Jake Stangel on Cycling

1. How does the rhythm of cycling compare to the rhythm of shooting?

Long shoot days are a lot like long days in the saddle. I always feel like epic rides can get broken down into multiple phases. You start out the gate fresh and little overexcited, you settle into a rhythm, and then there’s usually some point halfway or two thirds of the way into a long ride where you start to lag but need to keep riding, otherwise you won’t make it home. This is often the point where I need to dig deepest and give the most effort, and find some second or third wind.

Shoot days are often remarkably similar… days where you’re asking a lot out of your body and your mind for a solid 10 or 12 or even 14 hours, and you need to be sharp 100% of the time. It’s exactly like being on a bike. It all becomes about endurance and playing the long game: knowing how to evenly ration out your energy through the course of the day, and staying sharp, observing details and nuance, staying upbeat. There are even similarities in eating and drinking… you need to give your body and mind the fuel it needs to sustain yourself all day.

I did a 22 day shoot last year across the globe with only one down day and 21 consecutive shoot days, often redeyeing to the next continent. My time spent doing long rides were 100% of the reason I made it through without getting sick or too tired or burning out. I knew I needed to stay focused, expend energy in a linear fashion and stay optimistic and present in every day.

2. Do you think you enjoy both cycling and photography because they let you go to a place, wander and explore?

Yes, for sure. The two go hand-in-hand and always will. I learned how to shoot and see and experience and explore on three different cycling trips across the US. The days were spent on the bike, riding 50-100 miles a day for three months, traversing the vast geographic and cultural wonders that make up the US. Evenings were spent exploring on foot, eating and talking our way across the small towns of America. That experience was definitely the foundation of how I regard photography: as a prism to understand my own relationship to new places and subjects, as well as how to bring those experiences to others. I firmly believe that a bicycle is the best way to travel across distance in the most intimate way. You’ve got no barriers between you and the environment you’re riding through, and it ramps up all your senses. You’re engaging all five senses at once, in every pedal stroke, through every mile. I vividly remember the transitions between bright, scalding sunlight and cool tree shade when riding in the humidity of the South, being at stoplights and overhearing family conversations about mint chocolate chip ice cream, and feeling brisk mountain air on my face during 50 mph descents in the Tetons. I like to try to bring these sensory delights into photographs as much as I can.

3. Tell us about your favorite bicycle and it's history.

Hmmm that’s a tough one, almost like asking who your favorite musician is. I love all my bikes dearly, but my beloved blue 1994 Waterford 1200 is what comes to the top of my mind. It’s the perfect steel frame and has got the most classic, timeless lines to it. It’s also got the full original Shimano Dura Ace groupset, which still shifts crisply and with intentionality. I can still make it go as fast as I want it to and it’s a looker, but not flashy. I’ve had it for all six years I’ve been in San Francisco, and the bike simply performs, day in and day out, up and over all the hills and flats of this city.

4. It's a Sunday morning and you want to go for a ride, where do you go?

I love the Bay Area for incredible topography that surrounds San Francisco, as well as the ways you can lace together paved roads and floaty dirt together in one ride. I’m not big on pre-determining a route before I head out, and I often ride with folks who roll that way as well. A common text the night before will be like “50-60 miles dirt, 8am GGB tomorrow?”, and we’ll meet up and put together a fun ride with a ton of elevation, depending on moods and weather, as we roll out of town. 1K feet in elevation per ten miles is pretty common. Anything on Mt. Tam is terrific, and I highly suggest climbing up Railroad Grade from Mill Valley to East Peak, descending Coastal Trail, and riding up Diaz Ridge to Miwok Trail to Tennessee Valley. Though the Headlands are quite hilly, I love beginning and ending rides out in the wilds of that area, and skipping the touristy riffraff of Sausalito in favor of quietness, ocean views, and a possible Coyote sighting.

5. When I cycle long distances, I always feel myself changing with the dusk, to something different. How do you feel when you ride over the sunset into the night?

I feel tranquil, I feel meditative, I feel calm. I like when the whole world fades to dark, and the only stimuli is the next 10-20 feet of road directly in front of you. It lets you get in your head a bit more. I’ve never met a night ride I didn’t like, and I’ve never returned to my house out of sorts from such a ride.

6. Why are so many photographers cyclists?

I think we’re all desperately vying for Instagram followers. In all seriousness, cycling is one of the best ways to spend a day. You’re seeing and doing so much on every ride that you’re coming away with a ton of stories and visuals that you’re keen to share.

7. Tell us about the most risky ride you've completed.

I’m not too risky of a rider I’d say. I do my best to not ride recklessly and not jeopardize my life or make others jeopardize theirs in order to bail me out. Or maybe I’m a dad. I like to ride fast and loose, but I like to be within my limits, which are always evolving as I learn to ride a bike better.

8. What makes a good riding companion?

You’re chill AF. You know when to ride fast, but you also know how to push it in a way that doesn’t forsake the group. You’ve got a good attitude. You’re able to have a conversation while riding bikes that’s not about bikes.

9. When you're riding how do you balance the ride and photos? Does stopping to take a photo feel like you're disrupting the rhythm of the ride?

Yeah there’s always a balance, and I often am shooting while on the bike. You should always feel okay to stop for photos and enjoy your surroundings for a moment, to sip it all in. If you never have, you should try it sometime. The road isn’t going anywhere :)