Photographer Sam Polcer sees popular portrayal of urban cycling style as more than just pretty pictures. He believes in its power to seduce.
Polcer’s new book, New York Bike Style, due out at the end of this month from Prestel, is a collection of full-page images that capture the variety and verve of this city’s cycling community, from BMX kids to fixed-gear hipsters to fashionistas on upright bikes. He has also been chronicling bike style on his blog, Preferred Mode, since March 2013.
The aesthetic side of Polcer, 36, a seasoned photographer, writer and editor, is fascinated with the process of creating the images. But the evangelist in him speculates that “the more attractive you can make cycling look, the more people you can get to try it.
‘Fun and Feels Great’
“You can make convincing arguments about biking — it’s good for you, it’s good for the environment and so on,” he continues. “But people are going to start riding because it’s fun and feels great.”
Polcer, who has a keen eye and a low-key style that puts his subjects at ease in front of the camera, says he always loved to shoot photos, an interest that led to an undergraduate degree in film from New York University. Work in film production later gave way to the world of publishing. Polcer worked for seven years for the inflight magazine publishing company INK, where assignments sometimes included covering cycling events such as the fabled L’Eroica vintage cycling event in Europe.
His latest gig? Polcer joined the not-for-profit organization Bike New York as communications manager in January.
Scouting the Stylish, Then the Chase
Polcer says the year-long book project deepened his own appreciation for the city where he enjoys riding his ‘80s-era Lotus road bike, which he bought used. Capturing more than 175 subjects depicted in the 224-page book expanded his sense of the breadth and diversity of New York City’s cycling culture throughout the five boroughs.
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To scout for subjects, the photographer typically positioned himself and his bike near a busy thoroughfare. When he spotted a candidate, Polcer would pursue him or her on his bike and start a conversation. He says that spontaneity is part of what he was after, so quickness and improvisation proved key to his process. Most of the shots were done in just a few minutes.
“People love to have their pictures taken with their bikes, and they like the thought of seeing them in a book,” Polcer says.
Book Lets Pictures Do the Talking
He admits to a few turn-downs, but mostly in the name of time. Busy New Yorkers, it seems, are always moving with a purpose.
In the book, the images do most of the talking. The captions reveal only the subject’s name, type of bicycle, location and where the person was heading. Polcer uses the same approach on his blog, which he says was a natural adjunct to the book. It helped to build an audience in advance of publication and generated the “instant gratification” of posting new portraits.
“It was also a good way to keep myself on task, so I would have all seasons and therefore all styles represented,” he says.
With the urban scene at the center of today’s bicycling boom, the timing couldn’t be better. “No one had focused with a photo book on style,” Polcer says. “New York is ready for it.”
Photos: Sam Polcer