Stuart Clapp / Matters of Desire

Stuart Clapp is by nature a talker. His unabated responses to my questions – punctuated by frequent bursts of laughter – leaving me a little concerned that I’ll ever manage to interject. Fortunately we soon find our conversational rhythm and I’m regaled with energised reflections on his role as Desire Editor for Rouleur Magazine, his considered views on cycling etiquette and why it’s sometimes better to spend more but buy once.

You’ve been riding?

I went out earlier this morning but if I nod off it’s because I’ve got a puppy that keeps getting up during the night. It was so nice during the Rouleur Classic as I got a lie-in every day.

Do you have house rules for the dog? Are you firm but fair?

Not exactly. I think he sees me as an equal [laughs]. He tries to bite me all the time as if I’m on his level and he’s trying to get pecking order. Which is funny considering I’m losing out to a five-month-old Italian Greyhound that weighs about as much as one of my wheelsets.

You mentioned the Rouleur Classic. I guess a particularly busy time of the year?

I’m always really busy but I never really have a clue what I’m supposed to be doing. I did know that I was podcasting from around the show and there was some social media stuff but generally people just ask me if I want to do this or that and I just say yes [laughs].

Sounds very chilled.

It can be but when the schedule came out for this year’s Classic I noticed a Desire Presents listed on the stage timings and I thought, hang on a second, before having this massive anxiety attack. But when I messaged Ian Cleverly, our Executive Editor, he told me not to worry because they’d got someone to do that spot properly and he’d just see me at the bar [laughs].

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How did you end up working for Rouleur?

I was at this wedding. Sharing a place with Ian because we’ve known each other for years and go to football together. And he asked me whether I’d seen the magazine recently and if I wanted to come and work on it and do the Desire section. He explained that he was asking me before we got too drunk because he wanted to have some sort of business chat. And that was two and a half years ago.

Good years?

Very. It’s been fun to see it grow bigger and bigger.

What kind of qualifications does an individual need to be a Desire Editor?

My background was in PR. I’d launched the Extreme Sports Channel – working in skate-boarding for years – and then I left to become PR Manager for Evans Cycles. I did that for a bit before getting another job in skate-boarding. Evans Cycles, as you know, are based in Gatwick but this new job offer was from a company with a head office in Los Angeles. So you do the math on that decision [laughs].

So you found yourself out on the West Coast?

A bit like cycling, skate-boarding goes in waves with these 10-year peaks and troughs. My little boy was due to be born in January and I got made redundant the day after the Christmas party. Perfect timing [smiles].

That can’t have been easy?

Fortunately I had a couple of mates at Factory Media. One of them was David – at that time the editor of Bicycle Buyer magazine – so I worked there before managing the first Rapha pop-up cafe on Clerkenwell Road. And then another job came up when I was contacted by my friend Albert at Madison. I got to know Ian and the guys at Rouleur through that job and at the same time was reading the magazine, loving it, and wondering how does anyone go about getting a job there. How do you write for Rouleur?

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So the question is, what does a Desire Editor actually do?

Dunno [laughs]. How a magazine works is that we have an editorial plan for the whole year. From there I’ll be given a number of concepts for different issues that originate with just one word. I then go away and figure out what we can do with that. Because we don’t just want another series of shots of someone riding a bike.

That’s been done to death?

Exactly. So I’ve got this idea and then I’ll talk to Benedict Campbell who does our photography and also happens to be bloody amazing. Because the pictures are all him; I just provide Benedict with the initial idea. It’s like he’s the painter and I roll up with the easel and some paints.

Is there an element of narrative? Of telling stories?

There is because we’re not reviewing the stuff we feature. And when the Desire section expanded from 16 to 25 pages, that also meant I had to start writing stuff [laughs].

It’s fairly high-end, the products you feature?

I know that a lot of the stuff we feature in the Desire section is ridiculously expensive. But in the same way I can’t afford the £20,000 watch that you’ll find in GQ, it’s still nice to look at.

So how do you define Desire?

I was talking about this the other day in the office. For me, it’s whether – even with unlimited amounts of money – you’d still desire a particular product. There has to be an element that transcends what an item costs.

Could it be argued that desires are best left unfulfilled? That the wanting is a more satisfying and interesting state of mind than the having?

That’s an interesting concept [smiles]. Looking back at the photoshoot we did with all the supercars; wanting those cars is very different than actually living with them. And because we don’t actually review the bikes, stylistically it’s more like a fashion shoot. We’re not concerned with shifting product and we wouldn’t include anything because we’d been approached by a particular sponsor or brand. If it’s featured in Desire, it’s there on its own merit. If someone tells me that something has to go in, then that won’t happen. I’m freelance; so fire me [laughs].

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Considering the cycling trends that come and go; are these encouraging a throw-away society? Does that concern you?

