Harvest hills of golden wheat. A below-table tangle of bare legs and bib shorts. Helmeted heads silhouetted by shadow. Themes that feature regularly in Saskia Martin’s carefully observed and playful photography.
Having spent the past decade documenting her rides in and around London, commissioned projects have followed as Saskia combines her passion for the medium with the professional requirements of delivering a brief.
Interspersing a photo essay of recent work, Saskia frames this creative journey with references to her own riding, the visual language she employs in capturing a moment, and her innate love of telling stories.
This time last year I’d boxed up my bike before travelling to southern Spain. I’d lost my cycling mojo and decided the best place to find it again was riding the Badlands route with my friend Kat.
My mojo proved elusive on the dry, dusty trails so I guess I’m still working through a mid-bike crisis. But treating myself to a new mountain bike has proved motivational in terms of wanting to use it. My first time out, riding up a hill, I had this sudden moment of clarity—like I was sitting in a favourite armchair.
One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make was leaving my role as Product Developer for Rapha after three and a half, happy years. As you can perhaps imagine, lots of tears.
I’ve left behind what feels like a family of colleagues but it just felt like it was time for a change. And as I’m now working for Apidura, cycling continues to play a huge part in my life.
We’re a fairly small team based in Camden and I just love it. There’s a real focus on functionality – solving design problems which is very much me – and as I ride to work each morning through the city streets I look forward to what each day brings.
Picking up the camera
My introduction to photography was through my iPhone. Taking pictures of friends out riding or at a coffee stop. It’s rather a cliché but I just love storytelling and this translates to certain rulesI have when posting multiple images on social media. They have to be in chronological order and not every photograph necessarily needs to include someone on a bike. I get a kick out of portraying the little details that inform the bigger picture.
I’ve since upgraded to a mirrorless camera system as I transition into commissioned projects. It’s been quite a creative journey since my first ever photographic gig shooting my best friend’s wedding. I felt like I was getting married with the amount of stress I was feeling.
I love making a brand’s vision come alive and delight in the outcome of the process—that first pass through the images and the editing that follows. But then you also have the occasional crisis in confidence which, talking to established photographers, isn’t that uncommon. Looking back and thinking how you would change this or that.
I get a lot of inspiration from how the cinema portrays light and colour. And I’m instinctively drawn to what some might consider to be imperfect images—if there’s a blur or the composition isn’t classically two thirds. I have a penchant for capturing parts of people rather than a full head-to-toe shot. Hands are so expressive and my friends are now accustomed to me photographing their legs and feet.
I’m not one for grandiose statements but, to me, my pictures feel like curated art and artists always title their work. So I do carefully consider the words I use to accompany a post. I’m not particularly comfortable in front of the camera but I’m happy to be seen through my work. And maybe this combination of words and images can engage or even inspire for a moment?
All my holidays involve riding bikes. I simply can’t sit still and I’m always on the quest for the right type of epic.
Mentally exhausted and with holiday plans in disarray, Saskia Martin looked to the desert wilderness of Andalusia to force a reset. Heading south to ride the Badlands route with her friend Cat Karalis, the redemption Saskia sought proved elusive but she did discover a sense of self and a way of once again moving forward.
Illustrated with her own beautiful photography, Saskia offers a warm and honest reflection on the healing properties of friendship and the freedom of the road.
As a senior product developer for Rapha, my job is to make our designer’s dreams and concepts into a reality. But as it’s a very fast-paced role – which I love because I thrive in chaos and under time constraints – that brings with it a certain degree of pressure and I was close to burn out.
With this feeling compounded by both work and home life revolving around bikes, I woke up one morning and didn’t want to ride. I was still commuting by bike but even that was exhausting. A physical tiredness but also an emotional sense of weariness that was devastating—I was basically going through a break-up with my bikes.
These issues couldn’t have come at a worse time because I’d signed up for the Atlas Mountain Race with my friend Cat. So when this was postponed and still having a window of annual leave to fill, we decided to book a flight to Málaga to see if I could rediscover my cycling mojo by riding the Badlands route. A fuck-it attitude of let’s see how we will do.
My friendship with Cat grew through working together at Rapha. From Regent’s Park laps to weekend bivvying, we’re always searching for our next cycling adventure and have a shared Excel spreadsheet permanently detailing our packing lists. All sub-categorised, a tick underneath each heading tells us who’s bringing what.
Just getting our boxed bikes to the airport proved one of the trip’s biggest challenges. Cat was taking her Cannondale MTB so her box weighed in at 30 kg – my Juliana gravel bike a relatively svelte 25 kg – but both proved a burden as we pushed and pulled them across London’s Tower Bridge at 5:00am in the morning.
Landing in Málaga saw us building our bikes outside the terminal before riding to the train station and, unbeknownst to us, a train strike. With no news on a resumption of services, we decided to take back logistical control and ride to Granada and the start of the Badlands route.
Messaging my friend to ask if he could make us a route, he sent one through but warned us not to question the elevation as he’d just done an A to B on Komoot. It was Day Minus One and we had 130 km to cover with 2,500 m of climbing—no problem!
From the outside, our hostel in Granada looked really dodgy but proved to be a palace. Which added to our guilt when we got the camping stove going in our room to brew up our morning coffee. As we’d planned to bivvy each night, this would be our last taste of luxury until our pre-booked Airbnb in Colmenar. I’d used Google Maps to pinpoint each evening’s placement for our makeshift camps but that didn’t exactly go to plan either.
Setting off from Granada we got our first taste of the terrain with a few tumbles to fuel our adrenaline levels. Stopping to spend the night on the edge of a small town, we were pitted against a torrential downpour and gale force winds. These meteorological challenges prompted a shockingly-bad attempt at fixing up a shelter to protect us from the elements. With a tarparline stretched over our bikes, we resorted to supporting the centre of our ‘roof’ with a stick in an effort to divert the rivulets of water away from our heads. Surprisingly, considering the climatic conditions, I slept like a log—Cat, not so much.
Waking up on Day Two, I felt refreshed but Cat had slight bivvy eyes. Automatically slipping into my efficient mode, I prepped breakfast and quickly packed up everything for the off. Naturally we immediately began to climb—a rutted track that was so steep we were forced to push our bikes with outstretched arms and bent knees. Finally reaching the top, any sense of elation was immediately quashed by a British cycle-brand busy with their photoshoot.
Leaving behind the models on bikes, photographer, art director, assistants and cars – so much for seeking out the wilderness – we found our way through a series of gorges that sliced through the arid hillsides. A mini Grand Canyon with wild goats and an isolated monastery adding a touch of local colour—also provided by my Garmin and its coded difficulty ratings on the climb profiles. Ranging from a benign green through yellow, orange and finally a heart-palpitating dark red, I would shout out our colour zone at every opportune moment.
Feeling the need for some creature comforts, we decided to book a hotel for the night. On arrival – after we were passed on the road by the photoshoot crew – this establishment proved curiously reminiscent of a Hollywood film set. Embracing its quirky charms and taking the opportunity to wash out our kit, we slept without the need to take turns holding a stick and both woke ready to greet the next day’s challenges.
With this restful night providing an added vigour to our riding, the off-road trails gradually transitioned into a section of forest—both of us enjoying the changes in shade and light and a part of the trip where the chatter of our conversations proved particularly resonant. With our voices and laughter held in this timber-like lattice, it reminded me that what I love about bike-packing is the sound as you ride—the hum of tyres on smooth tarmac or the crunch of gravel on a trail. Very unfortunately I’d been advised that it would be okay to fit these really cheap disc pads and they were screaming whenever I slowed down. To such an extent that I dreaded descending and anyone who knows me, knows that I love to descend. All I wanted to do was climb because at least that meant I could avoid the anxiety of coming down again.
In the forest, however, this wasn’t so much of an issue as my style of riding at home meant I could confidently pick my line and brake less. And it was here that we first spotted through a gap in the trees, the white domes of the Calar Alto Observatory.
Struggling to work out the distance to this landmark, the road inevitably began to climb until I was finally sitting, eating some sweets, and taking in the architecture of this incredible mountain top cluster of buildings. Wishing we could stay and camp out under the stars, I also knew we faced a long descent and that my brakes would scream all the way down. Sure enough, the noise was so loud that when I finally reached the bottom I was crying—no fun at all and with an added sense of losing my thing. Because my thing is descending.
