Thereabouts / Crust Bikes

Part community, part production company, part creative partner. Ask Gus Morton and Isaac Karsen to define Thereabouts and you’re offered a number of varied responses. What is abundantly clear, however, is a passion for storytelling and the narrative of their collaboration with Crust Bikes is an exemplar of the Thereabouts vision. Rooted in the Australian Outback and culminating in a Utah desert testbed; a tale that encompasses talk of farm tractors, friendships forged on the trail and a belief in the bike as a tool for journeying.

cyclespeak
Looking back on the genesis of this bike build, where were you in terms of the riding you were doing? What was your mindset at that time?

Gus
I guess the idea has always been there ever since that very first Thereabouts ride to Uluru in 2013. Back then, your only option for endurance or rough-road riding was a cross bike. But they’re very upright and the bottom bracket’s quite high. They suit cross, they suit jumping over things, they suit those twitchy kinds of conditions. But there wasn’t really a bike with geometry that matched riding on gravel roads in the strictest sense.

cyclespeak
And this got you thinking along those lines?

Gus
On that trip we wanted to ride on different types of terrain. I just had a basic cross bike but Lachy* knew that his team issue Cervélo S5 wasn’t exactly capable of doing that [laughs]. So all credit to his foresight, he called up Mosaic and got them to build him a road geometry bike that could also handle gravel with an Enve fork that could fit a bigger tyre. He kind of created a road bike for dirt.

[*Gus’ brother, Lachlan Morton]

cyclespeak
And that got you both thinking?

Gus
After that first experience riding through the Outback, a whole bunch of product ideas came into our heads. And we’d already been playing around with the ways of riding a bike that weren’t being serviced. So after Uluru we were thinking how we’d go about making a bike and that it would look like this or this or this. And we’d talk about it and draw up designs. Eventually this led to a bike frame under the name Outlands. I think there’s ten of them floating around and I’ve still got a couple in my garage at home.

cyclespeak
But the process never went any further?

Gus
It takes a lot of time and experience to do original stuff – whether that’s a bike from scratch or even a piece of clothing. We’d been talking to some people in Hong Kong but it was like, fuck, we don’t know what we’re doing here. And this was back in 2015, 2016 when both Lachy and I were professional athletes and didn’t have a huge amount of time to dedicate to going over and spending a couple of months in Hong Kong.

cyclespeak
So what’s changed since then?

Gus
Those ideas were floating around from the very beginning of Thereabouts and people have always asked when we were going to make stuff. And then when Isaac and I got together, I guess the act of bringing in an outside perspective with all this other world experience kind of opened up our thoughts. That maybe we could do this in collaboration with smaller brands. And it was Isaac who created that impetus and had the technical know-how.

cyclespeak
You each come at things from your own perspective?

Gus
I’ve said this to you before, I’m very utility focused. I’ll just do whatever I can to make something work. I enjoy that but I’m really only using the tools that I have. Isaac is much more about the right tools for the job and acknowledging that there are people with the expertise to make this stuff. And so, with Isaac on board, we decided to make a bike. Yes, I had connections with people, but it was his knowledge of equipment and his perspective on riding that created the impetus for us to be like, well, who would we want to partner with? What do we want to make?

Ready for anything

cyclespeak
Thinking along those lines, Isaac, when you see a bike leaning against a wall or outside a coffee shop, what do you see as the potential in that collection of tubes and components?

Isaac
I’m not sure whether this will answer your question but in advertising, which is what my full-time job was before coming onboard with Thereabouts, you’re basically a commissioner. You make decisions on the director and the film editor, the visual FX and the music. You lead with your team – this collection of collaborators – and I guess my brain just works that way. So when Gus and I first got together and discussed all the possibilities for projects, we began by figuring out all the people Gus knew and had worked with.

cyclespeak
To build your team.

Isaac
And in a similar way to a collection of ideas and a collaboration of minds, bikes are so exciting because you personally get to choose all the parts. What wheels you want and what tyres will work with the riding you’ll be doing. And I guess I really enjoy figuring out how all these separate elements can come together. In a sense, working out the tone and the character. Which is just as true for a film as it is for a bike build. 

Gus
And that’s what’s interesting because we were only talking yesterday about what’s changed with Thereabouts since Isaac and I got together. I’m someone that if I see something, I’ll ask myself whether I can do that too. And if I can’t, I won’t do it. Or maybe I can see a way I can learn that skill and take on that task. But I’m not someone who reaches out for help.

cyclespeak
And Isaac?

