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

Vielo V+1 and R+1 gallery…

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

Stories About Georgia

Far Away (and back again)

After setting out from Eastern Europe to cycle across Asia in 2019, Sabina Knezevic and Robin Patijn are currently based in Sweden and training for a postponed Atlas Mountain Race. Having amassed a wealth of stories on their travels, with Farawayistan the couple aim to inspire cyclists from all over the world to embark upon their own adventures—big or small. Here they discuss how the seeds were sown that led to a life-changing journey, their experiences on the road as a couple and how, when it comes to chasing society’s consumer goals, less can indeed be more.

cyclespeak
So where did your cycling stories start?

Robin
I was the cyclist before we left on our around-the-world tour. It’s the classic tale of playing football and then, when my knee was injured, my father encouraging me to try cycling. So I went out on his road bike, loved it immediately and with my very first paycheck bought my own bike. Years later, I met Sabina…

Sabina
On Tinder [laughs].

Robin
Quite a modern way of meeting, maybe?

Sabina
I was scrolling through Tinder – because that’s what you do when you’re single – and there was this profile of a guy who looked kind of interesting because of all these travel photos.

Robin
I must just mention there were no photos of me in lycra [smiles].

Sabina
When we started dating, I didn’t ride a bike but I was very sporty. Crossfit five times a week, surfing, yoga. But I had this certain idea in my mind about cycling because in the Netherlands road cyclists have a very bad reputation. We have a lot of cycle lanes that are very busy and road cyclists don’t have bells and can be complete assholes.

Robin
It’s a stereotype.

Sabina
So I was absolutely certain that Robin would never get me into lycra. But, in the end, it only took about a month before I tried his mother’s bike and it was, fuck, this is so much fun!

cyclespeak
And that, in turn, led to the idea of making a trip by bike together?

Sabina
Right from the start, we’d always really connected on the travelling part but after a few months as a couple we decided it should be a cycling trip. Perhaps a little risky as the only experience we had before we left was a small test trip in the Netherlands. Riding in a full-on storm [laughs].

Robin
Typical Dutch spring weather.

Sabina
There was a weather warning but we figured why not just go for it. And we still had fun despite the awful headwind which we thought was a good sign. 

Robin
That was the very first weekend we’d assembled all our kit – the tent, stove, sleeping bags – and we wanted to test everything. 

cyclespeak
You’d already decided to quit your day jobs, sell all your belongings and start exploring. Was it difficult to break ties with your regular lives and all your physical belongings?

Sabina
At that time we were already in a place where we were really into minimalism.

Robin
We were living in a house that the municipality had scheduled for demolition prior to building new ones. So we knew we could only stay there for one and a half years.

Sabina
And we were both quite frustrated with our jobs so that also made the decision a lot easier.

cyclespeak
Just out of interest, what were your jobs?

Sabina
I was working at a publishing company as the editorial manager for a couple of magazines.

Robin
My job as an air quality engineer was quite technical.

cyclespeak
From breaking these professional ties, you arrived at the concept of Farawayistan. So I was wondering how you define ‘faraway’? Does this necessarily imply a physical distance or is there also an emotional element?

Sabina
Robin was already enjoying photography and I have a communication background and really like sharing stories. So we were brainstorming about different names and Farawayistan started out as more of a joke. We wanted to travel far away and ‘stan’, as a suffix, means a country. So you combine the two…

Robin
And also, at family meetings, everyone asked where we were going. So we’d reel off Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan – all these ‘stan’ countries.

Sabina
There’s also an element of escapism. Which for us meant getting away from the everyday, consumer aspects of life.

Robin
But this can be a few miles from home. You don’t have to go to Uzbekistan to go faraway [smiles].

cyclespeak
I read your journal piece on persuading your girlfriend to go bike touring. Over time, has that dynamic changed in the sense of who has the ideas or chooses the direction of travel?

Robin
I’m a thinker and Sabina is more about acting. Just going with it.

Sabina
I can have an idea and straight away say, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ Half of the time not fully realising what I’m getting myself into.

Robin
For example, riding the Annapurna Circuit was an idea I was thinking and talking about but Sabina said…

Sabina
Let’s just do it.