Searching for somewhere to spend the night, we decided on a lay-by next to a motorway. Admittedly it was a bit grim and we were bedeviled by swarms of mosquitoes but the sky was clear so we didn’t need to be covered by our tarp and we fell asleep under a blanket of stars.
Dawn saw us rising with the sun and counting our mosquito bites. Cat almost immediately had a puncture so, once fixed, we sought comfort in a café. Here I experienced one of the highlights of our trip – the shouts and laughter of the customers, the bustle of orders being brought to tables – and what I love about my rides in and around London. Lapping Regent’s Park isn’t exactly exciting but you do it with friends and go to a café afterwards. It sets you up right for the day—which was what I was witnessing in that little corner of Spain.
On our way again, this was the day we’d be crossing the Tabernas—the only official desert on the European continent. My favourite day as it turned out because the terrain was so technical that it cleared my mind of other concerns. We were riding tiny tracks with a drop off to either side and the knowledge that if either of us made a mistake the consequences could be severe. And although a barren landscape, the colours were truly vibrant and we loved carrying our bikes across rail tracks that disappeared either way into the distance.
Closing in on the end of our sojourn, in some ways I was feeling a little deflated. We were always behind in our plans due to the problems with our transfer from the airport and this meant we’d cut out some sections of the official Badlands route. And there was this voice in my head telling me that we should have done more. Cat patiently pointed out that we were on holiday and should only do what we want to do and not worry about the rest. It took me some time but eventually I managed to get to that place and this process was helped by our time at a campsite by the sea. We rented a plot and there were toilets and showers – such luxury – and you fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the beach.
To ride the route with Cat – an experienced ultra-distance racer and one of the most wonderful people in my world – was why I kept on moving forward. Every time I doubted or questioned, she was there with a gentle reminder of how to be present and embrace the moment. And what struck me as we wound our way back in the direction of Málaga and our waiting Airbnb, was the constantly shifting landscapes we’d ridden through. Road, desert, forest, beach, rolling coastal-California—jaw-dropping visual surprises like the desert train tracks and flamingos in a lagoon. Views and vistas that I tried to capture with my camera as an added reminder of the joys we had both shared.
In all honesty, I use cycling as therapy—I run away from my problems by riding my bike. But when we returned home and everyone was asking how we got on, I had to put on this front and tell them how amazing our trip was. Because I really wish I could say that I found my cycling mojo in the Badlands of southern Spain but I didn’t.
What I did find was a desire to ride my bike a little more. And our trip gave me the time to reflect on what’s actually important to me and what makes me happy. Everything in life shapes you to one degree or another—the next time you go and do something, you do it as a different person. We’re always growing and I do understand that Badlands has changed me. I just haven’t as yet figured out how.
Take even the most cursory glance at Lael Wilcox’s social media feed and the one constancy is her smile. Wide enough to crease the cheeks and crinkle the eyes, this ultra-distance racer and bikepacker exudes a love of riding bikes that proves infectious. To such an extent that hearing Lael enthusiastically describe her incredible exploits crossing countries and continents and you just can’t help smiling back.
But not every ride or race ends as Lael originally determined it might. And this year’s Tour Divide proved the exception to the rule in leaving tears rolling down her face as raging wildfires forced Lael to abandon her record attempt.
A few days after scratching from the Tour Divide, Lael sat down to talk about managing adversity, finding a sense of joy in the outdoors and how, ultimately, love makes every day feel special.
cyclespeak Can I start by asking how you are? I saw images of the smoke from the Tour Divide and it didn’t look good.
Lael I knew beforehand about the wildfires but it didn’t hit me until I was riding just how serious it would be as far as the air quality. It looked and felt like the apocalypse—the end of the world. So, yes, it was sad that I had to stop my ride. But getting into the thick of it, I realised that I simply couldn’t carry on. It was the only choice I could make.
cyclespeak I can only imagine how difficult it was to call it a day.
Lael More than that, it was just so depressing seeing these places ravaged by fires and the effect this is having on the communities that live there and the wildlife too.
cyclespeak Speaking of wildlife, I believe you bumped into a mountain lion?
Lael It was incredible. I’d always thought it was super rare to see them because they’re so hyper aware of people and other animals. And then coming up a climb, my bike lights reflected off this pair of eyes and I stopped, thinking it was a raccoon or something. But then I made out the outline of the mountain lion’s body and its tail.
cyclespeak So quite a surprise?
Lael It was midnight, I was already sleep-deprived and really motivated to get to this small town where I knew I could sleep in the church. So I’m thinking, oh dear, now what am I supposed to do?
cyclespeak And what did you decide?
Lael Not knowing how they usually behave, I weighed up whether it might attack me if I tried to get past. So I just stood still and started talking to it—trying to convey the idea that I wasn’t menacing by telling it I just wanted to get by. I could hear some other sounds which I think were its cubs and as I slowly began to move along the path, the mountain lion came out from the trees and was walking in front of me along the trail for 10 minutes or so before disappearing off into the bushes and leaving me to ride down the hill. But it didn’t end there. A little further on there was another animal on the trail in front of me and my bike light picked out this white stripe along its back. And I’m like, that’s a skunk and I’m going to get sprayed! Fortunately it darted off to one side but there’s me thinking, what next [laughs]?
cyclespeak All this excitement after a hard day’s riding.
Lael I finally got to the town but I didn’t know where the church was. I turned on my phone to look it up but of course there wasn’t any cell reception. Then I passed an old covered wagon – kind of a tourist town display – and I’m thinking I can always sleep in that but then I saw the church. I pushed my bike inside, it’s warm and there’s power outlets and a bathroom. What else do you need [smiles]?
cyclespeak I’m surprised you were able to unwind enough to sleep.
Lael After riding 170 miles that day, it was quite a night. But that’s what makes it exciting. So many unknowns and everyday is packed full of these obstacles that you quickly forget about because you’re so focused on getting where you’re going.
cyclespeak You already hold the women’s Tour Divide record* which you set in 2015. And on this attempt you were aiming to beat the overall record set by the late Mike Hall in 2016. For such a mammoth undertaking, is mental preparation just as important as the physical?
*Lael covered the 4,418 km in 15 days, 10 hours and 59 minutes.
Lael For me, the main thing is wrapping your head around the need to maintain a level of urgency for two weeks. Because when you get tired, are you going to have that drive to keep pushing forward? If the weather’s bad or you’re in pain – maybe you see a mountain lion [smiles] – all these different things can crack at you and potentially slow your progress.
cyclespeak So what’s the secret to maintaining your momentum?
Lael You just need to ride the best that you can through these moments until they pass—that’s the most important thing. In a sense, more important than speed. Speed plays into it but if you only ride 15 hours a day, realistically it doesn’t matter how fast you travel because you’re not going to have the record. It’s just not possible.
cyclespeak Your smile – on and off the bike – is so recognisably a part of your outward persona. And I was wondering whether the positivity that you radiate is a key to your success? Because I watched your film with Rapha that shows you racing this year’s Unbound Gravel XL – 358 self-supported miles that you covered in under 27 hours – and you never looked like you weren’t having fun.
Lael I definitely ride better and stronger if I feel good. And I feel good most of the time because I’m actually doing something I enjoy. Of course there are moments of hardship but, looking at the overall picture, even if it’s hard, even if it hurts, I’d still rather be there, trying to achieve my best result.
cyclespeak And it’s like you said, these issues rarely last forever?
Lael We all have negative thoughts—I’m not fast enough, strong enough, this isn’t working. But it doesn’t help you ride better. So I’ve learnt over time to just not get into that downward spiral of negativity. To find the positives in those moments until it starts to get better again.
cyclespeak I’m guessing it helps if you’re naturally positive. A glass half-full kind of person?
Lael I do think that’s my natural state when I’m moving outside. And I just extended that feeling to a 24 hour race and then a 2 week race. Still connecting to the same joy that comes from riding my bike.
cyclespeak That’s an interesting choice of word: joy.
