a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday 21 June 2020

Secrets of the balancing bike trick - revealed.

You may have seen pictures in cycling magazines of bikes mysteriously standing up on their own and if you are an Instagram user you will definitely have seen seen lots of pictures of balancing bikes. I don't know how professional photographers do it for their pictures in the glossy bike mags but I've developed my own method that works pretty well all be it with a bit of risk ... to the bike, not to me.
Here is one of my Instagram: tony_rees123 shots of my trusty Giant 29er seemingly balanced on its own, strategically positioned in front of a puddle with a cloudy sky in the background to get the maximum reflection effect - but how is it done ?
Sometimes people just balance their bikes by putting something under a pedal, a water bottle (tricky) or their helmet (not ideal) or on whatever is to hand when they are taking the picture, something like a half inflated football, although you're probably not going to come across one of those very often. Of course none these are strictly speaking balance bike shots because we can see how its done.
But in the very unlikely event that you do come across an abandoned football you can get a much better picture if you know the balancing bike trick.
There are a couple of key elements to a good balancing bike picture and number one is a good location, bridges are good, as are subways and nice empty roads work well, but anywhere will do as long as you have the second most important thing - a windless day ! don't try this in anything other than the stillest conditions, it will end in tears, trust me I know.
When I said at the start of this post that this trick is not without risk I was speaking from my own recent painful experience. Above is picture of my brand new Cannondale Topstone gravel bike pictured (balancing) at one of my favourite Instagram locations, a graffiti covered subway which is only a few minutes ride from where I live. I took this picture on my very first ride on the new bike and I was so keen to take some pictures of it that I decided to go for a balance bike shot ... in less than optimal conditions, you can probably guess what happened - yes a split second after taking this shot my shiny new and expensive gravel bike that I had ridden all of three miles fell over, worst of all it fell towards me but I wasn't quick enough to catch it and it hit the concrete hard and snapped the rear derailleur hanger clean off, I kid you not ! 
Multiple expletives followed and then a call to Mrs Rees to come and pick me up, but first I had a fifteen minute walk across fields to the nearest road carrying my brand new (broken) gravel bike, muttering away to myself the whole way, not how I expected my first ride on the new machine to end. Fortunately the only other damage was a bit of a scuff on the bar tape and I had a new hanger fitted within a couple of days and the Topstone was sorted. 
 I will be doing a full review on the Cannondale (a gravel bike with suspension) on the blog as soon as I have done a few more rides on it and taken a few more pictures obviously. Although after my upsetting maiden ride episode I decided not to take any chances and ordered another replacement hanger for it and one for each of my other bikes too ... just in case.
OK so I have kept you waiting long enough, hands up if you want to know how to do your own balancing bike pictures.

You will probably not be too surprised if I tell you that bikes won't stand up on their own, well not for more than a second anyway, something to do with gravity apparently, so you will need some way of supporting the bike in a vertical position. I use a custom made device designed and manufactured to the most exacting specification specifically for the job - a bit of metal tube with the end bent over.
In this picture I have supported the bike where the chain stay joins the seat tube but I also have a shorter tube that does the job, cut to length to fit underneath the rear bottle cage. The shorter support is useful as it fits inside my pack pack which is handy, with the long tube getting it to the my chosen location is a bit trickier, I generally tape it to the top tube wrapped it in some pipe insulation, can't be too careful, there is enough potential for damage taking the pics without scratching the bike on the way to take them.
Once you have taken your picture, hopefully without the bike hitting the deck all you have to do is remove the support from the picture and as with most things in life these days you can get an app for that. The one I use is called RETOUCH which is free to download for the Iphone and is fairly simple, you just use the 'quick brush' feature to get rid of your support. What the app actually does is move parts of the image around to cover up what you want to disappear, so there is a bit of a knack to and it does take a little bit of practice. When you take your picture if you position your support so that it will be against a plain background (as above) you can make it disappear in a way that is almost impossible to detect.

So that's it, I have let you in on all of my balancing bike picture taking secrets, well ... almost all.
Probably best not to attempt this one until you've had a bit of practice as you could easily end up breaking a lot more than just a derailleur hanger. Thanks for reading.


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