No, not really [laughs]. I’m just thinking whether something looks cool. And a lot of the kit that we feature isn’t exactly cheap but it is high quality and therefore very long-lasting and the sort of stuff that you invest in and keep.

So a case of spend a bit more but buy once?

Yes. 100%. Because as cyclists, we spend a lot of time hanging around in cafes. A ride I did recently had a moving time of 1 hour and 30 minutes but the elapsed time was over 3 hours. And we talk about kit quite a lot and there’s this general agreement that if you go for a good quality manufacturer then you’ll have clothing that not only fits and performs well on the road but also has a longevity that cheaper brands can’t deliver due to the materials they use.

Is this an important message that manufacturers need to convey to their customers?

It’s an interesting point because some of the more established brands, though still technically excellent, if they launched today as a new business they’d run the risk of being lost in the market. And Instagram has definitely changed the way we interact with brands in terms of telling a story rather than just presenting a certain look. When Rapha first produced their Continental films you saw yourself in the riders that were featured. In a sense you’re recognising that it could be you riding those roads. In a lot of ways you’re buying into a lifestyle as much as a particular product. So it’s a far tougher market place in terms of the sheer range of what’s on offer but brands have social media and influencers to drive sales.

You mention influencers and I’m interested in where you see Rouleur sitting in this respect? I’m thinking of the reference on your website’s About us section that refers to Rouleur magazine as the world’s finest road cycling journal for the most discerning of rider.

With Rouleur, I think in the past that was fair comment. But now? I see us as being quite subversive. Because if you look at it and break it down it’s all a bit bonkers. Desire is very tongue-in-cheek and we can have loads of fun with it because no one really tells us off [smiles]. So rather than elitist I believe it’s evolved to have its own style and a unique voice. Yes, we have in the past commissioned two-part articles on DT Swiss spokes that were pretty hard work. But now, there’s a sense of humour and no one’s thinking check us out.

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So what does your working week look like?

Well, I’m not actually based in the office. I work from home and go in once a month. I’m told the next Desire theme and then I contact Benedict to ask when he’s free.

Sounds like a cool job?

Yes, it’s really cool but there’s also a massive amount of trust from the editorial team that I’m actually doing something [laughs].

Has it ever gone completely wrong?

Well – I can’t believe I’m actually telling you this – there was the Spitfire shoot [laughs]. This was arranged through a PR who does a lot of stuff with National Trust buildings. I told him we needed some Spitfires and he said he knew the guys at Biggin Hill and that he could get the new museum for us. So I told him that was fantastic and we set a date.

It was all arranged?

This was a Thursday and the shoot was the following Tuesday – all a little bit last minute – and then I get a call from the PR guy to say he’d been listening to my podcast, had heard me talking about the Spitfires and just wanted to mention that he hadn’t got any [laughs].

Not the sort of news you wanted to hear?

Especially because I’d been proactive and Google-imaged the Biggin Hill Museum and there’s loads of Spitfires all lined up. But he pointed out that I’d been looking at the Heritage Hanger which we hadn’t got. At this point I put the phone down and I’m sweating. We’d booked everything, I’d done about three podcasts all banging on about doing a photo-shoot with Spitfires and we hadn’t got any planes.

So what happened next?

The PR guy calls me back to say I need to speak to this chap and – you couldn’t of written this – it turns out he’s a subscriber to Rouleur [laughs]. So I phoned him and he sorted everything out.

And the Spitfires?

When we got there, he’s telling us to move them around for the photographs if we need to. I mean, these planes flew in the Battle of Britain and I’m thinking that we can’t just climb all over them? But it turned out that we could and the shoot went really well. A real squeaky bum moment but it came off and one of the images even made it onto the front cover.

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Speaking of front covers, could Rouleur ever be digital only?

In my opinion it’s a premium product and people still like to buy nice magazines. It’s like when I’m trying to describe Rouleur to someone and I always compare it to a coffee-table book rather than a cycling magazine. Cycling Weekly is a good read but not many people keep them forever. People still get misty-eyed over certain Rouleur issues and my little boy loves the cover we did with Sagan’s plasticine head. But what do I know? I still like buying CDs which my wife thinks is just plain weird [laughs].

If you were writing an etiquette guide to cycling, what advice would you offer?

Where do you want me to start [laughs].

How about some style tips for on the bike?

For me, helmets and shoes should always match. So if you’re wearing white shoes you need a white helmet. That might sound a little OCD but it’s just that I’m quite particular. On a similar theme, big sunglasses are great but there has to be a gap between them and your helmet. And if you’re wearing a Gabba or an equivalent item from another brand, then you have to wear arm warmers with it.

Why?

I don’t know but it’s just wrong not to [laughs]. And it’s the same if you’re wearing knee or leg warmers. These should only be worn with arm warmers otherwise it looks like you’re wearing a t-shirt and jeans. And, for me, that’s a big no no.

