Dominique Powers / Telling stories

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And more stories to tell, I ask.

Dominique pauses for a second and smiles broadly before answering.

“That’s really what it’s all about.”

Feature image and video by Alex Colorito

All other imagery with kind permission of Dominique Powers / dominiquepowers.com

The Leaders of Gravel

Canyon-SRAM

Ansel Dickey / Vermont Social

“It’s a massive refinement of small moments that the viewer ends up seeing.”

After eschewing college for a career racing bikes, Ansel Dickey [pictured far right] combined his love of photography and film in Vermont Social—the creative agency he founded that delivers beautifully realised visual media with a focus on storytelling.

Referencing his latest film for Wahoo Frontiers, Ansel discusses in detail the logistical demands and production processes that such a project entails—a freewheeling conversation that takes in barn envy, motorbike chases through Austin, Texas and telling secrets to the camera.

cyclespeak
So how are things in Vermont?

Ansel
We’re in the middle of a long mud season.

cyclespeak
I’ve heard about that. When I spoke to Ian Boswell* he was saying that winter is sort of prolonged but it’s proper snow so you can go fat biking or cross-country skiing.

[*Wahoo Frontiers athlete and winner of Unbound 2021]

Ansel
Yeah, I mean winter is actually quite enjoyable but when all the snow is gone it’s still really cold and the dirt roads – which are like 80% of all our roads –  are just gnarly and rutted.

cyclespeak
And you end up coming back with a filthy bike that needs cleaning.

Ansel
If I have to wash my bike after a ride, then I’m not going out. There’s no requirement for me to train on the bike anymore and I’ve been converted to running. It’s super time efficient so if I’m busy I can just do 20 minutes and feel like I’ve accomplished something. But lately I’ve been really missing the bike so I went out on this nice long ride yesterday. The first in five months. It’s finally dry enough and warm enough to go out.

cyclespeak
I’m right in thinking you bought a house a couple of years back?

Ansel
Yeah. My fiancée Gertrude and I found a place in West Windsor. We’d been looking for a while but couldn’t find anything and then this house popped up. So we jumped on it.

cyclespeak
Are people still working from home and wanting more space?

Ansel
The remote work environment has been picked up by a lot of companies and people are realising that compared to metropolitan areas, Vermont is still relatively cheap. People understand that their money can go a lot farther. But then they get to mud season and it’s like, fuck, I wanna go back to the city [laughs].

cyclespeak
The question is – and this is an important question – have you got a big barn like Ian?

Ansel
I wish. His barn is next level. We do have a two car garage but, unlike Gertrude, I don’t use it for my car because my side is full of bikes and crap.

cyclespeak
Speaking of possessions, I can see the neck of a cello poking out from behind the couch. Who’s the musician? 

Ansel
That’s mine but I haven’t played in a while. My Dad is a musician so I grew up playing a lot of instruments. I play more guitar now.

cyclespeak
I’ve seen pictures of you with a banjo.

Ansel
Yeah. And my dog’s name is Banjo. Unfortunately he just tore his ACL playing fetch.

cyclespeak
Is that fixable?

Ansel
It is but we still don’t know if it’s fully or partially torn. And it’s a real shame because mud season is his favourite. Especially if it’s been raining. He’s that kind of dog [laughs]. 

cyclespeak
When Banjo was a puppy you were still racing bikes professionally. Can you talk me through your transition to content creator?

Ansel
Bikes were always a big part of my life. I started racing when I was 15 or 16, slowly improved and got on the national team. And then right out of high school I signed my first professional contract. So that helped me decide that I didn’t really want to go to college and I’d rather go off racing. I travelled loads and met a lot of great people. But even though I did the Tour of China and raced in Azerbaijan, I never really made it to Ian’s level—never made it to where it was totally justifiable with me making a huge living.

cyclespeak
So what changed?

Ansel
I had a teammate called Sam Rosenholtz who was also a portrait photographer. We went to a training camp in Spain and I remember watching him carry around his camera and take photographs. I was, okay, cameras are cool and I want to play with them too. So I started just doing it for fun—taking my camera to races when I was travelling.

cyclespeak
And from there?

Ansel
At the same time I had already started Vermont Social but as a social media marketing company. I was basically helping small business clients like a bike shop in New Hampshire or a beer store in Vermont—running their social media for them while I was abroad racing.

cyclespeak
And the photography?

Ansel
It was the realisation that a lot of these same social media clients also needed photographic services and that eventually evolved into video. And because I was becoming more invested in getting better at film and photography than getting better at racing my bike, I knew it was time to quit.

cyclespeak
Was that a head or a heart shift?

Ansel
I think the heart took a lot longer than the head. Analytically, I knew how hard I’d worked at my racing but did I want to waste another five or ten years doing the same races and getting the same results? Or did I want to pivot?

cyclespeak
How long did it take for riding your bike to not feel like training?