Robin
And it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

Sabina
But when we first got together and were getting to know each other, it was something we both had to learn how to deal with. To balance out these different aspects of our personalities, so we could make our relationship work.

cyclespeak
So what’s it like to spend so much time travelling together as a couple? Does it strengthen or test a relationship? Or maybe a little of both?

Sabina
I think I moved in with Robin within a week of becoming a couple and we’ve been together ever since.

Robin
Especially now as we’re both working from home. And the weekends are the same as we like to go on short camping trips.

Sabina
We’re kind of dependent on each other [laughs]. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not but it works.

cyclespeak
It sounds a good thing to me.

Sabina
I mean, we do fall out. Especially when we’re cycling and hungry and there’s a headwind. But you talk it out and it’s fine again.

cyclespeak
In terms of preparing for your travels, how did that process unfold?

Sabina
Robin had been planning this trip for six years. Long before he met me.

Robin
Maybe dreaming is a more accurate term [smiles].

Sabina
I do remember, well before we left, having a big discussion about panniers versus bike packing bags. On this point I followed Robin’s gut feeling and accepted we needed to carry a certain amount of kit so panniers would make sense. But maybe we didn’t need quite as much kit as we took [laughs]. And then, mid-way through the trip, I changed to bike packing bags and let him carry most of the stuff.

Robin
When we left from Tbilisi in Georgia, on the very first hill we knew then we were carrying too much kit. Books, extra pairs of shoes…

Sabina
I had never in my life cycled up a hill – let alone a mountain – and in my naivety I thought, how hard can it be? Just go a bit slower. But I soon found out [laughs].

cyclespeak
You obviously got the hang of it.

Sabina
Overcoming all these obstacles – that seem impossible at the time – is part of the journey. And knowing that sometimes it’s OK to just hitch a ride [smiles].

cyclespeak
You must have so many memories and stories from your travels?

Sabina
Hundreds. And not necessarily about me and Robin.

Robin
We caught up with two friends we made in Tajikistan over Zoom yesterday and we were talking about our adventures and one of their stories in particular that still makes us smile. James, this British guy, was cycling by himself up a mountain pass just a few days behind us. He had severe food poisoning and was delirious so couldn’t go any further.

Sabina
It was already dark, he had a puncture and he was completely exhausted so he just stopped and set up his tent. Next morning, he woke up feeling better, zipped open his tent only to find a group of people wearing bulky, protective clothing and carrying metal detectors. And it turned out he’d spent the night camped in a minefield.

Robin
He was OK so it’s quite a funny story.

Sabina
But looking back on our own experiences, there’s all these little things that made it so special. Like realising in India that tuk tuks are the perfect way to draft.

cyclespeak
Your stories often include photographs of the local population from wherever you’ve been travelling. Is this engagement important?

Robin
I really like different cultures and interacting with the people we meet. And even though we often don’t share a common language, you can laugh and smile and shake hands and try to have a conversation.

Sabina
If I leave him alone for five minutes he’s making new friends. Even here in Sweden in the supermarket and Sweden is well known for people not talking to each other.

cyclespeak
So you’ve met some interesting characters on your travels?

Sabina
I really enjoyed hitchhiking because we’d spend this time in a truck with someone who genuinely just wanted to help us. Which I suppose is funny because there’s such a misconception that hitchhiking is dangerous. For the most part, these people are alone all the time and they see these weird cyclists by the roadside and they’re just curious even if we don’t speak the same language.

Robin
Those moments were really special. Sitting in the cab with the driver and he’s making a phone call to an uncle somewhere who speaks a few words of English and he puts the phone to your ear. Showing photos of his wife and children. Super personal even though you’re with a total stranger.

Sabina
There was one particular truck driver who wanted Robin to try chewing tobacco and he got so high [laughs]. He was sweating and had to lower the window to get some fresh air.

Robin
But those moments of interaction are, for me, the most valuable.

Sabina
Yes. The warmth of the people inviting you into their homes. I think you only get that when you’re hiking or cycling. Travelling in such a manner, people very often treat you so kindly.

cyclespeak
Perhaps you’re seen as being vulnerable so people want to help?