Dare I mention jersey pockets?

Obviously anything you put in them has to be arranged symmetrically. Middle pocket I have a micro-pump and spare tube. I don’t use CO2 canisters because you can get them so wrong. Then it’s tyre levers, wallet and keys on the left; phone on the right.

I guess you want to avoid overloading your pockets but this time of year it does get trickier?

But that’s going back to what we were saying about investing in good kit that functions well on the road. And you obviously want to keep both arm and leg warmers on for as long as possible [laughs]. Tao [Geoghegan Hart] said to me once that it was 18°C before he gets his legs out.

And mudguards?

That’s a bone of contention so I’ll choose to answer with another question. Has Mario Cipollini ever ridden a bike with mudguards [smiles]?

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Does all of this advice apply universally?

There are always exceptions. It’s not uncommon to see cyclists on the Continent wearing full pro kit. But that’s OK because it comes from a football thing. And I’ve never seen a British cyclist wear a sleeveless jersey. Go to Europe and you’ll see loads. And if you’re ever in Mallorca and passed by a bunch of riders wearing head-to-toe Rapha and riding S-Works; it’s a good bet they’re from England.

But it’s these little differences that matter. Our own sense of identity?

Or mistaken identity. At this year’s World Championships up in Yorkshire I was lucky enough to be riding with some of the pros and actually got to sign my first autograph. I was standing with Pete Kennaugh and David Millar and this guy had a cap he wanted signing. But because I’d never signed anything before I just wrote my name in block capitals. So amongst all these signatures from individuals who are actually famous, it looks like I’m shouting my name [laughs].

Talking to you, what comes over is a real love of life.

I know it means I can be a pain in the arse but I’m really the happiest person all of the time. Annoyingly upbeat according to certain of my colleagues [laughs]. And it’s important to be thankful because shit things happen to people; they’ve happened to me. But you know what, I’ve got a pretty good life and a job that I really enjoy. So on balance, I’m doing OK [smiles].

Stuart Clapp

All images with kind permission of Benedict Campbell

Rouleur

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee Basford / Creative movements

Perspective can be found in a variety of forms. In terms of a design rendering, it might provide the viewer with an intimation of depth in relation to other objects. But apply this in a cultural sense and the viewer’s own position – both geographically and emotionally – can have a significant impact on the insights offered. As an English designer and art director living in Tokyo, Lee Basford has spent many years defining his own perspective in a series of movements; movements that have resulted in a richly creative professional life and a connection with the city he now calls home that he’s beautifully captured with his camera.

‘I originally studied at Bournville School of Art before a move to Central Saint Martins in London. Focusing mainly on design although the Visual Communication course crossed over into Fine Art and very much encouraged exploration and original thinking. Even from the very start of my working life, a design solution not necessarily meaning a graphic representation. If it answered the brief, it could be in the form of a sculpture or some other form of communication.’

Following graduation, Lee began working as a designer and art director; often creating things by hand as a relief from time spent behind a computer and enjoying numerous personal projects that embraced elements of both art and photography. A chance email from a friend asking for contributions to a new lifestyle and culture magazine coinciding with the first in a series of visits to Japan where he made lots of new friends, won a UNIQLO design award and featured in a number of exhibitions. An enjoyable period of work that eventually led to Lee’s decision to relocate to Tokyo in the summer of 2013.

‘The day before I was leaving for Japan, I received an email from a friend who’d also been part of the Ride BMX, Level and Dirt MTB magazines. He was starting a new cycling website and global club called Nowhere Fast and arriving in Japan with my bike gave me the incentive to start creating content for them. So much was new and interesting to me and I suppose that being behind the lens as an outsider gave my images a unique perspective. And it was through these stories that I began working with Rapha; initially photographing and writing content before art directing larger projects like the three Japanese-themed Rapha Rides films.’

Although he enjoys a collaborative process – working alongside people who share a common connection and vision – Lee’s previous role for his UK-based design agency involved a series of big campaigns but offered little control over the choice of clients. Music sleeves, video games and movie posters; work that he was proud of but leaving him with a desire to determine the types of projects he would choose to take on.

‘After moving to Japan and starting up by myself, I found I could pursue work that fitted more with my own sensibilities; directing design solutions and outcomes from a more personal perspective which I think helps to keep things interesting. And whether it’s photography, illustration, sculpture or writing; very often there’s a crossing over – a meeting point – where these disciplines come together.’

Spending his spare time documenting Tokyo street life and cross-country journeys by bike fed into his professional relationship with Rapha; the British cycling brand having already cemented a strong photographic identity through the images of Ben Ingham. A body of work that Lee found visionary and influencing his decision to make photography a more integral part of his creative process.

