Jordan rides an Affinity Kissena. Sam Polcer

Sam Polcer’s portraits celebrate cool riders around the world.

For about two years, Sam Polcer would stand with his bike in different parts of New York City—on street corners, near bridges and velodromes—and chase down cyclists. He went after those who were impeccably dressed, including women in flowy dresses and men in clean-cut suits. He also went after those with a distinct fashion style: a young woman with fiery hair, a man with a red feather in his fedora.

Once Polcer caught up with them, he’d whip out his camera and snap a portrait. He also noted type of bikes they were riding, whether a BMX bike, a single-speed, or a vintage one. The result: stunning photos that show fashion and cycling don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

“Cycling has sort of been perceived as something that only spandex-clad weekend warriors can do,” says Polcer, who works as a freelance photographer and as the director of communication for the educational nonprofit Bike New York. “I have no problems with those folks, but they aren't the only ones riding.”

Claire rides an unknown single-speed bicycle. (Sam Polcer)
Tyrone rides a Pedal Driven Cycles Kool Thing BMX bicycle. (Sam Polcer)

The photos were published in his 2014 book, New York Bike Style, but he’s continued to update his blog, Preferred Mode, with new shots from his trips overseas. The project aims to capture the diversity of riders out there.

In New York, Polcer met the famous biking enthusiast David Byrne on the bike path he took to work every day, as well as the YouTube star Casey Neistat, who insisted that Polcer take a portrait of him in the middle of Broadway with his bike suspended in mid-air.

Casey Neistat rides a Jamis fixed gear bike. (Sam Polcer)

When it comes to finding stylish subjects, “it’s not suits and sundresses, or designer jeans,” Polcer tells CityLab. “It’s everything from someone covered in sand after leaving the beach to guys up in the Bronx riding BMX.” Basically, he says, he’d chase down anyone who caught his eye.

Then there are the portraits of local bike clubs like the Black Label Bike Clubs—“they sort of look like the Hells Angels of bikes”—and the different Puerto Rican Schwinn clubs showing off their vintage models.

Polcer recalls meeting Roberto and Wilfredo, two brothers who belonged to different Schwinn clubs and who just happened to be just a few streets apart. “I photographed one, and he said, ‘Hey, go up the block and find my brother, Wilfredo, tell him I sent you.’“

Roberto and Wilfredo on their vintage Schwinn bikes. (Sam Polcer)

Since his book’s release, Polcer has had the chance to visit Tokyo, Japan, and Bangkok, Thailand. “Tokyo is a truly remarkable place to ride a bike, despite the fact that they haven't put nearly nearly as much effort into their bike lane infrastructure as they have elsewhere,” he says. “To me, it seemed to me very utilitarian. The one thing I noticed was how many middle-aged women rode around on mamachari bikes—these big, clunky cruisers with a big basket in the front.”

In the traffic-heavy city of Bangkok, hundreds of cyclists gather every weekend to ride for hours around the 14-mile Green Cycle Track near the the city’s international airport. This is despite the city’s stifling weather. “It’s proof to me that even in sweltering heat, in cities where cycling doesn't make sense, there are still people who want to ride because it’s testament to how much fun it is.”

But in the global arena, he says, there’s another misconception—that in developing countries, it’s only the underclass who ride. And that people only do it because they can’t afford cars.

“I hope the perception changes and I think that style can play a role in that,” he says. “I want people to be seduced by the idea of cycling. It’s something you can do that is cool and fashionable and will make you the envy of your friends.”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a map comparing the sizes of several cities

    The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

    From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

  2. black children walking by a falling-down building

    White Americans’ Hold on Wealth Is Old, Deep, and Nearly Unshakeable

    White families quickly recuperated financial losses after the Civil War, and then created a Jim Crow credit system to bring more white families into money.

  3. People standing in line with empty water jugs.

    Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ Water Crisis, One Year Later

    In spring 2018, news of the water crisis in South Africa ricocheted around the world—then the story disappeared. So what happened?

  4. Smoke from the fires hangs over Brazil.

    Why the Amazon Is on Fire

    The rash of wildfires now consuming the Amazon rainforest can be blamed on a host of human factors, from climate change to deforestation to Brazilian politics.

  5. Life

    Why Are America’s Three Biggest Metros Shrinking?

    After a post-recession boomlet, the New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago areas are all seeing their population decline.