Sabina
This one time when we were cycling in Georgia’s wine region Kakheti, it was so hot that I was having a hard time. Admittedly it might have been after a wine tasting which kind of explains why I was having a hard time. We couldn’t find a place to pitch our tent so when we saw this family sitting on their porch, I basically just crashed to a halt in front of them before asking for some water. They immediately invited us to join them on the porch where they were shelling hazelnuts from their farm. So I was sitting there helping the family with this task and, at the same time, they were asking family and friends over for a barbecue.

cyclespeak
It sounds like members of the local population were overwhelmingly hospitable.

Sabina
I think it’s about the simpleness of the way we were travelling and not the clichéd Westerners quickly coming in to look at all the hotspots before immediately departing for the next. When you’re cycling, you experience everything in between with all these aspects of daily life.

cyclespeak
So is Farawayistan a job, a passion, a calling?

Robin
It’s a passion and I think it will always be so. To start with, it’s something we like to do. We enjoy taking photos and writing stories…

Sabina
And inspiring people. To show what fun it is to go out and explore. And, yes, if you travel to Tajikistan you’ll probably have more interesting stories to tell but it doesn’t mean that’s the only way you can have adventures.

Robin
It’s not our main source of income but it takes quite a bit of time – maybe even the same amount as a fulltime job [smiles] – and we’re not earning a lot of money.

Sabina
From time to time we do a photoshoot and write up a story for different cycling brands. We usually get ‘paid’ by keeping the products that are featured. And we also have a freelance gig at komoot where we write Collections for them. 

cyclespeak
Komoot and you two must be a match made in heaven.

Sabina
It’s a cool company and we really like what they’re doing.

Robin
They’re keen to have more personal experiences and not a series of route guides written by somebody sitting behind a computer.

cyclespeak
And now you’re both training for the Atlas Mountain Race. That’s pretty gnarly.

Sabina
Ultra-endurance racing is something that Robin has always been pushing in my face [laughs]. And the Lachlan Morton videos have also proved inspirational. So being at home now and not cycling as much as we’d like, we decided we needed a goal.

Robin
At first I was thinking about riding solo but now we’re going as a pair.

Sabina
I’d asked Robin whether he wanted me to join but wasn’t really sure if he was holding back his true feelings. And I still don’t know.

[No response from Robin]

Sabina
You see? He doesn’t answer [laughs].

Robin
No, no. Of course I want you to be there. I think I can really use your mental strength during the race.

Sabina
But I don’t think I’ll be able to draft on that terrain [laughs].

cyclespeak
I’m guessing you won’t be using the same Avaghon bikes from your world tour on the Atlas Mountain Race? Maybe the 3T bikes that I’ve seen pictures of you riding?

Sabina
To be honest, I was a little sick of my bike because it felt so slow and I just wanted to go faster. But I did really enjoy riding off-road so the 3T Exploro seemed the perfect fit. Really fast but also able to handle gravel and trails.

Robin
The bikes we rode across Asia were around 18kg even without luggage.

cyclespeak
Nice and sturdy?

Sabina
They were perfect for a world tour as my bike did fall off a moving bus in Nepal and it survived.

cyclespeak
With the pandemic having an impact in so many different ways, I do wonder whether it’s causing people to reassess what’s really important. Have you any advice for individuals wanting to make a radical change in how they live their lives?

Robin
I’m not sure about offering advice but we would encourage everyone to get outside as much as they can. It’s not only fun but it’s also healthy for the mind and body. I do understand that it can be hard when you’ve had a full day and you’re tired and maybe just want to rest in the evenings or weekend. But if you come into our house, at the front door we have a closet that holds all our camping stuff.

Sabina
Ready to go.

Robin
So it’s super easy to take that spur of the moment trip.

Sabina
But if you do want to make a radical change and there’s no extreme financial or emotional fallout – then just go for it. Because, usually, making changes is for the better.

cyclespeak
Are there any aspects that you miss about your previous lives?

Robin
I’d like to see more of my family but basically I have everything here that I need. I have a few bicycles, I have forests and cycling friends, and I have my camera.

cyclespeak
And have your experiences changed you? Are you very different people compared to when you first set out?

