Stuart Clapp / Matters of Desire

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

You’ve been riding?

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds very chilled.

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

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How did you end up working for Rouleur?

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

Good years?

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

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

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

So you found yourself out on the West Coast?

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

That can’t have been easy?

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

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

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

That’s been done to death?

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

Is there an element of narrative? Of telling stories?

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

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

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

So how do you define Desire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So what does your working week look like?

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

Sounds like a cool job?

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

Has it ever gone completely wrong?

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

It was all arranged?

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

Not the sort of news you wanted to hear?

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

So what happened next?

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

And the Spitfires?

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

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

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

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

Where do you want me to start [laughs].

How about some style tips for on the bike?

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

Why?

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

Dare I mention jersey pockets?

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

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

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

And mudguards?

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

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Does all of this advice apply universally?

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart Clapp

All images with kind permission of Benedict Campbell

Rouleur

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee Basford / Creative movements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

All images with kind permission of Lee Basford

Created for Rapha, Papersky Magazine and weMove

leebasford.com

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Return to Tohoku

Rapha Rides Tokyo / Osaka / Kyushu

 

Sanne Hitipeuw / Journeys of the self

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sanne Hitipeuw

All images with kind permission of Vincent Engel

Moments of movement / Girona bike-packing

‘I consider these to be Mediterranean bikes. Rooted in the soil and culture of this beautiful region where I ride. Combining a sense of movement through a changing landscape with a timelessness that nature represents.’

These words, spoken by Clementina Bicycles founder Pau Tena, are the reason I’m being met outside the arrivals hall of Girona Airport. Accompanied by photographer friend Ian Walton, we’ve planned a 4 day bike-packing trip to the north of the city and Pau is here to hand over a couple of newly-built bikes that he’s transported from his Barcelona workshop.

Although we’ve been regularly messaging since the idea for our trip was first mooted, this is the first time I’ve met Pau in person. Calm and measured in conversation, initial impressions suggest an individual with considered views on his craft; his passion for this region of Spain abundantly clear and translating into the custom frames that we’re fortunate enough to be riding.

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Both constructed from steel – Ian’s ride differing slightly in having a carbon fibre down tube – what’s first apparent is the flawless paintwork. One a deep, lustrous black with the Clementina brand name and a stylised crow’s eye picked out in gold. The other referencing blossom, fruit and wildflowers in the coloured dots that adorn the frame and fork; all set against a blue fade of the Mediterranean sky. Arranged – as Pau describes it – in their natural order.

With introductions out of the way, Pau kindly drops us off at our hotel where we complete a final kit check before finding somewhere to eat dinner and discuss our first day’s ride. Taking us north towards Camprodon and the foothills of the Pyrenees, our trip is loosely based on the Pirinexus 360; a circular route that crosses into France before looping back along the Costa Brava coastline. For the hardiest of riders this can be completed in a single day but we’ve decided on a more leisurely pace to allow us time to stop and enjoy the spectacular scenery.

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Waking to the promised leaden skies – we’ve tried a number of different weather apps yet none are offering much hope of bright sunshine – with our bikes loaded we head westwards out of Girona along the Via Verde. A greenway of compacted gravel that follows the original path of the Girona – Olot railway, this offers a quiet and car-free route out of the city centre that criss-crosses a patchwork of allotments and tree plantations. There’s a distinct feeling of spring in the air with blossom petals covering the track and birdsong softening the crunch of our tyres. Even the sun decides to make an appearance; prompting us to remove a layer next to grazing cattle far more interested in their morning feed than Ian’s exhortations to look towards his camera.

Staying close to the River Ter, we pass the towns of Bonmatí and Anglès before a steeper ramp rises into woodland; sheep and goats momentarily blocking our path until the shepherd and his dogs move the straggling flock further up the hillside. The collar bells of the grazing animals echoing across the valley until we crest the top of this first short climb and all is once again quiet.

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At Amer the origins of this gravel trail are evident in the disused platform, station house and engine sheds; the latter now roofless with a covering of ivy and tree saplings taking root in the crumbling brickwork as nature gradually reclaims the man-made structures. As we take a moment to photograph the scene, an elderly gentleman approaches; introducing himself and questioning where we’re heading. One hand pointing north, Ian explains our route before asking the gentleman for his own thoughts on the day’s weather. Even with my limited Spanish I can understand the shrug of the shoulders with a nod towards the darkening sky.

