Today’s post is a fascinating insight into the work of Neil Wyatt aka The Handmade Cyclist.
1.Tell us a bit more about yourself
I’m a lifelong bike geek – aside from a short period in my early twenties when the usual distractions of girls and music led me astray for a while – it’s always been about the bike.
I grew up in Ireland in the era of Kelly and Roche (and Earley and Kimmage), so it was rather like Britain now with Wiggo and Cavendish – suddenly everyone was into cycling. I still remember my first club run with Bray Wheelers (the club of the great Shay Elliott) – I was crawling by the end!
I’ve also always had a passion for design – so it was a logical step to bring the two together. I actually find that mentally they are similar experiences for me – just really immersive, you can just clear your mind and focus on it.
It also gives me great pleasure to know that all that time spent as a teenager (ok, and as an adult) reading every cycling book, biography and magazine I could lay my hands on was not put to waste!
It’s a bit of a cliché but there really was not a lot of cycling on the TV outside of the great Channel 4 coverage of the Tour (well, that and Trans World Sport… I miss Trans World Sport!). So cycling magazines were my bible. And the sport looked great in photos in the 80’s – no helmets, no Oakleys, some great kit and they all pushed huge gears so had the most cartoonishly huge thighs!
That love and knowledge of the sport from my youth has really stayed with me and hopefully you can feel and see that in my designs.
2.You describe yourself as a bike geek – what are your best and worst biking experiences.
A couple spring to mind as my best. I did the Marmotte a few years back, and it was such an emotional thing for me – to actually ride those roads I had read about for so many years. It was also pre-kids, so it marks the high-water-mark of my fitness as I had time to train properly! I will never be that fit again, sadly.
The second is more recent – taking my five year old son out for his first proper off road ride. We were dead slow but seeing his concentration and pleasure was just so rewarding. Its great watching kids take to the bike – it brings all those memories of the simple pleasure and freedom they give you come flooding back. I think that’s one of the reasons why cycling is so popular – no matter how long you’ve given it up for, get on a bike and that pleasure is there. You never forget it.
Worst… well, the human brain has a remarkable ability to put bad memories in a box somewhere. But most likely one of the many times I’ve suffered from the hunger knock and you just wonder how on earth you ever will get home. Or the time a couple of years back when I crashed night biking – I broke my collarbone and in the words of a doctor “a bunch of ribs”. My friend Will had to ride home with my bike like a cowboy returning to the ranch with a riderless horse, whereupon he greeted my wide with the words ‘well the good news is I think his bike is alright’!
3. So many cycling enthusiasts talk of the romance, myth and colour of races like the Tour de France and your work seems to capture it perfectly. I was struck by your beautifully written descriptions of famous races and mountain climbs and wondered how the scandal of doping in professional cycling had affected your view of the sport and your work?
Well, its always been there, hasn’t it? I think for many fans the organised nature of the blood doping from the 90’s onwards really soured it – not just because it was so blatant but also the racing suffered. It got boring. Ha! Doesn’t that say a lot about how twisted cycling fans’ compasses can be? We tolerated drug taking for years because it was individual, amateurish and the exploits were still heroic. Put a team of doped up USPS riders on the front of a race to kill the romance, and the view changes.
I actually have really tried in my work to make sure its not a rose tinted view – the ‘A Classification of Cyclists of Note & Notoriety’ print has Dopers and Cheats sections. Its part of the fabric of the sport and there’s some mind-boggling stories there. But I think for anyone creating art about cycling there’s a romance about the past that has been lost from the present day peloton.
But there’s hope! I really believe riders like Dan Martin and Taylor Phinney are doing it clean – and winning too. Maybe all is not lost. And the mountains and bergs will always be greater than those who ride them.
4. If you were creating your own personalised cycling art print what would your nickname be?
I have really skinny legs so perhaps The Whippet. Not sure I am fast enough for that though. Or given my recent lack of time to maintain my bikes perhaps The Reluctant Mechanic.
5. Which is your favourite words of wisdom quote and why?
Got to be ‘it never gets easier, you just go faster’ from Greg Lemond. Never a truer word spoken about cycling.
6. What inspires your choice of colour?
It depends on the story behind the picture. For my Alpe print it just had to be orange – it’s the Dutch mountain! The Monuments prints set out to capture the essence of the classics. So it was all murky spring colours for Belgium, the bright sunshine of the Ligurian coast for Milan – San Remo, and the autumn setting sun for Lombardia. The idea dictates the colour scheme in most cases.
7. Where do your ideas come from? Is it watching races, whilst out on your bike or reading about the cycling greats?
All of the above! I try to make sure all our designs are based on an idea or story, or some facts about racing. There should be something for the viewer to find out or decode. My favourite for this was researching the Classification print – I’d hope there’s no-one in the world who would know every single name on there. I like the idea of people looking up the names on there and learning about their story.
8. Do you think cycling can claim to have its own particular aesthetic?
For me, cycling is the most stylish sport. Particularly the golden era of the 1950s and 60’s – not too many logos, lovely bikes with loads of chrome – Bianchi, Masi… simple clothes in wool. Stripes. Short shorts. I should qualify that – cyclists are stylish on the bike, it takes rare rider indeed to look good in bike kit off the bike.
I also think that the aesthetic of suffering is important – it’s a sport that displays the rawest emotions at its greatest moments. Its pure. A window into the riders’ souls.
And the sport is defined by the landscape. There’s a lot of beautiful sports and art forms out there, but none that have the arenas of cycling. There’s not a stadium, golf course, opera house or theatre that can compare to the Izoard, the Lugurian Coast, the Dolomites. So you have a stylish sport, beautiful technology, and incredible landscapes – unbeatable.
9. What can we look forward to from The Handmade Cyclist this year?
We’ve got some really exciting plans – we should have some really great new posters out by the summer that we’ve spent a lot of time researching. I think they will give even the geekiest of bike geeks real pleasure and new things to discover. And we hope to have some new products too – we trialled a run of some mugs before Christmas and they sold out in a week, we could barely keep up!
10. How will The Handmade Cyclist be celebrating the return of the Tour de France to the UK in 2014?
My wife’s family are from Bridlington, so hopefully by getting up to Yorkshire, riding the route and seeing it as much as I can!
If you want to find out more about Neil’s work or grab yourself one of these gorgeous prints then here are the links you’ll need: