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Saskia Martin / From behind the lens

Harvest hills of golden wheat. A below-table tangle of bare legs and bib shorts. Helmeted heads silhouetted by shadow. Themes that feature regularly in Saskia Martin’s carefully observed and playful photography.

Having spent the past decade documenting her rides in and around London, commissioned projects have followed as Saskia combines her passion for the medium with the professional requirements of delivering a brief.

Interspersing a photo essay of recent work, Saskia frames this creative journey with references to her own riding, the visual language she employs in capturing a moment, and her innate love of telling stories.


Riding

This time last year I’d boxed up my bike before travelling to southern Spain. I’d lost my cycling mojo and decided the best place to find it again was riding the Badlands route with my friend Kat.

My mojo proved elusive on the dry, dusty trails so I guess I’m still working through a mid-bike crisis. But treating myself to a new mountain bike has proved motivational in terms of wanting to use it. My first time out, riding up a hill, I had this sudden moment of clarity—like I was sitting in a favourite armchair.

Work

One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make was leaving my role as Product Developer for Rapha after three and a half, happy years. As you can perhaps imagine, lots of tears.

I’ve left behind what feels like a family of colleagues but it just felt like it was time for a change. And as I’m now working for Apidura, cycling continues to play a huge part in my life.

We’re a fairly small team based in Camden and I just love it. There’s a real focus on functionality – solving design problems which is very much me – and as I ride to work each morning through the city streets I look forward to what each day brings.

Picking up the camera

My introduction to photography was through my iPhone. Taking pictures of friends out riding or at a coffee stop. It’s rather a cliché but I just love storytelling and this translates to certain rules I have when posting multiple images on social media. They have to be in chronological order and not every photograph necessarily needs to include someone on a bike. I get a kick out of portraying the little details that inform the bigger picture.

I’ve since upgraded to a mirrorless camera system as I transition into commissioned projects. It’s been quite a creative journey since my first ever photographic gig shooting my best friend’s wedding. I felt like I was getting married with the amount of stress I was feeling.

Inspiration

I love making a brand’s vision come alive and delight in the outcome of the process—that first pass through the images and the editing that follows. But then you also have the occasional crisis in confidence which, talking to established photographers, isn’t that uncommon. Looking back and thinking how you would change this or that.

I get a lot of inspiration from how the cinema portrays light and colour. And I’m instinctively drawn to what some might consider to be imperfect images—if there’s a blur or the composition isn’t classically two thirds. I have a penchant for capturing parts of people rather than a full head-to-toe shot. Hands are so expressive and my friends are now accustomed to me photographing their legs and feet.

I’m not one for grandiose statements but, to me, my pictures feel like curated art and artists always title their work. So I do carefully consider the words I use to accompany a post. I’m not particularly comfortable in front of the camera but I’m happy to be seen through my work. And maybe this combination of words and images can engage or even inspire for a moment?

All images with kind permission of Saskia Martin

Chiara Redaschi / Captured moments

I eat a lot. A lot of pasta [laughs].
Is that the secret?
Yes. The Italian secret!

I’m on a video call with photographer Chiara Redaschi but have to pause while she catches her breath. With her phone unable to connect, she’s just run across town to sit on the terrace of her boyfriend’s restaurant where the WiFi is better. 

“I live near Milan but I’m spending the summer here in Tuscany. It’s a little town called La California not far from the sea and when I’m not taking photographs, I help out in the restaurant. Lots of seafood and Italian classics like spaghetti.”

With a body of work that combines dramatic vistas with emotionally charged images of faces that fill the frame, now that Chiara’s heart has stopped racing, I ask whether growing up with artistically inclined parents helped determine her own creative path.

“In many ways it was kind of normal for me. My Mom would paint outside on the terrace and my Dad and his brother were both interested in photography. My Uncle passed away when I was 11 but I do remember that he was very experimental—much like an artist. And this might sound a little silly but when I started making my own photographs, it felt like my Uncle was continuing to express himself through me. Like a book with chapters and I’m carrying on the writing.”

Growing up in Novara in the north of Italy, as a teenager Chiara would skip school to soak up the atmosphere of nearby Milan and Turin—the energy of these urban environments finding an outlet in her first runway images shot in the style of a street photographer.

“I was studying a degree in Artistic Management but an internship with a fashion brand made me decide not to go back. The designer told me they needed some pictures taking and then I spent the summer travelling across Europe following the fixed gear racing circuit with my camera. Before I knew what was happening, photography was my job [laughs].”