Lael I feel that’s the greatest gift we have as humans—getting to experience places and cultures, terrain and weather. And for the most part, it’s all free. Which is why I find these wildfires so devastating because it steals that away from us.
cyclespeak As we’re speaking about positivity, can you talk me through your decision to scratch on the Tour Divide? How you manage these situations when circumstances are beyond your control?
Lael Scratching from this year’s Tour Divide definitely hit me hard. I felt I was doing well and even though there was a lot of smoke, it was manageable. But then it got to a point where it wasn’t. Crossing this one city of Butte in Montana, I was riding towards a massive wildfire – smoke and flames – and in that half an hour I could hear myself start to wheeze and feel my lungs labouring. At that moment, I did feel incredibly sad and started crying as I was riding my bike. Because I knew I had to stop and I just hate giving up. But as we’ve already talked about, part of this racing is overcoming barriers or challenges and sometimes it’s out of your hands.
cyclespeak Over the past year and a bit, we’ve witnessed a wave of individuals re-engaging with the outdoors—possibly prompted by a desire to stay local and enjoy the fresh air.
Lael I feel that’s one of the best outcomes from the pandemic. People realising that this is something they can do, that makes them feel better and helps them process the other, potentially hard aspects of their lives. And it doesn’t have to be riding the Tour Divide. It can be engaging with the outdoors in any way that’s real to them. Going just that little bit further than they’ve been before and how empowering that can feel.
cyclespeak For me, lockdown encouraged me to ride from my doorstep and rediscover my immediate environment.
Lael I went back to Alaska where I’m from. I’d done a project in 2017 where I cycled all the major roads—something like seven or eight thousand kilometres. Some of these routes were pretty remote and I saw animals and mountains and not a lot of people out there. But I did that alone and I’ve since thought how nice it would be to revisit this trip but make a film with my now-wife Rue. I’d told her about these places and she shoots photographs and video so that’s what we did.
cyclespeak Your relationship with riding started out as transport. You commuted to your job at a brewery when you were 20 and it went from there. So now, after all those years and thousands of kilometres, when you see a bike leaning up against a wall, how does it speak to you on an emotional level?
Lael I’ve never learned to drive a car and the bike is a huge upgrade in transportation from walking. Easier to carry equipment and it’s such a simple machine that you probably won’t break down. And it’s also part of our culture—you’re a kid, you learn how to ride a bike and that offers your first real taste of freedom. You can now go further, easier, faster. And that immediateness of hopping on a bike offers such a sense of liberation. I still feel that way every time I ride my bike.
cyclespeak I can see how it can extend your horizon—allowing you to journey through the landscape because you can go that little bit further than if you were walking. Something you do on a multiple-thousands-of-kilometres scale?
Lael But that’s just me compressing more into less time. And people should ride the way they want to. I sometimes get criticised for not taking enough time to stop and appreciate the view [smiles].
cyclespeak I think humankind is rather too fond of passing opinions when it really doesn’t materially matter to them.But advice can be useful so I wanted to ask what you’d say to someone contemplating taking up cycling?
Lael To ride somewhere real.
Lael Ride your errands, commute around town, ride to your friend’s house. That way you’re actually riding for a reason. And if you want to build up your distance, take a bus or a train and ride home. Because that way, the closer you get, the more familiar it feels when you’re beginning to feel a little tired.
cyclespeak The races you take part in, by their very nature, offer plenty of thinking time in the saddle. What kind of thoughts enter your head or are you too focused on the task at hand?
Lael I just let my mind go free and think whatever I want. My first two times riding the Tour Divide, I also rode from Alaska to the start…
cyclespeak I love that. Because the Tour Divide at 4,418 km just isn’t long enough [laughs].
Lael At that time, I only had a flip-phone so no music or podcasts. So I was there, alone, riding for weeks at a time—making my own decisions, being whoever I wanted to be. Since then and after racing thousands and thousands of kilometres, I like to listen to audio books. Riding through the night, you can get really engaged in a story [smiles].
cyclespeak In the Rapha film, you mentioned that night time can be tough. Do you thrive on these aspects of adversity or does discipline and the promise of dawn light see you through?
Lael I always look forward to the sun coming up. In the dark, it’s just harder to be alert and ride fast. You can’t see as well and that’s when you feel tired. Especially when it’s cold, there’s an instinct to just stop and sleep.
cyclespeak Which is what the vast majority of the human race does at night time.
Lael The strategy I use on races like the Tour Divide is that, if I feel tired, I’ll just stop and sleep for four hours and then wake up and carry on—even if it’s the middle of the night. Because regardless of when you sleep, you have to ride in the dark at some point to cover the miles.
cyclespeak A little bit of a segue but you mentioned your now-wife Rue. You recently got married…
cyclespeak Your wedding sounded really wonderful—I love the idea of the scooters.
Lael I’m just happier than I’ve ever been before. I’ve always loved spending time outdoors on my bike but now I have Rue with me for the rest of my life so every day is good.
cyclespeak The pictures you share on Instagram of you with Rue are incredibly life affirming.
Lael Rue rides but she also shoots so we can do projects together. What a gift—it’s just amazing.
cyclespeak Whenever I talk to bike racers or industry creatives such as photographers and filmmakers, I sometimes get a sense that they’re never satisfied. They’re always looking to go faster, to take a better photograph or try another film edit. Where do you sit in saying to yourself, ‘Job well done?’
Lael I think if I give it my best effort – and I’ll know if I have or not – then I do have a sense of satisfaction. And with ultra-distance racing, you have a lot of time. So maybe you don’t feel great but you’re still moving so that’s your best effort at that particular moment. And then a few hours later you feel great so you pick up the pace. At the end and regardless of my finish, if I tried my hardest then I’m happy.
cyclespeak And when things are out of your control like this year’s Tour Divide?
Lael If something goes wrong – a mechanical or I get sick or unforeseen circumstances like the fires – then I have a reason to go back and give it another go [smiles].
cyclespeak I mentioned how riding a bike started out purely as transport to get to work…
Lael I was commuting and then bike touring and then ultra-distance racing—frustrated because I was working two jobs to pay for these things.
cyclespeak I do wonder how much of that drive and determination influences your current success?
Lael I suppose it shows that I’m doing something I really, really want. Otherwise I would’ve just given it up because I spent years doing that. Working 12 hours a day and worrying when I’d get to ride my bike. Or when I’d get to sleep [laughs].
cyclespeak The way you ride, the distances you cover, the results you enjoy—do you feel a sense of responsibility that you’re a public face flying the flag for female participation in bike racing?
Lael It all adds to my level of motivation. That I can race against the men and go for the overall. In other disciplines of cycling, that just isn’t possible. Women and men are competing in completely different categories but in bike packing, we all get to line up together and whoever gets to the finish first, wins. I find that super exciting and motivating because I want to be the winner and I know it’s possible. And it’s not just about pure power or speed—there are so many other aspects like recovery and efficiency that come into play. How you feel on Day 10, how you react to seeing a mountain lion [laughs].
cyclespeak I’m guessing you also need to minimise the chance of mechanicals during the race?
Lael The thing with ultra-distance is that everything breaks or falls apart—your bike and your body. So I want to start out with both myself and my bike in great condition because I know that by the end of it, we’ll be trashed.
cyclespeak I suppose over time you get to know what works and what doesn’t?
Lael My gear choices are mostly for comfort. Going into a race, I’m very aware that at some point I’ll be experiencing a lot of pain so maybe I’ll pick a larger tyre, a fork with more travel or figure out a range of hand positions. Basically, what’s going to keep me happy on the bike for the longest. You want to pack light but what do you actually need?
cyclespeak You’re constantly on the move with your racing schedule so I wanted to ask about your concept of home?
Lael That’s definitely Rue. Just spending time with her wherever we go—being together. We’re currently living in Tucson, Arizona, and thinking of buying a house. I’m 35 and never thought it would be something that I’d want to do but it would be a nice place to spend time in the winter.
cyclespeak Can I ask why Tucson?
Lael It has great winter weather and beautiful mountains. It’s pretty inexpensive and you can ride up Mount Lemmon to over 9,000 ft—from saguaro cactus to pine forest in a 20 mile ride.
cyclespeak And it would be good to have a base for storing bikes?
