V&A no.2 – Papier Porteur

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is hosting an event tomorrow (Friday 29th) called Eat, Ride, Sleep, Repeat. A celebration of the design culture inspired by the bicycle, it will feature portraits of museum staff and their bicycles taken by Rapha Survey photographer George Marshall.

Christopher Gingell

Role at V&A:
I am a conservator, working in the Paper, Books and Paintings Section of the Conservation Department.

What’s the significance of the room where you had your portrait taken by George?
The photograph was taken in one of the Cast Courts. These house a superb collection of 19th century plaster copies of some of the greatest examples of European sculpture. These copies were commissioned so that students and the general public alike could get to see and study at close quarters what would otherwise involve a prohibitively expensive and difficult journey to view the original. At one time galleries like these would have been much more widespread, but tastes changed and museums became more interested in collecting original materials. The fact that these casts have survived to the present day make them rare, if not unique. An unintended consequence of this is that they also provide an accurate representation of what the originals looked like 150 years ago – enormously useful to colleagues from Europe when they are assessing damage from erosion and other factors to the originals.

Where do you commute from?
My commute is a short one, from Gray’s Inn Road in Bloomsbury. I take a moderately circuitous route so that I can ride along the North side of The Serpentine which is delightfully peaceful early in the morning.

Is this your typical attire for around town?
Most of my wardrobe comes from Old Town Clothing in Norfolk, I find their clothes eminently practical for bicycling around town, and it is enormously useful to have suits that can be put through the washing machine! It is rather weather dependent though, and with how it’s been of late, a waxed cotton jacket and a pair of Rapha cycling breeches with woolly socks have stood me well.

Would you describe cycling as a hobby or simply a mode of transport?
I’m more inclined to describe it as a defining characteristic.

Why do you think cycling appeals to people beyond just getting them to places?
Certainly for me it is much more than a mode of transport, there is a whole aesthetic side to it which gives me a great deal of pleasure (and I know I’m not alone in that). I suppose that “freedom” is perhaps the essence of it, particularly in a city like London where there is no quicker way of getting from door to door. The joy of balance and self-propulsion can’t be overestimated – does anybody ever forget the first time they learned to ride on two wheels?

Describe your bike.
The frame and forks are the “Polyvalent” model from Velo Orange. The rack, handlebars, mudguards and brake levers also come from them. The Campagnolo Veloce chainset, Nitto lugged stem and stainless bottle cages, as well as the rear Goldtec hub, Shimano Dura-Ace seatpost and Brooks B-17 saddle all came from my parts bin. The wheels I built from Grand Bois 650b rims, with a Schmidt hub dynamo in the front. The whole thing is a nod to French porteur  bicycles of the 1950’s and could be said to be representative of the modern bicycle industry in that most of the parts were made in Japan or Taiwan. I suppose it reflects the increasing influence that people like Jan Heine and Grant Petersen seem to have over my consideration of what is desirable in a bicycle. It is a delight to ride, and very practical too.

What is style on a bike?
I feel that one should aim to make the act of riding a bicycle look as effortless as possible, even when it is anything but. If I were to have to sum it up in a word it would be souplesse. In a person, it would be Hugo Koblet combing his hair to demoralise a rival whilst racing up a mountain, or Jacques Tati as Francois the postman in L’Ecole des Facteurs or Jour de Fete.

Favourite journey by bike in the city?
I was going to say Herne Hill Velodrome – but I’m not sure one can count going round and round in circles as a journey; so I’ll settle for anything that involves the Thames, especially the South Bank between Blackfriars Bridge and Lambeth Bridge after dark or on a bright November day.