addicted to cinnamon buns. Very Scandinavian [laughs].

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How do you define your relationship with the weather? Especially northern weather?

Bad weather can be super interesting in terms of photography. There’s this quote I can never quite remember that talks about a lack of epicness under a bluebird sky [smiles]. When we were in Ireland the weather was changing every 10 minutes, so it would rain and then the light that immediately followed would be just amazing.

You state that you don’t seek picture perfection, so what criteria do you apply when selecting images for onthenorway?

The most important thing is whether an image transports a mood. We have two sections on our website – the visuals and the journal – and in these galleries we try to share with our audience what we ourselves felt.

Any plans for exhibitions?

We’re showing some of our work this autumn in a Berlin bookstore. Which we feel fits nicely because the partner country for this year’s Frankfurt book fair is Norway [smiles]. We both love paper and feel that photographs are meant to be printed and hung on the wall. The bigger the better. And it’s always interesting to see a group of images that tell a story – whether that’s in a book or magazine – as opposed to scrolling through individual pictures on a screen.

You live in Berlin; working in a variety of creative fields. Is that by design or chance? And is it important to have these multifaceted roles?

For me, it’s important. I quickly become bored if I’m doing the same things and I think you get better at what you’re doing if you practise related disciplines. And working with other people is also very interesting.

Speaking of collaboration, you have a number of partnerships that are linked to your trips.

We started onthenorway two years ago and we’re still fairly small. So we’re not influencers – that was never our goal – but we understand that it’s this aspect that attracts brands. We approached all the partners we have right now by making a portfolio that we could present alongside a concept of what we wanted to achieve.

And why these particular partners?

We like to work with people that think like we do. Topo designs, for example, are based in Colorado and manufacture outdoor gear but are very environmentally focused. You can send your stuff back so it can be repaired. And with Mini we did a road trip in one of their hybrid cars which we found really interesting.

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What do you ride when you’re not travelling with Mini?

My current favourite bike is kind of a cross and gravel mixture that I had built last year by Cicli Bonnano; an Italian guy who lives and works in Berlin building steel frames. My road bike is also steel. I like steel [smiles].

And your camera?

Usually a Canon 5D Mark IV but for Norway we had the chance to use a Phase One camera. Medium format and insanely expensive but what was really interesting was how it perfectly suited the way we travel. The camera itself slows you down because unlike the Canon with its super quick autofocus and frames per second, the Phase One requires you to really think about what you’re doing. It doesn’t work for street photography but for portraits and landscapes it’s amazing.

So onthenorway has changed how you approach your photography?

In terms of focus, yes. With onthenorway it’s about less rather than more. Slow rather than fast. Working commercially on cycling related shoots you’re doing all these things at once: thinking, talking, directing, checking your shot list. And I love this because a certain amount of pressure makes you feel alive. But I also enjoy spending time on just that one image.

This is a recurring theme I’ve noticed in creative individuals. Navigating the balance between earning a living – with the compromises this can entail – and personal projects that express exactly what you want them to do.

The biggest challenge we face is the trips themselves because they are expensive. We were considering getting a campervan so we’d be pretty self-sufficient which means we could slow down even more. And we’d love to grow onthenorway; have our content in print. Maybe a limited edition collector’s magazine for each trip that we take?

Your website states that you’re aiming for perfection with your cinnamon buns. Just how good are they?

We get pretty good feedback but they’re still a work in progress. Like with my photography, I’m always trying hard to improve and maybe they could be a little more fluffy [laughs].

onthenorway

All images with kind permission of Constantin Gerlach and Laura Droße

 

Standert not standard

‘Max was studying industrial design here in Berlin and working part-time as a messenger. He wanted a bike that would do it all in the city. Responsive yet durable, classic looking but still modern. And when he couldn’t find what he was looking for he decided to design his own frame to be fabricated in steel. Really focusing on the basic needs that the bike had to fulfill.’

I’m speaking to Benedict Herzberg, Standert’s head of marketing and PR, and the Max in question is the company’s founder and CEO, Max von Senger und Etterlin. Back in 2012 and following this fruitless search for a new bike – clearly necessity can be the mother of invention – Standert opened their first shop with a vision of offering a range of cycling products alongside sales of coffee, soup and ice cream.

Whilst ice cream isn’t now available the range of Standert bikes has steadily grown to encompass race, urban and cross. ‘Models,’ suggests Benedict, ‘that reference industry trends but in essence we’re still building bikes that we want to ride. We might be influenced by external factors such as the current popularity of the gravel scene but then we build a gravel bike how we would imagine it.’

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With this discussion of identity, I’m prompted to satisfy my curiosity regarding the brand name following a rather puzzling response from typing Standert into Google Translate. Benedict laughs as he explains the derivation: ‘It’s a slang word. Used to describe something that can be common but is still awesome. The Berlin version of Hell Yeah.’

An interesting play on words considering the Mitte location of their original shop. Back in 2012 an up and coming region of the city, Benedict now describes it as the centre of hipness with a lot of young people and families making it their home. And with the opening of a second showroom in rapidly developing Kreuzberg, the decision has now been made to split the models on display with Mitte retaining the urban bikes and Kreuzberg showcasing the performance range.