‘My photography is definitely more of a documentary style. A desire to be real; to interpret a true moment. I imagine subconsciously my design background affects how I see things but I’m usually looking to show something that’s not posed or set up. And I prefer to keep moving and blend into the background. With documentary photography it can all happen very fast – especially if it involves bikes – so if you stop you miss things.’

‘I think narrative is important,’ Lee continues, ‘but something I tend to focus more on when I’m editing a story. Depending on the shoot I usually have an idea of the variety of shots that will be needed but, other than that, it’s more important to be focused on what’s actually happening at the time. Because it’s often the little things you didn’t expect that make the best photographs.’

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A sentiment perfectly illustrated by Lee’s capturing of the Nobeyama Supercross. Freezing temperatures, mud, snow and rain; a true sense of a body emptied in the hunched shoulders of a competitor. An emotive response to a subject echoed in a poignant set of images taken in Tohoku. The scene of a devastating tsunami to which Lee had travelled along with an aid team a month after the disaster and has returned almost every year since; a conversation with Paul Smith after a photo-shoot in Tokyo leading to a commission to document the region once more by bike and exhibit the photographs in the fashion designer’s gallery. This sense of cultural connection heightening the longer Lee has lived in his adopted home.

‘Living and working in Japan has now become very normal for me but I can clearly remember my first year and the surprise of a blue sky on most days. And being in Tokyo obviously has the advantage of being one of the world’s cultural and creative centres. Having access to that on your doorstep is not to be taken lightly. But much of what can be eye-opening for a first time visitor can so easily become the norm when you’re concerned with the everyday as most people are. Obviously being an outsider to some degree gives you a different perspective on things which can be advantageous in many ways. And the energy and pace can be very intense with a high-speed turnaround of everything. Perhaps too fast and wasteful at times but for a designer, it means there are always opportunities.’

Considering the work culture in Japan – a subject Lee believes is often discussed negatively – he recognises that long hours are an everyday aspect of professional life but not that dissimilar to the fast-paced design environment in England. An understanding of societal nuances that he extends to cycling with Lee appreciating how the Japanese are by nature accepting and non-judgmental.

‘Saying that,’ he adds with a smile, ‘being perfectly turned out in your cycling kit – even for a first time ride – is not uncommon. Similarly with bikes; the standard and quality is very high at most levels and there’s a lot of custom steel.’

With rinko bags a common sight on station platforms – transit laws requiring cyclists to completely cover their bikes when travelling by rail – Lee describes how riders will avoid the junk miles getting through the numerous suburbs by taking an early morning train out of the city to the nearby mountains. Or those choosing to ride from the Tokyo city centre enjoying the 50 km Tama River route towards Okutama and the views of Mt. Fuji.

‘I’ve seen the Rapha scene in Tokyo grow from early pop-ups to the clubhouse first opening. Building in strength each year with the Prestige rides a particular highlight. Bringing together people from all across the country to ride some of its most spectacular and challenging landscapes. And the RCC rides are increasingly member-led; the constant flow of overseas riders appreciating the welcoming atmosphere and advice on local routes.’

As for his own riding, Lee enjoys meeting new people from different backgrounds but also long solo rides when he’ll explore places both in the city and beyond.

‘Tokyo is so rich and varied that it still feels fresh every time I go out. And I love discovering new routes and relish the freedom to stop and explore whenever the mood takes me. Often getting lost in the outer edges where the gloss is removed and deeper parts of the city are revealed. Places I would never have found had I planned where I was going.’

‘It’s a city where you really don’t need to drive and I enjoy cycling everywhere with my 4 year old daughter in a child seat. It’s a heavy bike and she weighs almost 20kg so the pace may be slow but it’s still a good workout. And it’s so much better to be connected that way too; experiencing the city and chatting along the way together. When you navigate the city by train you get an unrealistic idea of its geography; by bike you really get to know the city for itself.’

 

All images with kind permission of Lee Basford

Created for Rapha, Papersky Magazine and weMove

leebasford.com

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Return to Tohoku

Rapha Rides Tokyo / Osaka / Kyushu

 

Gus Morton / Here Or Thereabouts Part 2

In this, the second part of our conversation, Angus ‘Gus’ Morton muses on the future of professional cycling, his striving for a life of simple pleasures and whether love is, indeed, all you need.

Looking back at the films you’ve been associated with, one of my personal favourites is Rapha’s short feature ‘Riding is the answer’. Did you direct that?

 I didn’t but that’s actually a funny story because I had no idea I was going to be in that. Or even the level it was on. I’d just shot the first Outskirts and was living out in LA and this guy from Rapha was explaining that they were in town on these dates and would I be available to be part of the shoot for a day. So I was like, sure, and didn’t think anything of it. A month goes by and I get this call from the executive producer at a creative agency and so I’m wondering what they’re doing getting involved because I’m only going to feature in this film for a second or two. Then I get a lady wanting to take some photographs and I have to go to wardrobe but I was super late because I rode there and when I finally arrive there’s 30 people waiting.