Ansel
Oh man, I think it’s still an issue. Being an athlete at that level, you’re tortured because of this desire to do well. But I also think that anything in my life, when I enjoy it, I enjoy the feeling of getting better. I think that’s why I got into running because I’m not that good at it yet and I can see the progression. When I get on my bike, I’m just reminded of how good I used to be. So it’s tough [laughs].

cyclespeak
Why the name Vermont Social?

Ansel
I like the way it sounded. Like, pretty cool.

cyclespeak
And the brand logo comes from your love of fishing? 

Ansel
Yeah. I grew up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts where I fell in love with fly fishing. I’ve always liked companies that had a mascot, so I was like, why not just make it a fish? And because I like an organic approach to things, the only native fish to Vermont is the Brook Trout.

cyclespeak
And that all came together and just felt right?

Ansel
I always thought that with branding and design, things need to look good as a base but beyond that, your brand is really created by the interactions you have with your customers. And like the layers on an onion, it takes years and years to build.

cyclespeak
Your latest film for Wahoo Frontiers – 24 Hours in Old Pueblo – is 11 minutes and some seconds of brilliance. Beautifully filmed and depicting these four young women, out racing in the desert and having fun. Can you describe the processes you follow in a project such as this? From conception through to delivery, and how do you use the event to tell a story?

Ansel
As you probably know, Wahoo Fitness is a big client of ours and a lot of the original ideas come from them. Once the idea is on the table, then it’s my job to do the research and come up with what the story is. With this film, the idea centres around community and camaraderie.

cyclespeak
So you have your story. What’s next?

Ansel
Pre-production involves researching the athletes—who they are, their past results and a little of their character. And then there’s the event. How long has it been running? What’s the format?

cyclespeak
So for this film?

Ansel
The women are four individuals – really good in their own right – so it’s cool to see them come together to form this team in a fun and funky event.

cyclespeak
And the logistics?

Ansel
We knew the event was way out in the desert. Everyone calls it the Burning Man of bike festivals which I would say is super accurate [laughs].

cyclespeak
Which means you were camping?

Ansel
We set to work making a list of everything we’d need to take with us and decided to rent a sprinter van so we could camp out with the girls and charge our equipment. It was myself and Josh Bernales—another DP who’s just moved to Colorado but used to live in Vermont.

cyclespeak
What about the actual filming?

Ansel
The pre-production plan has all the story ideas and interview questions. The production plan is, okay, we’ll do sunset shooting here, interviews over there and we’ll film the race in this way. Beyond that, you’re on the fly. Documenting things as they unfold and constantly looking for opportunities to tell the story that’s always in the back of your mind. 

cyclespeak
Is that story influenced by what’s happening on the ground?

Ansel
It totally evolves and you just have to be okay with that because we don’t want to put words in their mouths. So you have to be ready to change direction, ask another question or reshoot something in a way that helps explain where it’s going. And it’s also important to have fun. We were camping in the desert so you’re hanging out with the girls and cooking with them. You’ve got to build a rapport before you expect to get good stuff on film.

cyclespeak
I can see how it would be fun but it also sounds a little intense?

Ansel
You shoot all day, dump cards at night. Then go to sleep – or not in this film’s case – and begin all over again the next day. And then you go home and start the editing process and, honestly, that’s where the story really comes alive. You have an idea of what you shot but you really don’t know what it’s going to turn into until you get it onto the timeline.

cyclespeak
As I already mentioned, the film runs to just over 11 minutes. But how much footage did you have available to edit down?

Ansel
I don’t know the exact length but it was 4 to 5 terabytes. And that’s pretty typical for a project such as this. Basically, if you’re there, shoot it. Because you’ll get into the edit and wish you had it. It’s a massive refinement of small moments that the viewer ends up seeing.

cyclespeak
A semi-serious question but who had the tidier camp?

Ansel
We managed to keep the inside of our van pretty organised but outside was just trashed. There’s so much going on and we didn’t have a producer on set organising our stuff. We’re helping the girls cook, bringing them a jacket when they’re cold, helping fix their bikes—and all the time trying to film. So cleaning was the last thing on anyone’s mind and it showed at the end. If you wanted to eat something, you would just pick up a dirty bowl, brush it out and find some food to put in it [laughs].

cyclespeak
Moving on to other projects, when Ian shared his secret to the camera in your film documenting the 2021 Unbound, I welled up myself*. How do you balance the need to film what’s happening without being too intrusive? But also building these relationships that allow the subjects to share their thoughts and feelings so freely?

[*In the final scene of the film, Ian let slip that his wife Gretchen was expecting their first child]

Ansel
Unbound was super cool because Ian won. And he’s a really good friend so it’s really easy to work with him. Beyond that, we try to approach these stories and the humans behind them with respect and humility. You can’t just barge in—you need to wait for them to be comfortable opening up. And it’s also about getting the best out of them as opposed to putting words in their mouths.

cyclespeak
I do feel that your films go beyond purely documenting. And I’m guessing the athletes that you feature trust that you’ll take what they do and say and treat this with respect. And I was wondering, now that you’ve been working with Education First, whether there are any challenges particular to the World Tour?

