Rough Stuff Archive kickstarts a look back over the early days of #dirtydropbargoodness

by Tom Hill 0

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.

Mastiles Lane hasn’t changed a bit. Photo Credit: @RSFArchive

The Rough-What-Now?

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.

We’ll let you work this one out. Photo Credit: @RSFArchive

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.

It’s about time the cape made a comeback. Photo Credit: @RSFArchive
It’s not just photos in the collection

The collection

Mark told us a little more about the collection:

“Currently the image archive is primarily made up of the slide collection of Bob Harrison and the medium format negatives of Albert Winstanley. 
“I estimate there is 10,000 of Bob’s slides. These are all indexed with dates and location. Bob was a cabinet maker by trade and built all the wooden boxes himself which the slides are housed in. Bob was RSF through and through. A founding member back in 1955, and I don’t think he missed an Easter Meet. He travelled all over Great Britain, did all the classic routes and passes, as well as many unknown ones. He also travelled abroad, multiple trips to Norway, to Ireland, France, Switzerland, Italy. The list goes on.”
There’s a lot of archive to work through…
“In the archive is also Bob’s bike. A fairly ordinary Claud Butler. Hand painted grey and fitted with low to medium end parts. At the rate these RSFers wore out components it simply wasn’t worth buying top end equipment.”
Excellent tandemeering. Photo Credit: @RSFArchive
“There are thousands more slides which I’ve not even had chance to look through. Probably 20,000 images in total, and I’ve more to collect. 
There are hand drawn maps, The Iceland Expedition folder, Journals and lots more material.”
Always time for a brew. Photo Credit: @RSFArchive
Max Leonard is the man behind Isola Press, and has already published “Rough Stuff Cycling in the Alps” – a re-print of a compilation of alpine routes collated by Fred Wright. He saw the historical significance of the RSF archive:

“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.”

They are hardy souls these Rough-Stuffers. Photo Credit: @RSFArchive

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.”

Who doesn’t dream of gravel roads like these now? Photo Credit: @RSFArchive

Backing

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”

A bit more walking with the bike. Photo Credit: @RSFArchive

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