Simplicity Feeds The Flow – In Praise Of Point And Shoot Cameras And Single Speed Bicycles

In my experiences with cameras over the last five or six years, I’ve discovered an inverse relationship with how many functions, features and buttons a camera has, and how much I’ve enjoyed using it.

In other words, the simpler the set up, the more joy I’ve found.

Once all the decisions about settings are out of the way, I’m free to focus purely on the two most basic decisions of all in photography – where to point the camera and when to release the shutter.

I’m free to find your natural flow of photography, without interruptions to fiddle and adjust. 

Getting back into bikes, not surprisingly, I’m noticing a similar trend.

My ebike has disc brakes, suspension forks, eight mechanical speeds, three electric speeds, mudguards, lights and a speedometer. It’s a very efficient machine at what it does, ie get me to work with less effort and sweat than a regular bike.

But I’m always checking what gear I’m in or what speed I’m doing.

My head is in a kind of analytical and assessing mode, rather than relaxed and open to the wonderfully freeing experience biking can be.

With my Specialized FSR mountain bike, yes it does have full suspension and 21 gears. But I’ve been experimenting with using just three gears (leaving it on the middle cog up front and using the smallest three at the rear), and on the last few rides just one gear.

With no electronic controls and no mechanical speeds to alter, when I’ve committed to one gear all I have to focus on is pedalling and steering.

Put another way, I’m free to find my natural flow of riding, without interruptions to fiddle and adjust. 

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The compact cameras I’ve come to use and love most I use on Aperture Priority, but rarely move the aperture beyond fully open.

The Ricoh GRD III is a great example, which I can shoot all day long at f/1.9, letting the camera decide the shutter speed. It’s small-ish sensor and 28mm wide lens give a deep enough depth of field  to make focusing more than manageable.

Talking of which, with AutoFocus, whilst I often point where I want the camera to focus and lock it in with a half press of the shutter button, it’s all very fluid and instinctive.

With everything else set up how I want and saved in a custom setting, I can use it almost as a pure point and shoot. Again, it’s about finding that flow without interruption.

The similarities between these two interests and practices is obvious.

Once you remove a number of decisions before your start your photowalk or ride, it prepares you for welcoming in the pure, and almost meditatively enjoyable experience of both. It optimises your likelihood of finding the flow.

Camera and photographer as one. Cycle and cyclist unified.

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But, you may ask, if you set up your camera and bike with all these limitations, doesn’t it mean you’re going to miss out on all kinds of other opportunities that a camera with multiple modes and a zoom lens, or a bike with multiple gears would allow you to embrace?

Yes!

But when you take that kind of approach, it becomes all about hedging your bets and keeping so many options open that you don’t commit to anything with any passion.

And this surely encourages laziness too.

If my GRD III is set to ISO400 and f/1.9 and it looks like the highlights are blowing out in the background sky, I have to adjust my position and composition so they’re not. I don’t dive into the controls to change ISO, aperture shutter speed or anything else.

On my FSR bike, if I reach a hill where my chosen single speed is too high to conquer it, I just have to either slog it out, feel the burn and reap the reward at the top, or remember I’m doing this for pleasure and not to become an Olympic athlete, and just get off and walk.

Flow is so important to me in my enjoyment of both of these interests. Without it I get distracted, frustrated, despondent, and just know I’m not as immersed as I could be.

So these preemptive simplifications are a necessity, and taking the time to experiment and work them out means a much higher quality and deeper experience in the long term.

What do you do to help you find your flow with photography or cycling? What gets in the way?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.

18 thoughts on “Simplicity Feeds The Flow – In Praise Of Point And Shoot Cameras And Single Speed Bicycles”

  1. Ah good stuff – glad you’ve started to write about bikes as well.

    I’ve been commuting on a Dahon folding bike for years now. Less though this year with my change of job but I still get on it as regularly as I can. One of my older blogs was on just this subject at http://foldingbikeblog.blogspot.com/. I was shocked to discover that it’s been over three years since I posted anything there!

    Like you, I found early on that simplicity is the way forward with cycling. Originally my Dahon had a 3 speed hub, which was more than enough, but continual reliability issues and scarceness of parts meant that I have ridden it as a single-speed fixed-gear for years now. It is utterly brilliant and I wouldn’t go back to any other way of riding!