Sure enough we feel the first spots of rain after pausing to fill our bidons at the natural spring adjacent to the Fonter bottling plant. Fortunately arriving later than forecast, the weather gods are feeling benevolent and we arrive in Olot only slightly damp but with one eye on the nearby mountains now disappearing from view as the cloud thickens. Deciding to abandon our lunch plans – refreshment now entails a shared bag of salted crisps and a Coke – we push on in the knowledge that the Coll de Coubet lies between us and our first overnight stop in Camprodon.

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At a little over 10 km in length we begin to climb almost immediately after leaving the outskirts of Olot. Never too steep – averaging 5% – the road takes us up through wooded slopes offering breathtaking views to the valley below and cloud-shrouded mountains to the north and west. With our bikes’ unladen weight of 7.5 kg and the uniformly smooth surface, the kilometres pass easily; the number of vehicles countable on the fingers of one hand. Reaching the plateaued top we descend rapidly; rolling up outside our hotel as the clouds finally burst and the rain pours down. With a knowing look passing between us, we unpack the bikes and roll them into the basement garage before minutes later settling comfortably into our room with the radiators turned to max and our shoes drying.

The evening passes enjoyably in the company of Lucas; Camprodon resident and friend of Ian’s. Our only concern as we sit in a restaurant eating dinner being the increasingly sizeable snow flakes mixed in with the falling rain and the thought that we’ll be climbing to 1,500 m the following day. And sure enough, morning sees us pulling back our room’s curtains to discover clear skies but a few centimetres of snow covering the town’s roof tiles.

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Retrieving the Clementinas from their overnight storage – a week earlier the garage was full of police motorbikes supporting La Volta a Catalunya – each now wears a reddish coat of sand and grit from the previous day’s gravel trails. A quick stop at a supermarket for ride provisions – the town is gradually waking to the sound of church bells and the scrape of snow being removed from car windscreens – and almost immediately we find ourselves climbing the Col d’Ares which will take us up and over the border into France.

The overnight snow has settled along the tops of the road’s guard rails and the trees on the wooded slopes are each coated in a silvery layer that glitters when it catches the morning sun. It’s cold but not unpleasantly so and the climb helps to warm our hands as we follow the steadily rising contours. Only in the shadows is the road surface icy but the absence of traffic means we can pick our own path.

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Passing mountain villages and stone-built farm buildings we continue to rise; each bend in the road revealing a new vista with the tops of Pyrenean peaks stretching away into the distance. And again the sound of bells; this time from cattle, their breath condensing into clouds as they feed. Higher still a large bird of prey glides effortlessly on the thermals; the markings on the underside of its wings offering a contrast against the blue of the sky.

As the road finally flattens there’s little to delineate the border save a thick black line on our navigational devices and the signs changing from Spanish to French. We park our bikes in a snowbank before adding extra layers of clothing to combat the expected chill of the descent. With the road disappearing downhill into the northern lee of the mountain we’re in the shade for longer stretches and both of us are struggling to brake with cold fingers.

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Entering the town of Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste we immediately head to the nearest café; warming our hands on our coffee cups before continuing down the valley with the river at our sides. A steady gradient and the road’s sweeping curves make the descent a delight and the kilometres pass swiftly. Arriving at Céret we’re greeted by tree-lined streets with open channels on either side; each flowing with crystal clear melt water from the nearby mountains and adding a musical counterpoint to the sound of conversation from the pavement cafés.

With historical links to the art world, after storing our bikes and freshening up we decide to take a walk through the town. Quiet passageways radiate from the fortified centre; roadside reproductions of paintings depicting a particular viewpoint adding another interesting element to an already pleasant environment. An enjoyable interlude at the halfway point in our trip before we wake to another cold but sunny morning and prepare to cross the border once again.

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Re-entering Spain at La Jonquera offers a very different experience to our previous crossing and is the only time in our trip where the number of vehicles on the road feels a little oppressive. Ian in particular dislikes the frontier feel to the sprawl of urbanisation but brightens up immediately when our route takes us on a rocky trail away from these busy roads. Here our Clementinas again prove their versatility as they climb and descend the loose surfaces with an easy confidence before we reach a sinuous stretch of road that twists and turns towards the sea between dry-stone walls and groves of olive trees. 