Ansel
There sure are [laughs]. The fact that everything is orchestrated and organised around the athletes means you’re a fly on the wall watching things unfold. You’re basically like paparazzi following them around—spraying and praying and documenting that way. But it’s also really cool because I always wanted to go to the World Tour as a bike racer and now I’ve finally made it as a filmmaker which is kind of cool. 

cyclespeak
You posted a really nice photograph of you and the team taken by Jered Gruber. Do you enjoy collaborating with other professionals?

Ansel
Having two cameras, another person flying the drone and someone doing audio—it all adds up to make a much better experience for the viewer. Everyone’s devotion to the craft really comes into play and most of these projects simply aren’t possible without teamwork.

cyclespeak
What are your thoughts on social media? Because that’s where Vermont Social started.

Ansel
I’m personally and professionally thrilled that I don’t have to manage other people’s social media anymore. That was a 2-3 year period when we did it as a service and it made money but was just absolutely brutal. Anything you did wasn’t good enough and there was always a problem with an angry commenter or the client not being happy with what you were doing. With the film and photography stuff, you’re delivering this product and if you’ve done your job well, when they get delivery they’re like, holy crap, this is amazing [laughs].

cyclespeak
Any social media positives?

Ansel
On the flip side, it’s relatively easy to build a big audience and you can get your work out to the world really, really quickly and that accelerates everything else. So maybe it’s a two-sided coin and like I always tell people, use it as a tool because that’s what it is.

cyclespeak
Any past projects that proved particularly challenging?

Ansel
We had fun with both the Colin Strickland and Sarah Sturm Frontiers episodes. It was at the height of COVID during the early fall of 2020. No one was flying at that point but Wahoo Fitness really wanted us to do the projects. So we figured out that if we rented a commercial sprinter van, it would take our air mattresses, camera gear and mountain bikes. And then we drove from Vermont to Texas.

cyclespeak
That’s a long way.

Ansel
It was a three day drive with us sleeping in the van because we didn’t trust hotels. When we got to Austin ready to start filming with Colin, he just opened up his garage and there were all these motorcycles in a row. Both Nick [Keating] and I ride so, calm as you like, Colin throws us two sets of keys and hands over some helmets. Follow me, he says, we’re going out to dinner. So we’re bombing through downtown Austin, trying to keep up with Colin and it’s like ten minutes since we first met him. Absolutely insane [laughs].

cyclespeak
That sounds pretty cool to me.

Ansel
And then once the project was done, we drove straight to Colorado to film with Sarah Sturm—still sleeping in the van and still not showering. After spending four days camping up in the mountains with Sarah and her boyfriend, we drove all the way back home to Vermont.

cyclespeak
How long were you away from home?

Ansel
That was a month-long process of living in a commercial sprinter van that wasn’t built for camping. Just to shoot these two projects during COVID.

cyclespeak
Speaking of projects, you’ve got a big day coming up in June? I’ve been sneaking a peek at your wedding webpage and then I saw a super nice portrait of Gertrude on your Instagram feed. In the post’s comment, you describe her as strong, thoughtful, fierce, loving, caring, compassionate, sometimes impatient and always, always beautiful. And I wondered what words Gertrude would use to describe you?

Ansel
Ohh man.

[pause]

Disorganised. Impulsive probably. Serious at times. Maybe overly serious. Motivated. And throw in disorganised again [laughs].

cyclespeak
Disorganised twice [laughs]?

Ansel
Yeah. But we’re a good match. Gertrude is definitely the organised one and I’m more go-with-the-flow. Or thinking about something totally different – head in the clouds – and not interacting with what’s going on in the moment [laughs].

cyclespeak
Does your mind wander to hopes and dreams for the future?

Ansel
That’s an interesting question. Because I’ve never really been that good at setting long term goals. I’m very good at setting short term goals and working really hard to achieve them. But long term? I do know that I don’t want to grow Vermont Social into this big media conglomerate. At the moment I get to work with amazing people and tell stories that really interest me.

cyclespeak
And on a personal level?

Ansel
Long term is obviously to have a family and hopefully build our own house somewhere with a bit more land.

cyclespeak
A house with a barn?

Ansel
Yeah [laughs]. A barn is key and maybe a couple of border collies and some other animals. I think that would make for a really happy life.