‘You have to work hard at keeping a brand alive. People go into business with a lot of passion but it can all too easily become just a job. You need to keep that flame burning and that’s what we want to do with our bikes. A cursory look at their clean lines might give you the impression that our designs are very simple but actually they’re not. Definitely more Standert than standard [smiles].’

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‘It’s important to be authentic,’ continues Benedict, ‘and in terms of how we communicate to our customer base I feel people appreciate honesty in marketing; that we’re not selling our bikes based on claims we can’t substantiate. Basically, when someone walks into our showroom we’re not going to pretend that our bikes have been tested in a wind tunnel and they’re zero zero point two milliseconds faster over 40 km. But you will ride our bike faster because you’ll love it.’

With this talk of communication and brand ethos, it’s fair to say that the Standert shop has always been a hub for Berlin-based cyclists; the increasingly fluid international workforce often using the shop rides as a way of making social inroads when first relocating to the city. And with many finding their way to the rides through Instagram or Strava, Benedict was amused to hear from a group of visiting Australians that the Thursday Feierabendrunde is known globally as a very fast shop ride.

‘We do get pros showing up,’ he confirms, ‘and as we give out sprint and GC points it is competitive. But everybody knows that we stick to the rules of the road and it’s still loads of fun; individuals giving it a go just to see how long they can last.’

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A competitive edge mirrored in the company’s sponsoring of a factory racing team; Benedict explaining how their aluminium Kreissäge race bike was completely developed with input from Team Standert. So much so that although the first iteration was only available as a 1x model, subsequent feedback suggesting that the ability to add a second chain ring would be welcomed led directly to a design rethink.

‘It’s important not to think you have all the knowledge as there’s always people better than you at something. It’s like the assumption that a product has to be manufactured in Europe to be any good. Our lugged steel-framed urban bikes are made in Taiwan because you simply can’t do it better for the quantities we’re ordering. Contrast that with our aluminium race bikes that are hand-welded in Italy and you can see our approach. We build the bikes where we get the best quality.’

This theme of assumptions that Benedict discovered applies equally to Standert the company; people tending to think they’re a lot bigger than they actually are when the reality is only 10 individuals in addition to the showroom staff.

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‘We want to grow but in a very organic way. If we get too big too fast then there’s a danger we might lose control of the process. That attention to detail and focus on quality that’s at the core of what we do. And we’re very much rooted in Berlin so we know that our bikes resonate within this setting. Max and I grew up here and so much of what influences the Standert design language comes from the city in the form of art, design and architecture.’

‘There’s naturally a certain price for quality,’ Benedict continues, ‘so it’s not a cheap product that we’re selling. But what our customers have in common is a desire to ride a cool bike and not just something off the shelf. Performance is important but they have a certain look in mind. A product that represents their individual style and that isn’t mass produced. Not a status symbol but a statement nonetheless.’

With a disc version of the Kreissäge and a stainless steel Erdgeschoss just two from a series of exciting model launches planned for the coming year, Benedict suggests that this will enable Standert to reach the sweet spot in their model range.

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‘We don’t have it written down but the goal is to be a mainstream player offering bike designs that you can’t get elsewhere. But because people know who’s behind Standert and it’s easy to relate to the brand, when you think about growth it’s important to consider how that intimacy can be maintained. How you can keep that spirit alive and still grow.’

There’s a slight pause as Benedict considers his previous statement before qualifying it further.

‘Not niche or mainstream. But on the border between the two maybe [smiles].’

All images with kind permission of Standert

Jochen Hoops: A desire to document

Speaking in a quiet, calm manner from his home in Hamburg, creative producer Jochen Hoops is reflecting on the decision to leave for Paris after growing up in Germany’s second city. Initially signing up for French classes, enrolling on a photography course led to a job assisting a fashion photographer; subsequently helping him decide that he didn’t want to follow the same path.

‘I wanted to earn a living and to be a photographer in Paris you need to work for a couple of years for little if any pay. So I switched over to the commercial side as a representative; working for an agency connecting clients with photographers. Promoting their work, organising the shoot; all that kind of stuff.’

‘For 15 years,’ he continues, ‘I was working with individuals with backgrounds in fashion and advertising but not cycling related at all. And I came back to my own photography – after not touching a camera for years –  when I met some guys in Paris and started to document our rides. I like the idea that people can recognise themselves in the images; not literally but if it makes them want to be there, to want to ride, then that’s great.’

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With cycling one of life’s constants, Jochen’s passion for this process of documentation is evident yet he feels somewhat uncomfortable calling himself a photographer. He accepts there’s a narrative to his work but when pressed is happy to leave it there. Maybe a question of semantics but this does place an interesting spotlight on the creative process and where the balance lies between commercially imposed restraints and photography as an art form.

‘Having the right gear doesn’t replace a good eye but in some sense photography is a craft because you have to learn how to get the results you want. And I also know many commercial photographers that have side projects that might be termed art but not if there’s a brief. You can have a certain style which is why clients book you in the first place but nowadays it can be difficult to express yourself with absolute freedom because you’re expected to stick to the editorial plan. And very often when you look at brand related content you’ll notice that it’s always sunny and everyone is smiling. Not my kind of work [laughs].’