As the day warms and the terrain flattens, our route alternates between gravel farm tracks and quiet country roads edged with wild flowers. The fertile soil of freshly ploughed fields is a rich, dark brown and the hills that ring the coastal town of l’Escala gradually grow on the horizon.

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Reaching the middle distance of this third day the wind begins to build and we each take a turn on the front. Passing the small working town of Sant Pere Pescador our thoughts turn to lunch and we decide to stop earlier than planned before pulling up outside a bar advertising a daily menu. Sitting at our window table we notice passers-by hunched over and leaning into the wind; promising some tough kilometres ahead but not until we pay due attention to our meal. Homemade soup, a meat course and dessert followed by coffee and it’s time to settle the bill and continue our ride.

The rest of the day is a war of attrition with the wind sapping our strength as we each take turns sheltering the other. The road signs count down the kilometres until we finally reach the outskirts of Palamos; approaching the town down another section of the Via Verde before arriving at the hotel and the promise of a hot shower. A wonderfully fresh Thai meal is followed by a peaceful evening in the hotel lounge. A converted farmhouse, the well-stocked library offers a choice of reading material as Fuji, the resident cat, takes turns to warm our laps.

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After waking during the night to the sound of heavy rainfall our final day dawns with the promise of clear skies and sunshine. Still feeling the morning chill as we ride across the seafront, the wind is blustery but should be behind us when we turn westwards towards Girona. Sunlight reflects off a sapphire blue sea as workmen busy themselves erecting the beachfront café bars in preparation for the start of the season. Our morning ritual of a supermarket shop complete, we ride inland on a gravel path; a short 50 km stretch through a mixture of farmland and forest that takes us first towards the towns of Llagostera and Quart before we reach the outskirts of Girona. Two friends – down for a week’s riding – our welcoming party as we lean our Clementinas against a wall and mark the occasion with a beer.

Journey complete and with time to reflect, highlights of the trip include the people we’ve met on the roadside and in the towns where we’ve stayed. Whether offering advice on locating the nearest fountain or strangers leaving the bar where we’re eating wishing us a casual bon profit; everyone has been friendly and happy to help. The landscapes too – from the mountains to the flat coastal plains and rolling wooded hillsides – have been as varied as they are stunning. Towns and villages rich in history yet still home to real communities where neighbours gather in tree-lined squares to pass the time of day. Our Clementina bikes have also been a revelation; light, responsive and taking all manner of surfaces and terrain in their sure-footed stride. What better confirmation of their quality than the daily excitement at loading up our packs before riding off on the next section of the route? Above all, however, this has been a trip made by two friends. Sharing the road with time to enjoy the beautiful scenery, conversations over dinner and quiet efforts climbing mountain roads. Appreciating – as Pau sees it – those moments of movement through a changing landscape. Decisions reduced to the turn of a pedal.

 

We owe Pau Tena of Clementina Bicycles a huge debt of thanks for making this trip possible. His bikes were never less than a joy to ride whether on gravel trails or climbing Pyrenean peaks.

To Far Ride Magazine for first publishing the story.

To Rapha for their excellent Explore clothing and luggage.

To Parcours for the wheels on my Clementina. Lightweight and beautifully understated; they smoothed away the kilometres.

To Lucas for his generous hospitality as the rain poured down.

And lastly to Ian – my bike-packing mentor – who took the vast majority of these images. I learnt and laughed in equal measures.

Constantin Gerlach: onthenorway

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

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

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

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

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

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

And your decision to call this project onthenorway?

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

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

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

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

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

So this connection with the natural world is very important?

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

And this leads to more lasting memories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any plans for exhibitions?

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

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

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

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

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

And why these particular partners?

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

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

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

And your camera?

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

So onthenorway has changed how you approach your photography?

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

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

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

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

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

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All images with kind permission of Constantin Gerlach and Laura Droße

 

Jochen Hoops: A desire to document

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

All images with kind permission of Jochen Hoops

A Safe Harbour / Rapha Copenhagen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All images with kind permission of Erik Jonsson

Rapha Copenhagen

Karl Owen

 

Vincent Engel / Lines on the landscape

Offering endless possibilities for capturing a moment, it’s perhaps fair to suggest that photography has the potential to tell a story in a single image. But what if this ability to frame and then reflect on the world we inhabit is used as a fulcrum for personal growth; a mechanism for change that involves doing what you like the most in a creative response to earning a living? Questions currently concerning Amsterdam-based Vincent Engel as he seeks to live life with a camera in one hand and the other on his handlebar.