Lael I love to change them because I spend so much intense time on one bike that I want to ride something completely different. If I’ve raced my mountain bike, I want to ride road. If I’m racing road, then I want to ride a full suspension mountain bike. Swapping between them puts my brain in a different place and keeps me motivated.
cyclespeak Looking forward, do you have a five year, five month or five day plan?
Lael Somewhere in between? Two months is pretty good [laughs].
cyclespeak Is that your comfort zone?
Lael It’s enough time to puzzle things together.
cyclespeak And the best thing about being Lael Wilcox?
Lael I’m very fortunate that I pretty much get to do exactly what I want, every single day. And I’m so grateful for that. I wake up and if I want to go for a bike ride, I go for a bike ride. I just get to follow my dreams and I can’t believe that’s my life.
“A couple of years ago I was riding my track bike down the street from my house. I had my hands off the bars adjusting my helmet and my feet were locked in the toe-clips. All of a sudden the seat post broke in two and I cartwheeled off the bike. Landing on my ass, it took me a moment to realise what had happened before I dusted myself down and walked back home—the frame in one hand and the saddle in the other.”
For someone with such a relaxed approach to cycling, photographer and videographer Jean-Baptiste Delorme’s introduction to riding was anything but. After being presented with a new mountain bike at the age of 12, he was sent off to take lessons at a local cycling club. Already skateboarding and relishing the freedom of practising whenever he wanted, Jean-Baptiste (or JB as he’s more familiarly known) disliked the rigid routine of the bicycle training to such a degree that he stopped riding altogether.
“I hated it and still have bad memories of that time. But a few years later, my Uncle invited us for a week’s vacation in Morzine in the Alps. You could rent downhill bikes and this I loved!”
Having discovered how much fun cycling could be, JB took to riding the hills around Auvergne where he lived at that time. A year later saw a move to Montpellier to study architecture and a switch to riding a track bike following a chance encounter with another student from his school.
“I tried his bike, really enjoyed the feel of it and like everyone else was doing, I got my own road-bike conversion. And then one night I saw a group of young people out riding on the street. I mentioned this to my friend and he told me it was a crew called La Nuit Noire* that met up after work. Making contact, I started to ride with them and soon discovered how much I loved being part of a group of friends rather than a traditional cycling club. In a sense, it took me back to when I used to skate—just hanging out and pushing ourselves to see what we could do.”
*The Dark Night
Having previously studied photography before architecture school, JB lost motivation without a defined purpose for the imagery he was creating. But now, with his friends from La Nuit Noire, he discovered a newfound desire to document what they were doing as a crew.
“It was creating images for social media and to make some prints that pushed me to pick up my camera again. And then after graduation, I chose to work in photography and video. My Mum still asks me why I did the studies but never worked as an architect. But I tell her I regret nothing because there were aspects of the course that I’ve since found very useful. Studying architecture, you’re encouraged to ask yourself questions with regard to the process and the endpoint—if I do this, for this purpose, what will be the outcome? So maybe it’s provided me with a way of thinking that I still subconsciously make use of in my work?”
Mentioning the stereotypical cycling imagery of roadsides lined with fans and riders’ jerseys covered in the brand names of sponsors, JB conjures up this visualisation to illustrate why he instinctively prefers a simpler aesthetic and a more minimalistic approach to representing movement—a pureness in sport that he finds particularly beautiful.
“I grew up watching skate videos and they’ve always been a big influence on my work. You see things differently because they use the space in a certain way and there’s a rhythm to the movement. So I try to create a tension in my pictures—a graphic approach that’s pure and free. Much in the same way that a track bike is stripped back, it’s about removing what disturbs the eye from a composition and taking away any unnecessary noise.”
Working in both photography and film, JB believes that both mediums can be used to convey an emotion but expressing this in video is more challenging as it requires a bigger team of people to create a quality product. That unlike photography – where it’s easier to control all the different variables – with film it’s harder to get exactly what you want. An analysis of method that JB extends to how he shoots from two opposing perspectives.
“Static viewpoints are good for more composed images. When I have a specific idea and I say we’re going to do this and this and this. But I really like shooting from a bike because it feels more spontaneous. Like you’re floating with the other rider – a sense of a shared experience – and you can move around to see how the light works from a certain angle. And sometimes you get lost and the photos have an element of surprise. A combination of luck and locality that can add that magical ingredient.”
Preferring to shoot with a mirrorless camera, much of JB’s recent work was captured with a Sony A7iii—the tilt screen proving invaluable in allowing him to position the camera away from his eye when riding.
“What makes a huge difference when you’re shooting on the go – it can get a little sketchy – is knowing your camera is up to the job. It’s important to have really good autofocus but there’s still a certain amount of praying that the images turn out how you want. So if I’m shooting from the bike, I’ll move around from spot to spot, just following the rider wherever they decide to go. When I have the feeling that the light and the environment is interesting, then I’ll shoot hundreds of photos in a short period of time knowing that maybe only one or two will express what I want. Fixing in a fraction of a second a mix of light and attitude that gives context to the moment—a little like casting your fishing line in the hope that you’ll catch something interesting.”
Without my bikes, I wouldn’t get done half of what I do each day. I’d be stuck in traffic.
With an All City track bike for short rides around his home city of Montpellier – rides that JB says put a smile on his face – his main bike is a Bombtrack Hook EXT equipped with a frame bag and flat pedals that he uses for commuting, riding gravel or the bike packing trips he loves to take.
“For me, riding is a lot like skateboarding. A good excuse to create something, to have fun, to meet people and explore what’s around you. But even though my whole world has been built around cycling, it’s not an end in itself. I would rather have a 10km ride to reach a cool spot and the rest of the day hanging out with my friends, than spend the whole day riding but not talking to anyone.”
“It’s funny,” concludes JB, “that some French people watch the Tour de France just to see the countryside. What I want to do in my work, is to give people the inspiration and confidence to ride their bikes for all sorts of reasons and not just for sport. A bike is the perfect tool to live your life and I want to communicate that sense of opportunity and freedom.”
In conversation with Crystal Haggard, I’m tempted to wonder when (or if) she ever sleeps. With a year home schooling her son Forest and a senior position at Zwift that became seriously intense as the world took to riding indoors, Crystal’s ever lengthening to-do list is bookended with regular rides and wild camping trips to the national parks that ring the family’s California home.
‘To the End of the Universe’ sees all these connecting threads beautifully interwoven in a perceptive and heartwarming film that explores Crystal’s relationship with Forest through the window of their adventures together. A theme that continues here, as Crystal talks candidly about managing the pressures of parenting and how the family use their bikes to find balance and a sense of togetherness in a changing world.
cyclespeak I was wondering whether you’re still working from home?
Crystal We probably won’t be returning until September. The schools are still not fully back in session so I think until childcare returns to normal, they won’t require people to go back into the office.
cyclespeak How do you feel about this new normal? Will you miss any aspects of the social restrictions?
Crystal Previously to COVID, depending on traffic it took me 45 minutes to two hours one way to drive to work. But even though it’s been nice to reclaim these hours, when life returns to normal I’m excited to get out of the house and work in a different environment a couple of days a week. There have been challenges with working remotely and there are things that I’m just way better at in person.
cyclespeak Such as?
Crystal I’m responsible for developing all of our soft goods and accessories at Zwift. So if I get a sample of a sweatshirt, then I have to mail it all around the country rather than simply walking it over to someone’s desk. A process that used to take 20 minutes can now take weeks [laughs].
cyclespeak I saw from some of your posts that you were home schooling.
Crystal We spent about 14 months doing virtual school from home and I think we did a good job of turning it into a positive situation. With my son Forest remote learning over Zoom, we could just go somewhere for a week and do everything online.
cyclespeak I do wonder whether there’s a capacity in human behaviour to adapt and make the most of a situation?
Crystal One of my colleagues hates change, loves consistency. So they’ve really struggled. But I’m like, where’s the weirdest place that I can work?
cyclespeak And where was that?