‘I like to take my pictures from the bike when out riding,’ Jochen goes on to explain. ‘And I really don’t mind if the person isn’t well lit. I can do that if it’s asked for but it’s not always interesting for me. What I do find interesting is quite instinctive; a constant evolution. Patterns of light and dark, buildings and tunnels; shooting someone descending at full speed. And because it’s important not to disturb the ride I have to capture the image in that moment. There’s no going back to do it again.’

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An approach perhaps at odds with the world of commercial photography where models are directed according to a pre-planned brief; a process that Jochen knows all too well from his agency role representing photographers and organising their shoots.

‘I’d scout a location, book a stylist; basically everything right through to post-production. And keeping an eye on all these various aspects means you develop a lot of experience of working with clients and creative directors. For me it’s all about being effective and time sensitive which for them equates to saving money. So sometimes it’s important to keep control of the process; some people know what they’re doing whilst others need guidance. And this understanding of the advertising process enabled me to offer advice which ultimately led to Creative Hub Paris.’

As a network agency producing bespoke editorial content with a cycling and lifestyle focus, Jochen enjoyed working collaboratively and recognised the benefit from having an input of ideas from a range of different viewpoints. But even though he understands the initial temptation to accept every commission after first founding the business and acknowledges that he worked on some interesting projects, over time his attitude saw a subtle shift in direction.

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‘I still think – with my expertise and professional background – that I can collaborate with brands as a creative consultant to produce great things for the cycling industries. But the joy of documenting rides myself means I don’t want to work solely in that way any longer. I did it for a while and I’m still involved from time to time but for now I’m re-structuring how this all fits together.’

A refocusing of priorities that led to a long break from Instagram and a reconnection with concert going and viewing exhibitions; a reaction to what Jochen terms fast living where pictures posted on a feed last only a few minutes before they’re gone.

‘I like it when I’m occasionally asked for a print of my work or an editorial story. In the sense that it’s a slower dimension and people have time to really look at things. An image on a screen is somewhat removed but with a print there’s a lasting sense of appreciation; a permanence to the work compared to how we consume the majority of our media.’

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With Jochen still limiting the time he engages with Instagram to a brief look in the morning over coffee, he confirms that here_are_wings references a book find in a Parisian flea market and resonates with his feeling on the bike. The sense of freedom and wellbeing he achieves when out riding with friends; a way of life that he enjoyed in Paris and is currently rebuilding after relocating back to Hamburg.

‘It’s been 20 years but for both professional and family reasons it feels really good to be back. Good to be riding in and around the city with my girlfriend and rediscovering those once familiar roads all over again. Professionally I have some plans because if you don’t then nothing will happen. But that doesn’t mean you have to stick with them. I think of it as a bike ride; you might set off on a certain route but then bump into something great and decide to change direction. Taking another road that you really didn’t expect. What’s clear is that I want to continue documenting my rides. I really love doing this kind of photography but I don’t want a financial need to do that. I want to enjoy it.’

‘I’m kind of a quiet person,’ Jochen concludes. ‘I have my own opinions but I don’t feel the need to talk for the sake of it. I prefer to be more of an observer and if I can continue to inspire people to go riding and discover places; well, that would also be good.’

 

All images with kind permission of Jochen Hoops

Roger Seaton / TransBromptonental

One of the world’s most arduous ultra-distance events, the Transcontinental is an unsupported cycle race that saw competitors on the 2018 edition roll out of Geraardsbergen in Belgium on Saturday 28th July before crossing the finish line in Greece some 4 checkpoints and 3,900 km later.

So deciding to race across Europe on a Brompton might seem an unusual choice of bike for such a challenging feat of endurance. But ask Roger Seaton to recount his experience – he can list the individual weights of his equipment down to the gram – and you soon begin to appreciate his serious intent when entering such an extreme event.

Now back for a 7th edition with an East / West route, in his own words Roger describes the decisions that led to a second Transcontinental start line, the preparation required to race a bike across a continent and why – no matter what challenges lay ahead – he was intent on having as much fun as possible.

I rode throughout my teens; in and out of trails around London. Seeing where the bike could take me on casual trips with friends. Even years later never really losing that sense of adventure you get every time you set foot across your own doorstep. And thinking back to my first attempt at the Transcontinental during the summer of 2017, I suppose I was looking for a challenge; something on an epic scale.

Both riding regular bikes, I’d entered as a pair with a fellow Rapha Cycling Club member but to be honest I’d pretty much coerced him into doing it. He was very unsure as he’d never tried sleeping wild before. In my opinion a minor detail because you don’t need much experience to lie down on the ground after riding 250 km. If you’re tired, you’ll sleep. It’s that simple [smiles].

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A week out of the start he’d decided to pull out but I still felt good so re-classified as solo. And then barely a day into the race I bumped into a fellow rider and he asked if I’d heard about Frank Simons who, as I soon found out, had tragically died following a hit and run incident shortly after the start in Geraardsbergen.

My family back home in the UK had learnt about this on Facebook and immediately tried to contact me. 17 or 18 missed calls later they finally got through but by that time my children in particular were increasingly concerned and upset. Especially as 6 weeks before the start of the race I was the victim of a hit and run driver myself when someone knocked me off my bike leaving me unconscious on the roadside with lacerations and broken ribs. The seriousness of these injuries preventing my doctor from signing me off to ride but fortunately not detering my dog’s vet from passing me fit [laughs].

