This is the latest post in an occasional series called These Three Photographs, where I look back at three photographs I’ve made around a similar theme or subject.
You can see previous posts in the series here.
This time around, bicycles.
Generally, bicycles are symbols of great freedom and self-reliance to me.
Far more than a car – one of the more typical symbols of freedom in the modern age, but which I’ve come to find more of a burden to maintain and finance – the bicycle extols simplicity, efficiency and function.
With a bicycle, you can go wherever your heart and mind desires, without relying on any fuel other than your legs to get you there.
And why is it there’s nothing that quite epitomises an idyllic rural life as a girl in a floral dress on a bicycle, with a basket for her belongings and the wind in her hair? Even better if she’s riding through rural Southern France on a fresh summer day.
Now in practice, cycling is not quite so idealistic.
Riding anywhere is pretty hard work, which is why I invested in an ebike two years ago and have been using it for 99% of my work commutes ever since.
Yes, with an ebike there is of course some reliance on electric power – a battery – which does need charging every 40 miles or so. But still, it’s way more frugal, ecological and fun that using a car!
And commuting with the ebike is a major factor why we as a family took my car off the road in late April and have relied on just one car since. Which is easier than we expected, and has already saved us hundreds of pounds.
Plus I do have a non-electric old Specialized hybrid with fat (Frank) Schwalbe tyres that I use when riding with the kids, which is even more fun.
Anyway, on to the three photographs.
This first image is one I’ve made numerous times, attracted most of all to the timelessness of the scene.
It’s at a local steam railway where the signage and outdoor “furnishings” have been maintained as they were in a bygone era. The bicycle, which is often here, is from a similar time, I would guess the 1940s, and fits the scene beautifully.
I’ve often wanted a bicycle this old, bottle green (or British Racing Green) with sprung Brooks saddle and those rod brakes, but never got around to finding one.
The closest I got was a 1980s Raleigh mixte bike last year. Maybe one day.
This bicycle was left in a back street, secured with a cable lock despite the puncture, so I assumed the flat was very recent (especially as it’s not completely flat) and the owner would soon return and find themselves with the option of either repairing it or pushing the bike home.
Though the dent in the rim also suggests the bike had hit something substantial, perhaps the cause of the deflating tyre too.
It also instantly reminds me of the classic Smiths song This Charming Man, with its beautiful ambiguity.
“Punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate,
Will nature make a man of me yet?”
Which also features one of my favourite lines in the whole of Morrissey’s repertoire – “Why pamper life’s complexities, when the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat?”
Oh and this photograph also reminds me of the camera I made it with, a Yashica Electro 35GTN that was very handsome, had a wonderful lens, but alas was just so heavy and cumbersome to use.
The final picture is one of any number I could have chosen.
In the woods behind the fields behind our house, I found a Triumph bicycle, over a decade ago.
So most times I return the woods with camera in hand (which has been plenty this year with restricted travel) I seek out the old bicycle, to see what state it is now in and where it is.
Currently it’s hanging in a tree looking more forlorn than ever, but to my photographic eyes it’s a whole veritable feast of delicious decaying textures and tones.
Hence why it’s featured in so many of my photos this year.
How about you? Do you love bicycles – to ride, to photograph, or both?
As always, 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).
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12 thoughts on “These Three Photographs – Bicycles”
Love the first image, nice light and colours work well.
I use my bicycle almost every day, whereas it’s to go to work or move around the city. Our city, Montpellier have a new mayor who is a bicycle lover and very eco-friendly person. There are already many cycling lanes that share roads with cars and more to come.
Thanks Yuri. Great to hear about your city and mayor. I think there’s been a huge shift over here too this year with people travelling less and realising shorter journeys can be done by bicycle, especially to avoid other people on public transport. I was reading about Barcelona this morning and how they’re pedestrianising large parts of the city, creating public squares and green space. Basically edging cars out of the city so people travel by bike or on foot and it’s more pleasant and healthy and ecologically friendly for all.
These are steps in the right direction for us and our poor planet.
Love to ride and also agree there is something about photography bicycles as well. In my blog time to spare I spent a while photography a bike though only ended up keeping one image.
I’ve done that a couple of times, with the old Raleigh bike I had. The two bikes I have now just aren’t interesting enough, too modern!