Gus
He’s very much no, no, no. We’ve got to do this properly. Isaac’s more for finding the right person, reaching out to them, engaging with them and bringing them in. And the balance of those two outlooks has really launched Thereabouts massively forward. Whereas before, if it couldn’t just be done in-house then it wasn’t going to happen. And that’s where I was blocked.

cyclespeak
This sounds like quite a profound change in your way of thinking?

Gus
I wanted to do all these things but didn’t really know where to start. The bike, the film projects, the podcast. All these new facets of Thereabouts have come about because of Isaac’s whole other approach to thinking that balanced out my own in a really powerful way.

cyclespeak
So the idea for the bike has been there from the early days of Thereabouts and you’ve referenced before, Gus, that you see a bike as a tool for moving and for journeying. And Isaac, I know you share that viewpoint, but you also come at it from a form and function perspective. Do you both feel the project benefited from these different approaches in bringing the process to fruition?

Gus
To be honest, I was always onboard with making a bike but it was Isaac’s desire to see it done properly that proved the deciding factor. Left to my own devices, I would just ride what I had and stick a rack on it or tie a bag on. Often things that weren’t really meant to be used in that way but I would modify them to just make it work with the shit that I had. And from that regard, the equipment was always an afterthought. But having done that for a long time, all of a sudden someone comes in and tells you, no, there’s a product for that. Or the potential to create something to do that particular job. And the Crust bike is a perfect example. When I rode it for the first time I was like, oh shit, that’s what it feels like to ride something that’s meant to be ridden in those conditions. It’s so much easier and so much more enjoyable [laughs].

Utah testbed

cyclespeak
I love the idea that you don’t see the bike purely as a possession. It’s all about what you can do with it. Where it can take you.

Gus
Exactly. All of a sudden you’re like, holy shit, if we really wanted to, we could hang three gallons of water on this bike and survive in the desert for multiple days without re-supplying. And that’s straight where my mind goes. Riding the Crust, all of a sudden this whole new world opens up.

cyclespeak
Isaac, you mentioned the process and I was wondering whether there were other framebuilders in the mix or was it always going to be Crust?

Isaac
I was still living in Downtown LA at the time and I only had a road bike. Just riding in Griffith Park and wasn’t really able to get out any further from a time perspective. But I’d lusted after a Crust bike for ages. And especially the Bombora which was the frame we’ve used on our build. And we have to give massive credit to Cheech and Matt for what they’re doing with Crust because they’re building just the coolest bikes. Really owning that category of frames and doing it their own way.

cyclespeak
I like the idea that you’re a fan. How there’s an emotional element to your choice of collaborator. 

Isaac
So I mentioned to Gus that it would be cool to do a Crust and we should get in touch somehow. And he was like, oh, I know Matt. And I’m like, we should hit them up now. And Gus just sent him a message.

cyclespeak 
With all these different strands coming together, would you say there’s an element of Matt and Cheech in the Thereabouts build?

Gus
Absolutely and it’s funny you should say that as I was thinking about my relationship with Matt. Because when you’re riding a bike professionally, you get introduced to all the big names on the race circuit. Just by virtue of you simply being part of that world. But to be honest, for me, I’ve always been most at home with the dude at the bar that you meet when you’re out riding. That’s where my engagement lies and where my love of this sport is based. Whether that’s down to my inability to make it as a bike rider, I’m not exactly sure. But I’m definitely more comfortable with the more anonymous side of things.

cyclespeak
And you feel this relates to your friendship with Matt?

Gus
A while back, I was invited on a ride in California and Matt was also on it. He’s this little Aussie bloke – I immediately clocked the accent – but I didn’t know who the fuck he was. And he didn’t know me either. But we’re riding along and chatting and just through talking, all of a sudden, I realised that this is the guy that makes Crust bikes.

cyclespeak
And a connection was made.

Gus
Here’s this bloke who was a plumber, a surfer, a BMXer. And with Crust he just created his own niche within the cycling world. Really doing it his own way. And there’s no pretence with Matt; he’s super sarcastic and his sense of humour is really similar to mine. So just over the course of this five day ride, I got to know Matt after gravitating to him. The kind of person that doesn’t give a shit about the way that things are or the way things have been.

Desert campout

cyclespeak
That sounds a very grounded, down-to-earth approach to business?

