Early in 2020 I received a message from Mark Sutton, the editor of Cycling Industry News, to see if I was interested in putting together picture stories and a front cover photograph for a new magazine, Cycling Electric, that he’d been asked to shape and edit by Dennis Publishing.
The new magazine’s concept was formed in response to the extraordinary growth in the sales of electric bikes across the UK, following on from huge pushes in mainland Europe, resulting from rapidly lowering costs of good quality electric motor / battery tech production and a greater appetite for less polluting modes of transport.
Mark is a life long champion of two wheeled self propulsion, a die-hard skilled rider, and is passionate in communicating the social implications of governments’ national transport policies. Policies - when coherently devised and deployed correctly - prove to foster positive mental & physical health benefits, overall reductions in polluting gases and aptness to reclaim community streets from the vice-like grip of auto industry infrastructure. As publishers of acclaimed cycling magazine, Cyclist, and purveyors of 30+ magazines, Dennis Publishing naturally looked to Mark to develop the magazine, as his enviable knowledge of the e-bike business is unsurpassed in the UK, as he has followed the sector’s development closely over the last decade. With connections made, planning began…
The initial concept for the publication was born from a desire to focus on e-bikes with features, reviews and lifestyle associated with cycling - much in the mould of Cyclist magazine, and with access to that magazine’s in-house Dennis team to put Cycling Electric together, that format seemed pretty straight forward.
However the more Mark presented the myriad of electric two wheeled options, the more Dennis realised a different editorial theme was required to reflect Mark’s passion for creating a comprehensive guide containing an introduction to peddling with the aide of an electric motor, coupled with cycle magazines’ de rigueur content. The additional content included differences in e-bike motor tech, busting myths centred around ‘riding electric is cheating’, alternative e-mobility, business benefits of e-bikes and the many forms of electric bikes now available - from MTB, gravel and folding models through to compact and cargo options. Case studies highlighting reasons why the older and less fit would be attracted to e-bikes were also in the mix.
With a spring launch earmarked, Mark and I planned a number of photoshoots, including a 4 day shoot in the English Lake District, tying in partnerships with a number of e-bike brands and Volvo UK - who were supplying their latest eSUV, which built an ‘all-electric’ theme to the shoot. The Lakes offered us lowland trails for gravel bikes, gnarly descents suited to more aggressive MTB designs and picture perfect backdrops - with models and accommodation booked, we were good to go.
Then SARS-CoV-2 decided to ruin plans…no in-depth report required for the effects on those plans, as huge chucks of the UK simply shutdown and everyone has been affected by its surge in some way or other. Hope was not lost though…
Luckily, we had completed a couple of shoots in early March, including the important front cover.
With the creation of any new magazine, the opportunity to refine ways of visually enticing a potential (new) reader shouldn’t be under valved. My approach was evolution / not revolution and with enough of a twist on a ‘conventional’ cycling magazine cover to make a statement of intent and fresh identity.
I myself have always owned and ridden some form of bicycle, from a prized silver Raleigh Grifter gifted on my 8th birthday, to heady freestyle BMX days in the 1980s (yes, first time round) to the onset of mountain biking with my Cannondale purchase in 1989, to my current carbon XC Scott hardtail - my cycling eye has been attracted to the latest and greatest in design and trend development. However with refined electric motored e-bike designs opening up an entirely new demographic of customers - dreamers that would not normally consider riding steep ascents, couples looking to democratise their road bike endurance, men and women returning to the saddles with renewed confidence mustered by electric assistance, and people generally attracted to better lifestyle decisions prompted by Instagram wellness algorithms - my photographic eye knew that something different was required to communicate e-bikes’ attraction.
With such a board range of customer demands and aspirations invested in the rise of the e-bike, I wanted the cover to feature a more formal ‘profile’ portrait of a couple with their electric bikes. Not to be glad in Raphaesque attire or sporting flamingo coloured Oakley Sutros, framing grins achieved by completing the Tre Cime di Lavaredo in PB time or looking like they’ve just existed the Twilight Zone on Mammoth Mountain.
No, I wanted a couple that were physically fit (without being obsessive or overtly so) in their late forties, with a non-cycled related backdrop. No tagged, urban ‘concrete porn’ either - just a warm, inclusive and relaxed portrait of a couple emitting pride astride their new e-bikes. Wearing their own clothing (refined for the shoot) along with warm gelled studio lights to combat the bitterly cold early March chill, Mark & Joan (not editor Mark) stepped up and posed their roles superbly.
The choice of e-bike was crucial too, and thankfully Ribble had just released their latest, fully loaded Ribble Hybrid AL e-bikes. Ribble supplied a pair of appropriately sized models, which suited the cover profile flawlessly. Throw in the complimentary red copper and blue green tones, held together by classy civic building arches, and Mark (editor Mark) and I knew we had the right shot in the bag.
The remaining shoots were then put on hold for what turned into many weeks…
Co-ordinating so much content for a new magazine is unenviable task at the best of times and Mark and the Dennis team were certainly pushed during lockdown, with furloughed staff and suppliers who were contributing to the magazine being equally disrupted too - Covid created havoc. Ideas and concepts were altered or dropped and certainly from my photographic perspective, pragmatic compromise prevailed, with a view to shooting at least 2 shoots, be it in a very stripped down way, once the stricter lockdown restrictions were eased.
Calling in favours from friends, Mark and I arranged a lovely couple of hours at a local nature reserve enveloped in wonderfully warm dusk light to set the backdrop for a story called ‘Its just like riding a bike’ featuring e-bike first timers Kit & Kelly (who were duly impressed with their e-bikes). Of course, it would have been rude not to shoot into that lowered sun and its wide angle lens flare :-)
Teaming up with Upgrade Bikes we then moved south of London to try and recover a smidge of what was lost with our cancelled Lake District trip by conducting a day’s photoshoot moving around multiple location along the South Downs near Brighton.
So there you are - a brand new 138 page fully featured cycling magazine, highlighting new and modern innovation, created through an unprecedented chapter in recent history by a great team, working in a fragmented, remote manner - drawing on each other’s skills learnt and experience gained, then finally being published and on sale from July 7th in newsagent and supermarket shelves across the UK. If you are tempted to go electric, you can buy a copy directly here to help your e-bike buying decision.
Thank you to Dharmesh Misty at Dennis Publishing, Rory Hitchens at Upgrade Bikes. Thank you to the brilliant newbie e-bike models Kit & Kelly, Mark Sanz & Joan McCrohan, Laura Graydon and Logan (skid master) Van Der Poel-Treacy, as your collective co-operation and patience was supreme.
Finally thank you Mark Sutton for commissioning my photographic eye. I shall conclude this post with an outtake shot of Mark doing his thing at 1/15 of second with a ping of strobe…