Ansel Dickey / Vermont Social / Vermont Overland / Wahoo Frontiers

Feature image: Jered Gruber / All other images with kind permission of Ansel Dickey and Vermont Social

Image

Caren Hartley / Inside the Isen Workshop

I’ve travelled out from central London to the southwest end of the Northern Line. Exiting the station, a short walk through the surrounding suburbs leads to an industrial estate and the home of Isen Workshop. Pushing open the door, there’s a sudden movement as a small dog darts out and excitedly runs rings around my legs. Caren Hartley follows and greets me with a smile as she scoops up this new addition to the Isen family. The dog’s name is Frieda and it’s her first day in the workshop—Caren obviously delighted with her new companion as she politely asks if I’d like a cup of tea.

After studying an MA in Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork & Jewellery at the Royal College of Art, Caren received award-winning recognition as a frame builder with her eponymous Hartley Cycles before partnering with Matt McDonough of Talbot Frameworks to found Isen Workshop.

With the pair carving out a well-deserved reputation for beautifully built bikes in steel and titanium, I spent an enjoyable morning touring the workshop and photographing Caren in preparation for an interview subsequently published on the Quoc web journala fascinating glimpse into her passion for making and the level of detail demanded by such a bespoke product.

Click on an image to enlarge…

“I was always making things as a child and I remember my parents being quite creative. Dad was a watchmaker and Mum would make costumes for us out of crêpe paper and cereal boxes.”

“After attending an event where I met a frame builder, I had this sudden realisation that it was a little like jewellery – basically big soldering – and I just needed to start making things that were bike shaped.”

Caren Hartley / Isen Workshop

Follow the link to read Caren’s interview for Quoc

All photography by cyclespeak

Brazo de Hierro / Sundays are for?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brazo de Hierro

brazodehierro.com

Feature image by Kike Kiks

#allbikesonthefloor

RJ Agcamaran / The moments between

I’m on a transatlantic call with Photo Pace photographer Richard James Agcamaran. RJ to family and friends and cutting a youthful figure in a simple plain t-shirt, despite the early hour  he’s relaxed and smiling.

With a beautifully realised body of work that sets monochrome shots of San Francisco streets against the sharp shadows and golden hues of West Coast sunlight, it’s perhaps surprising that he chooses to first reference a teaching career in his Instagram bio.

But over the course of our conversation, it’s this passion for education that best exemplifies his thoughtful and conscientious character—RJ talking candidly on a range of topics from commuting by bike, telling stories with Photo Pace and the lessons we can learn from the young.


cyclespeak
I can see the morning light shining through your window. Living south of Manchester in the UK, that’s one of the reasons the Photo Pace imagery appeals so much. Those wonderful California colours and strong shadows.

RJ
San Francisco is this special, weird place. People paint their houses all kinds of crazy colours but it kind of works.

cyclespeak
So what colour is your house?

RJ
It’s normal [laughs]. But we did live in a neighbourhood where this house had a giant painting of a lion across its front. So, naturally, everyone just referred to it as the ‘Lion House’.

cyclespeak
Is there a particular pattern to your week? How does a typical working day contrast with the weekend?

RJ
I consider myself a full-time bike commuter so most weekdays start with a 5:30 alarm. I have a 14 mile ride to the school where I teach and I don’t start until eight so that gives me a little cushion if I get a flat tyre. But this extra time is also useful because I love to shoot photographs. And especially this time of year when the light can be pretty amazing.

cyclespeak
I guess it’s dark when you first set off?

RJ
Absolutely. But as I get closer to the city, the sun is rising and you get these awesome shadows.

cyclespeak
Do you vary your route?

RJ
Going in, I usually keep it straight but coming home I have more freedom.

cyclespeak
So quite an urban commute?

RJ
We recently moved outside of San Francisco proper so my ride takes in quiet neighbourhoods but there’s also a few main streets which can be a little scary. Four lanes of traffic with cars parked along the side of the road. You do have to watch out for doors opening and Ubers dropping off and picking up.

cyclespeak
How does this compare to the weekend?

RJ
If I have a really hard week – it can be a grind getting up so early – then I’ll sleep in maybe more than I should. But if there’s something planned with the Photo Pace guys, I’ll be up early so I can get into the city. We usually spend an hour or two talking at a coffee shop before we get moving.

cyclespeak
So coffee first?

RJ
I actually don’t drink coffee [laughs].

cyclespeak
But you’re a cyclist?

RJ
My friends tease me about it all the time. I’m a matcha fan.

cyclespeak
How often do you meet?

RJ
Every couple of weeks or so. But we talk to each other all the time over a DM thread.

cyclespeak
Are you all based out of San Francisco?

RJ
We live in different regions of the Bay Area so usually meet up across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin.

cyclespeak
What’s your own neighbourhood like?

RJ
I’m not exactly sure whether I’ve been lucky or unlucky but I’ve moved seven times in seven years [laughs].

cyclespeak
That’s quite a lot.

RJ
I guess so. But it does mean I get to explore lots of different parts of the Bay Area.

cyclespeak
And do you always carry a camera when riding?