Gus
Way back, Lachy and I had talked to 3T about the Exploro bike. That was originally going to be called the Thereabouts bike.

cyclespeak
No way.

Gus
Yeah, we worked with Gérard Vroomen. Discussions going to and fro about the design and the whole, fucking gigantic legal process of royalties. We both thought it would be sick to have our name on a bike but the project kind of stalled. And we then went through a similar process with a number of other companies. Sitting around the table with all these heads of brand and they’d be talking about incorporating what we were doing with Thereabouts into their shit.

cyclespeak
But nothing came of it?

Gus
I kinda thought that having a bike was impossible. You’ve got to jump through so many hoops and then at the eleventh hour the process reaches a point where it stalls. But with Matt, there was none of that [laughs]. We called him and asked about making a bike and he said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And it was really that easy. One person, their own brand, doing their own thing and just interested in making stuff that excites them. And that’s like, very rare, I think. Just wanting to get it done.

cyclespeak
In the Thereabouts podcast episode that features Crust, Matt says he doesn’t care what the cycling industry thinks.

Gus
That’s right. He doesn’t [laughs].

cyclespeak
So I wondered where you sit? And whether your self-perception is one of outsiders?

Isaac
That’s an interesting topic [Gus laughing in background]. I think to a degree we’re outsiders but, in the same breath, we’re still kind of part of it all. And going back to my earlier point about collaboration, we still need wheels and a group set to complete the build. So, no matter what, you look to different people to help bring your vision to life. And we value and really care about our relationships with those individuals or brands that build bikes and I think it’s really inspiring what people like Matt and Cheech are doing at Crust.

cyclespeak
So, after deciding on Crust for the frames, I guess you had a free rein for the componentry?

Gus
Exactly. Isaac was like, let’s do this or use this. And that’s sort of how this all works. One of us will come in with an idea – for a film, podcast, whatever – and the other one will either be, that’s great, or no mate. There’s a sense of checks and balances but when it came to the  equipment it was very much what’s the sickest thing we could put on the bike. I suppose the best way I can frame it is to ask if you know that much about tractors?

cyclespeak
Tractors?

Gus
Well, Lamborghini started out making tractors. My Dad used to have a Lamborghini tractor on the farm. And I kind of picture the Crust in the same way. It’s got really fucking fast shit on it but it’s still a tractor [laughs]. You’re not going to race this in the World Tour but it’s specced out like it expects to be. So the thinking went, what’s the most do-anything robust frame? And that’s how we arrived at the Crust Bombora. And then we asked ourselves, what’s the most badass shit we can put on it so we can make this tractor go as fast as possible over any terrain.

Isaac riding the Thereabouts Crust

cyclespeak
It sounds like a fun process?

Gus
Just completely unorthodox. And going back to that question of whether we see ourselves as outsiders. From an ideological standpoint, then absolutely, we’re outsiders. We’re talking about using the bike in very different ways but, at the same time, we have to co-exist inside this industry and we’ve got really great relationships with brands like SRAM, Rapha and Specialized. It’s just that we tend to look at ways of using a bike that lie outside the regular realm of riding.

cyclespeak
In the film Sometime Thereafter, you explore the idea of a shared journey experienced through individual perspectives. So when the finished Crust was standing in front of you, how did you both feel seeing your name on the bike?

Gus
I guess I look at it this way. A bike is greater than the sum of its parts and we were lucky enough to know these people who make derailleurs, wheels, tyres. Who make bar tape and saddles. They’re all creating these elements and there’s all these personalities and characters behind those components. And Isaac was able to pull them all together into an epitome of what we are and what our view of the sport is. And as a result, we put our name on it because it’s a physical representation of where we currently see Thereabouts and what we want to use a bike for. That unquantifiable essence of a bike and how it moves you through space. That’s us, putting our name on it. Like putting an intention to your day [laughs].

Isaac
The parts arrived as Covid was happening so the bikes were built up during lockdown in Portland. I drove everything over and then, a few days later, you’ve got a fully-built bike. Which was crazy because they looked way different than I was expecting.

cyclespeak
And then you got to ride them.

Isaac
It was mine and Gus’ first escape from lockdown restrictions on a trip to Southern Utah. I loaded the bikes into my car and we drove all the way south.

cyclespeak
Was this Utah trip a case of ticking boxes – a testbed for the bikes – or more about asking questions?

Isaac
It was heavenly.

Gus
It was.