Hands rarely still as her movements punctuate each sentence, Chiara describes how these first formative years working for a fashion house still influence her current style of photography.

“Researching a shoot for a cycling brand, I’ll often include elements of fashion photography. I love their crazy viewpoints—how they position the models and sometimes add something into the frame to help tell a story or convey a particular emotion.”

Describing herself as instinctual and less of a planner, being present in the moment and getting in amongst the thick of the action is Chiara’s preferred style of shooting—an approach she recently adopted when she was following the Trans Balkan Race.

“You’re so remote – in the middle of nowhere – and then you spot a rider in the distance. And it’s so amazing to be out there, capturing these moments. To me, it feels…[Chiara checks her online translator]…like a magnet! A sense of attraction that’s particularly strong when I take a portrait. All that emotion etched on a face—when I see this, I have to take a picture. I can’t just stand and watch. It’s stronger than me.”

Travelling extensively for her work – Chiara can be packed and out of the door in 30 minutes – this sense of movement reminds her of childhood summers spent visiting Spain and Portugal with her parents. But time spent in Novara is also precious and acts as a counterpoint to the inevitable stresses of a life lived on the road.

“When you’re constantly on the move – something I love to do – you rarely have time to process everything that you’ve done. So home is where I take the time to stop and reset. I open the door and breathe out [Chiara sighs deeply]. I spend time with my parents and visit my grandma. She’s 103 years old and we do the usual Italian stuff—talk, eat and talk some more.”

Sandwiched between work trips and family time, riding her bike is another passion Chiara loves to indulge. So when she’s not at the restaurant, summer days in Tuscany often involve a gravel loop with time to stop and enjoy the view.

“I have my phone but rarely carry a camera. It’s good for me to not always be thinking about taking pictures. And I feel safe away from the cars when I’m riding off-road. In Tuscany we have our white roads so why not [laughs].”

Relishing time spent outdoors, Chiara illustrates this sensibility with a story from a recent photographic assignment in the mountains to the north of her birthplace. Standing by the roadside, taking pictures on the Gavia Pass, a butterfly passed so closely to her ear that she heard the flutter of its wings.

“It was such an amazing experience and it still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.”

A description that leads me to ask whether, when pressing the shutter, Chiara ever has an inkling that the stars have aligned in one particular shot?

“I photographed Petra on this year’s Transcontinental as she arrived at a checkpoint. At first, the riders passing through were racing but later there was a switch to those that were simply fighting to keep on riding. And when I saw Petra – riding alone in the middle of the night – her raw emotions affected me so deeply. I’m crying now, thinking about it. I could feel the pain, the emotion, and I knew that shot was good.”

Pausing a moment – the birdsong of her terrace location a stark contrast to remembered times of mountain tops at midnight – Chiara gathers herself before explaining how she sometimes needs to stop and take a breath when she’s working. How it can be so emotional that her hands start to shake.

“But I know that I have to keep going because I want to capture all these moments—a record of what I see and feel. And I’m laughing when I think it’s my job because it never feels that way. It’s a part of me that was always there. I took my first photograph in Venice when I was five years old with a Barbie camera. And I wouldn’t be doing it as a profession if it was just a way of paying the bills. I want to enjoy what I’m doing—to make something that will last forever.”

All images with kind permission of Chiara Redaschi / chiararedaschi.com

Jan Sprünken / Rad Race

Rad Race? In German, rad means wheel and it can also be a shortened term for bike. But it’s not supposed to translate simply as bike race. There’s a lot more to it than that.

I’m on a video call with Jan Sprünken [pictured second left]; one of the original 12 friends that first founded Rad Race. After I semi-seriously apologise for my store cupboard background, he smiles and suggests that it’s a filter I’m using. A nicely judged off-the-cuff comment that sets the tone for our conversation—Jan responding to my questions with a thread of answers and anecdotes that place a sense of fun and community equally among all other considerations.


Jan
I’m currently living in Berlin but Rad Race was founded in a city called Münster. It’s known as the bicycle capital of Germany because when you arrive at the train station there’s just a shit load of bikes everywhere. And we were a group of friends all with a Münster background—either studying or born and raised there.

cyclespeak
And the initial inspiration?

Jan
Like a lot of the best ideas, this one grew from us sitting round a campfire, talking and drinking beer. Just us bullshitting and saying why don’t we do this or that. But then you never really do whatever you suggest. It’s a campfire thing that feels good in the moment and you’re not really considering all the down sides.

cyclespeak
But, in this case, the idea stuck?

