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Bicycle Portraits

South Africa's diverse cycling culture celebrated in a beautiful book

by Karen Day in Culture on 10 April 2012

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While commuting by bike has long been a natural choice in countries like the Netherlands and China, other nations around the world are only just starting to consider it a serious mode of transportation. In South Africa bike culture is lacking—especially outside of major cities—but cyclists Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler aim to change that. Taking to their own bikes, the enterprising duo rode nearly 4,000 miles around South Africa for the past two years photographing people who use bicycles everyday as their main means of transport.

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From their extensive endeavor they produced "Bicycle Portraits"—a series of three books featuring a motley of 162 cyclists and their bikes. Originally intended as a study on South African commuter culture, the books go well beyond beautiful imagery. Engelbrecht and Grobler began a conversation with each person they approached about how their bike fits into their lifestyle, pairing their unique stories—along with the person's name and location—with their portraits to showcase a diverse range of enthusiasts united by their passion.

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Adding even more charm to their handsome set of books, Engelbrecht and Grobler tapped South African artist Gabrielle Raaff to hand-paint individual watercolor maps for each cyclist's location. The overall layout builds a story that is as visually alluring as it is informative, enticing readers to understand the distinct relationships the cyclists have with their bikes.

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Engelbrecht and Grobler detailed the project in greater depth in a recent TED Talk they gave in Stellenbosch, but explain on the "Bicycle Portraits" website that their main objective is to "promote cycling as a means of independent transport to empower the underprivileged, and in fact, to encourage everyone capable to ride a bike as an alternative to driving a car, or even using public transport."

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Designed by Gabrielle Guy, the books are now available for purchase online, and will ship internationally. Those who pre-ordered a book in Cape Town will receive their copy by bike delivery, which Grobler tells us has been "an awesome experience" so far. "Bicycle Portraits" sells as a set of three for $100 or for $39 each.

See more of Engelbrecht and Grobler's portraits in the gallery below.

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