James Lucas is a two-wheeled force of nature and a lovely bloke. The co-founder of the Bristol Bike Project and Boneshaker Magazine gave us an insight into his activities and passions outside of the day job. Where else but Roll For The Soul, over one of their delectable falafel meze platters and steaming mugs of tea.
Hi James. You well?
All well thanks!
Are you a local?
Yes, I was born and bred in Bristol. Personally, I think it’s a great city. When I went to South America for a year, I really missed it. Being away informs you so much about where you come from and you start to see your own city in a new light. It was good to return to and I definitely appreciate the little things more now.
Has Bristol changed?
Well, Bristol is a really dynamic city and has this sort of DIY culture, which means there’s constant change. People get on with their initiatives, of which RFTS is a great example. Bristol’s a good size and it’s manageable on a bike. Also, there’s loads going on culturally but is still small enough for a community feel. It’s so different to London in that way.
What are some of your favourite places in the city?
I’m a fan of Here Gallery – Ben does a great job, I love the indie vibe to it. I think Arnolfini bookshop is fantastic with an amazing selection. Also, I love Something Else (now Papersmiths), I think it’s a great use of space. For a coffee, I really like Poco. You can just sit and watch the world go by – there’s so much energy in that little intersection. I’m a big fan of Katie and Kim’s – they’re a brilliant pair and it’s been great to see them set up following the Horsebox. I’m not a big drinker but I do sometimes like a drink at the Duke of York or Hillgrove and the Bell as well, although the Bell’s a bit too much these days. And there’s always Roll For The Soul!
Tell us a bit about your background
Originally I planned on going to arts school, but when I got there I only managed half a day and realised it wasn’t for me. In fact I left at lunchtime. It just didn’t feel right and looking back it was a good decision. I veered pretty wildly off that path and I did a bunch of other things in my early twenties instead that were more self – led. I was really interested in bringing together writing, photography and illustration in zines. I found zines like Raygun, Lowdown, Level, Sleazenation and The Face all really interesting publications. So I started my own called Gunfight 29, which was arts and music-led, but generally about bringing people with similar aims and interests together.
I had a great time, it was small scale with a sort of cut and paste vibe to it – I was developing my own photos in a small basement using my Grandad’s gear. I met some great people and got to interview cool bands like Sigur Ros, Godspeed u black emperor, the Pharcyde and Slints. I also interviewed Banksy back in 2000! In the same period I recorded a little bit of music, too; put out a little record on an indie label called Output with Fridge and Fourtet. It was a really creative and exciting time but not what I originally thought I’d do. The whole thing made me realise that you can just get on and do things, you can make things happen if you just get up and do them. Give it a go is my ethos.
Do you still keep up with all these interests in between your many projects?
Sort of. I don’t look at many mags these days. Any time I have is spent putting Boneshaker together. Same with music: I make it but don’t listen to much else.
You’re also involved in the Bristol Bike Project, what is it and how did it start?
Basically it’s a charitable bike project that I started with Colin Fan whilst cycling through Scandinavia. The trip made me realise that bikes give you such great independence and I wanted to do something benevolent with them. I was volunteering with Bristol Refugee Rights at the time and realised that marginalised people really need to be independently mobile – which is increasingly difficult with over-priced public transport and extortionate oil prices. We wanted to fix up old bikes and give them to those who needed them most.
We soon put up posters asking for unwanted bikes and were soon inundated. It got to the point where we filled up our gardens and houses with them that we were actually climbing over them to get into bed! We soon realised we needed something more sustainable so we found an old horse stable on the outskirts of town and made it our workshop. It became apparent that we needed somewhere in the city centre – a hub that could be engaging rather than just a hand-out and if any people had any problems with their bike, they could be fixed in an accessible place. We found a really nice place in Stokes Croft.