Crystal I did a lot of work in the car using a hotspot while we were travelling to places and there were a couple of campsites where I called in for stuff using a Zoom background. Not that anybody cared but I just didn’t want it to be a distraction that I wasn’t at my desk [laughs].
cyclespeak There’s some scenes from these camping trips in your recent film ‘To the End of the Universe’. Was the project filmed and edited by your husband Jordan?
Crystal Yes. That’s right.
cyclespeak So a family affair?
Crystal It was a really hard project emotionally for both of us. For me, it’s a lot easier to tell other people’s stories than your own.
cyclespeak It’s beautifully filmed and you can’t watch it and not see the joy in yourself and Forest as you’re pictured cycling together through the landscape. And I was wondering whether the narrative came first or the imagery?
Crystal The filming came first but I was taking notes the whole time. Jotting down little moments or feelings. But I actually wrote the narrative two days before the film was due when I ended up in the Emergency Room with an allergic reaction. That was the first time I’d been by myself – properly alone – in a very long time. Over the course of the past year, there were many moments when I really struggled as a parent. Being together 100% of the time, keeping on top of a demanding work schedule, guiding Forest through remote learning—we never had a break. We lost all of our balance and both Jordan and I were emotionally and physically exhausted. So that moment in hospital – just by myself – allowed me the time and space to think about the way I actually feel as a parent.
cyclespeak I’ll admit that I was relieved my own sons were too old for home schooling.
Crystal Oh my gosh, it was so hard! Forest is in 2nd Grade so luckily, unlike younger children, he can read. At least that gave him some form of autonomy.
cyclespeak Even so, it must’ve been difficult for him to stay focused?
Crystal Forest thinks he prefers remote learning because all his toys are within arm’s reach. And I’m glad he’ll look back at this time with good memories and without feeling traumatised. But now that he’s back in school, we’re all so much happier [laughs].
cyclespeak In the film, you describe Forest as a bender of time. Can you talk me through what this means to you?
Crystal Before I had a kid, life felt very linear. And people always tell you that having a child gives you the longest days and the shortest years—which is so true. So I was kind of borrowing from that idea and looking back to the decade before he was born when it seemed to go on forever. And then we had Forest and you blink and almost another decade has passed. And I really don’t know where it’s gone [smiles].
cyclespeak I was scrolling through your Instagram feed and ever since Forest was very small, he’s joined you on rides. In a bike seat, sitting behind Jordan on a cargo bike, riding with you on his tag-along. Was this always the plan to include him? Was it ever a question that he wouldn’t?
Crystal There’s a couple of answers to that question—one influenced by my own childhood. Before my parents had kids they were pretty adventurous. They were both big skiers, hikers and cyclists. My Mom went into labour with me – two months early – on a motorcycle ride in the middle of Death Valley and had to be medivaced out. But after they had kids, they stopped a lot of these activities. So I didn’t really know this side of them. Shortly after we moved out of the house, they started doing all that cool stuff again. And that’s when I found out just how much they both loved the outdoors.
cyclespeak Do you feel you kind of missed out?
Crystal I didn’t start exploring or camping until I was in high school and my photo teacher took a core group of students on some pretty amazing camping trips in some desolate corners of California. It unlocked something inside of me and made me fall in love with having new experiences and finding beauty in overlooked places. It made me wonder why my parents stopped doing the activities that brought them joy?
cyclespeak And you feel this has informed your own view on raising Forest?
Crystal I knew as a parent that I wanted to share the things that bring me joy. I also think my generation is having kids later so your identity is a lot further developed by the time you start a family. So I was always very nervous about losing that side of me. And we don’t have family that lives super close so there isn’t anyone around the corner that we can just drop the kid off for a day or two. Jordan also travels for work so much that if I don’t bring Forest with me, I’d be missing out on a lot of these experiences.
cyclespeak Which makes you unhappy?
Crystal I’m not good at sitting down and doing nothing. Or just hanging out in the house. So there’s definitely a want and a need that Forest is included.
cyclespeak There’s another quote from the film that resonates: ‘Being a Mom is my greatest adventure but unlike others, this adventure came without a guide.’ And I wanted to ask whether you’d choose to have a guidebook if one was available?
Crystal I’ve read so many books on parenting and none of them totally resonate with me. But maybe that’s a good thing? That parenting shouldn’t be too prescriptive? For me, going on some of my crazier adventures before having Forest, prepared me for the fact that you can’t prepare for everything. And things going wrong often leads to things going right in a better way than planned.
cyclespeak Have you an example of this?
Crystal I once rode my bike across the States from New York to Los Angeles. This was before bar-mounted GPS units so we’d print out our itinerary each day. And there were often times when the roads you were expecting didn’t exist or you’d miss a turn and you’d end up relying on help from strangers to find your way. There’s a loss of control – a sense of vulnerability – that can feel very liberating. And rather than a sense of confrontation, it taught me to understand that strangers can care about you and that most people are inherently good and interested in what you’re doing.
cyclespeak Did these experiences impact on you as a parent?
Crystal It helped me to realise that you can’t be in control all the time and things don’t always go to plan. That it’s okay to rely on other people or go with the flow. And oftentimes these are the memories that I look back on most fondly.
cyclespeak And that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves?
Crystal From my own experience, Forest is a notoriously terrible sleeper and I literally saw every sunrise for the first two and a half years of his life because he always woke up before 4:30am. I remember reading through all these sleep books and trying everything to get him to sleep longer or through the night and nothing worked because we travelled too much and couldn’t keep to the strict routines suggested. I felt like I was failing until I read a piece by a doctor that ultimately said it’s okay to be flexible and do whatever works best for your family. We’re all different with different needs and having someone in a position of authority say this – to give us the permission we needed to stop being so hard on ourselves and embrace our situation – that really opened up our world.
cyclespeak Maybe it’s a case of the expectations we place on ourselves?
Crystal I think, especially with young kids, we have all these milestones. How much your kid should weigh, what they’re eating, are they sleeping. And I remember someone telling me their kid was sleeping through at six months. And there’s me, thinking that at six months my kid slept two hours and I was thrilled [laughs]. So I can only offer empathy when it comes to sleep but I do believe there’s advice I could offer on camping with a family or how to start riding with your kid. Which trailer or bike seat and why. Little bits of my own experience that I would be happy to share.
cyclespeak There’s a societal compulsion to compare ourselves but I think you’re safe with camping advice.
Crystal With the story in the film, I really didn’t want to put anything out there that people would feel they had to live up to—or give families unrealistic expectations of what parenting is. We simply wanted to share a true look into something we often do as a family.
cyclespeak I found the film to be a very honest portrayal of parenting. You don’t shy away from the fact that it can be incredibly hard work. And I also feel it’s good to see a parent and child sharing time outside together and having fun. At its simplest level, that for me is very inspirational.
Crystal I’m glad to hear that [laughing].
cyclespeak Has your relationship with cycling changed in terms of all these pressures on your time?
Crystal Before having a kid I could go out on a ride and just empty my tank before coming home and crashing out on the couch. Now, I have to pace myself knowing that the moment I walk through the door I’ll have to start building Lego and it will be three hours before I get to shower. So I do miss that feeling of having no other responsibilities.
cyclespeak Time’s behaving very strangely at the moment with people saying last year but actually referring to the year before. But I saw on Instagram that you moved house not too long ago…
Crystal It was nearly a year ago.
cyclespeak There you go. It feels a lot more recent.
Crystal And it was terrifying to buy our first home right as lockdown hit [laughs].
cyclespeak Can I ask how you define your concept of home?
Crystal In my adult life – before we had Forest – I’d never lived anywhere for much more than a year. I loved moving, loved change and almost felt like I was my own home. I guess I’m not very attached to physical things. I think the necessity of a home has now changed with having a family, but, to me, it’s essentially a place to store the toys that we use when we’re out there [pointing to the window]. I suppose you could say home for us is a base camp and we do most of our best living outside of this physical space. Our house is small – which I like – but in a perfect world we’d still have the same small home but with twice the garage space [laughs].
cyclespeak With your bikes all lined up.
Crystal All the things that unlock the world we love.
cyclespeak Being based in Los Angeles, how easy is it to ride?
