Jered leads the bunch up Paris Mountain during the USPRO in 2008: “David Zabriskie was already up the road, but I got a big enough gap on the field to get a chance to enjoy Paris Mountain and its thousands of fans all by myself. It was special. It would have been special just like that, but it hit unforgettable for me, because a lot of my friends, including Ashley, were in the first kilometer of the climb.” Photo by Darrell Parks
Jered Gruber left behind a career in America as a pro cyclist to pursue a life travelling with his wife Ashley across the roads of Europe. Since first picking up a camera just two years ago, the duo have photographed and reported from Grand Tours and the Classics, capturing some stunning images along the way. His work can be seen in magazines such as Peloton and Bicycling Australia, and on the official poster of the 2012 Giro d’Italia. It may sound like a dream come true, but as Jered reveals, it’s taken a lot of hard work and perseverance to get this far…
Give us a brief account of your cycling background. I started riding in 2002 after spending most of my childhood playing golf. After graduating high school in May of 2001, I traveled to Europe with a friend, Teddy. We did the European Trip and one day ended up mountain biking with my uncle and Teddy. Teddy kicked my ass. He always kicked my ass though, but for some reason, this time it stung. I wanted a bike, so bought a bike at the very end of the year for $400 from a guy in Athens. Shoes, bike, wheels, pedals, everything.
After that, it was a slow, slow process to getting reasonably fast. Cat 5 to Cat 4 in 2002, Cat 3 in 2003, a year studying and racing out of Heidelberg, Germany in 2003-2004. Cat 2 at the end of 2004, Cat 2 and 15th at U23 Nats in 2005, Cat 1 in 2006. In 2007, things started to pick up. I had been working hard since about 2005, but it took until 2007 for things to start to come together. I signed on with a great squad, the TIME Factory Development Team, and suddenly everything clicked. The people behind that program really made me the bike rider I became (plus of course my good friend, coach, training partner Jacob Fetty).
How long have you been writing about and photographing cycling? I’ve been working with PezCyclingNews since the end of 2003. I can’t believe it, but that makes for eight years now. I started working with PEZ while studying in Germany for the 2003/2004 school year. I began with Homeboy articles, then went to EuroTrash, articles, etc etc. I didn’t make any money until 2005, and at that time PEZ offered me a little something to take on some more responsibilities. That stipend of sorts really got me through those lean years when I raced full-time and made no money on my bike.
The magazines didn’t come until I met Ashley. We moved to Europe in 2008 and that’s when things really kicked off. Ashley’s continual desire to travel got us on the road and taking pictures. We got lucky and made a contact at ROAD Magazine as well as Bicycling Australia. They were happy to have our work, and we were so happy to have the chance to see our pictures and words on paper! We moved over to Peloton Magazine at the end of 2010, and that brings us to our current set up: PEZ, Peloton, Bicycling Australia.
What’s been your greatest ride or achievement on a bike? Three days stand out to me above all others…
Number one was the first real win of my ‘career’, which came in 2007 with the TIME Factory Development team. It was my first win, the first win for the team (now Mountain Khakis), and it was a hugely welcomed result after so much hard work from both myself and everyone around me who helped me along the way. I’ll never be able to say thank you enough for the support, teaching, time, friendship, and faith that the people who led that team gave me. That was a crucial year for me in every way, I had some of my biggest highs and lowest lows.
The second is being awarded the Most Aggressive Rider jersey at the Nature Valley GP in 2008. The day that I earned it was special, but the call up from Dave Towle before the Stillwater Crit the next day and my ensuing BMX startline attack up the hill – that was just awesome. I cracked halfway through and pulled out, but I still have that jersey on my wall.
And finally, my solo ride up Paris Mountain at USPRO in 2009. I met Ashley at the beginning of the 2008 season and happily left bike racing midway through my first season as a professional to be with her when she moved to Austria. It was the best decision I ever made, and I’m just so happy that it was such a simple one. I knew that I wanted to be with Ashley, but somehow I still managed a spot on a small Southeastern pro team for 2009.
I didn’t race until August – my second race back was USPRO. I had trained hard, but I hadn’t raced at all, so it was never going to be a successful outing. I managed to make the most of it though and attacked as the race left the opening circuits and headed for Paris Mountain. David Zabriskie was already up the road, but I got a big enough gap on the field to get a chance to enjoy Paris Mountain and its thousands of fans all by myself. It was special. It would have been special just like that, but it hit unforgettable for me, because a lot of my friends, including Ashley, were in the first kilometer of the climb.