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There’s a sense of boundless space that pervades Vincent’s images of his native Holland. In many ways a man-made landscape – architecturally graphic in the angles of the waterways, pathways and pylons – the painterly quality of his work references the rising mist and falling rain; the sun’s shadows and the light off the sea. Subtle layers that draw the eye to the details of the riders framed within.

‘I sometimes get good-natured teasing from my friends when they want to see more close-ups of themselves in my images,’ comments Vincent with a grin. ‘But I find it interesting to see the riders as an aspect of the landscape. To view this relationship in context to where they’ve been riding. To set them against a broad brushstroke of land, water and sky.’

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Not that people don’t frequently feature in Vincent’s work; in part due to his involvement with Rapha Amsterdam since returning from a 10 year stint living and working in Saudi Arabia where he founded his design & build company Orange Identity.

‘My interest in photography originates from my background as a designer. I used to do 3D renderings to visualise architectural plans; taking the pictures of the textures I needed – wood, tiles, brickwork – to use in my computer-generated models. So I was pretty obsessed with my surroundings; how light is reflected and patterns are formed.’

‘The change from using the camera purely as a tool to one where I was making an emotional connection to the subject happened in Saudi Arabia. There was only me, my dog and my bike. And if I had some spare time I’d jump in my Jeep and head out into the desert and shoot landscapes. Capturing the solitude of the moment before I gradually began to combine these wide open spaces with a moving object.’

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‘Interestingly I find photographing people far more difficult than those architectural images,’ Vincent explains. ‘My original pictures felt very mathematical but there’s an emotional element to shooting someone riding a bike that I find more challenging. Landscapes in a sense stand still and yesterday, for example, I went for a ride with a couple of friends and I shot over 100 images but they didn’t quite work. I suppose I’m too much of a perfectionist [smiles].’

After selling his company in 2015 and a subsequent return to the Netherlands, Vincent immediately fell into riding with Rapha Amsterdam; feeling such an instant connection with his fellow riders that he describes them in terms akin to a family.

‘For me, it just feels so comfortable. I came to cycling from a racing background but it’s not all about speed and we enjoy our coffee stops. There’s such a variety of routes that we have on offer. Out to the coast, local loops from the city centre or gravel adventures. Riding with a range of people from different backgrounds but there’s still a connection. We do the same rides – we suffer the same – and Rapha makes it possible for this to happen on a number of levels.’

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As there’s no escaping the impact of water on the Dutch landscape, Vincent acknowledges that the weather too can bring its own challenges with winters that are cold, wet and windy. Conditions he argues that only make you feel more alive when out riding; to such an extent that he prefers to shoot in the rain rather than bright sunshine.

‘The weather has a significant part to play in the realisation of the images I create and I guess it’s about telling a story by contrasting all these individual elements. Which is why I rarely take a close-up image of someone on their bike because it’s the landscape that informs the narrative as it frames their movement.’

‘In the Netherlands,’ he continues, ‘I’m always looking for strong lines in an image and I thought before travelling out on a recent trip to Switzerland that I would, through necessity, be taking a different approach. But then I began to notice how the mountains overlap and bisect the horizon with strong diagonals in the foreground formed by the roads, trails and even the tracks we made in the snow. So I still had all kinds of lines that draw your attention to the detail in the image [smiles].’

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Since returning to his homeland, Vincent now has the time to pursue photography on a more commercial basis and the past 6 months has seen him commissioned by a number of different clients all sharing the same admiration for his photographic style.

‘I’m still learning how to really direct people because I don’t naturally feel happy to be in the spotlight. By me telling someone what to do on a shoot I’m taking myself out of my comfort zone. But I enjoy working to a brief because it implies a certain level of trust from a client and I can take on-board their needs before going out and putting my own interpretation on the content. And I’m just as critical – more so – with my commissioned work as with my own. It’s kind of like my signature on an image so there’s more pressure to deliver. Pressure that I put on myself.’

