Back to the future: capturing tweed in silver

The spirit of Tweed: John Martin in his 1941 Swedish army uniform
The spirit of Tweed: John Martin in his 1941 Swedish army uniform

I’ve never been a fan of wearing special clothes to go bike riding; so I’ve avoided both branded Lycra and Frocks on Bikes events. However I decided to make an exception for the Need for Tweed Ride as a chance to get in touch with my inner Victorian. In the back of the wardrobe I found a tweedish jacket (bought well off Saville Row in an attempt to keep to the dress code of a UK university) and arranged to borrow an offspring’s bow tie.

But how to photograph  the event? Digital didn’t seem quite dignified. After some cupboard delving I retrieved my Rolleicord twin lens reflex, last used at least three decades previously. But could I get film for it? Photo Warehouse sold me a 120 roll film, though the assistant apologised for not being able to help me load it – he’d never actually loaded a film camera. “There’s probably a video on YouTube“.

Alastair at Tweed ride
The photographer phonecammed – selfie sticks simply don’t work with a twin lens reflex

On Saturday I hopped on my eBike (there are limits to this retro thing after all) and headed out to Shelly Bay to join the crowd of Tweeders milling around admiring pre loved clothing and even more pre loved bikes. Our mayor arrived, desperate to be recharged – her eBike that is. A skilled Penny Farthing rider did graceful circuits towing her stuffed penguin in a trailer (my attempt to photograph this Penny Pair resulted in an aethereal double exposure)

It IS cricket!
It jolly well IS cricket! (and a century to boot)
Alex checks out a 1950s BSA bike
Alex checks out a 1950s BSA bike

I wandered around capturing interesting folk, and discovering how a real camera changes the experience of photography. With only 12 shots to last the day, I had to get people to pose rather than aspiring to the “decisive moment” approach. But with a “serious” camera around my neck, people were happy to pose. On the other hand, it wasn’t all that obvious that I was taking a photograph, peering down into a leather enshrouded box at waist level.

Dan Michelson of Bicycle Junction and Mayor Celia Wade Brown wonder what I'm doing with the funny box
Dan Michelson of Bicycle Junction and Mayor Celia Wade Brown wonder what I’m doing with the funny box
Miles channels Dick Seddon rousing the masses
Miles channels Dick Seddon to rouse the masses

Soon we were summoned for the send off, and reminded that it was our mechanical steeds that liberated humanity from the horse. With a tinkling of bells over a hundred of us circumnavigated Evans Bay to Cog Park, where the Bicycle Junction team attempted to emulate the Loaves and fishes with cucumber sandwiches and cream scones. Thus recharged, we battled (at least the electrically unassisted of us)  the traditional Wellington northerly gale to the city, and the Rogue and Vagabond watering hole.

So what had the Tweed ride achieved? We’d certainly shown that you don’t need 21st century clothing for 21st century riding. We’d also shown that the future of transport isn’t about hoverboards, DeLoreans, or even driverless cars. Bikes are a great transport technology, and they’ll be with us for at least another century.

Post Script:

A day or so later, returning from having dropped off my Rollei film to be developed, I stopped at our local bakery. Having a coffee was Ans Westra, the Dutch immigrant famous for her documenting of Kiwi life with her Rollei. Coincidence? I think not.

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