The Equalizing Power of Bikes: Restless Collective Interview

Meet the ultimate bike commuters: Morrigan McCarthy and Alan Winslow. Together, they are Restless Collective, a photography and multimedia collective that has completed one major project by bike and is about to embark on a second venture by bike.

Restless Collective
Photo: David Wright

If your livelihood entails capturing the views of Americans regarding environmental issues and you traverse 11,000 miles worth of the United States by bicycle to complete this project, you may know a thing or two about getting around on a bike.

Project Tandem was Morrigan and Alan’s first project by bike. After spending a year on bikes in the United States, with great results, the pair is now getting ready to tour the rest of the world to complete their Geography of Youth project. In both projects, Morrigan and Alan are traveling unsupported and experiencing the world at a pace and distance that can only be achieved on a bicycle. Fortunately, the end result is a collection of media that they share with the rest of us, and they have also been gracious enough to share some of their thoughts on completing their work by bike.

Commute By Bike (CbB): What inspired you to choose the bicycle as your method of transportation for Project Tandem?

Restless Collective (RC): The original idea was to drive across the country, but it felt kind of wrong to drive when we were talking to folks about environmental issues. At that point in the planning process, my (Morrigan’s) dad mentioned that he had a friend in college who had bicycled across the country. We thought that sounded pretty cool, and so we looked at a map and decided that if we could bike the 3,000 miles across the country, why not go 11,000 miles in a big circle around it? It really was that simple, just an idea that escalated really quickly.

CbB: How would Project Tandem have been different if you didn’t decide to travel by bike?

RC: It would have been totally different. First of all, it got us off the highways and onto the back roads of the United States, which allowed us to talk to folks who don’t usually get interviewed by the media. Second, traveling at ten miles-per-hour allows you to really see, smell, and hear the world around you. We felt like we really got a sense for the places we traveled through and we loved being able to stop and take photographs or chat with someone on the side of the road at a whim. Last, by certainly not least, traveling by bicycle isn’t terribly intimidating. When we would roll up to a town, people seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing and chatted us up. That broke the ice for us hundred of times over in towns where, if we had rolled up in a car, no one would have given us a second look. Oh, and we have great legs now. 🙂

CbB: How has traveling by bike changed your perspective of America and of transportation in the United States?

RC: Traveling by bicycle really contributed to both of us falling in love with all these different little pieces of the country. Like we said before, seeing, smelling, and hearing small town America for eleven months really made us appreciate the beauty of this country and the wonderful spirit of the incredible individuals that make it up.

As for transportation within this country, we’re now big supporters of the Rails to Trails program and the US Bicycle Route System that Adventure Cycling is working so hard at. We think that if Americans could cycle away from car traffic all across the country, then so many more people would be exploring cycle touring and riding with their kids! That would be the dream, but we actually found ourselves comfortable riding with traffic most of the time. There were certainly a few roads without shoulders and a handful of scary moments, but overall we found riding on roads to be safe and enjoyable! You just have to act like a car. Follow the same rules, be nice, and respect all other vehicles. That’s the key.

Photo: Project Tandem/Restless Collective

CbB: Since completing the 11,000 mile journey for Project Tandem, have you continued to ride regularly? Have you started using your bikes for everyday transportation purposes?

RC: We do ride regularly, and choosing a place to live that is within walking/cycling distance to our everyday needs has been really important to us. We live in Maine where this winter was pretty rough and our roads are pretty poorly maintained, so this winter we drove a lot more than we wanted to. We share a car though, and as spring has arrived and the giant snowbanks are melting, we’re gladly climbing back on the bikes.

CbB: How do you transport all of your media equipment as well as the necessities by bike? Is this completely unsupported touring?

RC: Yes, we tour completely unsupported. The bulk of our weight on the road is media equipment, and our panniers are pretty heavy compared to the average touring cyclist. We carry just the amount of equipment we need to get the job done. We’re minimalists anyway, so touring cycling kind of works for us!

Photo: Project Tandem/Restless Collective

CbB: For the Geography of Youth project, you’ll again be riding bikes, this time around the globe. Have you made any changes in your preparations or bicycle configurations now that you have more experience?

RC: Oh yes. This time around, we’re working with the incredible bicycle company, Waterford Precision Cycles, who are custom building us touring bicycles for our specific needs. That alone will make a world of difference. We’re also training, which is something we didn’t really do for Project Tandem. We know the first couple weeks will still be rough, but hopefully we’ll be better equipped to handle it this time.

CbB: How do you think that you’ll be received in different countries as you travel by bike? Do you feel that people in certain regions may be more or less inclined to interact with American cyclists with cameras?

RC: We’re sure that we’ll experience some individuals or cultures that are more hesitant to be photographed, but it was like that in the States, too. Not everyone likes having their photo taken and there are a million reasons for that. We just try to be respectful and approach everyone as an individual. There’s not much more you can do about it!

CbB: What is the most important goal that you hope to accomplish through the Geography of Youth project?

RC: We hope that this project will serve as a springboard for tolerance and cross-cultural acceptance. We found during Project Tandem that people all over the country are more alike than different, and we suspect that will hold true all over the world. We just want to share what we see and learn with people from all walks of life, and hopefully they’ll all take their own lessons from our photographs and multimedia.

CbB: What is the most beautiful or inspiring aspect of the bicycle?

RC: We love that they are so equalizing. You can find a bicycle in just about every corner of the planet. From the richest cities to the poorest towns, there are people riding bicycles. Most anyone can ride one, they can be simple and inexpensive or made with cutting edge technology, but the action is the same: sit down, pedal, feel the breeze on your face. That’s a pretty beautiful thing.

CbB: Anything else that you’d like to share about bicycles, photography or your fusion the two?

RC: We think that bicycles and photography are a natural pairing. They both have a technical side and an art side. We like that, and feel so lucky to have made careers out of the fusion of the two.

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