After speaking over the phone I told them I’d think it over before calling the following morning. My daughter was still very tearful after a sleepless night so I decided then and there to scratch from the race. I’d lost my ability to focus entirely on myself and what I needed to do in order to complete such a mammoth undertaking. Not an easy decision as I was feeling great but it was the right thing to do and I don’t regret it. In my mind it’s only a bike race – a fun run – and if your journey isn’t a happy one then why would you do it?

When the 2018 edition was announced I decided to give it another go but this time riding a Brompton. To some maybe an unusual choice but it’s all about your frame of reference. A Brompton has smaller wheels but the geometry isn’t miles off a normal bike. And I wanted to ride the Transcontinental again but on my own terms. Yes, it’s a race, but I wanted to stop and smell the flowers along the way and the Brompton is a bike I always associate with maximum amounts of fun. Just as importantly my family felt the same way which helped alleviate any concerns left over from the previous year.

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I use a Brompton every day as transport and CHPT3 – the company ex-professional cyclist David Millar and some friends founded after he retired from racing – had produced this pimped up and modified superlight version. I’d arranged to pick mine up from the Brompton Junction in Covent Garden and when I arrived David was there; chatting to the people who’d bought the first run of these bikes. I remember making this off the cuff remark that I was entering the Transcontinental again and, if I got a place, I was thinking of doing it on my new CHPT3 Brompton. He was very nice about it and suggested I get in touch if I got a place. So when my confirmation came through from the race organisers I sent David a message to let him know I was in and to ask if they were still interested. From there it went very quickly to full team support.

The individuals behind CHPT3 are super fun but my entry in the Transcontinental was treated with absolute seriousness to the extent that we immediately planned several long weekends away to put the bike and kit through its paces. Basically a series of big days – 250 km back to back – that included a fair bit of mixed surfaces as I’d already decided to vary my race route to make the riding more interesting.

The route planning is such a crucial part of your preparation. Make or break in some senses and the more time you spend on this aspect the better the ride experience. The checkpoints determine your general direction but it’s down to each individual competitor to plan from there. You’d think that cycle paths, for example, might seem appropriate but they can be very variable in surface and you need to constantly slow down to avoid other cyclists and pedestrians. But you wouldn’t want to travel the whole way on dual carriageways with trucks thundering past you day and night. And that’s before you factor in the ban on using tunnels and whether there are places to stop and refuel because on a big day you’re burning 11,000 calories. One thing I quickly discovered was that nearly all French cemeteries have a tap that you can use to refill your bidons.

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Luggage was one of the easiest considerations when prepping the bike. Apidura’s seat bag fitted perfectly on the rear rack without any need for modifications and that’s all the storage I’d planned on taking. In terms of sleeping there’s two schools of thought. If you book hotels then it can be expensive and you need a fixed route which can be an added complication time-wise. But a hotel room means you can easily power up devices, wash your kit and generally have a good night’s sleep. I wanted a more fluid approach and didn’t start with any preconceived plans. If I was at a hotel at the right time and the right price then I’d take it. If not I was going to sleep rough.

Not including navigation, my kit came in at just under 2.5 kg. Very pared down but when your equipment is good then this allows you to make tough decisions in the sense of what not to pack. You take my CHPT3 1.21 jersey for example and the moment I’d opened a tin of mackerel and managed to tip the whole contents of oily tomato sauce all over me. I washed it out in a stream with some soap, it dried within minutes and didn’t even smell. Superb quality kit that will take a good beating yet still functions perfectly.

With the start day fast approaching I crossed over on the ferry from Hull and then rode the 110 km from Bruges to Geraardsbergen ready for the off. A useful distance to make sure everything was working in terms of both kit and rider [smiles]. I was feeling apprehensive that it would seem a little disrespectful to be rolling up on a Brompton but the reality was I meant business. As it turned out the reception I received was great and people were genuinely interested. Some, it must be said, thought it was absolutely crazy but the bike was clearly kitted out for adventure and the camaraderie I enjoyed with the CHPT3 team was such an important aspect. Constant messages to motivate and reassure me to such an extent that even David’s mum had texted to wish me good luck.

The race got under way at 22:00; a parade lap before immediately climbing the Muur and its 20% cobbled ramps. It’s very frenetic with all the riders charging ahead in the heat of the moment but the Brompton was just sensational. And one of the most profound experiences of the race was hearing people shout my name as I climbed – individuals I’d met the day before or who’d seen me on local news programmes – until you reach the top and it all quietens as the race itself gets underway. For 30 to 40 km you’re riding alongside the other competitors before, one by one, they gradually veer off to follow their own routes into the night.

kit bag

The first few days went better than expected as I pretty much settled into a rhythm from the off; riding my own race. The Brompton felt fast and I just needed to keep on top of my hydration as it was very hot. And this also makes keeping clean one of the hardest things to manage as you sweat with a corresponding build-up of salt. One evening I’d pulled up in a forest and got my kit out ready to bed down but the moment the dew point changed all this dried salt became slimy. Not particularly pleasant as you climb into your bag [laughs].

