Old guys on Hot Bikes with Phase One! Part 1
By Andrew Paquette with Michiel Faro
Hello Steve and Brandon,
Some time ago, I made a post on your site that featured a fancy camera or lens of some kind. As happens on these occasions, a comment was posted that maybe it would have been easier to use different gear. While true, my goal—as I have written more than once here—is not to pick gear based on which is easiest to use. My goal is to get the best image quality even if the equipment is quite difficult to use. This made me think of an analogy to illustrate the point. Here in the Netherlands, I often see cyclists sixty years old and older (some look like they could be ninety) who ride some of the coolest racing bikes I’ve ever seen. These guys can be found on almost any weekend riding together in a peloton, wearing racing colours, riding bicycles that might have travelled quite a bit faster if piloted by younger athletes. However, the performance advantage these cyclists derive from these bikes, and perhaps the fun of riding them as well, makes up for their cost.
In reply, one of your readers, Michiel Faro, identified himself as one of these “old guys on hot bikes”. He later made a photo essay posted on this site about how he acquired one of the last custom Roberts frames before the custom frame-maker retired. This comment of Michiel’s stuck in my mind for quite a while, and then I realized it would make a good portrait series. I sent Michiel an email to see if he’d be willing to participate, and that is how he became the first in my “old guys on hot bikes” series. So far I’ve only done the one shoot with Michiel and his cycling buddies Herman and Gerard, but I have another planned in a couple of weeks and will keep on shooting these for a little while. This post is just an introduction to the subject written on the day before I have to return to my office after my summer vacation. Michiel also took pictures at the shoot, so this will be a combination article, with my pictures and comments first, then Michiel’s.
My kit: Phase One IQ250, Phase One DF+, 28mm Schneider-Kreuznach LS, 80mm Schneider-Kreuznach LS, Schneider-Kreuznach 150mm LS, 2x ProFoto B1 flash units, ProFoto softdish and octabox.
The shoot: I travelled to Rotterdam by train, where Michiel meet me and my wife, Kitty, who was assisting. His little red car was too small for the camera gear, his Roberts racing bike, myself, and Kitty, so Kitty took a cab to the club where the shoot took place. The farther we drove, the more worried I became that Kitty didn’t have enough money for the cab because the club was much further from the train station than I had expected. After what seemed like thirty minutes, we came in sight of the Rotterdam municipal airport and then the cycling club. On the way in, Michiel pointed to a canal by the side of the road and told me how his bicycle went straight into it on one occasion, while he flew in the opposite direction and landed on the road after an accident with his bike. The water was as green and murky as anything you can imagine—I wouldn’t have wanted to fish out that bike. Still, it was in the past and an interesting thing to imagine while driving into the club. When we got into the parking lot, we saw Kitty had made it there ahead of us (with one euro to spare).
Inside, I was introduced to Herman, the founder of the club, and Gerard, who seemed to be the star athlete over 60 years of age. They were both wearing their racing kit, but I wanted to shoot Michiel in a suit first. It was raining outside, but luckily there was a covered spectators gallery near the track, so we set our lights up in there and got the first portrait of the day: of Michiel with his Roberts-frame bike (figure 1).
Michiel, f/4.5, 1/200s, ISO 400 SK LS 28mm
After getting the portrait of Michiel, he got into his kit and I switched from the 28mm SK lens used for his portrait to a 150mm SK to shoot the three riders as they raced around the track. It was raining, so the lights stayed under cover in the spectator area, but I pointed them out at the riders. This had the effect of freezing the raindrops near the riders. I was shooting at 1/1600th of a second though, so streaks of rain aren’t visible. Instead, they are hundreds of tiny highlights. If I had to do it over again, I would have tried to get streaks, but I’m not sure how, without testing, to shoot slow enough to get rain streaks but fast enough to get the cyclists moving past the camera. As it was, I had some focus problems because of the speed of the bikes and the focus tracking of the SK 150mm lens (not the fastest at this kind of duty). For that reason, I used manual focus to pre-focus on a spot of the track and fired the shutter release when the riders crossed it.
