Bicycle Portraits from South Africa

A man in red with his yellow bicycle in South Africa.

Three volumes of portraits are the final products of a two-year effort led by Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler.

“The great advantage of working on something so long is that you can really immerse yourself and your audience in the total experience of the project,” Engelbrecht said. “And you get a real feel for what you are working on through meeting so many of the people that you are interested in, hearing their stories and sharing their experiences.”

Both Engelbrecht and Grobler are residents of Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa, and are “totally obsessed with bicycles,” said Engelbrecht, who has been photographing and publishing his own books over the years. Grobler has a background in motion-graphics design.

Each Bicycle Portraits book contains photos and descriptions of 54 individuals living in South Africa, chosen out of a pool of 500 portraits that were photographed over the course of the project. Engelbrecht said the next stage will involve visiting each person who appears in the books to personally hand them a copy.

The impetus for the project was to be able to bike around South Africa and meet fascinating people, Engelbrecht said. Add to that was the hope that everyday South Africans would see “that it is in fact possible to use a bicycle.”

“We’re not saying that everyone has to ride a bicycle all the time, of course,” Engelbrecht added. “It’s not practical for everyone; but, we hope to encourage some people to try and commute by bicycle as often as they can. It’s fast, it’s free and it’s fun.”

The books also each contain two essays by local and international cycling figures, such as Gary Fisher – one of the forefathers of mountain biking – and South Africa’s Nobel Prize-winning author, J.M. Coetzee. The books were designed by Gabrielle Guy and feature hand-painted watercolor maps by acclaimed South African artist Gabrielle Raaff.

The two photographers/ authors/ publishers raised over $40,000 from 564 backers for their books using the online fundraising tool, Kickstarter. Said Engelbrecht: “I think the crowd-funding platform is an incredible way forward for creative, independent projects. Of course there are other ways to fund a project like ours, but having everyday individuals invest in your vision and believe in your idea is very rewarding on many levels.”

“We’ll never have to owe the bank money or look at big companies to make our dreams come true – if your concept is good enough, there are a lot of people that will push your dream into existence.”

Bicycle Portraits is available internationally from

Stay tuned, as Engelbrecht has hinted that a fourth Bicycle Portraits book might be in the works.

Originally published in the May/ June 2012 issue of Momentum Magazine and on

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