Six Gap and Brasstown

Words: Daniel Wakefield Pasley | Photography: Daniel Wakefield Pasley | Date:

From a psychological standpoint when an aspect of an individual’s demeanor improves solely because they are being studied, it’s called the Hawthorne Effect. We sometimes call it the Ira Ryan Effect. Ira Ryan, in this case, is a verb and it can, has, and will be performed by countless cyclists who are not Ira. Though Ira is, as far as we know, always game.

We ride our Continental rides with a follow car because, try as we might it’s too difficult to properly document a ride from the saddle. While it’s technically possible to ride ahead of the group and wait for a shot, it’s not truly realistic. For a long time our photographers shot film exclusively, some using larger medium format cameras such as Hasselblad’s and Pentax 6X7s. However, portaging that kind of equipment was impractical at best. Even now with the introduction of digital photography into our process, most professional DSLRs won’t fit in a jersey pocket. So, for the last three years and 50 rides, a photography car has shadowed the Rapha Continental Riders.

Thus, the Rapha Continental riders have unwittingly participated in a three-year study on the Hawthorne Effect. Simply put, when faced with a camera, riders tend to speed-up. And with the recent addition of video it’s a veritable race to the finish.

Every Continental rider has experienced scenarios similar to these; you’re together as group in a paceline averaging 21 mph, the photo car passes and the paceline speeds up, sometimes so quickly and explosively that the group is shattered, leaving the fastest climber alone and usually standing by this point.

It is motivation and motivation feels good, a fleeting chance to be a hero. And it makes sense. The Rapha Continental’s collection of photography is among some of the most stunning, artful and captivating imagery around regardless of focus. And it is due, in part, to the Hawthorne Effect. It is inspiring and engaging, real and visceral. And while Ira Ryan isn’t exactly unique or a pioneer, he has for the Rapha Continental, perfected the art of doing better, harder, faster for the camera. And he looks good doing it.

Recently I was in the van, facing backwards halfway up Brass Town Bald, the crux of a 120 mile ride called Six Gaps in the Georgia Appalachians. Steve Francisco, Jeremy Dunn and Ben Lieberson were climbing together only a few feet behind me. The road was well into the double digits and still ratcheting. The switchbacks were so tight and the road so steep the van lurched and surged as much as accelerated in an attempt to maintain a few miles per hour.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly Ben moved to the front. Out of the saddle now and looking the part, Ben’s jersey was zipped partially down exposing his white base layer and a silver crucifix swinging from his neck as he gently rocked his bike left to right. Ben doesn’t sweat, nor does he pant. But, for the first time I saw genuine pain and effort slowly harden his face until the cocktail had reduced his entire countenance to a pair of eyes, seeing nothing but the top.

By this time, Hawthorne Effect or no, Ben, Steve and Jeremy were focused on survival and pain and not the photo car. Suddenly, I was struck by how amazingly inspirational their efforts were and have been over the last three years. Not because they are that much fitter, faster or willing to suffer any more than thousands of other cyclists but because my front row seat to a powerful performance was starting to affect me. I’ve often shouted and handed water bottles up in the frenzy of the moment, for help and to support, but this was different. Their effort was electric and palpable and left me feeling like I wasn’t just watching but participating in Chariots of Fire or Karate Kid or some strange hybrid of both.

An interesting compliment to the Hawthorne Effect, because of the strength and character of their performance I work harder than ever to properly document. I run up hills, stand on top of moving vehicles, lay in the road, scramble up hillsides and crouch in snake infested ditches. The more I shoot them, the harder they ride. The harder they ride, the more I shoot.

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