‘It’s all about a happier life,’ Vincent concludes, ‘and that’s my biggest challenge at the moment. To find something that makes me happy that involves a creative response to cycling. In the past I’ve been fairly financially driven but money isn’t everything. Cycling has always been a constant in my life – since I was very young – so to combine that with photography was an obvious next step. They’re both great passions for me and it feels kind of like an exploration. Finding the new Vincent; making a bigger picture.’

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All images with kind permission of Vincent Engel

Hiroki Mitsui / Rapha Tokyo

Visit any city for the first time and there’s a period of adjustment as you stand and take your bearings. Often at the exit to the airport terminal – leaving behind the recognisable architecture of the arrivals hall – you’re immediately faced with a multitude of sensory clues to your new environment. The sheer sense of scale when arriving in Tokyo – home to 13 million – might on face value make this process of acclimatisation more of a challenge but according to Hiroki Mitsui there’s a sense of order and calm to be discovered that balances the busy city streets.

In his role as Rapha Cycling Club (RCC) Chapter Coordinator and with a 35km commute by bike from his Funabashi home in the Chiba Prefecture, Hiroki is perfectly placed to understand the rewards of cycling in Japan’s capital.

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‘When you’re living in Tokyo,’ he explains, ‘you can do everything by bike. It’s faster moving from point to point than by car. Even if you decide to take the train, you can reach your destination just as quickly by cycling. And when riding you get to enjoy all the interesting architecture and everyday Tokyo streetlife. Our Rapha clubhouse is located close to Harajuku; a district popular with young people due to its shops, cafés and karaoke bars. But there’s a hidden aspect to this area if you start to explore the narrow side streets where it’s very quiet and peaceful.’

Not that Hiroki and his RCC members eschew public transport altogether; finding trains useful if they’re planning a longer ride outside of the city centre.

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‘We tend to travel for an hour or so out into the countryside before starting our route. We call this ‘rinko style’ in reference to the nylon bag that you need to cover your bike so the train carriages are kept clean and safe for other passengers. It’s a legal requirement but also shows good manners. We’ve been collaborating with Fairmean to produce a super lightweight version that’s easy to use and it’s surprising how stylish and beautiful a bike looks when it’s covered and sitting on the train platform [smiles].’

Although the suburbs and open countryside offer quieter roads, Rapha rides in Tokyo are not restricted to the city’s outskirts and Hiroki is viewing with interest the proliferation of new bike lanes in preparation for Japan hosting the 2020 Olympic Games.

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‘You can take a train out to the Boso and Hannoh areas as these both offer routes with plenty of climbing and beautiful scenery. Or there’s the Arakawa river-side bike path that winds its way out from the heart of the city with car free cycling and even distant views of Mt. Fuji on a clear day. If you prefer to ride from the clubhouse there’s a night ride we do that passes through the Meiji Jingu Gaien Park before skirting the Imperial Palace and crossing the Kachidoki Bridge; colourfully illuminated with views of the river and the city skyline.’

‘The Imperial Palace along with neighbouring Akasaka Palace,’ Hiroki continues, ‘are also the locations for Wednesday night laps and there’s a strong racing scene with crits especially popular with our RCC members. Winter brings the cyclocross season which offers racing for all abilities and there’s a lot of interest in long distance cycling alongside our regular social rides.’

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Like other Rapha clubhouses, Tokyo is open to all with customers calling in for a coffee or lunch; Hiroki hosting a popular monthly RCC social evening that gets an average of 40 members attending.

‘Our members are from a variety of backgrounds but all share a love of cycling. Mainly they ride on the road because they don’t want their beautiful bikes to get too dirty and the gravel in Japan is much rougher with a mixture of large rocks and stones so it’s not for everyone. In terms of the weather there’s a rainy season during June and the mid-summer temperatures require us to escape to the higher mountains where it’s cooler. But for the majority of the year we can ride really easily.’

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The vending machines outside convenience stores are another aspect that characterise Rapha Tokyo rides; Hiroki including them in his routes so his members can easily replenish their ride supplies without the need for a long wait. ‘These vending machines are found everywhere; even in the remote countryside where you can get a can of hot coffee in mid-winter. But cafés are a popular feature on city loops,’ Hiroki comments with a smile. ‘Although our riders rarely order an espresso. We tend to want to stay for longer and chat over a latte or flat white.’

