A ‘sliding doors’ moment parted Neil Wyatt from cycling for most of his twenties, but after a childhood in 1980s Ireland, and the almost routine success of Kelly and Roche, even a career in the music industry could not replace his love for the sport.
Wyatt and his wife Wendy are the pairing behind The Handmade Cyclist, creating rather wonderful artefacts to decorate the home of the discerning cyclist, and, critically, their significant other. The litmus test for Wyatt is that the product should hold some allure for the non-cycling partner.
“We wanted to come up with something beautiful that would enhance any room, but wanted to make sure that the designs had a story to them or a detail that passionate cyclists would get and appreciate: a knowing nod or wink, whether it’s the dog that Bernard Hinault crashed into over Paris-Roubaix in 1981 on our Roubaix poster, or one of the earliest prints that we did - A Classification of Cyclists of Note and Notoriety - and all the names that were on there.”
All of which is a radical departure from a career working as a concert promoter for the likes of Blur, Pulp and Oasis during the 1990s heyday of Britpop. Not a bad way to spend your twenties, Wyatt admits, but training time on the bike suffered.
'Twas not always thus. As a teenager, Wyatt’s journey of discovery of the bike and, with it, rural Ireland, coincided with the extraordinary success of two local heroes: Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche. The Triple Crown champion was especially revered, Wyatt recalls: he even made a 20-mile pilgramage from Wicklow to Dublin to attend Roche’s victory parade in the yellow jersey, after the Irishman won the 1987 Tour de France.
It’s an era that continues to inform his work, whether it be the jerseys, the teams, or even the names of those who have passed into cycling legend: LeMond, Hinault, Delgado.
Wyatt’s aesthetic is a clean and elegant mix of the modern and traditional, spiced with references that those initiated to the sport will notice immediately, but which do not dominate or detract from the enjoyment of the artefact for those not so intimately acquainted with, say, the events of the 1981 Paris-Roubaix.
He can empathise with “the cycling widow or widower, who watches their partner disappear on the bike for hours at a time”, and so creates designs to be enjoyed by all; cyclist and non-cyclist alike.
“I like crisp, clear and bold classic design. What we’ve tried to do is to have a nod to the past – particularly Art Deco travel prints, but with a modern spin – but not too clean; to add a bit of texture, so they don’t look artificial and devoid of life.
They all start as pencil or pen and ink sketches, sometimes with the composition of shapes, to get a pleasing composition and a structure. Generally, they’ll be a load of ideas which I jot down with a pen and paper. A story starts to form. It’s built up mostly in Adobe Illustrator, as layers and textures form on top. By trial and error, we get to the right place.”
As important as the ideas, he continues, is the “taking away”. This final process is to make sure that the finished product is not unnecessarily cluttered. Nowhere is this more obvious than the Wyatt's latest offering: a series of prints inspired by The Hour record.
“I felt it was a really dramatic narrative to try and capture in print, but how do you join these really disparate eras and styles? What I wanted to try and get across was the man-machine, without wanting to sound too much like Kraftwerk, the rider and the machine as one. How can you bend your own physique and all the technology at your disposal at that time to create the perfect ride? That was what I wast trying to capture. There are massive differences, but also similarities.”
This last point might be applied to Wyatt’s work. At first glance, there is not much that unites the items in Wyatt's collection, but cycling – its lore and legend – has proved a binding influence. Few sports offer the same strength of aesthetic, and so few are likely to offer the supporter the same depth and quality of artefacts to enjoy away from the competition.