For me, the secret was breaking the day down into manageable chunks; both physically but also mentally. At times the temperatures during the day were unbearably hot so why wouldn’t you sleep for a couple of hours after midday before making that time back later when it’s cooler? And I’d already decided not to bury my head in terms of counting off the kilometres. I swam in streams, stopped to take photographs of the amazing scenery and I’ve got quite a sweet tooth so if I passed an open patisserie… [smiles]

Approaching Checkpoint 1 I’d pulled in at a McDonald’s. Not my usual choice of restaurant but there’s power to charge your appliances, toilet facilities and WiFi. I’d checked the map before leaving but managed to end up on a really fast dual carriageway before backtracking down my alternate route that brought me to a 20 km gravel fire track through a forest. Serious off-road sections that would’ve been great on a mountain bike but were decidedly sketchy on my fully-laden Brompton. So there I was, roughly 8 hours outside my plan and having to ride all night through thunderstorms and torrential rain to get back on track; making the checkpoint with a good four hours to spare to receive my first stamp after roughly 800 km and 3 days of riding.

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It was on the Silvretta-Hochalpenstraße with its 34 hairpin bends that I first heard an odd clunking sound that I assumed was just something touching or rubbing a wheel. I had a good look but couldn’t see anything amiss before noticing that even on the flat I was 2-3 kph down on my average pace and it was becoming harder and harder to pedal. Still not being able to work out what the issue was I decided to carry on but over the next 200 km the noise got considerably louder. I was in the Tyrolean Alps at this stage and the effort required to keep moving was just horrendous. So I phoned the CHPT3 guys for advice, we diagnosed a failure of the rear internally geared hub before realising that as I couldn’t retrofit a standard hub my race was over.

Obviously very disappointing and whether it’s unfinished business is yet to be decided. I still have faith in the Brompton as a valid choice of bike for this event if we can just overcome the issues with gearing. And I came away with wonderful memories of all the people I met: fellow competitors, the race organisers and those random individuals you encounter along the route. Then there’s the mountains, the breathtaking views; even the extremes of weather. That overnight effort to reach Checkpoint 1 fuelled on tinned ravioli with the road ahead briefly lit by each lightning strike. Little things like the message from home asking why I’d stopped before suggested I get moving again – they were dot watching and tracking my progress – that make you smile.

There’s a quote that I find particularly appealing that mirrors how I feel about my experiences on the Transcontinental: ‘Blessed are the curious as they shall have adventures’. Yes, I was very sorry to pull out but it’s not the end of the world and now there’s the next journey to plan.

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Image of Brompton descending by courtesy of CHPT3 and Alex Rory Jacobs

All other images with kind permission of Roger Seaton

Transcontinental

Karly Millar / Keep keeping on

Karly Millar is no stranger to challenging cycling conditions; an innate hardiness helping her ride year round in Scotland where she lives and works. That being so, she clearly remembers a certain sense of trepidation when signing up for the 2017 Rapha Manchester to London; an event that involved riding north to south on a demanding 220 mile route sandwiched between Peak District climbs and the rolling hills of the Chilterns.

Back for 2019 with a revamped format and registration now open, in her own words Karly reflects on that Sunday in September when she left the Manchester Velodrome at dawn and rode south to London in a single day. An honest account of a physical and emotional journey that tested her to breaking point.

I wanted a challenge. Something so big that I wasn’t absolutely sure I could do it. An 80 km club run would leave me totally empty and eating macaroni in the bath with a bottle of flat coke to recover; so I genuinely didn’t believe I would make it all the way to London.

I’d tentatively floated the idea quite early in the year; initially to myself before discussing it with friends until the more times you mention something the greater the social contract that says you should probably follow through on what you’ve been talking about.

In terms of preparation I just kept on riding. I think subconsciously pushing the distance but my biggest ride before M2L was still only 120 miles. Well short of the 220 mile total that I would be riding on the event. But I remember talking to a friend about long distance cycling and him suggesting that once you reach a certain point – as long as you’re putting fuel in the tank and you keep turning your legs – then it’s different. It’s all mental.

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In the final few weeks running up to the start date I felt a little bit sick if I thought about it too much. But as the weeks turned to days I grew calmer. What would be, would be. I couldn’t change anything; couldn’t train any harder. My only concern was letting down everyone who’d sponsored me. They’d been so generous and I didn’t want to feel that I might fail them. But my partner pointed out that simply rolling up at the start line was big enough. And I kind of found my peace with that.

At the pre-ride party you could feel a real sense of nervous energy in the Manchester clubhouse. The magnitude of what we were taking on suddenly hitting me and that I was part of it. And then standing on the start line at the Velodrome; actually feeling very irritable with the degree of faffing around in my group but more likely because I’d been up since four in the morning after only a couple of hours sleep.

The ride itself I broke down into the feedstops. Manageable chunks of effort. And I felt really good when we rolled into the first at Carsington Water after completing a hilly 50 miles through the Peak District.

By the second – 90 miles in – my mood had definitely dipped. It was the first time during the day that I actually wondered whether we’d make the time cut-offs. It had started to rain and I was feeling the pressure of all those miles ahead. But we pushed on, into the headwind that had dogged us all day and it was a special moment when we reached the halfway point.

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I can picture us pulling into the third feedstop at this grand stately home but the rest of that section was rather a blur. I knew I hadn’t eaten enough and what lay ahead would be tough. In hindsight we should have taken a little longer to eat the hot food on offer rather than grazing on snacks. That would have been a wise investment in time.

You’re physically tired but more so mentally. And as we set off once again I was steeling myself for the hard slog into the night. Running on absolute fumes, I knew we still had 77 miles to go and the thought of carrying on made me want to cry.