RJ
There was a point when I was carrying it every single day—even on my commute. I never wanted to miss an opportunity so I’d have my little point and shoot Ricoh GR to hand. But I’ve started to intentionally leave the camera at home every once in a while. It’s nice to simply enjoy the ride and not get drawn into this social media world where you feel you have to post a picture and tell people what you’ve been doing. Sometimes I don’t even upload my ride onto Strava.

cyclespeak
You know what they say? If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen [smiles].

RJ
Exactly. We joke about it but I know that some people treat that pretty religiously.

cyclespeak
In your Instagram bio, you describe yourself as an educator / cyclist. Was that a conscious decision to state those terms in that particular order?

RJ
It was absolutely intentional. I love being a teacher—it’s one of the many joys in my life. The interactions that I get to have with my students and seeing their emotional growth over time is a real privilege.

cyclespeak
I’ve read that you first got into photography through skateboarding—creating videos on an old camcorder. What’s your take on the ease in which smartphones can capture amazing digital content?

RJ
Maybe I’m biased as a teacher but I’m a big supporter of people creating. Kids are the future and the quality of content they’re putting out is just awesome. When I was at school, the only people that had access to content creating equipment were the adults who could afford the fancy cameras. So with the advent of smartphones and social media platforms, I’m rooting for the younger generation to go out and give the world a refresh.

cyclespeak
Patrick [Lee] told me that Photo Pace evolved from a group of friends that messaged over Instagram but initially hadn’t ever met in person.

RJ
Photo Pace started as an Instagram DM. At the time I was living in Los Angeles and when I moved to the Bay Area, we arranged to go out on a ride. We wanted to share the photos we’d taken so we started a group chat and then Chris Corona came up with the name Photo Pace. We wanted to distance ourselves from the mentality of riding at a certain speed.

cyclespeak
Life doesn’t have to be full gas?

RJ
That’s right. We were a group of guys tired at following the norms. We wanted to ride at our own pace, have fun and shoot photos. Photo Pace.

cyclespeak
This all started over Instagram and I’ve heard it said recently that the platform has had its day.

RJ
With Instagram – as with life in general – you either adapt or get left behind. When it was first launched, you took a photo of what you were doing at that instance which you then posted. Maybe now the content is a little more curated which is why I like stories because they retain a sense of immediacy.

cyclespeak
I look at the Photo Pace feed and see this amazing body of work. What are the most enjoyable aspects of your involvement with the group?

RJ
All of us are so different from one another. So we tend to feed off each other’s energies and inspirations. And we joke about it but we probably have the longest standing Instagram DM. I’m sure if I looked at my phone now, I’d see a hundred or so messages.

cyclespeak
Are these diverse viewpoints important?

RJ
We’re a bunch of x-ray technicians, air traffic controllers, emergency room medical staff, teachers. We have cycling in common but we also have these other areas of our lives that we can bring into the fold. It’s always different—never the same old.

cyclespeak
Do you ride out with a rough idea of the shots you want or is the process more intuitive?

RJ
Most are unplanned. And I feel there’s a finite amount of photographers who can create something truly original. Whatever image someone has shot, it’s either coming from something they’ve seen before or inspired by another photograph. To shoot something that nobody has ever seen before is incredibly difficult. So subconsciously I might have this idea but I’ll go about capturing my own version. And when I’m riding with Photo Pace, we like to share the experience and shoot on the go. People sometimes think it’s this point A to point B thing and that’s the end of the ride. But there’s so much that can get missed and that’s where I like to shoot—the moments in between. The coffee stop, fixing a flat tyre, the signs on the side of the road. To me, the parts of the ride that are the most important.

cyclespeak
The moments between point A and point B. I like that.

RJ
Some days are different than others. The time you ride, maybe the weather. And then later, when you look at a photograph, it takes you back to that particular time. You remember the sunlight, you remember the shadows.

cyclespeak
I see what you mean about capturing a moment in time.

RJ
Instagram gives you the option of sharing 10 slides but I feel that’s kind of a lot? So lately – and by that I mean two weeks ago [laughs] – I’ve been trying to limit the number of photographs I use to tell a story to no more than three.

cyclespeak
Is there a pattern to your posts?

RJ
I usually go off the feel and momentum of the other Photo Pace photographers. Kyle, for example, will post a photo. Then maybe five minutes later Patrick will post one of his. And they’re like really good photographs so I want to jump in too [laughs].

cyclespeak
I couldn’t help but smile when I read in one of your posts, ‘Nothing like a good black and white photo on a Wednesday.’ Any other days?

RJ
I tend to avoid posting on a weekend. Because you should be out having fun [smiles].

cyclespeak
You mention the weekends and I was wondering whether your bike building is just a hobby or a part-time job?

RJ
I grew up without that much money so I couldn’t afford to take my bike into a shop. The one time when I did – my tyre had flatted – this guy charged me $20 to change the tube! So I was determined to learn how to do this basic servicing myself and that grew to trying to fix more complex problems before I resorted to paying someone to do it for me.

cyclespeak
A case of necessity being the mother of invention?

