Brazo de Hierro / Sundays are for?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brazo de Hierro

brazodehierro.com

Feature image by Kike Kiks

#allbikesonthefloor

CHPT3 x Vielo / Just add dirt

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHPT3

Vielo

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