Of all the places you’ve travelled to, where’s your favourite place to ride? I think I’ll have to give the nod to either the area around Monte Grappa in Italy or the place that’s the closest thing we have to a home – Athens, Georgia.
We spent a lot of time just north of Monte Grappa in Fonzaso (the home of Castelli and Sportful) and just south of Monte Grappa in Castelcucco (the home of Velo Veneto). I’m in love with the area. It has everything I could ever ask for, and most importantly, it’s quiet. The roads are small and unused, the climbs never-ending, the weather just right, the food out of this world, the people are great… it’s my little piece of earthly heaven. The riding in Athens isn’t a tenth as good as Fonzaso, but it’s home.
Giro d’Italia, 2011
Your own riding and racing seems to have taken a backseat in favour of working on your career. Do you miss it, or do you now perhaps have more opportunities, such as to ride in more interesting places? I miss racing very much. I’m working on returning to racing next season in Belgium. Right now, we’re trying to get a journalist visa to Belgium. If we can do that, we’ll rent an apartment near Oudenaarde. From that base, I’ll race, follow races, and work. It’s going to be a tough juggling act, but I really want to race again. I have no illusions of grandeur, I just want to finish up something that I don’t feel like I was done with. That could all change if things make a jump forward with our photography, but as long as nothing crazy happens, I really want to race.
Of course, with that said, I’ve suffered my first ever real injury this winter. I don’t know what happened, but I tweaked my back in a big way. I haven’t been able to train much for almost a month now. I’ve been trying to be relaxed about it, but it’s getting pretty late in the year… It’s a long season though.
If there was one rider, past or present, that you’d like to photograph who would it be? I don’t think it’s necessarily a certain rider. I would, however, love the chance to photograph the Classics back in the 60′s, 70′s, and 80′s with the equipment I have today. THAT would be amazing. Why stop there though – I’d love to shoot Coppi on the Stelvio, Hinault at the Tour, the list goes on and on and on…
What’s been the best experience or opportunity you’ve had as part of your job so far? The opportunity to do what we’ve done over the past year and a half has been incredible. We haven’t made much money, but we’ve had just enough to put ourselves in some incredible places and situations. It has been a ton of work, a lot of late nights, and more than a few sacrifices, but it has been worth it. While I’m thankful to so many people and companies for their support, I do feel like we’ve made our way, because we’ve worked our asses off. I feel like this has been a case of making our own luck – we’ve worked hard, made a huge leap of faith to become nomads in Europe, put ourselves in the right places… and as a result, we’ve had some amazing opportunities and experiences.
When I think back about it, it’s hard not to shake my head in disbelief. It was a crazy idea – fly to Europe, buy a car, find places to stay, and find jobs to do. For that though, I have to give Ashley credit. She’s the dreamer. She comes up with the craziest ideas and puts them in my head. I call her crazy, but she plants the seed. I ride my bike. I think about it. Then one day, it clicks. That could work. We could do that. It has happened over and over again. I wouldn’t have done a millionth of the things we’ve done without Ashley’s never-ending desire to explore.
Are there any other photographers you look up to, or take inspiration from? Right now, I’m going crazy looking at the work of a wedding photographer from New York. He takes brilliant pictures. While wedding photography and cycling are about as opposite as you can get, I really feel that some of his techniques and ideas will be useful when I shoot a big race. That’s my hope at least.
I guess I find inspiration and look up to nearly every photographer that I stumble upon. At this point in my career I try to look at as many pictures as I can. I get mad at myself when I’m not looking at new pictures or reading about photography. With that said, I hope that there never comes a time when I’m not looking at what other people are doing. I hope I never feel too good or established or secure to disregard the amazing work being produced by photographers around the world. Even when I look at some photographers where I don’t necessarily enjoy their pictures, I’m still impressed, because they’ve figured out how to make it, how to earn a living. That’s not something I’ve managed to do yet.
While it might be cliche to say…I really, really love the work of Ansel Adams. I’ve never seen pictures that make me stop and gasp like that from anyone else. They’re unbelievable.