RJ
The more I worked on my own bikes, the more I realised that I was getting pretty good and it was something I enjoyed. And as a teacher, I don’t make that much money, so I reached out over Instagram to see if anybody wanted their bikes working on.

cyclespeak
What bike would you most like to build for yourself? Or have you already built it?

RJ
For a dream bike, I wouldn’t particularly want something from one of the major players. I’d much rather have something different—something unique.

cyclespeak
And your perfect day on the bike?

RJ
That’s kind of an easy question to answer but also very loaded. For me, it’s not so much the weather or the location—it’s more the people I get to enjoy the bike ride with. Wherever I am, if I can have some really wonderful conversations and make a good experience out of a bicycle ride—then that’s more meaningful to me.

RJ Agcamaran

Photo Pace

Feature image by Kyle Thornhill

CHPT3 x Vielo / Just add dirt

After years spent working in the cycling industry, Ian Hughes decided it was time to channel his knowledge and experience of distributing brands into developing his own. Together with son Trevor, the pair launched Vielo in 2017 with a shared desire to place honesty and integrity at the forefront of their conversations with customers.

First with a gravel offering before following up with road, what connects both bike models is the absence of a front derailleur—a dedicated 1x set-up that pairs the range of 12 and 13-speed group sets with a boutique approach to frame design that negates a requirement for two chainrings.

A conversation between Ian and CHPT3 founder David Millar added the next intriguing twist to the Vielo story with a limited-run of the V+1 gravel frame paired with mechanical Campagnolo and a unique paint design—a collaboration described here in their own words and culminating in three magical days of photography and film set against a backdrop of Girona’s finest gravel trails.


Ian
I knew David from back in my Scott days when he was riding the pro tour. He went off and did his thing with CHPT3 and I worked on launching Vielo. I’d heard that David was in London doing a commentary for ITV4 and I suggested we meet up so I could show him what we were doing with our bikes. He explained how he was looking to do a collaboration with a UK-based bike company to complement a dirt range of their apparel and this led us to discuss ideas for a gravel bike based on the V+1.

David
When I first saw the bikes, I just fell in love with the concept. Both Ian and Trevor come from mountain biking and they were approaching gravel from this point of view rather than a road cycling perspective.

I can appreciate steel bikes – Speedvagen and all that super hipster shit – but at heart I’m a pro bike racer and I like hardcore performance. And Vielo bikes are super edgy, multi-purpose and carbon.

So we began talking over the idea of CHPT3 doing a gravel bike—how it should be beautiful, fast and well-engineered. A stunning design with some mountain bike heritage but also doffing its cap to road. Once we had these founding principles agreed, we then thought about how we could give these beautifully engineered machines some personality.

Ian
We knew that Campagnolo were bringing out their 13-speed Ekar group set. And when it came to the CHPT3 bike, that had a nice link because David used to ride with Campag back in his pro tour days.

David
I got into bikes from BMXing in the 1980s and then mountain biking in the 90s. Michael Barry and I used to ride gravel around Girona on our race bikes. So we kind of hid a chuckle when gravel became a thing because we’d always done that.

We have three categories in our CHPT3 range: road, dirt and street. Road’s fast, dirt’s all purpose – it’s adventure, discovery, getting lost and then found – and street is flow and elegance. Fashion almost. But dirt is the one that’s most versatile and allows you to cross over between disciplines. You can’t go street to road or road to street. Put all this into a Venn diagram and dirt is the meeting point. The crazy place. A little bit fuck you.

So with Vielo, I was choosing a bike that fitted my style of dirt riding. And Campagnolo just made absolute sense. It’s the most mechanical thing that exists in cycling—a sense of realness, super tactile and you can feel the gear shift. And with the paint job, it was a case of just making every single bike individual. They look smart when they’re dirty and dirty when they’re smart.

Ian
We got this excited call from David after he’d visited his painter Eduard. They’d used the colour palette from the CHPT3 Dirt collection – sprayed randomly over the frame followed by a layer of black – and then Eduard was hand-sanding this outer coating to reveal the colours underneath. And the beauty of this paint scheme is that every bike is unique and we’re strictly limiting them to a run of 50.

David
This bike is very much grounded in Girona. I’ve been here for years and I see other peoples’ bikes and the trends that come and go. And the paint was my cheeky little rebellion against all of that. Anti-fashion, in a way. And then when you go and ride it; holy cow, it’s just incredible.

Ian
As a brand, we needed to do a ride photoshoot. Normally we would choose a UK location but Antonio who looks after all our graphic stuff suggested that we really ought to do this in Spain. After deciding on Girona because David is based there, we began drawing up a wish list of who we wanted to take with us and I’m looking at the numbers and thinking OMG. But both Trevor and I could see how it just made total sense and we set the wheels in motion.