 I imagine not particularly happy?

 Oh, man. They were pissed [laughs]. And then they start talking about the days we’ll be shooting and I’m telling them that I won’t be in town that long. Apparently the shit hit the fan and there was this huge meltdown. I woke up in the morning and there’s 30 emails and millions of missed calls. Turns out I was the main character [laughs].

 That tiny detail kind of passed you by somehow?

 Man, it was a bit of a stitch up. And I honestly had no idea. I just thought it would be a van with a camera in the back but it was this huge production. They’d closed parts of Downtown LA and I was riding around on empty streets. No cars.

 Just the amount of work to get those permits.

 Yeah. It was insane. Comical. A proper LA shoot.

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But, for me, the film was perfectly pitched. And thinking on from the tagline – about riding answering questions – looking back at your professional racing career I was wondering what kind of rider you were?

 Not a very good one [laughs].

 I’m sure that’s not the case.

 I was a worker. Just a team guy. That was my job riding for Jelly Belly. I was pretty good at cobbled stuff but never that good when it came to individual success. Though I must admit that the first time I was pro I had some decent results but most of the time I was sick with this parasite.

 They didn’t know what the problem was?

 No and my body was doing all this weird stuff like it stopped producing testosterone. It took a while to figure it all out and kind of plagued that first part of my professional career. And then when I’d finished racing for the first time and got into film, this guy asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to be a director. I was young, probably 22 at the time, and pretty bull-headed. And he looked at me and then told me to go away and do something else for 10 years.

 10 years?

 Just go out into the world and experience. Because what perspective do you have when you haven’t done shit? So I really took that to heart and it played a big part in me getting back into racing for a second time.

 From the outside, professional cycling can seem a very brutal career. All about performance?

 It is. Exactly right. And it’s kind of funny how you’re judged. Some riders do one good thing and somehow hang onto that. Others are consistently up there but without the recognition they actually deserve. And I don’t really think that cycling truly understands that it’s in control of its own destiny. Everyone’s racing to get first but what the fans also buy into are the characters and stories. Yet the professional sport almost wants to eliminate personality. And it blew me away that, year after year, Team Sky riders were literally getting piss thrown over them and yet they continued with the same MO. Was it successful? Yes. But what’s the point of it all?

 So what’s your take on Education First’s Alternative Calendar?

That’s where it’s going. We look back at bike riding and all we talk about are the epic stories. Because that’s what captures our hearts and the general audience doesn’t give two fucks for science and system. It’s all romantic; all emotional. And brands are already beginning to change their focus so ideally we’ll see the sport continue in this direction.

 So you think other professional cycling teams are watching?

 Dude, you look at Education First during the Giro when Dirty Kanza was building up. There was more media focus on a one-day 200 mile gravel race across the backroads of Kansas than a fucking 21 day grand tour.

 I can see your point. I’ve watched the Dirty Kanza film three times. The Giro once. So in terms of a business model?

 How much would it have cost the team to ride the Giro? Two, three hundred grand? By contrast, for EF to ride Dirty Kanza it would have cost them basically nothing. And there’s still this disconnect between directly spending money in sponsoring a team and whether you can accurately measure a return. But you know exactly how many views you’ve had on YouTube. And I’m like, if you create a character you’re guaranteed to get ‘x’ number of views per race on whatever content you build around it. People switch on Neighbours every night and watch it. No one wins. They watch it for the characters and the stories. Why don’t you create something like that in sport?

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I recently saw an Instagram post obilqely referring to a current female professional cyclist. Arguing that she hadn’t placed well in a race or her own national championships for a number of years and the only reason she was still a member of the race squad was down to her being pretty and having a huge following on social media.

 But what’s the problem there? This post is arguing that she doesn’t deserve a spot on the team but is the problem the rider or the entire sport. Doesn’t that just demonstrate that no one gives a fuck about results? That there’s limited value in that for the sponsor and this rider is bringing something extra to the table? I mean, I hate social media. I don’t use Instagram anymore aside from contacting people. I had my own troubles with that but not from any particular high ground. It just took up too much of my time. But this rider is being followed for a reason. Maybe because it offers an insight into her life as a professional cyclist. Or she’s followed because she has something to say that matters to people. Whether she can still ride her bike and place well? Obviously lower down the priority list of her followers but also her sponsors because she’s got a contract. And that’s what I’m trying to say. All these sponsors are investing money into the sport in the hope that they’ll win. Is that a reasonable allocation of funds? One team is putting in ten million, another team their ten million. But the most interesting thing about bike riding is how dedicated these riders are and how far they’re prepared to push themselves. So many characters from so many different backgrounds. It’s a potential gold mine [laughs].

 Again, I’m hearing from you this focus on stories?

