What inspires you to go Bikepacking?
Perhaps this has happened to you. You are riding your favorite bike down a quiet gravel backroad when you see a lone cyclist ahead, riding the same direction. They are a ways off at first, but even from a distance you can tell they are on a journey. You catch up surprisingly quickly, noting their reserved pace and steady cadence. Soon the extent of the gear loaded on their bike comes into view. Closer still and you see some clues about their story- a titanium mug and a safety pizza dangle from the seat pack, both of which have probably seen more miles in the last month than you have ridden all season. The fuel bottle and tent poles lashed to the frame are the not-so-subtle hints at where this traveler lays their head at night. Maybe you pull up alongside them and banter about the weather, or just give them a quick nod as you pass by…but you can’t help but wonder about their story.
Some people are riding away from something: a broken relationship, a politically unstable region, a soul sucking job or even mental or physical illness. Others are riding towards something: the edge of continent, the iconic end of the route or trail, or the final frontier before their visa runs out. Many others ride for the journey: to take it all in, using the bicycle as a vehicle with which to absorb natural beauty, the sights, the sounds and the cultures of the world around us. But there are a special few out there who ride as to inspiration for art - something they can share with the world. Tony Manent is one of these riders.
The form and function of bikepacking bikes
Better known as the artist behind Concerete Road, Tony has a Masters degree from the Eurpoean School of Visual Art (Angouleme) with a focus on sport comics. From there he has continued his academic path with an ongoing PhD in the Japanese Studies department at the University of Strasbourg, a cycling centric city located at in France at the border with southern Germany (not far from the Tout Terrain manufactory). His thesis, “New Horizons for Specialized Comics” (no, not the bike brand!) will continue to focus on sports narratives and imagery. Tony is an avid cyclist and has a true appreciation for the aesthetics, the equipment, and the culture of cycling and especially bikepacking. Tony rides an Outback Xplore 275 with a Pinion drivetrain - the gearbox which was a focus of his bicycle art even before he had ridden the Tout Terrain. For him, bikepacking adventures serve not only as a way to explore our world, but as inspiration to conceive entirely new ones. There are a lot of talented cycling-inspired artists out there, but what separates Tony’s work from the others is how he ties together landscapes, bikes, and characters and brings you into their world – his world.
Connecting with people while bikepacking
Concrete Road and Tony’s other works are rich environments filled with characters inspired by the people he travels with, and those he meets on route. This series is based on his travels with Justine Sarlat (Pinky.thumby.tattoo on Instagram) in Norway this past year. In his paintings, the subtle, telling expressions of his riders depict the same highs and lows we all experience while bikepacking. The watercolors have a freedom of expression that simply cannot be captured by the even the fanciest drones or cameras. Painting bypasses the barriers the rest of us face while riding - batteries die, phones get wet, or maybe we are just a little too tired at the end of the day to catch the breathtaking sunset from at the next lookout. There are no such limitations in the Concrete Road universe. His perspective is free to soar with the birds or skip over to the next fjord to catch the fading light at magic hour. There is no danger when his character crawls over the edge of a precipice. There no poop caught up in sheep’s wool coat that ruins what would have been “that perfect Instagram photo”. Without all the details and minutia found in photographs, without pesky reality getting in the way, we are free to connect with Tony’s characters and experience the simple moments that each of his paintings depicts.
The comedy and absurdity of bikepacking
While his watercolors may not show the scenes exactly as he experienced them, we have to remember that these images are all born out his experiences. His characters don’t have to deal with the aftermath of drying out their clothes after barreling recklessly through a giant puddle, you can be pretty sure that Tony and Justine did. We all know, consciously or subconsciously that the picture perfect photos we see on Instagram are not always a reflection of reality. Tony’s paintings are in some ways a more honest approach to deception in that they do not pretend to be real.
Tony’s comic strips on the other hand, have a different take on reality. The characters in his watercolors paintings have a sense of fantasy, while the landscapes they traverse are more realistic. The comic strip is just the opposite. In classic comic style he tells a wonderfully self-reflexive story through black and white illustrations that do away with a realistic landscape, but bring voices and candor to his characters. What they experience is perhaps a more realistic take on bikepacking than you will see on any social media account. My take is that the comic strip is actually a behind-the-scenes look into creation of his paintings. The characters face the realities of adventure travel as experienced by the modern storyteller. The riders are flawed, funny, and honest. While some bikepackers are out searching for meaning of life on epic cross-continental voyages, others like Tony’s characters, and Tony, consider of a ferry ride and pretty sunset to be “all that and a bag of chips”.
The Future of Concrete Road
It is exciting to see what the future holds for Concrete Road. Tony is keeping busy, currently working on a magazine with Justine which will be released at ExpoduVelo bike show in Strasburg in September. Later this year he will be taking his Outback to Spain to collaborate with French artist Clotilde Deschamps-Prince on a bikepacking / cosplay project combining bikepacking, costume design, and photography. In the fall, he will travel to Japan where he will put on a solo exhibition of his work, present at comic festivals, and continue research for his dissertation. We at Tout Terrain are proud to have Tony as a member of our Adventure Team, and to have a selection of his prints on our walls. It’s great to have storytellers and artists like him who can help us step back and see our world, and our crazy hobby/sport, from a new perspective.
Tony’s artwork help us to reflect on why we ride, and also teaches an important lesson: The next time you meet you meet up with a fellow bikepacker, consider the many reasons they might be riding, and always put your best self forward…because you never know when you might end up as a character in someone else’s comic strip.
The folks over at The Radavist have published Tony's first bikepacking Fanzine. Check it out here!