Isaac
The riding was pretty out there and our bikes were completely fucked up but they survived.

cyclespeak
Once again, returning to the theme of a tool for a purpose?

Gus
Exactly. In terms of putting your name on something, we’re storytellers and this build fits in a kind of abstract way to that end. A tool that will help us to tell a story and hopefully empower people to make their own journeys.

Gus and Isaac

cyclespeak
You mentioned how your Crust bikes were built up during the Covid lockdown. Has the pandemic influenced the direction you’re going with Thereabouts?

Gus
Looking back on the past year, having everything scratched gave us time to rethink our approach and strategise a bit.  Along the lines of what we want to do and how we’re going to do it. So we spent a lot of time reformatting the business plan. How we can make and tell these stories and get them to the widest audience in the most beautiful way. So we’ve got a lot of exciting things in development and a shitload of work to be done over the next six months. But we’re getting there [smiles].

cyclespeak
For many people, the pandemic has been life changing and not always in a positive way. But maybe adversity can sometimes push you to question and reassess how you’re living? To explore new directions and appreciate what we might have taken for granted?

Gus
At least from my personal point of view, I’ve always felt the urgency to do things and get them out. The last two years have really changed that for a number of reasons but as a result I feel we now have a more sound perspective which will hopefully help us make a bigger difference in the work that we do. At the heart of Thereabouts, it’s about telling stories that inspire people. We want to show the positive impact sport can have on society at whatever level you choose to engage. Sometimes it feels the way we go about this might not be the easiest way to do it. But, for us, it’s certainly the most rewarding.

Gus Morton / Isaac Karsen / hereorthereabouts

All images with kind permission of Thereabouts

Thereabouts Outspoken Ep011 – Crust Bikes

Crust Bikes

Sami Sauri / Finding Myself

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

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

Sami
Fucked [laughing]

cyclespeak
That bad?

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

cyclespeak
Possibly too much time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cyclespeak
So that’s injury number two.

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

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

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

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

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

cyclespeak
So what was the first step?

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

cyclespeak
You must feel so proud?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cyclespeak
The result is really beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

Sami Sauri

Photography by Sergio Villalba and Rubén Plasencia (gallery)

Gus Morton / Here Or Thereabouts Part 2

In this, the second part of our conversation, Angus ‘Gus’ Morton muses on the future of professional cycling, his striving for a life of simple pleasures and whether love is, indeed, all you need.

Looking back at the films you’ve been associated with, one of my personal favourites is Rapha’s short feature ‘Riding is the answer’. Did you direct that?

 I didn’t but that’s actually a funny story because I had no idea I was going to be in that. Or even the level it was on. I’d just shot the first Outskirts and was living out in LA and this guy from Rapha was explaining that they were in town on these dates and would I be available to be part of the shoot for a day. So I was like, sure, and didn’t think anything of it. A month goes by and I get this call from the executive producer at a creative agency and so I’m wondering what they’re doing getting involved because I’m only going to feature in this film for a second or two. Then I get a lady wanting to take some photographs and I have to go to wardrobe but I was super late because I rode there and when I finally arrive there’s 30 people waiting.

 I imagine not particularly happy?

 Oh, man. They were pissed [laughs]. And then they start talking about the days we’ll be shooting and I’m telling them that I won’t be in town that long. Apparently the shit hit the fan and there was this huge meltdown. I woke up in the morning and there’s 30 emails and millions of missed calls. Turns out I was the main character [laughs].

 That tiny detail kind of passed you by somehow?

 Man, it was a bit of a stitch up. And I honestly had no idea. I just thought it would be a van with a camera in the back but it was this huge production. They’d closed parts of Downtown LA and I was riding around on empty streets. No cars.

 Just the amount of work to get those permits.

 Yeah. It was insane. Comical. A proper LA shoot.

feel_whats_real_yellow

But, for me, the film was perfectly pitched. And thinking on from the tagline – about riding answering questions – looking back at your professional racing career I was wondering what kind of rider you were?

 Not a very good one [laughs].

 I’m sure that’s not the case.

 I was a worker. Just a team guy. That was my job riding for Jelly Belly. I was pretty good at cobbled stuff but never that good when it came to individual success. Though I must admit that the first time I was pro I had some decent results but most of the time I was sick with this parasite.

 They didn’t know what the problem was?

 No and my body was doing all this weird stuff like it stopped producing testosterone. It took a while to figure it all out and kind of plagued that first part of my professional career. And then when I’d finished racing for the first time and got into film, this guy asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to be a director. I was young, probably 22 at the time, and pretty bull-headed. And he looked at me and then told me to go away and do something else for 10 years.

 10 years?

 Just go out into the world and experience. Because what perspective do you have when you haven’t done shit? So I really took that to heart and it played a big part in me getting back into racing for a second time.

 From the outside, professional cycling can seem a very brutal career. All about performance?

 It is. Exactly right. And it’s kind of funny how you’re judged. Some riders do one good thing and somehow hang onto that. Others are consistently up there but without the recognition they actually deserve. And I don’t really think that cycling truly understands that it’s in control of its own destiny. Everyone’s racing to get first but what the fans also buy into are the characters and stories. Yet the professional sport almost wants to eliminate personality. And it blew me away that, year after year, Team Sky riders were literally getting piss thrown over them and yet they continued with the same MO. Was it successful? Yes. But what’s the point of it all?

 So what’s your take on Education First’s Alternative Calendar?

That’s where it’s going. We look back at bike riding and all we talk about are the epic stories. Because that’s what captures our hearts and the general audience doesn’t give two fucks for science and system. It’s all romantic; all emotional. And brands are already beginning to change their focus so ideally we’ll see the sport continue in this direction.

 So you think other professional cycling teams are watching?

 Dude, you look at Education First during the Giro when Dirty Kanza was building up. There was more media focus on a one-day 200 mile gravel race across the backroads of Kansas than a fucking 21 day grand tour.

 I can see your point. I’ve watched the Dirty Kanza film three times. The Giro once. So in terms of a business model?

 How much would it have cost the team to ride the Giro? Two, three hundred grand? By contrast, for EF to ride Dirty Kanza it would have cost them basically nothing. And there’s still this disconnect between directly spending money in sponsoring a team and whether you can accurately measure a return. But you know exactly how many views you’ve had on YouTube. And I’m like, if you create a character you’re guaranteed to get ‘x’ number of views per race on whatever content you build around it. People switch on Neighbours every night and watch it. No one wins. They watch it for the characters and the stories. Why don’t you create something like that in sport?

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I recently saw an Instagram post obilqely referring to a current female professional cyclist. Arguing that she hadn’t placed well in a race or her own national championships for a number of years and the only reason she was still a member of the race squad was down to her being pretty and having a huge following on social media.

 But what’s the problem there? This post is arguing that she doesn’t deserve a spot on the team but is the problem the rider or the entire sport. Doesn’t that just demonstrate that no one gives a fuck about results? That there’s limited value in that for the sponsor and this rider is bringing something extra to the table? I mean, I hate social media. I don’t use Instagram anymore aside from contacting people. I had my own troubles with that but not from any particular high ground. It just took up too much of my time. But this rider is being followed for a reason. Maybe because it offers an insight into her life as a professional cyclist. Or she’s followed because she has something to say that matters to people. Whether she can still ride her bike and place well? Obviously lower down the priority list of her followers but also her sponsors because she’s got a contract. And that’s what I’m trying to say. All these sponsors are investing money into the sport in the hope that they’ll win. Is that a reasonable allocation of funds? One team is putting in ten million, another team their ten million. But the most interesting thing about bike riding is how dedicated these riders are and how far they’re prepared to push themselves. So many characters from so many different backgrounds. It’s a potential gold mine [laughs].

 Again, I’m hearing from you this focus on stories?

 The thing with Dirty Kanza – the way it played out – I still don’t think they fully get it.

 In what sense?

 We can all see the race. We understand what that is. But what would it look like if we threw these guys completely fish out of water? OK, we’ve just finished the Tour of California and we’ve got ten days to Dirty Kanza. Let’s ride there; training on the road as we go. Let’s sleep in a van. Camp. We don’t need all this other shit. We’re approaching it exactly the same way other people racing are doing it.

 Thinking about Lachlan [Morton], Taylor [Phinney] and Alex [Howes] riding Dirty Kanza; all of them professional cyclists for EF Education First and I did wonder how their entry in the race would be viewed by the amateur racers. But, as it turned out, they didn’t win.

 Taylor said it was absolute hell. And it shows they’re human and that’s all we want. To see these guys be genuine; that they’re not robots or beyond our realm of thought.

 That they suffer; that they have their highs and lows?

 And then when an amateur cyclist beats them? Well, that opens up a whole other level of narrative.

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This grassroots approach to riding your bike; is a life of simple pleasures important to you?