 The thing with Dirty Kanza – the way it played out – I still don’t think they fully get it.

 In what sense?

 We can all see the race. We understand what that is. But what would it look like if we threw these guys completely fish out of water? OK, we’ve just finished the Tour of California and we’ve got ten days to Dirty Kanza. Let’s ride there; training on the road as we go. Let’s sleep in a van. Camp. We don’t need all this other shit. We’re approaching it exactly the same way other people racing are doing it.

 Thinking about Lachlan [Morton], Taylor [Phinney] and Alex [Howes] riding Dirty Kanza; all of them professional cyclists for EF Education First and I did wonder how their entry in the race would be viewed by the amateur racers. But, as it turned out, they didn’t win.

 Taylor said it was absolute hell. And it shows they’re human and that’s all we want. To see these guys be genuine; that they’re not robots or beyond our realm of thought.

 That they suffer; that they have their highs and lows?

 And then when an amateur cyclist beats them? Well, that opens up a whole other level of narrative.

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This grassroots approach to riding your bike; is a life of simple pleasures important to you?

 I think that’s what I’m pursuing. What I’m exploring through these films. Spending all my time boiling things down to their absolute essence. What is satisfaction at its most basic, molecular level?

 Have you found the answer?

 No [laughs]. But the act of trying allows me the realisation that I don’t need much to be happy.

 And the understanding that enough is enough?

 Yeah. I’ve had problems with that [smiles]. Constantly asking myself what can we do next, how can we make it better? I’ve been staying with Taylor and we’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about that.

 With this mental and emotional exploration, I’m thinking of the Beatles’ song ‘All you need is love.’ Would you agree?

 I think love is an interesting one. It can be all consuming; whether you have it or are pursuing it. When you’re falling into it, then it is all you need. And then if it’s lost, it’s all you want. So maybe it’s about being comfortable with yourself first. For a number of years I’ve chased all these different things and in some ways they’ve offered a form of distraction. So what I’m trying to do now is to take stock and confront all these things that I’ve ignored.

 I found it interesting how you allowed references to your relationship with Sami [Sauri] to be included in the final edit of Big Land.

 I left them in there for a reason. Which is funny because we got a lot of backlash; people just didn’t get it. But my thinking was that something really interesting happens on these journeys. You go through all of these emotional states when you’re physically tired. So me including those scenes was all about highlighting how the dumbest, smallest, pettiest things can result in these ridiculous arguments. Which, from a distance, looks like a real hipster break-up but that’s the point of it.

 That it’s real?

 Absolutely. And it’s like in life, we sometimes need to take a step back and realise how the tiny, insignificant things that we’re focusing so intently on are, in fact, tiny and insignificant. But I’m not sure that this approach was totally understood when it came to the film. Which kind of backfired because Sami copped a lot of flak.

 Did people think it was contrived?

 I think they thought it was trivial. Which it was but that was the point [laughs]. And that highlights the fact that maybe a lot of our audience don’t watch the films in the way I thought they might. So that’s a learning curve that I also need to take on board. You put stuff out there but then you need to emotionally let go because you can’t dictate how people will choose to interpret your work.

 In the film you looked really pissed off. Are you the sort of person to make the first move?

 I’m quite fiery [smiles]. Very emotional in that regard and I can be a real prick sometimes. But I’m getting much better at being able to apologise. Because it’s not always about accepting blame. It can be saying sorry for how you’ve behaved and then moving forward. Not an easy lesson to learn and I’ve done a lot of dumb stuff in the past. But I’m trying to get better and that’s why it’s good to take a step back.

With Gus

There’s that lovely black & white picture of you and Sami on Route 66. What were you laughing at?

 That was literally as we were crossing from Oklahoma into Texas. We’d all had a really dark time for a number of reasons and it was just a very cathartic moment as we stood – howling and yelling – sipping a beer. The sort of moment that I’m still trying to articulate to an audience. Because, for me, those are the fundamental elements of a trip like that.

 The sense that emotions should be expressed. That it’s good to let things out?

 And riding helps. Because you can ruminate on things before deciding to talk them through. Lachy and mine’s relationship is built on those moments. We won’t see each other for months and then we’ll ride and talk about whatever’s nagging at us. And these journeys that we’ve filmed are all about those shared moments on the road.

 From the outside looking in, it looks quite fun to be Gus Morton?

 It has its moments [laughs]. But, yeah, I have a great life. I’m very privileged to do what I love and to have the freedom to do that. It’s not easy in the sense that things don’t just fall on your lap. To have the life that I lead you have to chase it hard. And with the films; you want them to be aspirational. For people to engage and feel the need to go on their own journeys. In a sense, that’s the whole idea.

