I used to ride my bike to school across the fields by the railway tracks. It’s an estate now and all the houses look exactly the same. A Heinkel bomber crashed over there during the war and everyone said it was haunted. I heard a weird noise on my way home once, but in hindsight, it was probably just my freehub. I’ve never been great at maintaining bikes.
It’s the autumn I remember most. As the trees were changing colour, I’d cut lines through the morning dew with my bike tyres. I don’t think it was anything special at the time. It was just my journey to school. To get somewhere I really didn’t want to go. But, right now, I’m reminded of those chilly mornings every time I go for a ride. And it’s these autumnal, in-between days that are the hardest to plan for.
What’s the temperature at the start of the ride as opposed to when we’re sat outside the café at the finish? Tights. Not tights. Is it even cold enough for tights? Tights are for ballet dancers according to Brian Holm. Arm and leg warmers. Gilet. This could’ve been my internal dialogue when I was planning this Desire shoot, so I went for a bit of everything, because, well, you get a bit of everything in the autumn.
When we first talked about doing Desire, we didn’t just want to showcase stuff that we’d all heard of; the household names, the ones with a great history in the sport. We wanted to give a platform outside of social media to new brands, ones that have reinterpreted cycling kit their way.
A great example of that can be seen in this shoot with upstarts Dotout and BBUC side by side with long established labels Castelli and Santini, and fledgling shoe brand e-Vers going toe-to-toe with Sidi.
It’s the same for the bikes. In Rouleur 19.7, we had the new Wilier Zero SLR and the Colnago V3RS, two Italian bike companies that between them have 180 years in the game, alongside the new Factor VAM. Benedict shot it leaning against a £1.4m Ferrari F40 in front of some very nervous looking people, unsurprisingly.
We’ve been to some fantastic locations since we started doing Desire in 2016: theatres, castles, and of course, Biggin Hill airfield for the last issue. It gave me anxiety just thinking of where to go next after playing with those Spitfires. We opted for supercars this time, thanks to our patient hosts, Kaaimans International.
I wouldn’t have ever called myself a car fanatic. I only bothered learning to drive two years ago, but being this close to design classics like the Lamborghini Countach and the Ferrari F40 was like meeting my childhood heroes. I had a poster of a red Countach on my bedroom wall. I also had one of Dempsey and Makepeace and dressed up regularly as Adam Ant. It was the ‘80s. It’s what went down.
But it was the 1960s Vespa 150 that I spent most of my time pawing during this shoot. They even trusted me to push it back to the showroom on my own. Yes, push. They didn’t want to put any more miles on the clock – it had only done 34 miles from new. I hope I look that good when I’m nearly 60, but I doubt it.
Driving back from this shoot, I realised it’s also the end of another season. It got me thinking about my tiered bike system: summer bike, dry-weather winter bike, wet-weather winter bike, and the one I still own because I’m emotionally connected to it – and wondered when I should put the nice bike away and buy some gloves, which I’ll try not to wear in homage to Heinrich Haussler.
It’s funny to think back to riding across the fields on my way to school. I’d go in all weathers on the world’s heaviest mountain bike wearing a blazer and tie. And it didn’t put me off. In fact, that feeling is one of the reasons I fell in love with cycling in the first place. As a kid, it makes your world a bit smaller and gives you a taste of freedom. I don’t think that ever leaves us.
I now have kit for whatever the weather and a bike that weighs about as much as my school bag. And I’m still just as crap at maintaining it.
‘Narcissistic sports pimp’ Stuart Clapp is king of the Essex café rides. This article was originally published in Rouleur 19.7 under the title “Two wheels good”