We caught up with Thom Heald from Bristol by Cyclist to talk about his motivation behind capturing the spirit of Britain's Cycling City
What inspired you to start taking portraits of Bristol cyclists?
The project really started as a way for me to practice my photography. Since last year I have been getting increasingly involved with the Bristol cycling scene, through social rides, alleycats, etc and I realised that there was this ready made population of people who were doing their own thing simply because they love riding bikes and being around others who do too.
I remembered seeing projects such as Bike NYC and We Are Traffic and had that ‘bing’ lightbulb moment, and thought ‘why is no one doing this in Bristol?’ Once I came up with the name it was all go and I started contacting people.
How long have you been behind the lens?
I’ve been shooting stills on and off for years, and started learning how to do things properly in the last two. It’s a process of constant evolution, I want to look back every six months and see a noticeable difference in my images.
Day-to-day I work as a camera operator for a production company in Bristol, shooting commercial projects, viral video and the like, so I have that background in video production too. The Bristol By Cyclist project is a nice creative outlet to have on the side.
How long have you been biking?
I’ve been riding bikes since I was a kid. My first cycling memory is of my BMX, a Raleigh Burner with the white plastic five-spoke wheels! About six years ago I moved to Edinburgh, borrowed my dad’s old Specialized and cycled everywhere for six months. From that point onward I was totally sold on cycling and still get upset when I can’t take my bike and have to walk somewhere. Over the years I’ve owned mountain bikes, single speeds, road bikes and now I ride fixed most of the time which lends itself really well to Bristol.
What do you think it is about Bristol which makes it such an exciting city for cyclists?
Where do I start? I have never been to a place with so much going on for cyclists as Bristol. It has an incredibly diverse population, and whatever niche you’re into you can find an outlet for it. We’ve got great bike shops, charity projects (Bristol Bike Project), a crowd-funded café (Roll for the Soul), cycle festivals, social rides, publications (Boneshaker) and so much more.
The location is perfect for getting out on your bike, whether you want to spin around Spike Island on a summer’s afternoon and stop for a beer by the river, or head out into the hills and really test the legs.
What's your favourite winter bike ride around or away from the city?
In the city I love heading out from Stokes Croft and getting up to The Downs, the view looking up the gorge to Clifton suspension bridge never fails to get me. For longer rides I usually spin out past Ashton Court.
How do you get people involved in the project?
When I first thought of the project I made a list of people I knew, housemates, friends, and riders from the social rides like the Chip Shop ride (sadly now defunct) and the Full Moon bike ride. Hence the strong bias towards fixed gear and single speed riders in the first set of galleries. Now more and more cyclists are finding out about the project I have been contacted by riders from very varied backgrounds and have the luxury of people coming to me. I’m really happy that it seems to have struck such a chord, and look forward to working my way through as many cyclists as I can.
What do you hope people get out of looking through your portrait collection?
I hope that the project is a good reflection of the love for cycling that can be found in the city. By using interesting and iconic locations around Bristol I hope that people from other parts of the UK and even overseas can get a good feel for the place, and feel that they would want to ride a bike here.
How have people responded to the galleries so far?
Overall the response has been amazingly positive. I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s taken off so quickly. The best response I’ve had was a message from someone who said that my project was the clincher for them deciding to move back to Bristol from London. That was totally unexpected but really nice to hear that the project could do more than just being a neat thing to look at.
What is your intent for the future of this project? An exhibit? Gallery?
Considering I started this thing two months ago as an outlet for my photography it has taken on a life of its own. There are plans to expand the project to include bike-friendly spaces and business within Bristol, as well as collaborations with other photographers and designers. Somewhere down the line if the demand is there for a book then heck yes, I would love to do that. Right now though I’m just enjoying expanding at a leisurely pace, one cyclist at a time.
Any last words?
Thank you so much to everyone who has been involved with the project so far, all the people who have had their photo taken, liked the Facebook page, left comments, and shared the site. I very much appreciate it. Oh, and get involved!