Robin
Sometimes, when people travel the world, they talk about re-discovering themselves but I wasn’t 18 or 19 when I left. I was 29 and an adult. Yes, I do look differently at things but I wouldn’t say that I’m that much changed. 

Sabina
Maybe it’s another cliché about getting to know who you really are? That also happens when you get older but travel can speed the process up.

cyclespeak
Is it important to be planning the next journey, the next move?

Robin
For me, personally, it is. Like we’ve mentioned, I’m a thinker and always daydreaming about the next adventure. I really need that to feel positive and well.

Sabina
And I need a challenge. Working towards something that might initially seem impossible is part of that sense of escapism. Like me finishing the Atlas Mountain Race [laughs]. But the ultimate goal for Farawayistan? I can picture us living out of a van with the bikes on the roof, creating nice stories and just making enough to keep on the road. That would be the dream.

Sabina / Robin

Photography with kind permission of Farawayistan

Collections for komoot

Sami Sauri / Finding Myself

With worldwide concerns over mental health never more prevalent, producer and storyteller Sami Sauri’s first independent film production is a clarion call for the benefits of spending time outdoors. Catching up with Sami from her home in Girona, and with a conversation punctuated with bursts of laughter, we discuss the personal nature of this poignant and beautifully realised project, her own lessons from lockdown and how it feels to see yourself on screen. So sit back and enjoy a thrills (and some spills) tour through Sami’s past year.

cyclespeak
The last time we spoke over a call was way back in March when Spain was in full lockdown. And I was wondering, looking back over all this time, how was it for you?

Sami
Fucked [laughing]

cyclespeak
That bad?

Sami
I think maybe it’s been tough for most people? And in some aspects, I’ve been fortunate. Lockdown didn’t make that much of a difference because I was already working from home. I’ve since changed to having a co-working space so I can separate the professional and personal aspects to my life. But back when we were in the strict lockdown, I basically had to solve all my problems and had the time to think. To think about a lot of things [laughing].

cyclespeak
Possibly too much time?

Sami
That, for me, can be very difficult. Because if I have things on my mind, normally I would just throw myself into activities. But we couldn’t even go riding and I’d been training really well. I tried to keep the intensity going but I don’t really like to ride inside on a trainer. It’s not really my thing. So riding-wise I was a little bit down, but I still wanted to move my body, so a lot of yoga. And I suppose the biggest outcome of all of this, is that I really know how to be alone. Before, it was a hassle, but I’ve learnt how to be by myself, in my own space. And as I’ve been injured for the past four weeks, it’s fine. I can deal with it. Before, I would have freaked out by now [laughs].

cyclespeak
Over the past year, I’ve listened to a few podcasts featuring professional cyclists who tried to keep to their training blocks but on the smart trainer. And then two weeks became two months and they needed to alter their mindset when it came to their levels of fitness. They found they couldn’t maintain such a rigorous training regime without some defined goals.

Sami
Totally. There were some strong people that could do it, but not me [smiles].

cyclespeak
Even though the impact of the pandemic has been quite unprecedented, it did encourage people to be very creative in the way they approached cycling—ideas such as Dirty Kanzelled which had a massive impact. An event that you’d actually raced the previous year.

Sami
That was Laurens ten Dam. The cleverest outcome from a cancelled race you could imagine. It was insane how much reach he got. Super, super smart and maybe an approach we’ll need to take this year if things turn out the same?

cyclespeak
I was fortunate that, even during lockdown, I was allowed to do a solo ride once a day. But you couldn’t exercise outside at all. That must have been difficult?

Sami
52 days in total without outdoor sports. And then, when we could go outside, we had to stay within our own municipality.

cyclespeak
And I’ve seen your recent posts with you on crutches and wearing a big plastic boot. What’s been going on there?

Sami
As I said before, 2020 wasn’t exactly my best year [laughing]. Back in October, I was going out horse-riding and it was a young horse and he just took off with me on top of him. We were in a parking lot so he could get used to the noise of traffic, and something must have spooked him. His ears were back, which is never a good sign, and he was running towards the road so I tried to turn him and lost my balance and fell. But rather than just falling off, my foot was caught in the stirrup and it was just like a Western movie with me being dragged along [laughs].

cyclespeak
I guess it wasn’t so funny at the time?

