This summer Yorkshire was a breeding ground for yellow bikes. Photographer Ross McGinnes puts Elizabeth Williams in the picture about what happened to them all.
They were everywhere this summer. Padlocked to pubs, tied to school gates, hoisted in hedges and sat atop garden sheds. Yellow bikes, sprayed to celebrate the Tour de France, swept across Yorkshire months before the race itself arrived in July.
Hebden Bridge photographer Ross McGinnes wanted to build a project around the race, but faced the problem of finding a fresh perspective.
“I knew the opportunity to photograph something a little different on the day would be limited,” he explains. “Everyone had cameras, every angle was covered and social media was at saturation point. The race went right past my front door, which is where I was always going to watch it from, so I took one bog-standard ‘I was there’ shot’, then got cracking on my own Tour project as soon as the race left town.”
Ross’s idea was to track what happened to those hundreds of yellow bikes once the peloton had crossed the Channel. “I joked with a friend that scrap metal merchants would be doing a roaring trade the day after the race passed through – and that’s when it hit me. Where would all these yellow bikes end up? Many weren’t roadworthy beforehand, let alone after they’d been sprayed and bolted to a house for two months. I wanted to explore what people were going to do with them and maybe borrow a few of them for the project.
A plea went out on Twitter and having been inundated with responses, Ross quickly discovered that most people planned to hang on to the bikes as a souvenir of the Grand Départ.
“It seems the answer to the more specific question of: ‘Where did all the yellow racers go?’ is ‘Back in the garage’. One chap even commented that he’d paid £25 for his Dawes bike back in the 1970s and didn’t want it being mucked around with.”
With some not keen to hand over their treasured two wheels, Ross’s project to produce a series of limited edition prints, became a mix of donated bikes which were planted around Calderdale, those genuinely fly-tipped and bikes at their responsible final resting place – the council tip.
Ross recalls: “The hardest shot to get was at a Calderdale reservoir. I had to park on the main road and wheel the bike – which had no chain or brakes – two miles to the water’s edge. I set the tripod up, but as soon as I placed the BMX in the reservoir the ranger appeared at the far end in his Land Rover. I was expecting a ticking off, but once I explained the idea behind the project he was happy for me to get the shot I’d come for. A lift back to the car would have been nice though.
“Also, a lady who wanted to know why I was photographing her bins was great to chat to once we’d crossed the initial hurdle. Aside from that, lots of strange looks from dog walkers. I did a five-year project photographing skips on roadsides, so you get used to it.”
Ross is aware that his representation of the race – and the landscape – may not be to everyone’s taste, but the final collection is true to his trademark style.
“Calderdale’s scenery is stunning, but I’ve never been one for photographing waterfalls and bluebells. I love capturing things that many people wouldn’t deem remotely worthy of photographing, that they’d walk past every day and not notice. This project presented a great opportunity to use the landscape as a rugged backdrop, while documenting a once-in-a-lifetime event in my own style.
“I do understand why some of the images divide opinion though. I was even emailed by a Calderdale resident accusing me of encouraging fly-tipping. However, bikes that I borrowed were returned to their owners, and bikes I found were taken to the tip. By taking pictures of them, staged or otherwise, I hope they prompt locals to ask questions about why fly-tipping is so widespread in the area, why it takes so long to be removed and what steps are being taken to prevent it.”
With the yellow bikes now captured on camera forever, Ross has already embarked on his next project. “I’m currently working with Royd Ices of Mytholmroyd, following their vans on the road and behind the scenes. It’s providing another great opportunity to showcase our fantastic landscape from a fresh perspective.”
Limited edition prints from Where Did All The Yellow Bikes Go? are available at www.rossmcginnes.com, and Heart Gallery in Hebden Bridge.