Jan
That was Ingo [Engelhardt]. To give him credit, he’s the kind of guy that gets things done. And the next day when we were sitting in a café, he showed us his phone and there was this Facebook page which he’d created. So all of a sudden there was an idea, a name and a visual identity.

cyclespeak
And from there?

Jan
We set about drawing up a business plan but none of us had any experience with start-ups. So the process was driven by gut feeling. Whatever felt wrong we ignored and what felt right we followed.

cyclespeak
Before the concept of Rad Race was first dreamt up, how were you all riding?

Jan
Some guys had single speed bikes. Some were more road. My background was professional basketball. I had a mountain bike but I only rode it about four times a year [smiles].

cyclespeak
Was there a common interest?

Jan
This was the tail end of 2013 so the fixed gear scene was still peaking and we all loved watching them race and admired the skills they had to control the bike.

cyclespeak
Now that you’ve established your own event series, I was wondering where you see Rad Race in terms of the broader cycling industry?

Jan
It’s not supposed to be this excluding, elitist thing. It’s not one, narrow definition of riding.

cyclespeak
So what would be a broader definition?

Jan
It’s an attempt to enjoy cycling and build a community. To be a platform for people to come together and explore what the bike can offer.

cyclespeak
That reminds me of a quote on your website: ‘We don’t care where you come from and why you ride’. 

Jan
That’s from the early days. But we still like it so why change? And it’s a reminder for us too, that as long as you get a kick out of riding, then that’s the most important common denominator.

cyclespeak
Is this an attitude that needs constant curating?

Jan
Unfortunately, it’s human nature to create an us and them. It happens everywhere so we always want to be open and welcoming.

cyclespeak
I think it’s really cool that you place so much emphasis on people having fun.

Jan
It’s like the first time we organised a multi-stage ride that started in Munich before ending up close to Venice. It was meant to be a race but we did the test ride with a handful of friends and ended up questioning whether it had to be a race? Because why would you want to drop each other? Fuck no. So we turned the whole concept on its head and the Tour de Friends was born. 500 people crossing the Alps together and every night we gather at the finish of each stage and drink a couple of beers. The perfect platform for doing what you enjoy and having a good time.

cyclespeak
You organise a variety of events including fixed gear racing, ultra distance non-stop challenges and multi-stage tours. Is there an element of Rad Race DNA that runs through each and every event?

Jan
There is but it took me a while to understand this myself. At first I only saw these exciting bike events but it was later that the concept of community struck me as a crucial aspect of what we do. I’ve known some of the participants for close to ten years and many are now good friends. They come to have fun, to ride their bikes and to share in something that’s bigger than the individual.

cyclespeak
Races such as Last Wo/Man Standing; I’m guessing there’s an awful lot of hard work that goes into hosting such an event?

Jan
Yes, indeed [laughs].

cyclespeak
And you naturally need a suitable venue?

Jan
The first time we ran this event, we knew we wanted it to be in Berlin. So we rented an indoor karting track in this really hip area of the city.

cyclespeak
And things grew from there?

Jan
A little too well because they kept increasing the fees. Doubling the price each year and demanding they take over the concessions. Especially for this event, the after-show party is off the charts and we can recoup some of our expenditure on the food and drink sales. So we ended the relationship and that proved a liberating moment for us.

cyclespeak
So a good decision?

Jan
It was but we still needed a new place which was obviously a problem. So myself, Ingo and one of our track riders Axel spent a day in Berlin going round all the other karting circuits and writing down the pros and cons. Is there room for spectators? Is the track wide enough for passing. Maybe there’s a bridge with limited headroom that would decapitate our riders? In the end we decided on our favourite and shook hands with the guy who owned it.

cyclespeak
So it all ended well?

Jan
You could say that but we did have one year when he complained that his restrooms had been destroyed. People partying hard and [pause] you know…

cyclespeak
I guess I do [smiles].

Jan
So we immediately asked him to fix it and we covered the cost. It’s a relationship we really value and a venue that works well. In fact one year – just before the pandemic – Fabian Cancellara participated.

cyclespeak
That’s pretty special.

Jan
I can still picture the looks on the faces of the other riders when they lined up with him at the start. But that’s the really cool part too. He’s not automatically the best rider at Last Wo/Man Standing because it’s completely different to what he’s used to doing. Obviously he’s one of the greatest cyclists of all time but he still got eliminated in Round Two by a street messenger guy who spends every day riding fixed and dodging cars on the city streets.

cyclespeak
I’ve rewatched your Final Lap video numerous times and the camera work is mindblowing? How do you capture such awesome imagery?

