the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

July 7, 2010

Unleash the tirade: is there still a place for travel focused features… or should we all just ride the local pump track?

Filed under: bike, outdoors, photography — Tags: , , — danmilner @ 11:44 am

So, here’s the point: much of my work involves travelling, it’s what got me started in photography (ducking my way through a political tumultuous Latin America in the late 1980’s snapping pics of all things political as I went), and it’s still a large part of what I do. The reason is two fold: Firstly, I love to experience (and ride bikes in) new places, and secondly I still think others like to hear about new places. But a recent e-mail conversation with a French bike industry friend got me thinking. So I thought, why not paste that conversation here as food for thought. I’ll set the scene by saying that I’d just got back from a month in Nepal (shooting stories for MBUK and Cooler magazines), but it goes something like this…

>Me: Nepal trip was amazing.. we should go back! In fact I have some ideas to… here are a couple of photo teasers from our trip…

>Him: Yep, Nepal sounds nice indeed but why go to such a remote place? I remember a time when windsurf mags were always going to Hawaïi and all those mags finally crashed. Why? Simply because all these dreams weren’t affordable to most rider’s pockets, or took into account their riding ability. As usual think global, act local. Just a point of view, no criticism.

Now as I am an arty, sensitive kind of bloke, did of course take this personally. But I flashed back with..

>Me: Interesting comment indeed and a good point… and one I think about a lot. Act local… ? Well, on that note for the UK mags I just did a massive 8 page feature on how good the riding is in the UK (for What Mountain Bike) And another on riding in Chamonix (MBUK) and another on trails in Switzerland (for MBUK again) and another on Mallorca. OK they are not all 100% “local” but if you live in muddy UK, you have to dream about riding somewhere that’s not muddy and wet at sometimes! And for many readers/riders I do think its about the dream too..  it’s about getting the balance between the inspiration and aspiration… about using the bike as a tool and an excuse to travel. I think you are one of those people who likes the ride but also the adventure associated with places like Nepal.. the unknown ahead, the variety of trails, the different riding..  and the chance to experience a completely different corner of the world with very different way of life. I like to do trips like this to show people actually how realistic such trips are, and that places like this aren’t just for the pro riders (like so many of the heli-ski winter things are). (by the way it doesn’t financially cost anymore to go to Nepal for 2 weeks than do a bike trip to the Alps. Of course the environmental cost is a little different!

Riding through some remote part of Morrocco's Atlas mountains a couple of years back saw us accompanied by this lad on his bike. No he's not on a Specializ-a-dale, but the mutual bike thing meant we shared at least more than trying to buy or sell something. Shot with Contax G2, 21/2.8, Fuji Provia 100F

>Him: yep… good point too.. to open minds and offer some dream moments that above all could be affordable. I’m just always a bit doubtful about riding and having fun among people that don’t even have enough for living… but sure traveling by bike is more accepted and easier for human contact than, as you said is heli-skiing.

>Me: Ah, the age old question…. us and them. But you could ride your 3000 Euro bike in parts of England among people who are having trouble getting enough money to live properly! I think the imbalance of north and south, and east and west are to be aware of, but they shouldn’t stop you visiting them with a bike, at least if you act responsibly. Yes, people in Nepal may never (?) understand the price of our bikes (just like they can’t understand how we pay 3 Euros for bread)… but they do understand the bike. It’s bikes that are THE way for most people to get about, and the majority appreciate the fact that you are on your bike. The bike is something that they can identify with: it breaks down barriers in communication with strangers. Kids on bikes anywhere want to race you!  I don’t think we should be guilty about having fun in places like that. If so then we should not look at travelling at all, except only to places that are more wealthy and hedonistic than us… and that just leaves us with the USA.

Sure it is uncomfortable at times, but then you could say that hiking through these village s in your 100 Euro boots is doubtful too. In fact Nepal relies heavily on the tourist income: it’s a massive part of their earnings. For 10 years while they were at war, tourism dropped off massively and they suffered. They don’t have much in the way of natural mineral wealth or oil to make them rich. Tourism is important to most of them. Of course it has to be responsible tourism. In Pokhara we rode with kids from the local mountain bike club. Sure the bikes had been brought over by a French guy who now lives there, but some of these kids, who are from villages that scrape together a living, get to ride proper mountain bikes and are really good at it. Yes, it’s only going to be a few, but its change too.

And so the discussion continues. Yes it’s easy to think of any of these ‘exotic’ locations as out of range for a lot of riders, but realistically, with the right mentality there is not reason for them to be. After all no-one is proposing a ride through the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan right now. For photographers like me of course (though I’d most likely sign up if they did), it’s about getting the balance right: a mix of aspiration and inspiration. I got back into kayaking a few years ago. No, I probably wont paddle the grade of rivers I did twenty five years ago when I was competing, but it still doesn’t stop me looking up uber-gnarl footage on You Tube and getting that tingly feeling while watching.. a mix of I-want-to-do-that-but-would-be-too-scared-to-even-try, and just simple admiration of what is going on in that river. The same applies watching Danny McAskill trials riding up a tree, or seeing Jeremy Jones drop into a mentalist snowboard line in the backcountry. We all live vicariously at times, but if you want it, the chance to travel, to broaden your mind, to experience some genuine testing times and learn about yourself and about others from the experience is out there.

Phew, as I said unleash the tirade. Have I justified my own job yet?



  1. Great image of the kid!

    Comment by Diehl Art Gallery — July 7, 2010 @ 11:22 pm

    • Thanks, It was one that just happened.. a chance photo opportunity in the middle of some very remote mountains.. 3 riders with nothing but an idea for a week long ride, backpacks on our backs and bikes under our.. well, you get the idea. This was shot with the legendary and very able Contax G2 rangefinder. I’ve swapped that out now for the digital Leica M8. Means you dont have to carry bags of film anymore.

      Comment by danmilner — July 8, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

  2. Hey Dan. I’m with you on this one. In the early 2000’s the stories in mtb mags of distant adventures helped me realise that there was more to a mountain bike than just razzing around the local woods, even if the stories seemed like unachievable dreams. Even now having realised that some of these mag trips are achievable with a bit of effort, stories of big mountains in far off places are still my favourite bits in a ‘It would be ace to try and do that one day’ kind of way.

    As for the riding in poorer areas issue, I think most of the locals would prefer to have mountain bikers, or hikers and a bit of additional income, that have no-one visiting at all. Visiting Bosnia (Not the same level as Nepal, but still) this was the impression I got.

    Anyway, keep at the excellent travel stories. You’ll struggle to have an adventure down the local trail center.

    Comment by Dave — July 8, 2010 @ 10:22 am

    • Thanks Dave. Certainly the travel thing has always played a big part of what motivates me, and a lot of people I know, and usually nothing beats being on a bike in remote places, at least as far as breaking down barriers between yourself and local people. As you say pretty much any of the bike trips I do are achievable by anyone with a taste for adventure and a willingness to put up with some testing moments.. it’s a myth that magazine trips are only for pro riders and well paid photographers gathering expense receipts.. the trips I do are self financed.. which means anyone with an average western wage (or less) can do them. You just got read a feature, get inspired and to spin the globe and decide where you want to go. Naive. I don’t think so.

      Comment by danmilner — July 8, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

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