Sami
It took a big hole out of my knee and the first time in my life that I’ve needed stitches. I had to wait 10 days to have them removed before I could ride again. But a few days later I was out on my bike and I was stupidly looking at my phone – swapping it between hands – and I crashed.

cyclespeak
So that’s injury number two.

Sami
I was booked on a flight to the Canaries a couple of days later but had to postpone the trip. When I did finally make it out there, I had 20 amazing days working on a new video project before flying home. But then my foot slipped when I was out trail-running and I broke some ligaments.

cyclespeak
Horse, bike, running. You’re kind of covering all bases?

Sami
That was my 2020. And it’s funny because I’ve just signed with Merrell as a partner for their running shoes. Super cool and we were working towards the release of the collaboration and the irony is that I’m on crutches [laughs].

cyclespeak
You mentioned a new video project. That sounds exciting.

Sami
Well, I’ve kind of got this history of working with video. Both in front and behind the camera. And somebody just suggested that I do something for myself. My first reaction was, naahh, there’s no way. But I kept coming back to the idea for six months until I thought that maybe I should. You always hate your look or your voice when you see yourself on a video but I decided to go for it.

cyclespeak
So what was the first step?

Sami
I contacted a photographer called Sergio Villalba in the Canaries. He does amazing surf shots, and I knew he was starting to do videos of cycling. So we got in touch and I explained that I wanted to do this inspirational film to empower people to engage in outdoor sports. He was immediately onboard with the idea and we decided to shoot the footage on Lanzarote. It took three days, and we’re now ready to release the film.

cyclespeak
You must feel so proud?

Sami
It’s really hard when the project is about you [laughs]. And to be honest, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. David Millar helped me by looking over the text but even as recently as yesterday I had a complete freak-out. Asking whether he thought it was correct? If the video even makes sense? Does my accent work, speaking in English?

cyclespeak
So you produced and directed the film. Did you script it too?

Sami
I wrote a long text with notes about my feelings. It was originally twice as long as the final version. But I decided it needed some gaps otherwise it’s basically just me chatting. And even though it’s still quite personal, there was a lot of insight into my life and it was like, oh shit, maybe that doesn’t need to be included [laughs].

cyclespeak
But you still took the decision to refer to your childhood in the narrative?

Sami
I feel like a lot of people can relate to this. And one of the most difficult things is not having regrets, right? So this all leads into the message of the project. That no matter what, the outdoors is a healthy way of recovering and filling you up with good energy.

cyclespeak
Did you write the script and then fit the shots? What was the process?

Sami
The basic idea of encouraging people to enjoy being outside came first. Then I wrote the script before sharing it with Sergio. From there, we worked on a list of shots, and he knew so many amazing locations as he’s from the Canaries. All these different aspects were then tied up to match the mood of the moment.

cyclespeak
The result is really beautiful.

Sami
We used an actual 8mm camera – that’s not a filtered effect – which looks really cool.

cyclespeak
How does it compare producing someone else’s film to your own?

Sami
Good question [laughs]. If it’s not your project, you’re not necessarily working with a style you want. On this project, I had the freedom to experiment and try out different approaches knowing that it was my own time.

cyclespeak
It’s quite a journey from first featuring in films to now working on your own projects. Does that feel satisfying?

Sami
Totally. The idea is that this project will lead to more adventures for me this year. So this film is the first but definitely not the last one [smiles].

Sami Sauri

Photography by Sergio Villalba and Rubén Plasencia (gallery)

Kirsti Ruud / Coming out stronger

In a year that has seen many of us adapt how we ride in the face of unforeseen circumstances, a new plan was needed when Kirsti Ruud woke to snowfall on the first morning of a bikepacking trip in her native Norway. But rather than any lingering sense of disappointment, the adverse weather conditions ultimately led to an experience that was not only breathtakingly beautiful but underlined the return on embracing the fickleness of forecasts.

