Bicycle Portraits

B_P Map 1
When we started the project, ‘Bicycle Portraits’ aimed to be a study of South African commuter culture, and we wanted to find out who rides bicycles, why they ride bicycles, if and why they love their bicycles, and of course why so few South Africans choose bicycles as a transport option. But ‘Bicycle Portraits’ has turned into a portrait of a nation through the bicycles that they own and ride every day - revealing all manner of social, class, historical and cultural nuances never imagined. Over the last 2 years we’ve cycled more that 6000 kilometers and photographed nearly 500 everyday cyclists out there on our road. From small towns, remote farm road to our big cities, over mountain and along the coasts - we’ve cycled everywhere to meet all these incredible heroes; people who have made the choice to ride a bicycle in the face of cultural and social stigma, crime and dangerous roads.

We are about to publish the best 165 portraits in book form over 3 volumes. Each volume will include 2 essays - the 6 text pieces included in the 3 volumes will include contributions ranging from well known and respected intenational cycling figures to the voices of every day people we have encountered along out journeys. The books are designed by Gabrielle Guy and we have also collaborated with celebrated South African artist Gabrielle Raaff to create an individual hand-painted watercolor map, based on Google Maps, to indicate the location of each of the portraits.
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We are currently in the last phase of fundraising through pre-sales of the books (plus great extras like prints and special edition prints and books) on the wonderful Kickstarter platform. Visit to pre-order your copies and become part of the team that will turn this project into a beautifully printed series of books. The social funding website Kickstarter is truly and incredible platform and we are very happy and proud to be able to see this project through with the assistance from individuals who believe in us from around the world instead of having to bow to a corporate sponsor that would muddy our vision.

As you’ll see we are not photographing people who ride purely for exercise or recreation, but instead we are focussing on those who use bicycles as an integral tool in their day-to-day existence. We’ve noticed that in South Africa, especially in the major centers, very few people use bicycles as mode of transport. This is very strange since we have no proper public transport infrastructure, and that which does exist is expensive and unsafe.
Given all the benefits of cycling - independence, health, fitness, cost-effectiveness, environmentally friendly - we would love to encourage the use of bicycles in South Africa amongst all social classes. We’ve noticed that as our major centers develop there still seems to be a trend to make cities more friendly for cars, not people. While this might be happening in many places around the world the effect on individuals seems to be very dramatic in a country like South Africa, where there is a growing divide between those who can afford motorized transport and those who struggle to. Owning a bicycle in this social climate can be very empowering, if the correct infrastructure exists.

As you might know, South Africa is a world within one country, home to various cultures, with a tragic history of segregation and racism. Through this project we hope to give people a glimpse into each other lives through a well known object of movement, practicality and joy - the bicycle. Looking at individuals through their, sometimes unconscious, involvement in bicycle culture, we will inadvertently touch on many charged issues like the implementation of public space, lack of infrastructure development and also social problems like class division and unequal wealth distribution, but also perhaps bring those unfamiliar to each other together in their love for a simple thing…

B_P Map 5

Stan Engelbrecht

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