Can you give any simple tips for anyone who wants to get good shots at a bike race? Firstly, it doesn’t cost a lot to put together a decent lens system. Three lenses should do the trick: wide, all-purpose, and long. Primes are awesome too. I love prime lenses – they’re cheap, you get a great quality lens, and it simplifies the process. My feet do the work of a good zoom lens in that case.
Do something to make the image more compelling, more interesting. Go high, go low, go wide, go long.
Keep that shutter speed high if you’re trying to stop movement. I try not to shoot below 1/1000th of a second if I can manage it. I’m not sure if that’s necessary, but it has become a rule of thumb of sorts for me. Since I have no schooling whatsoever in photography, that really is an arbitrary number. It seems about right though…
When you have a shot in mind, stick with it. Ashley and I can attest to having major issues with this. We’ll stand in a spot, have a perfect shot all worked out, and as soon as we see the race, we lose our minds and just start clicking. Afterwards, we’ll look back, and we’re often happy with the pictures, but we’ll realize we didn’t actually take the picture we had envisioned. This isn’t always a bad thing, but there’s plenty of time to get that shot you’re thinking of… plus the others that inevitably arise.
When did you first pick up a camera or start taking photography seriously? I first picked up a real camera when I took a Nikon D40 out of the box at Christmas at the end of 2008. It didn’t take long before I started taking things seriously, because I had the unique opportunity to immediately publish my pictures. First with PEZ, then with ROAD Magazine and Bicycling Australia. I went from nothing to big pictures in a magazine after only four months with the D40.
I kind of just fell into it. After that, things took off. The cameras I’ve gone through in the last three years testify to the growth – from Nikon’s lowest end camera to its best: D40 (now with my father-in-law), D90 (now with my father), D300 (just sold), D700 (love it), D3s (heaven).
I never had any formal training as a photographer, so I feel like I have so much to make up for. I feel like I have to become a student of photography. Unfortunately, I’m a really crappy student. My father got me a year-long subscription to a huge online resource in photography learning – kelbytraining.com – but I admit that I haven’t done a hundredth of what I hoped to so far.
It seems you must be constantly on the road, traveling from one place to another. Do you get to spend much time at home, and is the travelling aspect one of the big attractions to what you do? Not so much. I love traveling, but with the workload we have and the riding that I want to do, traveling just makes it that much more difficult. Ashley has to pry me kicking and screaming away from one of our ‘home’ bases in Europe. Like I said before though, I’m so happy she drags my contented butt away from the easy life and continually to somewhere that challenges us.
Of course, there’s not much to complain about. Whenever we do travel, I’m always happy. It’s exciting. When we get the chance to do a shoot in a new place, it’s an adventure. The problem is that we’ve found some amazing places, and when we get to those places, I don’t want to leave. I think we’ve come to the conclusion that we could settle down in the area near Fonzaso and never leave though.
What’s next on the horizon for you? Do you have any ambitions that you want to achieve? I don’t honestly know. I guess I need to sit down and think about that. I’m afraid to look too far ahead, because I always have this feeling that this is a fleeting time. I guess it’s my wildest dream to think that we could possibly make this a viable career someday. At the moment though, we’re just getting by.
I’ve been working non-stop to try and make this work though. I’ve realized that I would love, more than anything, to be a photographer. I love to take pictures, I love to create, I love to sift through thousands of images, find the good ones, and make them special. I love it even more when I go back months later to those same images, and then find more.
For 2012, I want more than anything to transform ourselves into a well-known, successful duo. I hope that companies will respect us and pay us accordingly. I hope that newssources and magazines will do the same. I want to continue doing what we’re doing, but I want to turn this into something that could really pay the rent and buy ourselves a car with working windows and air-conditioning. I would love to be able to drop my many different jobs in the hope of focusing entirely on one – taking pictures. If we could do that, I can’t imagine what would be possible.
Looking at it a little more simply: we want to cover the Classics again. Het Volk, Milan-San Remo, Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, Roubaix, Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Lombardia… I also want to cover a little bit more of the Grand Tours. Hopefully at least some part of all three Grand Tours, plus who knows what else. If we could manage that, with a car that keeps on running, I’ll be pretty excited.
Jered’s shot of the Garmin-Cervélo rider Peter Stetino tackling the Passo Giau has been chosen as the official poster publicising the 2012 edition of the Giro d’Italia.
Prints of Jered’s work – including all those featured in the article above – are available to order from his website.