But we worked together – following Simon Mottram’s [Rapha CEO] advice to ‘just keep on keeping on’ – until we finally reached the last feedstop. Feeling absolutely broken but with a realisation that this might actually happen.

On that final 25 mile stretch I was bargaining with myself when I was allowed to press the backlight button on my Wahoo; trying to guess how far we’d gone from the last time I’d checked. Mind games to ease the passing of those last few miles until, almost without warning, we were out of the dark country lanes and riding under street lights. Crossing the line in tears; a mix of emotions that I’d never experienced before and I wonder whether I ever will again.

And although I felt such a huge sense of accomplishment, it took until the next day’s train ride home before it all sank in. When I sat down with my helmet on the table in front of me and the passenger opposite asked where I’d cycled from and I answered Manchester and the look in their eyes when I told them it was in one day. I’d spent the past 48 hours in my M2L bubble and this was the first proper acknowledgement from the outside world. That we’d finished. That all the doubts and soul searching were now behind me.

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Experience has since taught me that if you put your mind to something you can do it. And I think, previously, I’d underestimated myself and I walked away from M2L with a far stronger ‘can do’ attitude. I don’t feel like I need to prove myself anymore. We did good.

As for highlights? Riding as a team; each looking out for the other. The guy who rode it in an Elvis costume. Those random acts of kindness from the helpers at each feedstop. And if I had to advise anyone contemplating signing up for this year’s L2M? I’d tell them to do it. 100% commit because you will never know unless you try.

And just remember to eat. Eat all the time.

Now in its sixth edition, following last year’s ‘win’ by the North the route will reverse and for the first time riders will set off from London; just one of the new changes introduced for the 2019 Rapha London to Manchester.  More information and sign up can be found here.

Image of Karly arriving at the 2nd feed stop with kind permission of Jess Morgan

Karly Millar

 

Jules Saint Gerome / Fairmean

Movement is a common theme in conversation with Jules Saint Gerome. Softly spoken and politely intense, he speaks in a stream of consciousness that mirrors the passing wake of a sailing boat. Ripples of nuance and insight that link a peripatetic working life with a thoughtful consideration for how we engage with our natural environment and the challenges this can bring. Playful in his questioning of the human condition, Jules draws on a rich raft of experience when describing the origins of his bike bag brand; the name chosen as a reference to the Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner’s championing of an ascent of Everest ‘by fair means’ without recourse to supplementary oxygen.

‘I grew up in the Australian outback,’ Jules explains. ‘By the age of 7 I was rounding up livestock and spending most of my time outside, alone. And I suppose Fairmean originated in this pretty much unbounded environment.’

It was while majoring in sculpture at the Royal Institute of Technology in Australia that Jules bought various examples of 1950s furniture that he could refurbish before selling on; discovering during the process of deconstructing and reupholstering that he was subconsciously reinterpreting the designs as he went along. A creative approach to life that’s encompassed opening a café in Melbourne, a move to London and time spent in a motion graphics studio before another relocation to Tokyo where Jules enrolled in film school. The idiosyncrasies of train travel in Japan providing the inspiration for the first iteration of the Fairmean bike bag.

‘For me, the design process starts with desire. My first steps with road biking go back to when I had someone visiting me in Japan. I’d bought an old 80s racer – super minimal in the sense of two steel triangles – and once I’d experienced riding it with my friend in the mountains I was encouraged to do more. And then somebody lent me a bag so I could travel with my bike but it proved to be totally inadequate. Too bulky and difficult to use. I could have put my bike on the roof of a car and driven out of the city. But it’s really something to just leave the house, spin down to the station and an hour later you’re climbing a mountain luggage free. So one of the biggest challenges was the antagonistic relationship riders had with the use of these bags. Traditionally just a square of black nylon with some straps, invariably difficult to use and even, in some cases, causing damage to your bike.’

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‘I knew there was no reason why the bag couldn’t fit inside a jersey pocket and the process of easily covering and uncovering the bike would enable you to get on and off a train without difficulty. So I started with a mouthful of pins, some paper, a bike on the table and a desire to travel in a fluid, smooth manner. I used to sail so I’ve spent a lot of time around fabric; considering what it can be and do. A sewing machine and some silk and you’re jumping out of an aeroplane. You can cross an ocean or shelter from the elements on Everest.’

First with his own bike before making bags for the people he knew, Jules approached the problems and solutions dictated by different frame geometries and tyre sizes; the initial bags starting out as fully custom with a bike being dropped off at his house where he’d make a pattern before a fitting process that minimised the volume of material needed. Gradually over time Jules began to see ways of generalising the design without losing the distinctive silhouette – instinctively understanding that this served to identify the product without recourse to a brand name – with the design of each bag utilising every square centimetre of fabric and the form very much deriving from its function.

‘In the same way that Messner describes the act of climbing a mountain as so very elemental, any piece of equipment that allows you to travel unimpeded demands a certain respect. There’s nothing superfluous and this goes to the heart of the cycling experience itself.’