Photography: Thereabouts

Riding is the answer

Outskirts

Rapha Outskirts Collection

 

Gus Morton / Here Or Thereabouts Part 1

It’s a hot summer’s day in Girona and ex-professional cyclist turned documentary filmmaker Angus ‘Gus’ Morton walks into the cafe with his wrist strapped up. Unable to ride, this enforced period of inactivity mirrors the break he’s taking from his hugely influential Thereabouts and Outskirts film series.

Depicting long-distance bike adventures, in this first part of our conversation Gus candidly discusses the origins of these films, how he decides which shots make the final cut and why it’s not particularly advisable to eat a 72 oz steak in a single sitting.

To quote the last message you sent me, you’re doing fuck all at the moment. How does that sit with you?

 It’s good to sometimes do nothing but I guess I’m in a slightly odd situation in that I live in Boulder but I was recently back in Australia for my sister’s wedding and had my visa revoked.

 Your US visa?

 Yeah, that’s right. I’ve been resident since 2015 and every few years you need to re-apply and I pay a lawyer to do that. They made a clerical error so basically I need to go through the whole process all over again. Which is a huge pain in the ass but also means that I can’t travel back home.

 I was wondering whether you’d done anything to upset the current political administration?

 You could speculate on that [laughs] but it turns out that the visa I’ve been happily using for the past three years was in fact the wrong type.

 So you’ve got a home in Boulder that you can’t go to?

 Fortunately I was living in LA before moving to Girona to finish off a bunch of projects so I don’t actually have a place that I’m renting but all my stuff is there.

 And it looks like you’ve also been in the wars. What’s happening with your wrist?

 I was mountain-biking on some local trails and it was getting late. About 9:30 at night and starting to go dark. We were getting to the bottom of a run and I just didn’t see a drop; max speed into a 3 metre ditch and I planted face first. Knocked off part of my front tooth.

 You can’t tell.

 Dude, if you need to get any dental work done, come to Spain [smiles].

 And the wrist?

 It’s not broken but I’ve done something to the tendons. Because immediately after the accident I had to go out to Vietnam for a week-long photoshoot so I was straight away back riding. And it hasn’t been right since.

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All this travel – you grew up in Australia, you’re currently in Girona but all your stuff’s in Boulder – how do you define home? Places, people, belongings?

 For me it’s people; family. My brother and parents all live in the US so at the moment that’s where I associate as home. I certainly don’t see Australia in the same way.

 But that’s where you were raised?

 I’ve not lived there in a long time. I still love visiting and potentially that’s where I’ll end up but right now I’m just where the people are.

 Applying this sense of movement you’re describing to your recent films, they appear to be very fluid in the way they were made. Was that an aesthetic decision or simply how you like to work?

 It was very much a certain feel that I was going for. When you look back at the original Thereabouts film, Lachy [Gus’ brother Lachlan Morton] was in the World Tour but wasn’t super happy with it. I was working in TV, had got to a point where I was directing shows and I guess like with everything you always have a boss and I suppose I wasn’t feeling that creatively satisfied. Constantly being hemmed in and pushed in certain directions; making a product for a certain audience and accountable to someone else’s plans. So I was looking for a way to have a creative outlet, Lachy wanted to do the same thing and we just decided to go on this trip.

 With the freedom that brings?

 It was born out of this idea that you should take the time to go out and do things the way you want to do them. And I’d been working for the past 18 months on this long-form documentary and when they were condensing it down I was frustrated by the demand from the network that everything had to be really well explained.

 Dumbed-down?

 Maybe forcing a story that wasn’t there. And the style that came out of Thereabouts was to tell it how it happened and not scrap a bit because it was out of focus or the audio was shit. That we’re actually going to embrace that. The rawness of it demonstrating an honesty that reflects our own experience. This was the way it happened – it wasn’t smooth, it wasn’t polished because life rarely is – and I guess that became a kind of house style.

 A working method that continued into Outskirts?

 I wanted to hone in on that even more. To be as minimal as possible in terms of impact. Removing the requirement for a large crew size; a storyline reduced to meeting people on the road with no real agenda. Just seeing what they talk about and in doing so, gaining an authentic understanding of place.

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It made for a very immediate style of film-making and there’s a quality in those interactions that maybe you’d lose if they were scripted?

 The first Outskirts [Route 66] was truest to our original idea. The others had to be somewhat modified to suit a particular audience but, again, it comes down to who’s paying your bills. And in essence, we’re using cycling as a film-making tool. The characters we met, that’s the sort of stuff that happens. Especially in America [smiles].

 More so than other countries?

 In my experience the people are more willing, when they see a camera, to engage. And that’s, at a fundamental level, what people have always done. They’d look you in the eye and express their opinion without this layer of separation we now have with social media. And that forces you to try and find some element of common ground or to at least respect someone’s views even if they differ from your own because they’re standing right in front of you. And, increasingly, we don’t have that anymore.

 And the fact you’re travelling by bike helped?

