If you happen to visit the Los Angeles Cycle Club before 21 July, you’ll notice that one wall is now occupied by ‘Glory Is My Litter’, the latest work from LA-based artist and designer Geoff McFetridge. Geoff’s work has appeared in galleries and museums around the world, in films and music videos, on bike frame paint schemes, on skateboarding shoes and decks – in fact, in pretty much any medium that you can name, including limited edition t-shirts and caps made in collaboration with Rapha.
For the launch of the Rapha + Geoff McFetridge collection, Rapha spoke to Geoff about cycling – its subcultures, eccentrics and eclectics.
First things first: how did you start riding road bikes?
It was a slow-burn thing for me. I moved to LA, and I couldn’t help but notice the occasional rider travelling through the city, exploring and traversing. I got a road bike and just rode alone all the time, and I dug in to the aesthetics and feelings of riding a bike. The interesting thing is that this was around the time of Armstrong, so cycling was booming, but just not in the way that I was interested in. I mean, I loved to watch the Tour and so on, but it wasn’t why I rode a bike.
I would meet people and get little bits of information, and piece together my own version of the sport. Once I met this older couple out on a ride who asked, “have you been to Mt Wilson yet?” I hadn’t even realized you could do that, just ride up a mountain for fun.
Was there a tipping point when you started to ride with others?
A lot of things happened at once – which is how life works out, I find. For example, I found Sheldon Brown’s blog, which opened my eyes to a version of cycling that wasn’t about ‘performance’.
His aesthetic was super funny, and quite interesting, but it was clear that he was deeply thinking about stuff. Can you make a two-speed fixed gear bike? And crazy stuff like that. He was doing all these things that appealed to me, because it was clearly just about the purity of riding. He had an ethos that was remarkable.
His website is like nothing else. Reading it is like having a guided tour of a very well-organized and intelligent brain – with things you just couldn’t find anywhere else.
It is really intense. He had so many bikes, and none of them were normal. The drivetrain would be on the wrong side, or he’d have super-obscure components, and so on.
Do you think cycling makes a good home for minds like that?
I would agree, but I also think there are plenty of cultures and subcultures that have room for inquiring minds. There’s an author and sociologist called Howard Becker who wrote a paper on the use of marijuana by jazz musicians, full of very detailed and dry sociological observations. And the whole thesis of his article is that people in fringe subcultures are the biggest rule-followers around. There’s always a code, and you’re duty-bound to follow it, or you risk identifying yourself as someone from the outside.
Really, I think, you can read it as if he’s talking about how to become a cyclist.
With so many rules, do you think people might be put off?
Obviously there are very broad spans within every culture, so what we’re really talking about is the process of decoding what all the rules mean, and what you want them to mean for you. You can ride a bike in total isolation and do your own thing – there’s always room for that. But subcultures have a tendency to absorb you.
Cycling now, I feel, is very different to just ten years ago. And part of that is the way the sport has evolved and changed and made room for different types of people. The beauty of it is that we’ll still be able to go out for a ride, no matter what happens in the industry.