 I think that’s what I’m pursuing. What I’m exploring through these films. Spending all my time boiling things down to their absolute essence. What is satisfaction at its most basic, molecular level?

 Have you found the answer?

 No [laughs]. But the act of trying allows me the realisation that I don’t need much to be happy.

 And the understanding that enough is enough?

 Yeah. I’ve had problems with that [smiles]. Constantly asking myself what can we do next, how can we make it better? I’ve been staying with Taylor and we’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about that.

 With this mental and emotional exploration, I’m thinking of the Beatles’ song ‘All you need is love.’ Would you agree?

 I think love is an interesting one. It can be all consuming; whether you have it or are pursuing it. When you’re falling into it, then it is all you need. And then if it’s lost, it’s all you want. So maybe it’s about being comfortable with yourself first. For a number of years I’ve chased all these different things and in some ways they’ve offered a form of distraction. So what I’m trying to do now is to take stock and confront all these things that I’ve ignored.

 I found it interesting how you allowed references to your relationship with Sami [Sauri] to be included in the final edit of Big Land.

 I left them in there for a reason. Which is funny because we got a lot of backlash; people just didn’t get it. But my thinking was that something really interesting happens on these journeys. You go through all of these emotional states when you’re physically tired. So me including those scenes was all about highlighting how the dumbest, smallest, pettiest things can result in these ridiculous arguments. Which, from a distance, looks like a real hipster break-up but that’s the point of it.

 That it’s real?

 Absolutely. And it’s like in life, we sometimes need to take a step back and realise how the tiny, insignificant things that we’re focusing so intently on are, in fact, tiny and insignificant. But I’m not sure that this approach was totally understood when it came to the film. Which kind of backfired because Sami copped a lot of flak.

 Did people think it was contrived?

 I think they thought it was trivial. Which it was but that was the point [laughs]. And that highlights the fact that maybe a lot of our audience don’t watch the films in the way I thought they might. So that’s a learning curve that I also need to take on board. You put stuff out there but then you need to emotionally let go because you can’t dictate how people will choose to interpret your work.

 In the film you looked really pissed off. Are you the sort of person to make the first move?

 I’m quite fiery [smiles]. Very emotional in that regard and I can be a real prick sometimes. But I’m getting much better at being able to apologise. Because it’s not always about accepting blame. It can be saying sorry for how you’ve behaved and then moving forward. Not an easy lesson to learn and I’ve done a lot of dumb stuff in the past. But I’m trying to get better and that’s why it’s good to take a step back.

With Gus

There’s that lovely black & white picture of you and Sami on Route 66. What were you laughing at?

 That was literally as we were crossing from Oklahoma into Texas. We’d all had a really dark time for a number of reasons and it was just a very cathartic moment as we stood – howling and yelling – sipping a beer. The sort of moment that I’m still trying to articulate to an audience. Because, for me, those are the fundamental elements of a trip like that.

 The sense that emotions should be expressed. That it’s good to let things out?

 And riding helps. Because you can ruminate on things before deciding to talk them through. Lachy and mine’s relationship is built on those moments. We won’t see each other for months and then we’ll ride and talk about whatever’s nagging at us. And these journeys that we’ve filmed are all about those shared moments on the road.

 From the outside looking in, it looks quite fun to be Gus Morton?

 It has its moments [laughs]. But, yeah, I have a great life. I’m very privileged to do what I love and to have the freedom to do that. It’s not easy in the sense that things don’t just fall on your lap. To have the life that I lead you have to chase it hard. And with the films; you want them to be aspirational. For people to engage and feel the need to go on their own journeys. In a sense, that’s the whole idea.

Photography: Thereabouts

Riding is the answer

Outskirts

Rapha Outskirts Collection

 

Gus Morton / Here Or Thereabouts Part 1

It’s a hot summer’s day in Girona and ex-professional cyclist turned documentary filmmaker Angus ‘Gus’ Morton walks into the cafe with his wrist strapped up. Unable to ride, this enforced period of inactivity mirrors the break he’s taking from his hugely influential Thereabouts and Outskirts film series.

Depicting long-distance bike adventures, in this first part of our conversation Gus candidly discusses the origins of these films, how he decides which shots make the final cut and why it’s not particularly advisable to eat a 72 oz steak in a single sitting.

To quote the last message you sent me, you’re doing fuck all at the moment. How does that sit with you?