Back when I lived in Brazil, I rode my bike a whole lot, even in the rain sometimes.
In the US it’s not nearly as common, as the road system is really meant for cars and bicycles are supposed to just use some trails that are made for them.
I do miss riding my bike more often but I guess it’s one of these things, it’s just the way it is.
In the past, despite a fairly rich cycling heritage over here, the roads have been heavily geared towards cars. It’s great to see that changing and the infrastructure for more frugal, clean and healthy alternatives being slowly created, as opposed to just thinking about ways to fuel cars differently.
I’m in the market for an e-bike for reasons similar to yours. I’m interested in what you purchased and why?
Mine is a Carrera Vengeance, 2018 model I guess as that’s the year I bought it. There’s a big auto/bike chain store over here called Halfords, and Carrera is their own brand of bikes. I bought a Carrera mountain bike when I was in my late teens, so early 90s, and it was good, so I was happy to go with them again for this bike, 30 years on. The e-version is basically their tried and tested Vegeance mountain bike model, with the rear hub, battery, controls and cables to make it electric.
I’ve been really happy with it, and it’s been flawless in three years (with no servicing, except for lubrication and a couple of punctures). If/when I do replace it I would look for something smaller and lighter. I nicknamed it The Mule early on as it gets the job done, but slowly and steadily, and weighs something like 22kg, then with my stuff in the panniers this is probably 25-27kg. My Specialized hybrid, which is pretty standard and not high end at all, is something like 12kg I believe. This means the Carrera is hard work when you don’t have the electric assistance on, far harder to ride than my Specialized because of all the extra weight.
I tried a little commuter bike from the same range a friend had, and it was surprisingly comfortable, far smaller and considerably lighter. And at bit cheaper. But for the streets I travel, which are very rough and potholed, I went with a more robust mountain bike style, plus the bigger battery and more powerful motor on the Vengeance gave me greater peace of mind.
Next time I’d go for a faster, lighter hybrid I think, but as I said I have no complaints about the Carrera, it’s been a trusty workhorse! On the money front it was around £1000, but as part of a travel scheme our organisation is part of I got 25% off, so it was just over £750. Good value I’d say, and getting better value every time I use it of course.
Hope that helps!
Thank you, it does help. I’ve started the process of convincing my wife. 😀
I realised Khurt I didn’t really say why I got the bike in the first place. Ultimately it was the first step in an experiment to see if we could give up one of our two cars as a family. This was to save money, exercise more, have more fresh air, drive less so have less impact on the environment, and to find a more efficient and relaxing way to travel to my work , a journey that’s slightly too far to walk on a regular basis. I hated spending sometimes 25-30 mins in a car to just go 3.5 miles, in rush hour. Twice a day. Crazy.
What put me off cycling as a mode of work transport before (as I’m no stranger to cycling and have had one bike or other since I was about two years old) was I didn’t want to get to work hot, sweaty and dishevelled. They have a shower, but it seems pointless taking that time and effort for such a short journey.
So an ebike, where you have many of the benefits and freedom and green credentials of a regular bike, but where you have the option of having a much less intensive ride when you wanted and let the battery and motor do some of the hard work, started to become very appealing.
I tried a couple of ebikes they had at work and loaned out, and was impressed enough to get my own.
Initially I had all my stuff in a backpack, and even with the ebike was still arriving too hot and bothered, and my back dripping with sweat (and I’m not a sweaty person at all!)
So I looked into panniers, bought a couple with amazing Ortlieb waterproof roll top bags, and haven’t looked back. With all my stuff (mostly lunch plus laptop, mouse, cables etc) in the panniers, it means I feel very free in riding with nothing but a shirt on my back in the spring and summer (dry weather permitting), and an additional layer or two as required when temperatures drop.
In the end the pandemic helped us accelerate the decision to sell one of our cars, and my wife and I alternate walking to work (her) or cycling (me), in between working from home (me only, she works in a school) and whoever needs the car for a particular purpose on any one day, has it. Mostly to take our older son to gym three times a week, we hardly use it otherwise.
So, nearly three years since I bought it, the ebike has been kind of life changing, and all for the better.
I hope it goes well. There are many pros to owning an ebike, I love it!