Gerard, f/10, 1/1600s, ISO 1600 SK LS 150mm (wish I’d shot this at 1/125s, but I wasn’t expecting him to stop and left my settings as they were)
Herman, f/8, 1/1000s, ISO 1600 SK LS 150mm
Gerard overtakes Michiel, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO 800 SK LS 150mm
Michiel in the lead, f/8, 1/1000s, ISO 1600 SK LS 150mm
Gerard changes a flat, f/5, 1/400s, ISO 400 SK LS 150mm (daylight only)
Before leaving for the day, I got some shots of all three riders together, and then some head shots. I like some of the shots, but equally important, it was a fun day out in the rain and great to hear some stories about past races (like when Michiel dropped out of a race to use the facilities, re-entered the race, and won—or the many times Gerard clobbered everyone in various races).
Gerard, f/3.5, 1/200s, ISO 400 SK LS 80mm
Herman, f/3.5, 1/200s, ISO 400 SK LS 80mm
Michiel, f/3.5, 1/200s, ISO 400 SK LS 80mm
Now for Michiel’s take on the shoot:
Dear Steve and Brandon, thank you for submitting this article and thank you Andrew for letting me participate in your project. I actually found it to be quite a challenge, being the subject and not the guy behind the lens. But the opportunity to ride once again on the track of the club that I’ve been a member of since 1981 was too good to pass down, and of course the theme of the shoot appealed to me as well.
As a whole the afternoon was – for me – a great success. I moved out of Rotterdam (first to Amsterdam, and now living just north of The Hague) twelve years ago. That move (and the diagnosis of CLL some four years thereafter; all’s good now, but no more time for racing) de facto put an end to my racing, which I’d been doing with quite some intensity since joining that club, RWC Ahoy. I must have raced there an average of sixty times a year for over twenty years…
Anyway, I’d rustled up some old friends I hadn’t seen in all those years (Herman on his modern cf Bianchi and Gerard with his steel Masi Prestige and period outfit), and that added a lot to the whole experience. Competitive racing actually consists mostly of storytelling.
The rain and wind (it wasn’t cold) completed the déja vu feeling; when we were younger) and fit(ter), rain didn’t matter. Riding against that wind and rain towards Andrew and Kitty on a racing gear (53×15, for those in the know) was (for me) faintly amusing; the two other guys still race and rack up weekly mileages I can only dream of.
I have the utmost admiration for how professionally and focused Andrew and Kitty handled the whole afternoon; it can’t have been easy, what with the rain and manual focusing. Then again, were Hasselblads and Rolleiflexex never used for sports photography?
As I love photographing photographers , I brought some gear as well: D810, 58/1.4G, 85/1.4G, mainly because I wanted, for the few pics I was going to take, concentrate on portraits. In retrospect, I would maybe have left the 58 at home and brought either the 35/1.4G (that’s a really versatile lens) or even the 24/1.4G. So as a result of that choice the pics that are included here may have a “cramped” look to them, and don’t show as much of the action as would have been possible with a different approach.
So, thanks for looking at (all of) these and let’s hope for some interesting comments!”
Gerard by MF, f/3.5, 1/400s, ISO 64, 85mm
Herman and Gerard, by MF, f/2, 1/200s, ISO 450, 85mm
Herman by MF, f/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 900, 58mm
Gerard by MF, f/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 400, 58mm
AP by MF, f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 1000, 58mm
AP by MF, f/2, 1/200s, ISO 1100, 85mm
KP by MF, f/2, 1/200s, ISO 800, 85mm
I was just at my doctor’s today to have a look at an injury I sustained on the weekend, when we started talking about photography. We went to my website and then, to my surprise, he immediately recognized (and was impressed by) Gerard’s Masi Prestige bike from the photo there.
You are looking great, Michiel! Good to see you are still active and fit. Take care (and: see you again soon)? Jan.