 It’s good to sometimes do nothing but I guess I’m in a slightly odd situation in that I live in Boulder but I was recently back in Australia for my sister’s wedding and had my visa revoked.

 Your US visa?

 Yeah, that’s right. I’ve been resident since 2015 and every few years you need to re-apply and I pay a lawyer to do that. They made a clerical error so basically I need to go through the whole process all over again. Which is a huge pain in the ass but also means that I can’t travel back home.

 I was wondering whether you’d done anything to upset the current political administration?

 You could speculate on that [laughs] but it turns out that the visa I’ve been happily using for the past three years was in fact the wrong type.

 So you’ve got a home in Boulder that you can’t go to?

 Fortunately I was living in LA before moving to Girona to finish off a bunch of projects so I don’t actually have a place that I’m renting but all my stuff is there.

 And it looks like you’ve also been in the wars. What’s happening with your wrist?

 I was mountain-biking on some local trails and it was getting late. About 9:30 at night and starting to go dark. We were getting to the bottom of a run and I just didn’t see a drop; max speed into a 3 metre ditch and I planted face first. Knocked off part of my front tooth.

 You can’t tell.

 Dude, if you need to get any dental work done, come to Spain [smiles].

 And the wrist?

 It’s not broken but I’ve done something to the tendons. Because immediately after the accident I had to go out to Vietnam for a week-long photoshoot so I was straight away back riding. And it hasn’t been right since.

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All this travel – you grew up in Australia, you’re currently in Girona but all your stuff’s in Boulder – how do you define home? Places, people, belongings?

 For me it’s people; family. My brother and parents all live in the US so at the moment that’s where I associate as home. I certainly don’t see Australia in the same way.

 But that’s where you were raised?

 I’ve not lived there in a long time. I still love visiting and potentially that’s where I’ll end up but right now I’m just where the people are.

 Applying this sense of movement you’re describing to your recent films, they appear to be very fluid in the way they were made. Was that an aesthetic decision or simply how you like to work?

 It was very much a certain feel that I was going for. When you look back at the original Thereabouts film, Lachy [Gus’ brother Lachlan Morton] was in the World Tour but wasn’t super happy with it. I was working in TV, had got to a point where I was directing shows and I guess like with everything you always have a boss and I suppose I wasn’t feeling that creatively satisfied. Constantly being hemmed in and pushed in certain directions; making a product for a certain audience and accountable to someone else’s plans. So I was looking for a way to have a creative outlet, Lachy wanted to do the same thing and we just decided to go on this trip.

 With the freedom that brings?

 It was born out of this idea that you should take the time to go out and do things the way you want to do them. And I’d been working for the past 18 months on this long-form documentary and when they were condensing it down I was frustrated by the demand from the network that everything had to be really well explained.

 Dumbed-down?

 Maybe forcing a story that wasn’t there. And the style that came out of Thereabouts was to tell it how it happened and not scrap a bit because it was out of focus or the audio was shit. That we’re actually going to embrace that. The rawness of it demonstrating an honesty that reflects our own experience. This was the way it happened – it wasn’t smooth, it wasn’t polished because life rarely is – and I guess that became a kind of house style.

 A working method that continued into Outskirts?

 I wanted to hone in on that even more. To be as minimal as possible in terms of impact. Removing the requirement for a large crew size; a storyline reduced to meeting people on the road with no real agenda. Just seeing what they talk about and in doing so, gaining an authentic understanding of place.

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It made for a very immediate style of film-making and there’s a quality in those interactions that maybe you’d lose if they were scripted?

 The first Outskirts [Route 66] was truest to our original idea. The others had to be somewhat modified to suit a particular audience but, again, it comes down to who’s paying your bills. And in essence, we’re using cycling as a film-making tool. The characters we met, that’s the sort of stuff that happens. Especially in America [smiles].

 More so than other countries?

 In my experience the people are more willing, when they see a camera, to engage. And that’s, at a fundamental level, what people have always done. They’d look you in the eye and express their opinion without this layer of separation we now have with social media. And that forces you to try and find some element of common ground or to at least respect someone’s views even if they differ from your own because they’re standing right in front of you. And, increasingly, we don’t have that anymore.

 And the fact you’re travelling by bike helped?

 Absolutely. It was a really remarkable way of achieving this connection because you’re vulnerable and an outsider.

 Some of the people you met had quite challenging views.

 They’re the ones that made the film [laughs].

 So there were some you chose not to include?