Cultural considerations that imbue any visit to Rapha Tokyo with a richness of experience in part deriving from the delicate balance the city holds between both contemporary and traditional values. A vibrant cityscape that embraces technological innovation yet still functions daily according to an unspoken set of social rules. A contradiction not lost on Hiroki as it even extends to the official cycling laws that are arguably ignored on a daily basis but stipulate a potential 20,000 Yen fine for riding two abreast.

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‘Our rides – especially on the busier city streets before we reach the suburbs – can seem quiet because officially we can’t ride side by side. You follow the person in front and when you stop at the traffic lights you catch up on your conversation. But you can see from what they post on their Instagram feeds that they enjoy the social aspect of riding with other members. We might be quiet in our pace line but there’s plenty of laughter and smiles when we stop.’

All images with kind permission of Lee Basford

Rapha Tokyo

Hiroki Mitsui

 

Alex Duffill / Never say like

I first met Alex Duffill during the 2017 London Nocturne. Midway through a degree in Editorial and Advertising Photography, he had a place on the Leica Camera workshop shadowing Marshall Kappel for the day. Fast forward a year since that first chance meeting and we caught up to discuss post-graduation plans and why he tries to avoid the word ‘like’.

When we speak Alex admits to finding the reality of three years of study finally coming to an end a little difficult to process. Reflecting back on the focus of his degree programme, it’s primarily the importance of narrative that he now considers when planning for a shoot. That it isn’t enough to just take pictures which are pleasing to the eye.

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‘It’s an approach,’ suggests Alex, ‘that makes any body of work stronger and more likely to resonate with whoever is viewing it. A lot of it comes down to the pre-production that precedes any shoot; going in with a clear understanding of your client’s needs. But then, when the time comes, you need to work flexibly and react to what unfolds.’

‘Basically it’s down to someone’s opinion whether a particular image works,’ he continues. ‘As long as they don’t use the word ‘like’ [laughs]. It was drilled into us on my degree course that it’s too subjective and means nothing. But I’m pretty laid back when it comes to feedback. I feel it’s important to listen as I never want to feel that I’m standing still; that I’ve stopped questioning or trying to improve. And sometimes you can get too close to a body of work – too emotionally attached – so it’s useful to draw on another individual’s perspective before you divide the two. Identifying the images you feel really work but not being upset if someone asks you to try a different approach to the one you’ve taken. Not always an easy aspect of my job to balance but it’s just a photograph at the end of the day.’

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Favouring media subjects when considering his high school options, on reflection it was the 2014 Cyclocross World Cup coming to Milton Keynes that led Alex to consider a career in photography. The first time – covering an event – that he knowingly tried to offer a broader response to who was there and why rather than simply documenting what was happening.

‘A strong composition is always important but I think eye contact – particularly at the moment – is a massive thing. Portraits that reach out and grab your attention. There’s a shot I took of Mike Cuming at the Rás last year that’s a fair representation of my style. The sense of exhaustion in the way he’s standing immediately after finishing a race. Taken from only a metre away using a 24mm prime as I like to get in close without pissing anyone off [laughs]. The equipment I use isn’t small by any means so it can make people feel awkward. So building a rapport – being really open and honest, friendly and approachable – is very important.’

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Creating video content as well as still imagery, Alex feels the switch between the two helps keep his approach fresh but describes a craving for the other after a certain amount of time working with a single medium.

‘The composition can be similar for both  – all my Instagram photographs are cropped to 16:9 –  but with video you also need to consider sound together with a load more complications that you wouldn’t necessarily have if you were taking a still image. It’s fun, though, and a little like solving a puzzle. You just have to solve it whilst someone’s in front of you.’

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Alex understands that in developing a body of work – no matter how talented an individual – it can sometimes come down to being in the right place at the right time. A train of events that led to his first shoot for Rapha; a company he’d long admired for the quality of the content they produce.

‘It was a week before the Nocturne that I got an email from Jack Saunders and Harry Downey to invite me in for a meeting. I’d just woken up and was sitting reading their message and wondering whether it was real. But I went down, showed them some of my work and out of that I ended up at the National Championships on the Isle of Man shooting images of Rhys Howells riding for Team Wiggins. And from there it’s just been crazy.’