Yep, of course, check your text messages!
Thanks for the comments! To answer some questions…
* The bikes were a Bianchi Oltre, Campag Record equipped (state of the art carbon fibre, Herman), Masi Prestige, Campag Record equipped (state of the then art steel, Gerard), Roberts, Campag Record and a bit Chorus equipped (state of the art steel, XCR and a 953 downtube, Michiel).
* I’m aware people can only view these on a screen but still (some shots are similar), comparisons (crazy!) can be made between a 50Mp medium format and a 36Mp 24×36 sensor, flash and no flash, 58 and 85, manual and auto focusing…
I am a not so old guy who has always ridden as hot a bike as I can afford. From when I was 16 and I got into this sport, I learned so much and had so much fun with the “masters” in the various clubs I have ridden with. So I aspire to be an “old guy on a hot bike”. You have captured my ambition in images extremely well, and in so have reminded me of Brian, Bjorn, Percy, Dennis and countless others. Thank you.
What a great post: so much love for cycling, photographie and friends! Wonderful pictures as well! In one word: sublime! Many thanks 😉
Very nice! Its great reading pieces such as these. Wonderful photos backed by a great story. Really inspirational. Thanks for posting.
Unfortunately the amazing output of the modern day digital medium format cameras is lost on computer screens, ipads, and smart phones. I can only imagine what these images would look like blown up above and printed at 40 inches or more. In today’s small viewing venues, medium format can never reviel it’s true potential.
I love this project on so many levels .. The photos ,the setting , the comradeship and the focus on the older guys bike lust
Thanks Fergus! In another few years I’ll be in that category also (I’m 50 now). When I was a kid, my family was so poor that my first bike came from the Salvation Army and didn’t have a seat. I had to ride standing up everywhere I went. After a few months, I found an old “banana seat” (a really long seat found on kid’s bikes) and put it on the bike, but for those few months beforehand I was making a mental commitment that someday I was going to have a proper bike. Today, I ride a Trek Madone.
What old guys on bikes? I only see those young at heart on bikes. Ahhh, who still makes a good steel bike that has an organic flex that snaps back as your opposite leg begins the downstroke. The good old days when all a kid wanted was the fastest bike powered by as far as you can dream to go.
Chas Roberts did… until he stopped. Fortunately, the art of custom steel framebuilding lives on.
I would love to read which bikes they are riding. I bet there are some vitage bikes too…
As for photography… these shots are great, but why are the close-ups shots made with the lens wide open? I think I would have stopped down the lens at least until the tip a he nose, the eyes and the ears are all in focus. Or is this just a matter of taste?
If you mean my shots (D810, 58 and 85), they’re not fully wide open (I very rarely do that; too complicated for me) but at 2.0 and 2.8 I believe.
It’s just the way I like to shoot; near eye, the one with the light falling on it, as sharp as possible, the rest of the face slowly and smoothly fading into the background.
Also, I don’t use flash and was already using quite high ISO’s; I don’t really like to go over 2000.
Anyway, up that close, closing down a stop more won’t make a lot of difference.
P.s.: I believe the eyes are the mirror of the soul 😉
I think he might be talking about both of us here because my shots were almost wide open (the 80mm SK goes to 2.8). I just looked at them again and have to agree, they would have been better at f/7.1-9 or so. If I recall my thinking at the time, it was because to do so I had two choices: 1) increase ISO to 3200 or so (too grainy) or 2) just change the f-stop and let the flash units light the scene. I didn’t like option 2 because when I tried it, all the naturallight is lost and it looked flat. If I’d had a third light, I would have put it behind them to light the background and then it would have been fine. With that in mind, a high ISO would have worked with the equipment I had, but I don’t like shooting that high. In this case I now wish I had, for the reason you gave.
I have to admit I am biased here !I am one of those old guys on a bike myself.Thank you for an excellent post which could easily have been from one of the best cycling magazine.