    Mechanical robustness aside, it is as simple as it gets. You just get on and pedal (and don’t forget to keep pedalling!) It’s not too hilly around where I live so I’ve found a gear that works for me in all circumstances. I can spin it fast enough on the flat, I don’t spin out too much on the downhills and can heave it up any of the hills around here without an issue. I couldn’t care less that a fat bloke on a £5k carbon racer can pass me on the flat. Wait until the next uphill when power to weight comes into play…

    Check out Kent Peterson’s blog (http://kentsbike.blogspot.com) too as he has a load of good stuff on there. A lot of it is related to simplicity in cycling.

    Keep those pedals turning buddy! 🙂

    1. Richard, good to hear from you, and I’m gladd to find another photo-biker!

      I saw one of those Dahon bikes online a few days ago, and was impressed how conventional it looked, ie nothing like a Brompton or another company bike that folds down into a suitcase.

      Something I like about my ebike is aside from the battery on the downtube, the controls on the handlebars and the larger rear hub on the rear to accommodate the motor, at a glance it looks just like a regular mountain bike. A guy at work saw it the other day and said “wow, nice bike”. I said it was electric and he had no idea, he just thought it looked like a desirable MTB.

      Blogging for me has been all about getting to a manageable writing rate, then maintaining the momentum. Every two or three days is something I can manage.

      For me, only writing “when I have time” or “when inspiration strikes” it rarely happens. Then the momentum gets lost and it’s harder to write.

      Takes much less effort and energy to keep a bike (blog) rolling along than the effort and energy it requires to start off!

      I’m finding much the same with gears. My ebike has eight mechanical speeds and three electric, but I’m only using the medium electric one (or leaving it switched off), and 7 or 8 on the mechanical, mostly 7.

      With my mountain bike I’ve been sticking to 32/13 and it’s a great balance for all round cycling. Yes there’s a long hill on the way to work where I have to stand and slog it out for a hundred yards, and yes there are downhills (like the same hill on the way home!) where I’m spinning out and just have to freewheel, but I love the simplicity of single speed, and the whole mental process of always considering whether you’re in the optimum gear being removed.

      Thinking of converting a Rockhopper MTB to a one speed, so removing the gear shifters, cables and derailleurs which would make it even simpler and lighter. It’s already little over half the weight of the ebike. I could use the same crank, just remove the inner and outer rings, and get a single speed converter on the back (about £30 I believe). We’ll see, at the moment it’s easy enough to just ignore the other gears, especially as it has gripshift which is less visible on the handlebars than thumb or trigger shifters anyway.

      I’ve read a couple of posts on the kentsbike blog – very diverse, and I look forward to reading more. Looks like he’s not active anymore either, but there are archives to enjoy. Thanks for the link.

      1. Kent’s archives are well worth digging into. I haven’t followed him too much recently but 8-10 years ago he was doing some incredible endurance rides. He did the Tour Divide on a single-speed MTB and the Paris-Brest-Paris on a Bike Friday folder. He works for them now but didn’t at the time. I’ve always found his writing very inspiring. Plus he’s into old typewriters, which I am as well. Cheers! 🙂

          1. I haven’t followed Kent for a couple of years, but he did start to blog more about reading and writing than cycling. He started up Kent’s Book Blog too so maybe that’s more up to date?

  2. I like *just a little* ability to control things. It’s why I enjoy my three-speed bicycle. (A 1986 Schwinn.) And it’s why I enjoy aperture-priority SLRs. Both give me a little more control when I want it, but get out of the way when I don’t.

    1. Jim do you have any pictures of the Schwinn on your blog? Sounds intriguing.

      I have to say I’m very similar to you, my favourite cameras are not pure point and shoots, but cameras with more options that I’ve then set up to be able to use in a simple way without constant adjustment.

      It’s going the same way with bikes, my regular MTB is 21 speed but I’m currently using one of them!

    1. Thanks Heide. I read a similar book years ago, before I really got into minimalism and simplifying, called The Paradox Of Choice. Again it illustrated how in various areas of life more choice meant harder decisions.

      If you look at consumer products today like shampoo or hair colour or toothpaste, it’s amazing any ever buys anything, the choice is so vast and overwhelming!