Crystal Part of the reason I live so far from work is our house is situated in a corner of LA right on the edge of city limits. Probably not even 10km to the base of the Angeles National Forest. My thinking was that either I have to get in a car and commute to work or commute to ride. And work may change—that isn’t a constant. But riding and getting out in nature is always going to be a priority.
cyclespeak How do you balance all the different pulls on your time?
Crystal To some extent, the busier I get, the better I manage everything. If I have a lot on my plate, then I make time to schedule it all in. If things are a little more relaxed, I have a tendency to procrastinate. And I like experiencing as much as possible. That makes me feel like I’m actually living life. I don’t want a year to go by with me looking back and not knowing what I’ve done.
cyclespeak It’s important to have those memories?
Crystal That’s one thing I love about Instagram. I can look back at what was this COVID year and think, wow, we actually did a lot of really cool stuff. We did good, we had fun.
cyclespeak Last year – that we kind of assume was a little lost – was my biggest on Strava for quite a while.
Crystal It was by far my lowest [laughs]. Between facilitating home schooling and my own work and never having a break from either, my days were really full and I was struggling to focus or find the time to do much else. Most nights I was working late into the evening after Forest went to bed. My job at Zwift got really busy because everyone wanted to ride virtually during the lockdowns and we were burning the candle at both ends securing enough inventory and solving supply chain issues. But Forest went back to school a couple of weeks ago and both Jordan and I have ridden every day so far [laughs]. It’s starting to feel like we’re finding balance again.
cyclespeak You describe Forest as your inspiration, your ultimate challenge and your biggest adventure. What are you looking forward to as your story together unfolds and what do you think you’ll miss as your relationship inevitably changes and evolves?
Crystal When he was an infant, he was really colicky and the only time he didn’t cry was when he was in a carrier and we were walking. I actually lost my job right after he was born so I was unemployed and had the time to really get into hiking as a solution for both of us. We’d disappear off into the Angeles National Forest and even though Forest wasn’t aware what was happening, he was comfortable and we were both happy. And maybe it kind of primed him for what was to come [laughs].
cyclespeak They sound like special times.
Crystal When he grew out of that baby carrier, I felt so sad—the only physical thing that I mourned giving away to the next person. And I was left with the question of what next? But that was around the six month mark so we were able to start riding as he had enough head stability to go in the trailer. And then when he was too big for the trailer, we put the bike seat on the back and then we got the tag-along and we now do 40 mile rides at our pace and effort but with him right there with us. And what’s cool is that, over time, I’ve realised that there is always something to look forward to. That every single time Forest has grown out of something, there’s an opportunity to try something that’s even more fun.
cyclespeak An attitude which I think is beautifully portrayed in your film. And I was wondering if working on this project helped you to understand when you’re happiest?
Crystal One of the things that makes me happy is when my preconceptions turn out to be wrong. When it’s better than I imagined. I’m learning not to limit my expectations on what we’re going to experience. And that was one aspect of last year’s lockdown that was surprising – this sense of the unexpected – when we were forced to stay local and explore our neighbourhood and we found so many cool little dirt roads that we never knew existed. We’d switch the Wahoo to map mode on Forest’s tag-along and he’d just shout out the turns he wanted us to make. And it made me fall in love with the city in a way that I didn’t expect. Just one of the things that brought me a sense of joy.
‘The original Brewer Street Clubhouse opened in 2012 so it’s one of our oldest locations. And with the Rapha head office just up the road, it’s a place that’s very important to all of us at Imperial Works.’
Tasked with delivering the redesign of Rapha’s flagship London clubhouse, now that the final finishing touches are complete and the doors once again open, Edwin Foote is feeling a huge sense of relief after weeks of back-to-back 12 hour days.
Responsible for the look and feel of Rapha’s physical locations in his role as Retail Design Manager, Foote works closely with the inhouse Visual Merchandising and Brand Design teams but also pulls from a range of design cues he records as and when inspiration strikes.
‘I have a single folder called ‘Image Bank’ where I keep everything from Instagram posts to photos taken around town. I also dedicate quite a lot of time to reading blogs and keeping up to date with fashion trends, interior design and architecture. And all these ideas go, unsorted, into this one folder. I did try organising it once but it just felt an impossible task. And if you are looking for inspiration, there’s a danger you’ll close off huge chunks of this visual library if it was too ordered.’
‘What I do isn’t necessarily that complicated. It’s matching forms with materials and neither of those things needs to be radical. There’s lots of small design touches that build together to create this refurbishment but it’s the balance of the overall space which is important rather than any one detail’
Modest as this self-appraisal of his role may be, what has become evident over the past decade is that Rapha clubhouses might share a recognisable look but all, equally, reflect elements of their location. And with this project an updating of an already well-loved physical space, Foote was conscious of leaving untouched what was seen to work well.
‘This wasn’t a case of starting from scratch so we knew what we wanted to change. The way it was quite industrial with exposed services and the desire for it to feel a little cosier and more comfortable. And when the adjacent unit to our original Clubhouse became available, it was too good an opportunity to miss.’
‘The old space was struggling to hold our growing product range and accommodate 30 or so riders and their bikes all arriving at the same time from Regent’s Park laps. This also meant we rarely had the space for events, activations and storytelling—key aspects of the Clubhouse experience that were being compromised due to a lack of space. So not only has expanding into the adjacent unit given us more shopfloor to play with, it also came with a basement which meant we could move our stockroom downstairs and free up even more space on the ground floor for customer-facing touchpoints.’
Having worked at Rapha for almost 5 years, it was clear to Foote that flexibility belonged at the heart of this refurbishment. With a variety of customer types – riders seeking refreshment to people shopping, watching racing or holding business meetings – the challenge was to implement the three pillars of content, community and commerce without the space feeling sterile or intimidating.
‘The original Clubhouse had an amazing energy to it. The café was always bustling and the shopfloor just on the right side of chaotic. So with the new refurbishment, we didn’t want to lose this personality. We want everyone who visits the Clubhouse to feel comfortable and at ease—to absorb our love of cycling, enjoy a coffee and maybe find a new piece of clothing for their cycling wardrobe.’
To help achieve this aim, pilot projects were introduced in the Copenhagen and San Francisco Clubhouses to trial ideas for the Soho concept. Simple design flourishes such as flexible shop fittings to allow a less rigid way of displaying product and easily taken down to open up the whole space for a movie night or guest speaker. A preparatory process that underpinned the project until it was finally time to knock through into the adjoining unit.
‘Joining the two spaces and raising the floor to a single level meant there were quite a few unknowns in the early stages of construction. Amazingly, the discoveries we made between our initial surveys and the finished build all worked out in our favour and we were fortunate not to hit any major roadblocks.’
‘One part of the project which did cause me a few sleepless nights were the custom tiles used on the cash desk that contain shreds of the signature pink Rapha Gazzetta tissue paper. These were made for us in Liverpool but needed to be posted to the Czech Republic where the counter was being manufactured. Delays caused by Brexit and thoughts of the tiles arriving in thousands of pieces were definitely a worry at the time but fortunately they all arrived safely and I could relax again.’
Describing the Clubhouse as almost unrecognisable, Foote believes the biggest change is how calm the new space feels. A characteristic he suggests is partly due to the material palette and the use of douglas fir timber which adds a level of warmth to the space. Likewise, above the eyeline, a framework spans the ceiling, wrapping the top half of the walls and covering all the electrical and air conditioning systems.
‘The focus is now on our products, staff and customers—not this huge industrial-looking room full of pipes and cables. Previously the café was busy and loud and this carried through to a slightly crowded retail area and a fitting room experience that wasn’t exactly luxurious. There was a single look and feel across the whole space and in the way that music has moments of both loud excitement and quiet contemplation, the same is needed in a physical environment. As you walk around the new Clubhouse there are subtle changes in mood prompted by lighting, audio, TV screens, imagery and product display.’
‘But what I’m most proud of, is the one-off items we’ve created which are totally unique to the London Clubhouse. As a nod to the original Citroën H Van, we took the signature fluted panels and wrapped them around the new cash desk. That’s where you’ll also see three custom-made pennants that were sewn by the Rapha Atelier department using recycled jerseys and fabrics. The flags celebrate the London RCC chapter as well as the Women’s 100 and A Day in Hell – two rides which started in London and are now popular across the world.’