We’d rented this lovely farmhouse so the whole crew could stay together. When we first arrived, a deadpan Chris [Auld] – after years of mixed experiences with accommodation on shoots – immediately commented that it was another shit place booked by the client. Our videographer Chad was loving it, as were Antonio and Claire from the agency The Traveller and the Bear. I’d already made the decision to step back and let them work their magic with the direction of the shoot and I loved the moments when both Chris and Chad showed us some of the content and I could see the excitement in their eyes.

Each evening we’d go back to the farmhouse, share some food and talk over the day—random things like Antonio getting his drone stuck up a tree and it taking us so long trying to retrieve it that the local police turned up to ask what we were doing.

David
CHPT3 is a soft goods company –  we make what people wear – so we normally partner with companies that legitimise our decision to also make hardware. One of the ways we do this is to work with partners that are super authentic and, for me, Vielo absolutely nails that brief. I love what Ian and Trevor are doing so much—it’s a proper collaboration. A mutual appreciation society.

CHPT3

Vielo

Location photography by Chris Auld / Paint shop photography by Sami Sauri

The Hill Climb Project

The lightest paint is no paint so the frame is half painted and half raw stainless.

With the 2021 British National Hill Climb Championship taking place on Winnats Pass in the Peak District National Park, the event’s close proximity to The Service Course Wilmslow prompted a conversation with ISEN Workshop’s award-winning framebuilders Caren Hartley and Matt McDonough. The goal? To design and fabricate a steel frame to help hill climber Matthew Cleave conquer the 20% gradients in the fastest time possible. Tricked out with lightest components and with a paint finish taking design cues from autumnal colours and the climb’s contours, what resulted was the perfect marriage of form and function in a steel bike weighing 5.4kg.

The Plan

“I’ve been involved in the hill climb scene for about four years. It’s the time of year when many cyclists are taking a bit of a break or winding down. But there’s a small minority that race each other up some of the steepest, craziest climbs in the country.

The plan was to create our version of the perfect hill climb bike. And then for me to race the bike throughout the 2021 season leading up to the National Hill Climb Championship. So this was a bit of a dream project for me—combining the passion I have for the hill climb scene with our experience at The Service Course in creating custom bike builds with the best bespoke bike builders from around the world.” – Matthew Cleave

The Bike

“I started building bikes about 8 years ago. I trained as a metal worker before spending a number of years as both jeweller and artist. Over a period of time I fell out of love with the art industry and decided I wanted to use my skills for something a bit more practical. Making bikes seemed like the perfect match.

Our main ethos is building everything from start to finish in our London workshop. And we’d been thinking about how we could make the lightest steel bike for quite a while—what it would look like and how we could shave off every spare gram. We started with Matt’s geometry and then got the lightest tube set we could. Mostly Reynolds 953. After hours spent fabricating and machining, we ended up with a frame that weighed 1,150g before paint. We were quite pleased with that.

We’ve become known for our candy fades—strong colours with quite bold, in-your-face paint schemes. But I wanted to do something a bit different for this bike so I started by looking at what the bike was being used for and then added colours that signify the end of the season—reds and oranges with a little bit of purple to bring it back to ISEN.” – Caren Hartley

The Climb

“We’re in the Peaks on Winnats, it’s pouring with rain and the wind is howling. And there’s hundreds and hundreds of people walking up the hill ready to cheer us on. That says it all really—had it been anywhere but Winnats I think the conditions would have deterred spectators from coming out to watch.

At the sign-on, one of the organisers had asked me if I was the guy with the bike. Pretty cool but also adding a bit of pressure. And then when you’re in line waiting for your number to be called, the nerves do start to build.

My family and friends were standing on the lower part of the climb and it was incredible to ride past them. And towards the top where you’re trying to throw everything left through the pedals, catching my 30-second man gave me that little extra push to get across the line.

The bike was amazing and having those conversations with Caren and Matt from the very start – being able to visit the workshop – was really valuable and I was absolutely blown away by the job they did. And placing 31st in a time of 3:39? To be honest, I felt over the moon.” – Matthew Cleave


The Hill Climb Project

ISEN Workshop

Images with kind permission of The Service Course

Additional photography by Josh Heaton

Saskia Martin / From Bad to Better

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


All images with kind permission of Saskia Martin

Cat Karalis

Badlands 2022

The Service Course / Off-piste in the Peaks

It’s 7:30am and the sky is brightening. The forecast rain has failed to arrive and the day promises to be dry. A fact not lost on the riders as they roll up outside The Service Course in Wilmslow ready for an epic day in the nearby Peak District. Signed on and with coffee in hand, talk soon turns to the route and tyre choice. With an entertaining mix of trails and moorland pathways all stitched together by quiet country lanes and a profile that suggests every gear ratio will be required, this will prove a challenging day in the saddle but one that offers stunning scenery, a sense of shared purpose and the reward – on finishing – of a pie and freshly pulled pint.