‘When I look at Fairmean,’ he continues, ‘and take a value analysis approach to try and understand my own brand, I suppose it comes down to asking what people are actually doing when they use my product? Simplistically they’re covering a bike and putting it on a train. But on another, deeper level, it’s about riding with other people; having, creating and sharing an authentic experience of making that journey. And it’s this idea of self-reliance that is super pertinent with regard to Fairmean because as a society we’re becoming increasingly reliant on things other than the self. I don’t necessarily mean technologically but also mentally. So the very core of what I do with Fairmean is to design and make products that augment travel and self-reliance in a minimal, direct way.’

Manufacturing every bag personally, Jules has considered adding other products to his Fairmean brand but, at present, believes his bike bag does something so very specific that he doesn’t want to diverge from this focus; to make something that somebody else has already created.

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‘I’m the entire team [smiles]. But, in another sense, it’s me and everyone who uses the product. Every time someone purchases one of my bags it’s like an extension of this family. There’s times when I’ve changed the design of the bag after a particular piece of feedback but I see that as a strength.’

A collaboration with Rapha Japan led to Jules supplying several bags for the Tokyo and Osaka clubhouses before another relocation to where he’s now based just outside of Paris; Jules deciding to temporarily take down his Japanese website after the move to France so that it could be re-modelled. But the orders never slowed down with customers sending him messages through Instagram; the quirky nature of this current business model not lost on Jules when he considers more mainstream methods of marketing and sales.

‘I forward the product information as a PDF and we go from there. It’s ridiculous, crazy, archaic. In lots of ways it would be much easier to have a website where customers could simply choose a colour and size before hitting the ‘buy’ button. But by inserting this commercial layer I don’t get such an extended surface area of contact with people which I find invaluable. I get information that I wouldn’t necessarily be privy to if orders were placed online. I’m not going to know who you are, what you’re riding and where. And at this stage, it’s still not too extravagant to invest that sort of time with people.’

‘The challenge is scale,’ Jules points out. ‘Demand doesn’t like to move predictably so I like to keep a modest inventory. Maybe this attitude is holding me back but at the same time the initial responses to a product and a brand are not something you can buy or craft. So at the moment, at least in my mind, I’m still in that intimate phase of staying close to the people that are using my bags. A few iterations away from something I’d feel comfortable having several hundred units manufactured.’

‘The bag has changed a lot since the very beginning but it’s still hard to be satisfied with a standard range of bags if you want them to be lightweight and fitted without any excess fabric. Maybe it’s a little sadomasochistic but I’ve come this far and never had a bag returned. So it’s working and my customers are really satisfied with the bags I produce.’

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In answer to who these customers are, Jules confirms that in Japan he still has strong links with the Rapha Cycling Club and their community of riders; very diverse but with a shared demographic. And as bike bags in one form or another have long been a utilitarian object due to the transit rules, Jules discovered his Fairmean version was quickly adopted but, in considering the transfer ride itself, he believes there’s a subtle difference between Japan and Europe in how people actually use his bag.

‘A typical scenario out of Tokyo would be a Saturday morning, family commitments later in the day, so you’re up at 5:00am to catch the train ready for some good riding. It sounds a little cliched but it’s very much about a compact experience; minimise the junk miles, maximise the good stuff. Europe is so super connected that my bags are used by people commuting between cities, even countries, for work. They might have a 3 day business trip and they’re planning on getting in some riding so they’ll want to take their bike with them on the train.’

At present his own riding centres around a twice-weekly trip into Paris and occasional loops through the forests surrounding his home; 160km there and back routes with a church spire forever on the horizon. Riding, as Jules terms it, where you need to go. With nothing in your head for a few hours save the simply pleasure of travelling through the landscape. Another reference to movement that’s picked up in one particular example from the cultural icons he chooses to feature on his Instagram feed.

‘I posted a portrait of Keith Richards because I feel he’s a beautiful example of how to make a living by being yourself. His authenticity – the turbulence that his ‘wake’ leaves behind – is so very thought provoking. And, for me, design should be that way too. An emotion; a movement through your own appreciations and fears and doubts. The challenges of Fairmean have always been my own limits. Simple limits like just being tired or coping with the occasional disappointment that design throws at you. But I look at Messner and, in a sense, he wasn’t climbing mountains but climbing the human experience. And Fairmean excites me because it’s a way to connect with people. Yes, it’s a business, but if you’re willing to limit your volume then you gain a degree of liberty. Maybe I’m idealistic but I’d like to think that’s possible.’

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All images with kind permission of @leebasford except for the pink bag shot taken by @streetviper

 

A Safe Harbour / Rapha Copenhagen

For many the summer of 2018 will be remembered for endless days of clear skies and soaring temperatures; cyclists living in Northern Europe enjoying the luxury of riding without recourse to a rain cape and overshoes. But seasons come and go with autumn giving way to the cold and grey of winter months. And as individuals return from a ride seeking shelter from the elements, the warm welcome offered by Rapha Copenhagen carries through to the clubhouse emblem having an historical allusion to a ‘safe harbour’; a reference that clubhouse associate Karl Owen understands all too well now that he’s experiencing his first Danish winter.

‘We’ve just enjoyed one of the best summers in living memory but when it does turn cold and wet then it’s important to have somewhere to go where you can get a cup of coffee and warm up.’ This comment best illustrated by his description of clubhouse light fittings regularly festooned with drying helmets and gloves when a wet ride returns. ‘The Danes,’ he continues, ‘are very, very good at gritting the roads because everyone is pretty hardy and still wants to ride even when there’s a deep frost or snow falling. All that salt and grit means bike maintenance costs can be high but you can ride year round.’