 Absolutely. It was a really remarkable way of achieving this connection because you’re vulnerable and an outsider.

 Some of the people you met had quite challenging views.

 They’re the ones that made the film [laughs].

 So there were some you chose not to include?

 We’d ridden quite a long day and went to a bar and started talking to a group of guys. One of them was a classical pianist even though – and I say this with the deepest respect – he looked like someone who worked on the land. So he can play Beethoven and Bach but then all of a sudden it turns into a discussion on guns and the right to bear arms. It then moves on to the mass shootings that had recently happened in the US and he’s explaining to me how the weapons used were not the best way to kill large numbers of people. Five minutes ago this guy bought me a beer and now he’s telling me, in some detail, how he would shoot people more efficiently. Obviously very challenging as your views are totally irreconcilable.

 Did you set out to document or react? How far along that line can you go?

 It’s sometimes hard not to react but the Outskirts series is about conveying what actually happened. And if we do any more we’ll continue on that path.

 Does that mean you’ll be eating more steaks*?

 [*Gus successfully took on the Big Texan Challenge to eat a 72 oz steak, baked potato and shrimp in under 60 minutes]

 Dude, that was intense [laughs]. I guess I’m competitive – nowadays more so with myself than others – and I wanted to find out what would happen. Which I did. Projectile vomiting. My body just rejected it.

 But, crucially, after you’d beaten the timer and got the t-shirt?

 We’d just ridden 3,000 miles but you’d pull in for supplies at a gas-station in New Mexico and an old lady would spot that t-shirt from way over and that’s what would impress her. And even though the whole episode is laden with so many moral complications, there’s also something kind of  wonderful about everybody in the restaurant whooping and high-fiving when I’d finished. People were loving it and it brought them together.

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But you’ve got to feel sorry for all these high-end manufacturers making cycling kit and Outskirts starts this fashion for simply wearing a t-shirt.

 It’s pretty funny, I guess [laughs]. It started with me and Lachy just doing it. A reaction to the team kit our sponsors would require us to wear. Kind of like our non-uniform day or dress-down Friday. You’re doing the same thing – in our case riding bikes – but your whole perspective is subtly changed. And then, with Outskirts, when we’d meet people on the road or stop off in a bar after a long day, we’d just fit right in.

 So what else is new and exciting you at the moment?

 When I finished off Shadow of the East I was in Australia – in exile [laughs] – living in this remote spot in one of the national parks. I couldn’t go back to America, I didn’t have a job and I’m not someone who likes to be idle. So I set out on paper a bunch of ideas that I’d had kicking around in my head and some of these projects are now slowly beginning to take shape. One of these, in particular, being pretty extreme and a big undertaking. Outside of that we have another serialised show tying into some adventure stuff.

 Is it important to have control over this process?

 Yes but it also helps if I have team members that can fit around my way of working. Handling communication with clients; telling me I’m a month late [laughs].

 Are you a natural delegator?

 Not naturally, no. With the first Outskirts we had a post-production company doing the edit after we’d shot over 70 hours of footage. The film’s structure was all in my head and the shit they decided to cut out is what we wanted to keep in. That’s our MO. So when we got the first edit back it was so far from what it was meant to be that I took it back off them and re-cut it.

 Because I generally find that with creative individuals, it’s often difficult for them to let go of something that they’ve invested emotionally in.

 Totally. But I am gradually realising that I need to do that [smiles]. And in terms of what’s next. Nothing but everything. Not being able to go home has put a lot of plans off because I’ve kind of been floating around. And, as I came to all of this from a directing background, I’m not really sure I want to be in front of the camera anymore.

 As your work is so influential and you now have a public persona, is the fact that you’re known and recognised ever a burden?

 I don’t think that many people are aware [laughs].

 Really?

 Maybe I don’t pay attention to all of it? And it’s interesting because the last three films that I’ve done, I’m not really happy with any of them. I’m thinking that it could of been better here or there.

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Can you see yourself ever being happy?

 That’s the thing. No, I don’t think so. Maybe someday I’ll produce something that I’m legitimately happy with [smiles].

 I wouldn’t put money on it. I think that people working in creative industries; they’ll always be something.

 I kind of like that. And I just want to be always working. Working on something that I like.

 Is that when you’re happiest?

 The only time that I’m truly happy is when I’m on location shooting. When I’m looking through the lens of a camera and seeing something that’s beautiful or if I’m standing next to someone who’s telling me something that you could never have imagined. When you’re editing and a sequence just clicks and then you know people have watched it and got something from it; that’s kind of cool as well [smiles].

Photography: Thereabouts

Watch Outskirts

Rapha Outskirts Collection

 

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.

Smiling

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].

Sami Big Land

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.’

Constantin Gerlach_Urban Standert 03

‘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.’

Version 2

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.

Workshop

‘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.’

Jochen Hoops - @here_are_wings-2496

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