Cycling photography inspires, it makes us dream. We quiver at the sight of smooth tarmac and bathe in the glow of warm sunrises that reach us through our screens. We see mountain peaks and our calves tighten as if we ourselves had climbed to such dizzying heights. Stunning ocean / forest / country lane / multi-storey car park vistas send us running for the Lycra.
Nothing can sate our desire to see more cycling photos. Which is fortunate. By the time you have read this sentence, two million cycling photographs will have been taken. Probably. Camera phones in jersey pockets, we document our rides pixel by pixel, snapshots that will firstly define, before ultimately replacing, our memories.
Our photographs take as many forms as the roads and bikes we ride. So alone are we on our travels that we are compelled to bore anyone who dares to look our way with documents of our ‘epic adventures’. Or a bike ride as others refer to it.
Some images, like the lead image of this blog post when a spectator* took a selfie of the fallen professional cyclist Marcel Kittel, horrify us or simply amaze us that people can be so selfie-ish and capture a moment that was never theirs in an effort to prove to the world that they exist. Yes, you people are beautiful. Now go away.
*The spectator in the image later turned out to be an acquaintance of the fallen cyclist as revealed in the social media storm in a teacup that followed. Marcel Kittel took it all in great humour, an honourable gesture in the face of such a pitiful incident.
This then is an ode to the good, the bad and the ugly, to the perfect pixel and to the cyclist who can’t help but share a world they feel has been created specifically for them and their ride.
The bikie – a cycling selfie
The bikie is the cycling equivalent of the selfie. Log onto any social media platform and your screen will be littered with bike selfies, portraits of lone bicycles standing in the foreground of a random background, the bike most definitely the focus.
Why is it we cyclists are compelled to photograph our bike? Is it to prove we did indeed ride up that mountain that you can’t quite see behind our bike? Look at me we shout from behind the shadow of our narcissistic self, look at what we did Daddy, aren’t we simply amazing, praise me, please, indulge me, stroke me, love me!
Proud parents, we share every moment of our metal child’s life, its birth, its minor scrapes and accidents, its new clothes, its first holiday, its baths, its achievements. Good job bicycles don’t do toilets.
At times we are not documenting, we are tormenting. Here my friend, look at where I rode today whilst you were painting door frames or deleting the emails at work to which you were merely the cc.
This unrequited love affair with an inanimate object is a peculiar oddity to those freaks who do not pedal. To them, the cyclist is an obsessive, healthy of heart but not of head, a lepidopterist (word of the day = butterfly collector), collecting bikes like the loner amassing friends on Facebook.
Beyond our own scrap books, the bikie does serve one purpose very well, one which no cyclist wishes to take advantage of. I’m talking of a desolate time when your precious has been stolen and it’s time to use the bikie as a plea on social media like a desperate family member begging for the hostage to be returned or the child fly-posting its neighbourhood in search of a missing cat that answers to the name of Mr Tiddles. Chances are high such bikies will feature said bike in a cramped hallway or dark and squalid shed or, bizarrely, the kitchen.
Such uninspiring bikies litter social media. No I do not want to see your bike leant against the lawnmower in the shed. This is the equivalent of tweeting about your breakfast. I wouldn’t mind if folk had a custom made beauty to show me but no, they’re showing me the same Specialized Allez I see riding the roads by the dozen. Yes, you love your bike. I get it. You don’t need to post more images of your precious than proud parents who post way too many pictures of their progeny (you know who you are!).
Be imaginative with your bikie. Entertain me! Hell, before you know it you’ll have created the latest social media phenomenon as others imitate your pose for their amusement and their amusement alone. Still, it makes a change to the shed shots.
A word of warning for those bikie fans. Even the most imaginative of bikies won’t shield you from the criticism of the cycling intelligentsia. Oi dipstick, your seat is too high, them angles are all wrong, slam that stem, you do know that’s a girls’ bike don’t you?
‘Unboxing’ (definition: a lonely person opening a box and broadcasting said event) became something of a social media phenomenon back in the farthest reaches of time i.e. a pointless activity everybody had fun with for a few months until realising the futility of it all.
The dated craze has since struck cyclists within my social media feed. What’s in the box they ask, accompanied by a picture of well, a box. Seriously, do we care? Is it your imagination? Am I meant to get excited because you have paid money to have a puncture repair kit sent to yourself? Are you the kind of person who expects a round of applause when you go to Collection Point B at Argos?
The big reveal duly arrives once the author’s ego has been sufficiently stroked. Oh, wow, some new chain lube. Aren’t you a lucky boy. Go on entertain me next week when I have to correctly guess that tiny package contains your brain. Why not give me your address, I’ve got a beautiful lens cap you’ll enjoy unwrapping and super-gluing to your camera.
Certain groups, not exclusively male, whisper in quiet corners of the internet and pour over the glistening bodies of steel, titanium, aluminium, bamboo and carbon. Chances of you owning a bike belonging to this exclusive club are slim if you bought the bike at Evans or Halfords or Aldi. Gone are the everyday bikes, in are bikes you’d be so proud of you wouldn’t want anybody to see them in the flesh lest they should be tempted to steal your precious.