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Together with Marshall Kappel he lists Benedict Campbell, Jake Stangel, Emily Maye and Sean Hardy as contemporary photographers he admires; pointing to social media as the biggest current influence on the jobs he’s offered with 90% of his shoots commissioned purely for these platforms.

‘Brands clearly understand the advantages of strong media content,’ Alex suggests. ‘The big companies can get twenty, thirty, forty thousand likes in a day. And if that then translates into sales, you can see why there’s so much focus in terms of marketing.’

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Commenting on his own use of social media and Instagram in particular, he admits that his feed is to a degree curated but adds that in his chosen profession it can act as an effective shop window. This aspect resulting in a certain caution when posting content and a tendency to take it all a little too seriously; a broad grin lighting up Alex’s face when he describes how much time he actually spends scrolling up and down on his phone.

‘I just like taking pictures. It’s still a passion of mine and it’s nice if people look at my work and want to be there. The day that I stop falling in love with it will be the day I find something else that I can do to earn a living. I’m always super excited to take on a project but when it starts to feel like a job then it’s time to move on.’

alexduffill.com

@alexduffill

All images with kind permission of Alex Duffill.

 

 

Wim Jan Petersen / Dutch Mountains

Sitting over a coffee in the Rapha Amsterdam clubhouse – tucked away in the ‘9 Streets’ canal district of the picturesque city centre – Wim Jan Petersen took the time to discuss his role as Rapha Cycling Club (RCC) Coordinator for the Benelux region, how his members ride and where you need to go in search of a hill to climb.

A typical Wednesday morning loop would see us riding south out of the city centre into the surrounding farmland. Canals and rivers; very green with open views. And then there’s the Ronde Hoep; probably the most popular route as it’s just under 40 km and really easy to get out and back in an hour or so. Super convenient and you get all levels of cyclist from beginners to high level racers.

We often head out towards the coast but as you’re fairly exposed to the elements – being so close to the sea – you have the wind to contend with. Dutch Mountains as we choose to call it. Pretty much the toughest it can get in this area and it can catch riders out. We have individuals from other countries joining our rides expecting it to be flat and easy and halfway into an 80 km loop they’re done. Completely cooked and it’s the wind that gets them every time.

The weather – especially over the winter months – can be challenging. The wet, the cold, the wind; it uses a lot of energy to keep your body warm so I often end up sharing my food with cyclists new to the area. And it’s always interesting to see the look of surprise on the faces of strong riders when they blow up. Welcome to the Netherlands [laughs].

Setting aside these weather considerations, you’re outside of the city in under 20 minutes and into a completely different world. In the centre it can appear chaotic – a lot of tourists, a lot of cyclists – but when you leave all that behind you it’s very empty and open. West towards the sea, open farmland to the south, interesting gravel tracks to the east or traditional Dutch landscapes to the north. We even have a climb called Het Kopje. Really just a big dune and not even that steep but we call it a climb as it’s the only one we have close to Amsterdam [smiles].

On a bigger loop we’ll make sure there’s a stop so we can fill our bidons, have a coffee and maybe a small lunch. Crossing the border always makes a ride feel special so sometimes we’ll drop down into Belgium but you need to remember to bring cash as a lot of the little establishments don’t take cards.

Because not everyone is always located within easy reach of the Amsterdam clubhouse we’ve developed a network of satellite cafes across the Benelux area offering access to rides and the same RCC experience. Cafes with a passion for cycling and links with their local cycling community and all providing our members with their free* cup of coffee, of course.

A typical RCC Amsterdam ride is very social and based on good camaraderie. We’ve come a long way in making cycling accessible at every level with WhatsApp groups being created so that rides can be planned and shared. That’s reflected in the members themselves; how they all respect each other and all have their own story. And because of that, they’re more keen to try new things.

I sometimes get the impression that a lot of people, when they think about cycling, picture someone on a race bike going as hard as they can but it’s so much more than just that. Maybe a casual coffee ride, a heritage tour through the city centre or a bikepacking adventure. And I feel that my role with Rapha is very much about embracing these different aspects and connecting with all cyclists rather than the few.

Rapha Amsterdam

Ride images with kind permission of Vincent Engel

*RCC members enjoy free coffee year round at Rapha Clubhouses