Vinny / The Service Course

Riding: A brand new Open U.P. in raw carbon. It was only built yesterday which might be a little bit of a no-no.

Gravel Bonanza is a big thing for me personally, and for The Service Course Wilmslow. To do events like this is such a privilege—to see people sign up because they want to ride with us. And this is just one event out of a number that we have planned. Kind of a nod to the future but inspired by rides that started in Girona. Yes, our version ends at a brewery—which might suggest it’s got a little of me on it.

Tom

Riding: A Specialized Diverge with some random bits and pieces that happened to be in the cellar.

I actually live over in Bradford so this is a new area for me to ride. A good excuse to check out some new trails. What I love about a gravel bike is diving down those little hidden pathways you notice out on a ride—not gravel with a capital G but it’s off-road and entertaining. What more do you need?

Ali / Wahoo

Riding: A borrowed bike from The Service Course. It’s a very beautiful Curve and quite possibly beyond my gravel ability.

We’re here representing Wahoo to help out with our bike computers. And for the good vibes [smiles].


Sarah / The Service Course

Riding: No bike for me today as I’m staying at the shop to look after our other customers.

I wasn’t a cyclist when I started working at The Service Course. But I soon saw first hand how cycling brings so many people together. They meet here over a coffee before heading out on a ride—a real sense of community. So now that I’m also riding a bike, I get to join in and I really love it.

Brett

Riding: A Bellé that I had built up at The Service Course in Girona. A custom frame with a road bias but this adventure mini-mullet set-up is really proving itself today.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I needed to get out of London so I came up to the Peak District. One, I never realised how easy it was to get here and, two, it has great roads, great people and great coffee. Today we’ve done gravel, tarmac, cobbles, some technical single-track—and that’s on one ride. We have nice riding down in Kent and Surrey but it’s not as challenging and the people are kind of mean [laughs].


Luke / Outdoor Provisions

Riding: There’s two of us – me and Christian – and we’re a Manchester-based energy snack company. We’re both big into bikes but, today, we’re providing the food at the feed stop.

We put the route together for this Gravel Bonanza. There’s a few gems on the west side of the Peak District like Macclesfield Forest and the Midshires Way which we’ve included. And there’s also some bumpy bits which people might be upset about later on [laughs].


Jorge

Riding: My all-in-one Specialized Roubaix. You can be cheeky and put on some 35s with just enough clearance.

I was looking forward to the camaraderie. A ride that’s a little bit more chilled without all the cars—in the Peak District when you’re not on trails the roads are pretty quiet. And if you want to get lost – in a good sense – then this is the place to come.


Nil / The Service Course

Riding: An Open. But it has reverse brakes – I’m from Girona – so maybe a little tricky on the descents [smiles].

It’s my first time riding in the Peak District but if the weather is okay, then everything will be fine. When I left Spain yesterday it was 20°C – sunshine, shorts – so I just don’t want it to rain.

Bruce

Riding: An Open Wi.DE Ultradynamico Limited Edition on 48s.

I’ve ridden gravel for quite a while and this looked like good fun. Not sure about the views on the route as I’ve been staring at my stem all day.

Marton

Riding: An Orbea Terra on WTB Riddler 700c 37s. Beautiful tyres on this terrain.

Back in 2019, I went to ride the Gravel Bonanza in Girona. I met Vinny down there so when I saw The Service Course in Wilmslow was organising their own version, I decided to return the favour. And to show them how to actually make a flat white [smiles].


Ricardo

Riding: A Specialized Diverge. The same one that I rode at Badlands but with fewer bags.

The Service Course is my local bike shop. I call in most days and they’ve become good friends so I wanted to support them with this event. There’s a mix of everything with this route – some fast flat, technical sections with a loose surface – which just makes it an epic ride.

Nick

Riding: An Allied Allroad. My first gravel ride with this bike and I still need to learn how the bike handles and when to hop off [smiles].

It’s an amazing route and I’ve always liked what The Service Course does. I live in Southport which is totally flat so this is an opportunity to ride with others and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Matt / The Service Course

Riding: I’m making the coffees at the feed stop.

There’s a far amount of logistical organisation in pulling together an event like this. Having a coffee set-up in the middle of nowhere is the main hurdle to get over. But it was great to see everyone meeting up earlier today—that buzz as they headed out for six hours or however long of riding.

The sense of community that I see through my role with The Service Course is very humbling and quite overwhelming. And a ride like today – seeing that many people at the shop, signing on for the ride, getting a coffee – even though I’m not riding myself, I can still take a lot of enjoyment out of that.


Photography by Matt Tomlinson

The Service Course / Outdoor Provisions / komoot / Wahoo / Track Brewery

Jean-Baptiste Delorme / Easy riding

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

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

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

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

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

*The Dark Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All photography by Jean-Baptiste Delorme

jb-delorme.com

Steff Gutovska / A Look Back

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


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

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

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

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

Instagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trends and tribes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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