Those of you who are on Instagram might have stumbled across the excellent @rsfarchive in recent months. It is a photographic retrospective of some of the film and slide negatives of Rough-Stuff Fellowship members – most dating back to the 50s and 60s. The clothing might have changed a bit, as have the bikes (although the upsurge in the popularity of gravel biking means that you are probably more likely to see a drop bar bike offroad than you were five years ago), but the landscapes are largely still recognisable and unchanged. There have definitely been a few photos that we’ve seen in the collection that prompted a double-take and a “they rode their bikes there!?” exclamation.
We were therefore excited to see that Isola Press has launched a Kickstarter campaign, in conjunction with the Rough-Stuff Fellowship to launch a book that showcases the best of the images in their extensive archive. Before we go any further, though, what is the Rough-Stuff Fellowship? The RSF has a detailed history on its website, but it can legitimately hold claim to being the oldest off-road cycling club in the world, with its inaugural meeting taking place on 29 May 1955. It is still going today, with healthy membership numbers and local groups/rides.
Recently, the club appointed an archivist, Mark Hudson, (the man behind the Instagram account), and the photos, hand-drawn maps and memories poured in – an unexpected treasure trove of incredible value and beauty. The photos are full of the joy of riding your bike, and evocative of a bygone style – of a time when you might set off on a club ride wearing a shirt and tie, a deerstalker or a bobble hat, and no ride was complete without a stop to brew up some tea and smoke a pipe.
Mark told us a little more about the collection:
“In their own quiet, very British way, these men and women were pioneers, pedalling and carrying their bikes and pitching their tents where angels feared to tread.
“Mountain bikes, gravel bikes, bikepacking – everything followed in the tyre tracks of the RSF. This book celebrates their style and their spirit.”
Where to begin?
Max and Mark are still working through the huge quantities of prints, slides and negatives and their task is a herculean one. Mark again:
“The final selection of slides hasn’t completely been made yet. We’ve got about 9000 to go! In truth, it’s extremely difficult. The images are of such good quality it’s very hard to leave any out. But this is our next process. We believe we’ll find the right balance to fill the book with the very best of these evocative photos.”
We are certain that the end product will be a special book though. If you are keen to get your hands on a copy, the Kickstarter is currently live. We’ve already back it and look forward to seeing the results.
We’ll leave the last word to Bob Harrison, thanks to Mark:
“I never go for a walk without my bike”