‘These showpieces, and the many smaller touches, all add up to create a unique space which I think has Rapha’s signature all over it. And as the brand continues to appeal to more and more cyclists – providing them with the inspiration and clothing they need to get out on their bikes – I feel the new London Clubhouse is the perfect place to enjoy everything Rapha has to offer.’
With worldwide concerns over mental health never more prevalent, producer and storyteller Sami Sauri’s first independent film production is a clarion call for the benefits of spending time outdoors. Catching up with Sami from her home in Girona, and with a conversation punctuated with bursts of laughter, we discuss the personal nature of this poignant and beautifully realised project, her own lessons from lockdown and how it feels to see yourself on screen. So sit back and enjoy a thrills (and some spills) tour through Sami’s past year.
cyclespeak The last time we spoke over a call was way back in March when Spain was in full lockdown. And I was wondering, looking back over all this time, how was it for you?
Sami Fucked [laughing]
cyclespeak That bad?
Sami I think maybe it’s been tough for most people? And in some aspects, I’ve been fortunate. Lockdown didn’t make that much of a difference because I was already working from home. I’ve since changed to having a co-working space so I can separate the professional and personal aspects to my life. But back when we were in the strict lockdown, I basically had to solve all my problems and had the time to think. To think about a lot of things [laughing].
cyclespeak Possibly too much time?
Sami That, for me, can be very difficult. Because if I have things on my mind, normally I would just throw myself into activities. But we couldn’t even go riding and I’d been training really well. I tried to keep the intensity going but I don’t really like to ride inside on a trainer. It’s not really my thing. So riding-wise I was a little bit down, but I still wanted to move my body, so a lot of yoga. And I suppose the biggest outcome of all of this, is that I really know how to be alone. Before, it was a hassle, but I’ve learnt how to be by myself, in my own space. And as I’ve been injured for the past four weeks, it’s fine. I can deal with it. Before, I would have freaked out by now [laughs].
cyclespeak Over the past year, I’ve listened to a few podcasts featuring professional cyclists who tried to keep to their training blocks but on the smart trainer. And then two weeks became two months and they needed to alter their mindset when it came to their levels of fitness. They found they couldn’t maintain such a rigorous training regime without some defined goals.
Sami Totally. There were some strong people that could do it, but not me [smiles].
cyclespeak Even though the impact of the pandemic has been quite unprecedented, it did encourage people to be very creative in the way they approached cycling—ideas such as Dirty Kanzelled which had a massive impact. An event that you’d actually raced the previous year.
Sami That was Laurens ten Dam. The cleverest outcome from a cancelled race you could imagine. It was insane how much reach he got. Super, super smart and maybe an approach we’ll need to take this year if things turn out the same?
cyclespeak I was fortunate that, even during lockdown, I was allowed to do a solo ride once a day. But you couldn’t exercise outside at all. That must have been difficult?
Sami 52 days in total without outdoor sports. And then, when we could go outside, we had to stay within our own municipality.
cyclespeak And I’ve seen your recent posts with you on crutches and wearing a big plastic boot. What’s been going on there?
Sami As I said before, 2020 wasn’t exactly my best year [laughing]. Back in October, I was going out horse-riding and it was a young horse and he just took off with me on top of him. We were in a parking lot so he could get used to the noise of traffic, and something must have spooked him. His ears were back, which is never a good sign, and he was running towards the road so I tried to turn him and lost my balance and fell. But rather than just falling off, my foot was caught in the stirrup and it was just like a Western movie with me being dragged along [laughs].
cyclespeak I guess it wasn’t so funny at the time?
Sami It took a big hole out of my knee and the first time in my life that I’ve needed stitches. I had to wait 10 days to have them removed before I could ride again. But a few days later I was out on my bike and I was stupidly looking at my phone – swapping it between hands – and I crashed.
cyclespeak So that’s injury number two.
Sami I was booked on a flight to the Canaries a couple of days later but had to postpone the trip. When I did finally make it out there, I had 20 amazing days working on a new video project before flying home. But then my foot slipped when I was out trail-running and I broke some ligaments.
cyclespeak Horse, bike, running. You’re kind of covering all bases?
Sami That was my 2020. And it’s funny because I’ve just signed with Merrell as a partner for their running shoes. Super cool and we were working towards the release of the collaboration and the irony is that I’m on crutches [laughs].
cyclespeak You mentioned a new video project. That sounds exciting.
Sami Well, I’ve kind of got this history of working with video. Both in front and behind the camera. And somebody just suggested that I do something for myself. My first reaction was, naahh, there’s no way. But I kept coming back to the idea for six months until I thought that maybe I should. You always hate your look or your voice when you see yourself on a video but I decided to go for it.
cyclespeak So what was the first step?
Sami I contacted a photographer called Sergio Villalba in the Canaries. He does amazing surf shots, and I knew he was starting to do videos of cycling. So we got in touch and I explained that I wanted to do this inspirational film to empower people to engage in outdoor sports. He was immediately onboard with the idea and we decided to shoot the footage on Lanzarote. It took three days, and we’re now ready to release the film.
cyclespeak You must feel so proud?
Sami It’s really hard when the project is about you [laughs]. And to be honest, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. David Millar helped me by looking over the text but even as recently as yesterday I had a complete freak-out. Asking whether he thought it was correct? If the video even makes sense? Does my accent work, speaking in English?
cyclespeak So you produced and directed the film. Did you script it too?
Sami I wrote a long text with notes about my feelings. It was originally twice as long as the final version. But I decided it needed some gaps otherwise it’s basically just me chatting. And even though it’s still quite personal, there was a lot of insight into my life and it was like, oh shit, maybe that doesn’t need to be included [laughs].
cyclespeak But you still took the decision to refer to your childhood in the narrative?
Sami I feel like a lot of people can relate to this. And one of the most difficult things is not having regrets, right? So this all leads into the message of the project. That no matter what, the outdoors is a healthy way of recovering and filling you up with good energy.
cyclespeak Did you write the script and then fit the shots? What was the process?
Sami The basic idea of encouraging people to enjoy being outside came first. Then I wrote the script before sharing it with Sergio. From there, we worked on a list of shots, and he knew so many amazing locations as he’s from the Canaries. All these different aspects were then tied up to match the mood of the moment.
cyclespeak The result is really beautiful.
Sami We used an actual 8mm camera – that’s not a filtered effect – which looks really cool.
cyclespeak How does it compare producing someone else’s film to your own?
Sami Good question [laughs]. If it’s not your project, you’re not necessarily working with a style you want. On this project, I had the freedom to experiment and try out different approaches knowing that it was my own time.
cyclespeak It’s quite a journey from first featuring in films to now working on your own projects. Does that feel satisfying?
Sami Totally. The idea is that this project will lead to more adventures for me this year. So this film is the first but definitely not the last one [smiles].
In a year that has seen many of us adapt how we ride in the face of unforeseen circumstances, a new plan was needed when Kirsti Ruud woke to snowfall on the first morning of a bikepacking trip in her native Norway. But rather than any lingering sense of disappointment, the adverse weather conditions ultimately led to an experience that was not only breathtakingly beautiful but underlined the return on embracing the fickleness of forecasts.
Along with her companions Sindre Grønli and Øyvind Brenne Nordengen, the group decided on two separate rides in place of their planned overnight stop. Routes that would take them into the six biggest national parks in Norway and a landscape devoid of cars and buildings—a true wilderness of river valleys and mountain ridges, threaded through by the gravel roads they were riding.
Looking back on this experience, Kirsti reflects on the reasons she rides, how it can be rewarding to brave the elements and why the occasional challenge helps build resilience for when the randomness of life derails your best intentions.
Until 2018, I rode seriously. It was all about competition. I combined a little job here and there with my training but then I accepted a full-time position with the National Cycling Federation. I was getting more interested in working with cyclists than being a cyclist myself and the project I lead involves helping recovering drug addicts integrate back into society through cycling.
So in place of a training plan, travelling and exploring have been more a part of my summers and falls for the last two years. When I can, I cycle the hour and a half each way to work. If the weather is good, there’s no reason to sit in a car stuck in traffic. And because I’ve been working from home due to the pandemic, this year I’ve been cycling more than ever—enjoying riding my bike as much as I can within the restrictions.