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With the clubhouse located just off Strøget – one of Copenhagen’s busiest shopping streets – it’s conveniently situated as a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city centre yet still only a 15 minute ride from the outskirts of the city. And as many members use the clubhouse on a regular basis, there’s grown a close-knit community of Danes bolstered by international members either based in Copenhagen for work or those visiting who want to take advantage of the bike hire scheme. ‘What’s nice,’ suggests Karl, ‘is how the clubhouse encourages all these individuals to meet and interact. The Danes have a reputation as being a little reserved – as do the Brits – and whereas inhibitions are often eased over a drink I like to think that a shared love of cycling replaces the alcohol in allowing people to get past any initial awkwardness [smiles].’

Originally based in Manchester, Karl got to know his future colleagues on regular visits to Copenhagen before finally taking the plunge and relocating. Having now experienced cycling in the Danish capital he’s come to realise how differently he rode back home in the UK; taking a primary position and almost behaving like a car. So much so that it took a while to transition into the Copenhagen way.

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‘Very often you ride separately from the cars using the extensive network of bike lanes and there’s a very definite set of rules. You overtake on the left after looking behind and often there’s room for three cyclists abreast so it acts almost like a motorway. And it’s because there are so many cyclists that you’re expected to adhere to these nuanced set of rules. There’s not the free for all that you find in some other major cities. The pace is generally quite consistent and it can be really beautiful in the sense that the city simply flows.’

‘I feel there’s a worldwide understanding that the Copenhagen way works,’ he continues. ‘You can fit 10 bikes into the space taken by a single car so the result is a city centre that isn’t choked with traffic. The box turn takes a little getting used to but this avoids the need to cross the road in front of moving vehicles. Here you put your hand up as you approach a junction to indicate that you’re slowing before turning 90° and crossing with the lights.’

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In terms of clubhouse riding, a typical route sees riders setting off north towards the lakes before heading up through Nørrebro to Mosehuset; a traditional meeting point if you’re not starting out in the city centre. ‘From there you can head out towards Gilleleje on the northern coast before turning towards Helsingør with the sea and Sweden on your left shoulder. On a good day very beautiful indeed,’ Karl confirms.

‘Saturday sees a couple of differently paced open rides heading out with a training ride on a Tuesday that includes intervals and is aimed at more advanced riders. Wednesday has two alternating rides. The ‘Look pro, go slow’ that sees riders wearing their best gear and riding out at a very social pace for a coffee or ice cream depending on the season. Or there’s the ‘Find it in 50’ which, as the name implies, involves a 50 km route ending at one of Copenhagen’s many craft beer bars. Both, perhaps unsurprisingly, very popular rides [smiles].’

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The explosion of the gravel scene is also reflected in the number of rides now offered that include off-road tracks and trails with Hansens, a local ice-cream manufacturer, organising a 130 km gravel ride during the summer months with ice-cream at every feed stop. ‘One of my favourite day’s on the bike,’ Karl comments. ‘And during winter when the wind picks up and temperatures drop it’s nice get off the road and seek the shelter of woodland paths.’

With an active social scene complementing the clubhouse rides, in summer when evenings are drawn out it’s common for RCC rides to start with a loop before ending with the riders sitting out on a grassy corner with a couple of beers. According to Karl, very much a Danish way of doing things and another aspect of Copenhagen cycle culture that he’s learning to understand and appreciate.

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‘I’m still trying to work out some of the more idiosyncratic references. A couple of minutes turn on the front, for example, is described as ‘Swedish shifts’ and I love the fact that almost everyone – even if they’re riding a super expensive race bike – will have a bell. Very useful when you consider it’s quite acceptable to be travelling at 40 kph in a bike lane and there’s so many other users.’

This mention of the bikes his members ride prompts Karl to confirm that lightweight carbon bikes are extremely popular but with a move towards fatter tyres and a mindset of having a single bike that can cope with a variety of terrain and surface.

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‘There’s this Scandinavian concept of Jantelagen which basically boils down to not showing off. And maybe this accounts for fewer individuals going down the custom steel route and why you’re far more likely to see one of our members riding an understated black bike. Even to some extent influencing what items sell well out of our clothing range. Our customers tend to favour monochrome kit so we rarely sell a Rapha-pink jersey [laughs].’

In terms of other clubhouse trends, a cortado or flat white are the most common coffee orders with spicy tuna or avocado a popular choice of sandwich. And out on the road, Karl is often tempted by a tebirkes; a pastry filled with sweet marzipan and covered with poppy seeds. ‘Not particularly easy to pronounce,’ he adds with a grin, ‘so even when I’m in a bakery and pointing with a finger at the same time as asking, the sales assistant will still look quizzically at me.’

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‘What’s fun about riding out of Copenhagen is getting back to discover you’ve just done 200 km at a healthy average speed. It’s flat which helps but our cycling infrastructure means you don’t have to stop and start quite so much as you would in other countries. And then there’s the view across to Sweden from Strandvejen; a road that hugs the coastline north south out of Copenhagen. This proximity to the sea that, in the summer, let’s us finish a ride with an open water swim. And what’s not to like about that.’

All images with kind permission of Erik Jonsson

Rapha Copenhagen

Karl Owen