 We’d ridden quite a long day and went to a bar and started talking to a group of guys. One of them was a classical pianist even though – and I say this with the deepest respect – he looked like someone who worked on the land. So he can play Beethoven and Bach but then all of a sudden it turns into a discussion on guns and the right to bear arms. It then moves on to the mass shootings that had recently happened in the US and he’s explaining to me how the weapons used were not the best way to kill large numbers of people. Five minutes ago this guy bought me a beer and now he’s telling me, in some detail, how he would shoot people more efficiently. Obviously very challenging as your views are totally irreconcilable.

 Did you set out to document or react? How far along that line can you go?

 It’s sometimes hard not to react but the Outskirts series is about conveying what actually happened. And if we do any more we’ll continue on that path.

 Does that mean you’ll be eating more steaks*?

 [*Gus successfully took on the Big Texan Challenge to eat a 72 oz steak, baked potato and shrimp in under 60 minutes]

 Dude, that was intense [laughs]. I guess I’m competitive – nowadays more so with myself than others – and I wanted to find out what would happen. Which I did. Projectile vomiting. My body just rejected it.

 But, crucially, after you’d beaten the timer and got the t-shirt?

 We’d just ridden 3,000 miles but you’d pull in for supplies at a gas-station in New Mexico and an old lady would spot that t-shirt from way over and that’s what would impress her. And even though the whole episode is laden with so many moral complications, there’s also something kind of  wonderful about everybody in the restaurant whooping and high-fiving when I’d finished. People were loving it and it brought them together.

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But you’ve got to feel sorry for all these high-end manufacturers making cycling kit and Outskirts starts this fashion for simply wearing a t-shirt.

 It’s pretty funny, I guess [laughs]. It started with me and Lachy just doing it. A reaction to the team kit our sponsors would require us to wear. Kind of like our non-uniform day or dress-down Friday. You’re doing the same thing – in our case riding bikes – but your whole perspective is subtly changed. And then, with Outskirts, when we’d meet people on the road or stop off in a bar after a long day, we’d just fit right in.

 So what else is new and exciting you at the moment?

 When I finished off Shadow of the East I was in Australia – in exile [laughs] – living in this remote spot in one of the national parks. I couldn’t go back to America, I didn’t have a job and I’m not someone who likes to be idle. So I set out on paper a bunch of ideas that I’d had kicking around in my head and some of these projects are now slowly beginning to take shape. One of these, in particular, being pretty extreme and a big undertaking. Outside of that we have another serialised show tying into some adventure stuff.

 Is it important to have control over this process?

 Yes but it also helps if I have team members that can fit around my way of working. Handling communication with clients; telling me I’m a month late [laughs].

 Are you a natural delegator?

 Not naturally, no. With the first Outskirts we had a post-production company doing the edit after we’d shot over 70 hours of footage. The film’s structure was all in my head and the shit they decided to cut out is what we wanted to keep in. That’s our MO. So when we got the first edit back it was so far from what it was meant to be that I took it back off them and re-cut it.

 Because I generally find that with creative individuals, it’s often difficult for them to let go of something that they’ve invested emotionally in.

 Totally. But I am gradually realising that I need to do that [smiles]. And in terms of what’s next. Nothing but everything. Not being able to go home has put a lot of plans off because I’ve kind of been floating around. And, as I came to all of this from a directing background, I’m not really sure I want to be in front of the camera anymore.

 As your work is so influential and you now have a public persona, is the fact that you’re known and recognised ever a burden?

 I don’t think that many people are aware [laughs].

 Really?

 Maybe I don’t pay attention to all of it? And it’s interesting because the last three films that I’ve done, I’m not really happy with any of them. I’m thinking that it could of been better here or there.

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Can you see yourself ever being happy?

 That’s the thing. No, I don’t think so. Maybe someday I’ll produce something that I’m legitimately happy with [smiles].

 I wouldn’t put money on it. I think that people working in creative industries; they’ll always be something.

 I kind of like that. And I just want to be always working. Working on something that I like.

 Is that when you’re happiest?

 The only time that I’m truly happy is when I’m on location shooting. When I’m looking through the lens of a camera and seeing something that’s beautiful or if I’m standing next to someone who’s telling me something that you could never have imagined. When you’re editing and a sequence just clicks and then you know people have watched it and got something from it; that’s kind of cool as well [smiles].

Photography: Thereabouts

Watch Outskirts

Rapha Outskirts Collection