“My Bicycle & I”
“To have travelled a lot…is to this extent a disadvantage: At the age of thirty-five one needs to go to the moon, or some such place, to recapture the excitement with which one first landed at Calais.”
Evelyn Waugh, from “When The Going Was Good”
I’ve had a love affair with bicycles and cycling ever since I was a kid, roaming the backroads of Carrol County New Hampshire on an old Schwinn Varsity ten-speed, marvelling at this glorious ease and swiftness of motion and the almost aerial sense of liberation that came over me as I sped along the road: I could go anywhere. I still feel that way whenever I climb aboard my bicycle and set off down the street – the old sense of captaincy returns, the globe becomes mine for the trotting, gratifyingly vast and colourful once more, rich in detail and ripe for discovery, just as I imagined it when I was a child. Miles becoming meaningful again, reverting to their old true measure. Fifteen is a distance to be reckoned with, while eighty might represent a full day’s travel, depending on wind and hills and weather. It’s the perfect restorative for a world made small and mean and over-familiar by driven adulthood and too many frequent flier miles.
Instead of passing through, or over, a landscape, aloof and in haste, on a bicycle you become a part of it, engaged and involved, observing its contours, allowing it to unfold around you. As a photographer and artist I’m fascinated by this interaction. I love the visuals of a bicycle in the landscape and the lyricism, innocence and optimism it implies and conveys. And so I’ve taken to carrying my camera, a couple of lenses and a travel tripod with me on my morning jaunts, exercising my creative imagination as well as my legs, as I look for ways of capturing the simplicity, elegance and beauty of a bicycle ride. I hope you’ll find some things in here you like.
My Bicycle (s)…
For me there has only ever been one kind of bicycle – the tourer. I have never had the least interest in racing, although as a spectator I can appreciate the history and drama of the Grand Tours and the Spring Classics. But for me bicycles have always been about exploring the world at a languid pace, travelling on a whim, and having the freedom to do so. I have three bicycles, all old friends, all of them at least ten years old. No carbon, nothing fancy, just good old-fashioned steel frames, rim brakes and flat pedals. The eldest dating from the late 90s, is a Thorn eXp expedition tourer, a rugged packhorse that has carried me around Zanzibar and Istanbul and the outermost of the Orkney Islands. Second eldest is a beautiful lugged-steel Pegoretti Luigino. While not strictly speaking a tourer, it is a classic Italian road bike that harks to the post-war years when touring and racing were often done on the same bikes. It is delightfully responsive and flies up hills. The third is a classic lugged-steel randonneur, custom built for me by Mark Reilly, when he was at Enigma Bicycles. He let me photograph the making of it, an experience that opened my eyes to the beauty of the framebuilder’s art. It is this bicycle that appears in most of the photographs. With its polished stainless steel lugs, pale mauve livery and cream tyres, it is chic and elegant and far more photogenic than its rider.
As for me, I’m a magazine writer and photographer who specalises in travel, culture, archaeology and history – although I have covered just about everything in my time. For the past twenty-three years I’ve been a regular contributor to National Geographic – in that time writing more than twenty major magazine features and countless smaller stories, and winning numerous awards along the way. I’ve also contributed to several ‘coffee table’ books for the Society’s books division and wrote National Geographic Traveler’s Travel Guide to Australia. I’ve also lectured, conducted workshops and led tours for the National Geographic Society’s travel program.
My work has also appeared in Time, Newsweek, Nature, NPR, Islands, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Lonely Planet Traveler, Smithsonian, Australian Geographic and National Geographic Adventure.
My photography website can be viewed here
Over the years my career has taken me to more than 100 countries and to every continent. I have written two travel books – Life on The Ice, about my travels in Antarctica, and Cold Beer & Crocodiles, about my 10,000-mile cycling odyssey I made through the Australian outback, the story of which originally appeared as an award-winning three-part series in National Geographic Magazine. Other cycling adventures include touring around Zanzibar and the Swahili Coast, pedalling from London to Istanbul, riding the length and breadth of Britain, exploring Wales from Chepstow to Holyhead along the Lôn Las Cymru, following the Danube and once, on a whim, riding a bicycle ‘around the world’ in under ten seconds while visiting the South Pole on an assignment for National Geographic. The story of that little adventure can be read here.