Jan
It’s a drone.

cyclespeak
But the kart track is inside?

Jan
The operator is a friend of ours. And we explained about the ceiling height, the spectators and all the gantries. But he was confident that he could get the shots we needed.

cyclespeak
You feel like you’re in the race, on a bike, immediately behind the other riders. Simply stunning.

Jan
Watching him navigate the drone was almost as exciting as the race itself [laughs].

cyclespeak
And then I watched another of your videos. Carnage, corners and crashes. And this one made me question what type of rider is attracted to your way of racing? It’s very cut and thrust.

Jan
I don’t know that term but it sounds cool. Actually, it sounds exactly what it is [laughs].

cyclespeak
So maybe not for everyone?

Jan
It appeals to people that love to ride their fixed gear bikes on the street. Who commute in that fashion or maybe earn a living as a messenger. But the people that do well also train really hard. The guy who won this year’s competition – Alec Briggs – he’s not riding his bike to a bar to have a beer and then home again. He’s a legit cyclist and has all the skills.

cyclespeak
Speaking of training, you have your own teams. The Rad Pack and Grl Pack.

Jan
They do race but they’re not really racing teams. They developed after we did trips together where we all wore a specially designed jersey. So we all felt like a team.

cyclespeak
In the team images you have on the website, there’s lots of laughter and smiles and not taking yourselves too seriously? Maybe a little different than the grim suffering depicted in some race photography?

Jan
Our riders are ambitious and want to do well but it’s not their job. If they don’t enter a race for five or six months, that’s perfectly okay. Yes, there are races we participate in but it’s not really a race team. It’s more of an open and fluid definition of team.

cyclespeak
Alongside your race and event series, you now have a physical presence in Hamburg with your Rad Race shop.

Jan
Hamburg happened when we needed to swap this small rented workshop we were using as an office for something bigger. We saw this amazing space next to the fish market which is a really prestigious area down by the river. And because it was a lot bigger, we started thinking how it could be more than just an office and that’s how we arrived at the shop concept.

cyclespeak
So an unexpected outcome?

Jan
More jumping in at the deep end because we didn’t know jack shit about opening a bike store [laughs].

cyclespeak
I notice that you’re hiring. You’re looking for mechanics and baristas?

Jan
Yes. Always [laughs].

cyclespeak
Always?

Jan
We completely underestimated how busy our bike workshop would be. We had a good friend who was a mechanic that we thought would be perfect. He’d get a paycheck and we’d have someone we could trust. But leading up to the official opening we had this pop-up and even at that early stage we could see how busy we’d be.

cyclespeak
Which explains the job advert.

Jan
Because of what we do with the race series, we meet so many people that are enthusiastic about cycling and we often get mechanics asking if they can come and work at our place. And we say, “Yes, you can!” [laughs]

cyclespeak
I work a couple of days a week as a barista but I’m based south of Manchester. That’s quite a commute to your Hamburg shop so I didn’t apply for your position [smiles].

Jan
You could spend your vacation with us. As an intern? You could show us how to fix great coffee?

cyclespeak
There’s a certain Berlin-based bicycle brand that – rumour suggests – has the fastest shop ride in the world.

Jan
I think that might be true [laughs].

cyclespeak
So your Hamburg shop isn’t out to steal their crown?

Jan
We do have rides but we just invite people to meet there and sometimes they happen and sometimes they don’t. From what I’ve heard, the one you mentioned in Berlin is legit [smiles].

cyclespeak
Does this go back to what you mentioned earlier? About just letting things follow their own course?

Jan
What we do and what we don’t do?

cyclespeak
Yes. Exactly that.

Jan
We only want to go in a direction where things feel good to us. And the decisions we make aren’t always financially driven. I don’t think we’ve ever made a single euro in profit with the Last Wo/Man Standing events. It’s actually the opposite but we feel it’s worth it. It’s a fun event that feels good and we know that eventually they’ll be a benefit. We like to earn money too – we’re not angels – but we stick to our way of working because some of the best things we’ve done have happened in this way.

Rad Race

Photography with kind permission of Rad Race: Arturs Pavlovs / Bengt Stiller / Björn Reschabek / Chiara Redaschi / Tom Schegel / Nils Laengner / Christoph Steinweg / Dennis Arndt / Yunus Hutterer

Zero Neuf / Gather

Working long hours and struggling to find satisfaction, 2014 saw Mike Tucker and his wife Joss sell up everything before leaving the UK with their young family for a new life in rural France. Settling in the Ariège with a view of the Pyrenees, the couple set out to create a base – the Zero Neuf of their 9th department location – for guests to experience and escape in a relaxed and rule free environment.