Don’t tell anyone, but yes, bike porn I can understand. Bikes can be a thing of beauty. Sad? Not really, I appreciate good design be it bike, building or vacuum cleaner. Yet I don’t actively seek bike porn. Not because it is the cycling equivalent of trainspotting but because I’m a believer in cycling being about the ride and not the bike. Until somebody buys me some bike porn that is.
Some, as this blog’s keyword search reveals in disturbing detail, are subverting bike porn into images of actual men and women wearing even less than Lycra. Fancy that! The urge to see the opposite sex with our favourite er, toy is a little perverse to this small minded blogger. After all do farmers search for naked ladies riding pot belly pigs? What? Oh.
The black and white
Stripping colour from our rides elevates the humble bicycle to art. It adds a certain je ne sais quoi to what would otherwise be yet another cyclist frozen in a bleak landscape. In such images, the focus is on the individual and not the ride, the lone cyclist, their battle, their glory. Rapha and Roleur realise this sells. So too this blog. Guilty as charged.
Black and white is to photography what make-up is to the drag queen. It transforms the mundane into something anew and raises curiosity where otherwise you’d be faced with the ordinary, the average. Damn you colour, you’re just too, well, real life. Yet cycling without colour is like coffee without caffeine or Bloody Marys without vodka. Cycling is colour.
A lengthy variant of the bikie, we lucky folk get to see seven hours of your dawdle through country lanes that all look the same to us. Good job it’s all captured in marvellous high definition. I’m not sure my life would be complete without a Dolby Stereo video of you panting up a 6.5% monster hill.
If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, then a home-made cycling video is worth none. This is the modern day equivalent of the slide show. Nobody cares, not even you if you’re honest.
Some use Go Pro cameras to document the poor driving of other road users. This irresistible mobile CCTV footage is highly addictive to head shakers like myself, but of little interest to the police unless blood is spilled.
Cycling videos should be left to experts such as Danny MacAskill. If not, they should be extraordinary or funny at the least, or failing that, make sure they feature a crash. Or maybe you can ride your bike backwards down a wet mountain in beautiful Norway?
More tools than your local DIY store, the cycle mechanic wants you to behold his or her creation, to share the triumph of wrestling with their machine for five hours longer than it would have taken your average bike mechanic.
We gasp at images of restoration jobs that show us the before and after bike shots akin to the housewives paraded on weekday morning chat shows pre and post makeover (so I’m told). We analyse the job, looking for tips, for mistakes. We are dads gathered around the open car bonnet, each of us staring and nodding and agreeing about something none of us really understand.
The coffee stop
The more social of us not only document the ride but our fuel too. This mostly comes in the form of arty black and white shots of expensive looking coffee. If there’s one thing the cyclist enjoys as much as their bike it is hot black Java. Occasionally you’ll see an accompanying slice of energy rich cake that looks like it has been baked by somebody from The Great British Bake Off.
My preferred cafe stop pictures are those taken from within miserable looking cafes, hot tea steaming in the foreground whilst in the background rain pounds on condensation heavy windows. You can almost taste the dirt on the rider’s cold blue lips and feel the lactic acid in their heavy, mud covered legs.
Cats riding bikes, horrific injuries, bikes with 65 wheels, animated gifs of robots riding bikes, I do love the images that have you reaching for the share button. More please Mr Internet, whoever you are.
You know the ones. Crass picture covered in large scrappy font that reads something like “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy a bike”. Puke. Or sentimental drivel, as Thom Yorke might say. Some are funny. The first time I see them anyway. Three weeks and 5,000 shares later and the cycling meme quickly loses its humour. Funny that. And yes I am a hypocrite for I too succumbed to a moment of weakness and tried to create my own memes. With hilarious consequences.
Your best and worst cycling photographs?
Love a bikie and hate those arty black and whites? What images inspire you to get on the bike and which ones make you wish the internet had never been invented?
5 thoughts on “The best and worst cycling photography”
I hate selfies, particularly the new craze for celebrity selfies. And GoPro videos, don’t get me started on them.
But, the people who spend time putting together videos on how to index gears, change cables etc etc, I salute you.
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Ah yes, how could I forget the how to videos? These, as you say, are brilliant, surrogate parents teaching us everything from how to oil a chain to the correct bike fit. I am a huge fan of these video heroes.
Very good, the coffee shop photo made me chuckle; flicking through some cycling publications these days anyone would thing that cafe’s across the land are chock full of moody bearded cyclist sipping flat white’s and wearing Rapha…
Don’t get me wrong, I like a mid-ride coffee as much as the next man, but I have feeling I don’t usually appear as an image of such unruffled calm.
As for the weird search terms that bring people to your blog…?!
I quite like the bikie! And I’m all for the gopro video too. The cycling community is a friendly supportive community from my experience and usually, other people are only too happy to see what you ride and to enthuse over it. I’m not so keen on the half naked women adorning bike pictures though!
Good blog! Made me chuckle.
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