Along with her companions Sindre Grønli and Øyvind Brenne Nordengen, the group decided on two separate rides in place of their planned overnight stop. Routes that would take them into the six biggest national parks in Norway and a landscape devoid of cars and buildings—a true wilderness of river valleys and mountain ridges, threaded through by the gravel roads they were riding.

Looking back on this experience, Kirsti reflects on the reasons she rides, how it can be rewarding to brave the elements and why the occasional challenge helps build resilience for when the randomness of life derails your best intentions.


Until 2018, I rode seriously. It was all about competition. I combined a little job here and there with my training but then I accepted a full-time position with the National Cycling Federation. I was getting more interested in working with cyclists than being a cyclist myself and the project I lead involves helping recovering drug addicts integrate back into society through cycling.

So in place of a training plan, travelling and exploring have been more a part of my summers and falls for the last two years. When I can, I cycle the hour and a half each way to work. If the weather is good, there’s no reason to sit in a car stuck in traffic. And because I’ve been working from home due to the pandemic, this year I’ve been cycling more than everenjoying riding my bike as much as I can within the restrictions.

After I stopped competing, I hadn’t ridden for months when I was invited to go to Iceland with Rapha. The trip was pretty amazing and it gave me a taste for different kinds of riding. So I asked them to let me know when the next big trip was planned and to count me in. George Marshall – the photographer on the Iceland shoot – had kept in touch, and he contacted me with this plan to ride in the north of Norway. But then he couldn’t come over because of Covid and my friend Marius Nilsen was invited to do the photography. He lives further north than Oslo and works for the National Parks.

The idea was a two day ride with an overnight stop at a mountain hut. That’s how we like to do things – carrying everything we need on our bikes. It’s what makes it a trip. And we’d come prepared with stud tyres in case there was any ice. Usually I don’t use these until December – even with regular tyres, riding in snow isn’t a problem – but we weren’t sure whether it was going to be a mixture of rain and snow and wanted to be sure we didn’t ruin our trip by crashing

But as we left Oslo to drive north, it began to snow really heavily. It was forecast but not that much. Going to bed thinking it would melt the next day, we woke to find 15cm of fresh snow. Figuring that we wouldn’t be able to get over to the cabin before it got dark but still wanting to ride, we came up with a new plan of a different route for each day.

Setting off after breakfast, I was excited. I think the worst part of the year can be the fall when it’s dark and a little gloomy. Because you can’t really tell the different textures from each other. But with the snowfall, the whole day was lit up and the mountains just looked so beautiful. The alternative would have been rain and fog.

Before every trip, I’m kind of worried about my shape. Hoping that I’ll have a good day and not really struggle that much. But even though we had a lot of wind – 17 metres per second which is enough to blow your bike over – we were all happy and laughing and just going with the flow. The light was amazing when we reached the top of a mountain and we just stood there, looking out over the landscape below, as the sun slowly sank behind the horizon.

I think the best rides I’ve had are when we’ve spontaneously come up with an idea. If you plan too much and then the weather is bad, it can be so disappointing. It can take the charm away and it’s best not to be too uptight about how your ride will be. It’s OK to let go of plans and just get out there and ride. To go far or go short—to not really know where you’ll end up.

When I was competing, I had to ride regardless of the weather. Telling your trainer that you can’t go out because it’s raining and 5°C just isn’t an option. Now that I don’t have to ride, I do appreciate the good days when it’s warm and sunny. But you can enjoy amazing experiences because of the weather. If you have the right kit, then you’re able to embrace changing and unpredictable conditions. And I do need some challenges once in a while where you feel like you’re struggling because you kind of come out stronger at the other end.

So I ride now because I want to ride. It’s my free time. My quiet time. An opportunity to reflect on things, for solving problems, to get out any frustration. Just being out on my bike gives me the space I need and I come back feeling like a weight has been lifted. It’s such an important aspect of the way I choose to live my life.

Kirsti Ruud

Images by Marius Nilsen and Rapha

Ben Richards / Tokyo Slow

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images with kind permission of Ben Richards

benrichards

tokyobike Japan / London

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

 

Chris McClean / Weathering the storm

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images with kind permission of Chris McClean

chrismcclean

Uncommon Ideals