Fast forward eight years and the various strands of this holistic vision for vacationing all came together in Gather; a ‘leave no trace event’ that saw guests enjoy four days of music, conversation, hiking and cycling, in and around the beautiful setting of the couple’s 19th century farmhouse.

Reflecting back on this community-based festival, Mike talks candidly about his own struggles with mental health, the highs and lows of building their Zero Neuf business and the joys of sharing this country idyll over a long weekend in June.


It’s early evening and the mid-summer sun casts lengthening shadows across the farmhouse garden. Cutting a youthful figure in t-shirt and shorts, Mike Tucker has finally found a spare half hour in his busy schedule to sit and chat. But as he points out with a smile, every day is busy when you run your own business and live on the premises.

Swapping a daily commute through city suburbs for the early morning ritual of coffee on the patio – the stone flags warm to the feet in summer and with a view across snow-capped mountains in winter – this calm, peaceful environment is certainly a contrast to Mike’s previous professional life.

“Prior to our move to France, Joss and I had two very young children and I was working in a particularly intense environment that involved a lot of travel. So I was often away from home and, when I was home, I was absent because of my stress levels.”

“Something had to give and as Joss is half French on her Mum’s side and had spent large parts of her childhood in France, the decision to relocate actually wasn’t that difficult as I just wasn’t coping.”

Putting their house on the market in April, by August the last box was packed and Mike drove south through France after putting Joss and the boys on a plane for their leg of the journey. Initially considering the Loire Valley, the couple had fallen in love with the rural landscape of the Ariège and a stone farmhouse and outbuildings that would become their new home.

With a focus on the simple things in life  – good food and company with a healthy dose of outdoor adventure – now that Zero Neuf is firmly established as a welcome retreat for an eclectic mix of guests, Mike is happy to reflect on the nature of their business model but also, perhaps more pertinently, on what it isn’t.

“There’s no need to worry about what you’re wearing, the height of your socks or what bike you’re riding. We’re a very laid back couple and, as a result, the business we run also has a relaxed feel. Basically, you’re staying in our home. We live here, our two boys live here, our cats, dogs and hens live here. So our guests also become part of the family.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Mike admits that initially they took on far too many of the everyday tasks—an approach that left them both exhausted.

“Neither Joss or I had run a small business before embarking on this journey. I still find it hard to delegate tasks and, on the flip side, Joss previously worked for a large corporation which was quite structured and Zero Neuf is anything but.”

“We’re still involved in absolutely everything – from making beds to cooking dinner and serving beers – but now, thankfully, we do at least have some help. I suppose we were just swept along by it all.”

Willing to open up as Mike is, I’m reticent about asking my next question but decide to plough ahead with the caveat that he can always decline to answer.

“What’s it like to be married to your business partner? On the whole, it’s a joy. I guess there aren’t many people who get to wake up next to their CEO before doing it all over again the next day.”

“But nothing is perfect and there are times when it’s incredibly stressful. And because the business has been a success, we’re very busy so perhaps we spend less time as a family than we would doing 9-5 jobs. A little ironic as we live where we work.”

Another interesting observation is the length of time it took for the family to feel accepted in their local neighbourhood. Perhaps a little surprising as Joss speaks fluent French but an aspect of rural life the couple respected and that subsequently resulted in a true feeling of belonging.

“We now feel part of something really special. Very different to living in the UK where we witnessed a lot of keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ behaviour. If anything, it’s the opposite here and there’s a real wholesomeness to our friendships. As a person who’s struggled with their mental health, I really appreciate our local community and the people that visit as they all contribute to our sense of wellbeing.”

This mention of visitors prompts me to ask about Gather; recently enjoying a welcome return after a pandemic-enforced hiatus. An event that grew from Mike and Joss’ concept of a community-led festival and supported by a range of partners with komoot as headline sponsor, tickets are purposefully limited to a lucky one hundred.

“Gather is an opportunity for like-minded people to come together—to meet, mix, learn and share. An event that one of our guests described as a big family reunion where everyone can be themselves and not feel under pressure to be something they’re not. So if you don’t want to ride it isn’t a problem but the riding we do is on beautiful tracks and trails and with a real emphasis on a connection with nature.”