We expanded at the start of 2011 and got registered as a Community Interest Company whilst also developing the trading side of the project to make it a self-sustainable enterprise. Since then, it’s evolved into multifaceted bike community project – we work with a cross-section of marginalised groups in Bristol including the homeless, survivors of drug abuse and youth groups to name a few. It’s also become really outward-looking with opportunities for volunteering. The aim of the project was for people to be invested and empowered by bikes and I’m pleased with how it’s going so far.
What bikes do you personally own?
I have a touring bike, which I’ve totally fallen in love with. It’s called Rocky Mountain and it’s Canadian. I’ve had some great trips because it feels solid, sturdy and reliable. It can carry a lot of load, which gives you independence like nothing else. I’ve got a stripped down fixed gear too, which I use around the city. It’s fun to ride and can be left out at night. I adore my old policeman’s bike, which is from the 1940s – it’s absolutely gorgeous. I appreciate both the mechanics and the aesthetics of a bike.
What’s your dream bike?
My dream bike would be a really nice cargo bike which I’d love to use with my 16 month old son. That would be much better than having him on my back. I have one at the project but want my own because I always need to move kit around and it’d be useful to transport building/landscaping materials for my day job.
What is Boneshaker and how did it start?
Boneshaker is a cycling magazine like no other. It is a celebration of human experience on two wheels. It features personal stories, brilliant photographs and illustrations all related to cycling experiences. It is distinct from other cycling magazines because it focuses on the experience of cycling, it’s more of a cycling journal rather than giving advice on training, diets to follow or kit to buy. We don’t plug any company and feature no adverts which I think is quite refreshing. Inspiration came from setting up the Bristol Bike Project which was set up 18 months before. I wanted to document the wonderful experiences that arise from riding a bike in the medium of print. However, I felt I lacked the design skill-set needed to set things up. That’s when John Coe, Boneshaker’s creative director, comes in. I had collaborated with John ten years earlier on gunfight29, our music and arts fanzine.
We wanted to create something a bit more visually high end than gunfight29. We then printed 1000 copies originally, with the same ethos, it was a success, people responded well and started submitting their own stories accompanied by photographs to be featured in future issues. Soon after copies started to be sold overseas which was great because it expanded our audience and content.
What has been your favourite feature so far?
In the last issue we had Stanley Donwood from Radiohead writing a piece, which was really exciting. This means Boneshaker can still venture into the realms of arts and music without veering too far from cycling.
What are the main challenges with Boneshaker?
Getting the balance right. Our last issue was a lot better at achieving a balance. We feel Boneshaker is a niche magazine but with a broad appeal. Therefore we have to get the balance by not featuring too many bike-heavy pieces, as we want non-cyclists to be able to get involved or appreciate it. Yet we still have to be true to our cycling roots. We want to inspire people to get on a bike and hopefully by creating an engaging magazine for all, bikeheads or otherwise, we can achieve this.
What is the creative process behind a typical Boneshaker issue?
Most submissions are from illustrators, 5 or 6 a week. We then have to pair them with articles and then commission them. Some are more photo-led stories and others are larger narrative-led bits. About 90 percent of the issue comes from submissions and only 10% is commissions! It’s enjoyable because it’s a diverse publication and many different voices.
However, it’s a lot of work and isn’t massively sustainable as we’ve got just two curators Sadie Campbell and Mike White and then two creative directors – Luke Francis and Chris Woodward– who have a feel for the whole thing visually. They’ve all done a great job since John left to pursue freelance.
What do you think you could improve?
As Mike and James fit it around their day-jobs, they don’t take a wage from it. As there’s no ad revenue, there’s just enough money to cover creative directors and distribution costs which is barely enough. We’re exploring new ways to make it more sustainable and be able to pay contributors.
You can pick up the latest and greatest issue (#15) of Boneshaker in various shops around Bristol and London or online. The wonderful folks and Bristol Bike Project are always looking for volunteers, too. If you’re just after a quick service then get down there to support a great cause. Win win.