  3. Riding a single speed bike greatly helped me improve as a cyclist. I rode with a group of cyclists all with fancy lightweight road bikes and I had a simple single speed. With no options to change gear you learn how to get the most out of the bike and also push your body to do the same.
    Gears are one of the most misunderstood things in novice cycling in my opinion and I often see people using them completely wrong; mostly pedaling fast in a low gear which uses a lot of energy to accomplish very little – you wouldn’t drive a car constantly in 1st gear but many people ride a bike like that. With no gears you learn that most rides actually need no gears at all and they are only useful for the more extremes of hill climbing and (particularly when you go fixed gear) going downhill very fast.
    As with most of the features on a camera, gears are a convenience to make some things a little easier but misused they can slow you down.

    1. Completely agree, and it is my hope to get fitter and more fluid as a cyclist by just using one speed. As well as it being a simplified and more “zen” experience of course, not worrying what gear you’re in.

      I figured out early on when I had multi geared mountain bikes (and having always been a bit of a numbers geek!) that 21 speeds say doesn’t mean 21 unique, sequential speeds, there’s overlap and duplication as you use the different rings on the front. It’s easier just to stick to the middle cog and go up and down the rear cogs, than to shift to a different cog up front and have to shift three or four at the back to get to round about where you were before you shifted. Just too much faffing about and lost momentum.

      Riding my 21 speed Rockhopper now I’ve not used the small ring at the front at all, and when on the middle ring not used the top few cogs on the rear, so I’m wondering why/when people would ever use them, unless I guess it was a crazy steep off road incline.

      And yes you do see some people with legs spinning very fast but not really getting anywhere!

      I think much of it comes down to marketing and trying to sell new bikes, often under the guise of them being better than last year’s model. As with cameras of course.

      I’m not sure that 95% of recreational riders would need more than one ring on the front and say five on the rear, if that.

      Back to single speed, I like too that you get to know the speed better, the effort required for certain hills and so on. Rather than hitting a hill and fumbling with the gears to find something suitable, you just start to be able to gauge it in advance and put in the required effort.

      I’ll either stick to the middle cog up front on mine, or what some people do is remove the small and middle rings, then remove the largest and remount it on the inside where the middle one was, to improve the chain alignment with the rear cogs. Then I can remove the front derailleur and shifter and cables. At some point I might get a single cog at the rear and a chain tensioner, and remove the rear derailleur and shifter, but for now I’m trying to just enjoy what I have without keep fiddling!

      1. I have a mountain bike with lots of gears and have used them all on some of the mountains around here so they do have their use. But having ridden a single speed exclusively for a period of time I am fully aware of how and where gears are needed; it actually surprised me what I could manage with just that one gear ratio.

        Also, it is funny how people react when they see you only have one gear, I got some interesting comments about how hard it must be and that I would not be able to keep up; I guess even some experienced riders don’t quite understand gears either.

  4. Great post. Two of my favorite things. I’m finding my way to smaller simpler cameras more and more. I just don’t care to carry a beast any longer. Since I started shooting film again I seem to have a more relaxed attitude towards photography, and more time. So I may just get back on my bicycle again. It’s been too long.

    1. Thanks Lisa Marie. Yeh DSLRs are very capable and using vintage lenses is appealing, but ultimately it does become a chore carrying them around, when you can get fantastic results with something like a Ricoh GRD, Lumix LX or Pentax Q which are a fraction of the size and weight.

      Hope you get back on the bicycle, what do you have?

      1. I had a really nice Trek MultiTrek hybrid which was stolen. I replaced it with another used version which was not as nice. I was mostly trail and rural road riding so I needed something quick and it was cheep. Then we got caught up in caring for sick aging parents and the bikes went up on a rack. I’m hoping to get back out next year. Maybe a new bike perhaps.

        1. I’ve been reading quite a bit about older/retro bikes lately and a lot of people seem to enjoy having “beater” bikes as the fear of them getting stolen or damaged is drastically lessened.

          A beater bike doesn’t have to be in poor condition or be rubbish quality, it’s more about finding a quality older bike that’s anonymous and discrete enough to not attract attention to any passing casual thieves.

          Anyway, best of luck with returning to cycling!

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