Look through the images shared over Instagram and everyone is smiling and clearly having fun. Whether tucking into a communal feast, listening to talks on the farmhouse lawn, cooling off post-ride in the nearby River l’Hers or enjoying an early morning yoga session next to the saltwater swimming pool—the festival goers appear relaxed as they mingle and make friends.

“Events like Gather don’t just happen in isolation. We work with a wonderful team of friends, volunteers and partners to pull everything together. Very humbling when you consider the time and energy they’re willing to devote to a common goal.”

“So even though we own the Gather name, the event belongs to many. And we’re purposely keeping it small because we want it to remain intimate and personal. It’s an amazing thing to be responsible for, to be part of and to continue.”

Admitting to feeling a little sad as the final guests pack up ready for return journeys home, now that the festival is finished for another year Mike can resume the regular rhythm of each working day.

“My favourite time at Zero Neuf is undoubtedly the morning—that 15 or 20 minutes I get by myself, listening to the birdsong. As for the seasons, I particularly love late spring and early summer when there’s such a vibrancy with everything coming back to life. But what’s also interesting is that back in the UK I used to dread the onset of autumn. Leaving home to commute into the city in the dark and it being dark again on my return. Here I manage to enjoy the winters; helped by our beautiful view of the Pyrenees and the season’s first snowfall.”

Leading such a busy life, it’s the bike that offers a sense of escape. Mike describing how he might be having the worst day possible – which admittedly is now a rarity – but when he clips in and turns the pedals, then all his worries seem to disappear.

“I do feel incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved when you consider we had little, if any, experience in the hospitality industry. Watching Zero Neuf grow and the community we’ve built—in some ways it can feel quite overwhelming. But we’re both very conscious of never getting too carried away or losing sight of what we’ve got.”

“It would be easy to keep growing and adding to what we do here but both Joss and I feel that would be a mistake. Sometimes you’ve just got to accept that what you’ve got is enough. Too often we strive for bigger and better when it’s maybe wiser to take stock and stay where you are. Deep down I know this feels right and my previous life felt utterly wrong.”

Zero Neuf / zeroneufcycling.cc / Gather Festival

Images by Dan King and Tomás Montes

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Jochen Hoops / Mallorca

After months of winter riding in his native Hamburg, creative producer Jochen Hoops headed south to ride the quiet back roads and climbs of Mallorca. Having documented this migratory escape with his camera, here Jochen muses on the seasonality of cycling; the discipline of dark winter days, the emotional release of springtime and the reasons he chooses to ride whatever the weather.


Am I a year-round cyclist? I don’t think it’s laziness but it’s not easy to ride in the depths of winter. You’re less likely to have company and cycling alone in bad weather has its challenges.

In winter months Hamburg is cold, wet and windy. And the landscape is not very pleasant to the eye—the light is flat and the sky a uniform grey. Maybe that isn’t important to some people but for me it is.

But still, I have to get out – for my physical and mental wellbeing – and usually I end up enjoying the ride. You just need the discipline to step out of the door.

February

I was fortunate to enjoy two trips to Mallorca—the first resulting from an off-the-cuff remark and a spontaneous decision. A friend from Paris mentioned that he was heading out to Mallorca for a week and had arranged to stay at this little, boutique hotel. Saying how nice that sounded and adding that I also needed to get away, my friend kindly suggested that I join him on the trip.

The hotel only had four guest rooms so it was very intimate and good riding was easy to find in any direction. It was still only February but we’d left a wintery Hamburg to discover signs of spring on the island. Passing through tiny villages – the clink of coffee cups and our freewheels resonating along the narrow streets – by the second day the rhythm of riding had transported me far away from any everyday concerns.

In winter you somehow feel stiff and you need the warmth of more southerly climes for your legs to push the pedals a little easier. So we were intent on catching the sun’s restorative rays, eating good lunches and discovering the island by bike. Simple pleasures.

May

A training camp comprised my second trip. Arranged every year by the same group of friends, I’d met some of them at a charity ride out of Paris and they’d asked me if I wanted to join them. A little different from my February visit to the island – more focus on effort – but we also found time for fun and laughter.

And it’s these differences – the contrasts between both trips – that make cycling so interesting. The meandering rides with time to stop and stare and the fast paced charges that leave your chest heaving and legs empty. A joy in movement that, irrespective of the season, means the motivation to ride doesn’t really change. Wherever or whenever I’m out on the bike, I clip in and move forward and immediately it just feels right.

All images with kind permission of Jochen Hoops

(artist management / production at Bransch)

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