After I stopped competing, I hadn’t ridden for months when I was invited to go to Iceland with Rapha. The trip was pretty amazing and it gave me a taste for different kinds of riding. So I asked them to let me know when the next big trip was planned and to count me in. George Marshall – the photographer on the Iceland shoot – had kept in touch, and he contacted me with this plan to ride in the north of Norway. But then he couldn’t come over because of Covid and my friend Marius Nilsen was invited to do the photography. He lives further north than Oslo and works for the National Parks.
The idea was a two day ride with an overnight stop at a mountain hut. That’s how we like to do things – carrying everything we need on our bikes. It’s what makes it a trip. And we’d come prepared with stud tyres in case there was any ice. Usually I don’t use these until December – even with regular tyres, riding in snow isn’t a problem – but we weren’t sure whether it was going to be a mixture of rain and snow and wanted to be sure we didn’t ruin our trip by crashing
But as we left Oslo to drive north, it began to snow really heavily. It was forecast but not that much. Going to bed thinking it would melt the next day, we woke to find 15cm of fresh snow. Figuring that we wouldn’t be able to get over to the cabin before it got dark but still wanting to ride, we came up with a new plan of a different route for each day.
Setting off after breakfast, I was excited. I think the worst part of the year can be the fall when it’s dark and a little gloomy. Because you can’t really tell the different textures from each other. But with the snowfall, the whole day was lit up and the mountains just looked so beautiful. The alternative would have been rain and fog.
Before every trip, I’m kind of worried about my shape. Hoping that I’ll have a good day and not really struggle that much. But even though we had a lot of wind – 17 metres per second which is enough to blow your bike over – we were all happy and laughing and just going with the flow. The light was amazing when we reached the top of a mountain and we just stood there, looking out over the landscape below, as the sun slowly sank behind the horizon.
I think the best rides I’ve had are when we’ve spontaneously come up with an idea. If you plan too much and then the weather is bad, it can be so disappointing. It can take the charm away and it’s best not to be too uptight about how your ride will be. It’s OK to let go of plans and just get out there and ride. To go far or go short—to not really know where you’ll end up.
When I was competing, I had to ride regardless of the weather. Telling your trainer that you can’t go out because it’s raining and 5°C just isn’t an option. Now that I don’t have to ride, I do appreciate the good days when it’s warm and sunny. But you can enjoy amazing experiences because of the weather. If you have the right kit, then you’re able to embrace changing and unpredictable conditions. And I do need some challenges once in a while where you feel like you’re struggling because you kind of come out stronger at the other end.
So I ride now because I want to ride. It’s my free time. My quiet time. An opportunity to reflect on things, for solving problems, to get out any frustration. Just being out on my bike gives me the space I need and I come back feeling like a weight has been lifted. It’s such an important aspect of the way I choose to live my life.
‘They were just mesmerised by the whole process of getting dressed for a ride. Why you wear a base layer and what goes over what. And we kind of let them run with it because we found it fascinating to see all the different combinations. Long sleeved base layers with a short sleeved jersey; the sock length conversation.’
Maria Olsson is describing the first face-to-face meeting between Rapha – where she oversees projects as their Head of Design – and recreational brand Outdoor Voices. Following an introduction by a mutual friend, the two teams came together in the summer of 2018 for a cycling adventure in Mallorca; the smile on Maria’s face as she tells her story hinting at the sense of fun and discovery they all enjoyed during this Mediteranean idyll.
‘Outdoor Voices has a mission to Get The World Moving and this really spoke to us at Rapha,’ explains Maria. ‘But although they believe that Doing Things is the surest way to a happy and healthy life, they didn’t do cycling and that’s what we’re all about. So why not bring them along on a journey to discover how they feel about riding bikes?’
For the experienced Rapha cyclists, the group rides they hosted proved an informative opportunity to view the ride process from a non-cycling perspective. But as the trip coincided with the Mallorca 312 sportive, when it came to booking bike hire for their US guests, they soon came to realise that most of the island’s rental bikes were already accounted for. Managing to locate a bike shop able to accommodate their requirements, the Rapha team then discovered they’d been allocated a number of incredibly expensive titanium bikes. When the Outdoor Voices party turned up – in full Rapha kit but wearing trainers and asking how the brakes worked – Maria recounts how the young girl behind the shop counter appeared a little anxious.
‘After we’d reassured her that we all worked in cycling and would look after everyone, we got ourselves sorted and off we went. And they all excelled; shouting greetings to the other cyclists they passed as they pedalled up the climbs in their flat shoes. For us, so accustomed to all the etiquette and unspoken rules of riding – which can sometimes be a little daunting when you first start out – it was refreshing to spend time with the Outdoor Voices team who were so completely not precious about the whole experience. And in terms of this shared journey, we learned so much about how cycling should be and how it can feel for people when they get that first burst of excitement from riding a bike.’
Punctuating the group riding with team meetings, although Maria’s designers had arrived with a range of fabric samples, it was the island itself that ultimately provided the inspiration for the colours and graphics of each individual item.
‘The weather was beautiful and we’d all bonded over our sensory enjoyment of these beautiful landscapes. And this shared appreciation coalesced around the theme of terrazzo which is commonly used in Spanish architecture. A flooring material that you almost forget to notice in its subtlety.’
‘But this is what’s so exciting,’ Maria continues, ‘because we didn’t arrive in Mallorca with this reference but left with a unifying theme for the collection. The small pieces of brightly coloured marble and glittery granite that are set into the concrete flooring spoke to us of individual elements that brought together, form something whole and beautiful. Much the same way that cycling can build communities and enrich the lives of those that ride.’
Reflecting on the various steps her designers have taken since these initial concept stages, Maria describes how fundamentally they set out to make the best possible cycling kit but with a mindset that acknowledges just how much fun you can have when riding a bike. That the aesthetics of the range represent a certain lightheartedness and a sense of inclusivity that are vital aspects of the sport she herself loves.
‘We want everyone who buys into the range to feel happy wearing it on the bike,’ she suggests. ‘In terms of its functionality – because that’s what we do at Rapha – but also in their emotional response to the designs. We want you to know how amazing you look.’
‘So between us, we agreed who was going to own what parts of the range. My team at Rapha designing the specific cycling elements and Outdoor Voices taking charge of the t-shirt and sports bra because that’s what they do really well. We followed up with regular online catch-ups before they flew over to London where we had a fit session with the first prototypes. The whole process taking over a year and a half to come to fruition but that’s because we took the collaboration really seriously and wanted to launch a range that felt 100% right.’
With the individual pieces offering a host of innovative features and details, the idea for the overlapping panels in the wind jacket was influenced by the Outdoor Voices yoga clothes that wrap around the body to make the wearer feel supported and comfortable. An aesthetic motif that was translated into a Rapha functional feature with the ventilated back of the bib shorts.
‘We got through so many prototypes to get everything right,’ explains Maria with a smile. ‘The jacket alone had five or six versions before it was signed off. But it’s all about refining each stage so that it works exactly how we want it to work.’
‘Playing with this theme of transformations, we considered the on and off bike uses for each piece of the collection. Adding a sense of fun with these little discoverables such as the Essentials Case that you can take with you when you go to the shop. And because we had some excess material in the lay plan that we could put to good use, why not?’
Not only were Rapha and Outdoor Voices sharing the same design journey, the collaboration extended to feedback from the Canyon-SRAM women’s cycling team. Frustrated with traditional cap designs and wanting to accommodate their long hair, the professional riders requested a space in the rear panel that would allow them to ride comfortably with a ponytail. A female-specific problem that Maria argues isn’t a gimmick but a reasoned and functional response.
‘Every collaboration is different,’ she concludes, ‘and I really believe in what we’ve achieved with Outdoor Voices. There’s been an enormous amount of hard work from everyone involved but it’s also been super fun. I’m not sure exactly how it happened but for this project it’s been predominantly women on my team. We’ve compromised together and we’ve agreed together. And after years of working at Rapha, I can honestly say that my female colleagues are the most amazing women I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet.’