Dave Flitcroft’s prints of cyclists and tandem riders evoke the feelings of freedom and joy one gets from cycling through the countryside, coupled with a romantic yearning for lanes dappled by sunlight and overcrowded with wild flowers. Like many artists before him he is also inspired by the aesthetics of the bike and his images capture the beauty and elegance of this beautiful invention.
His pictures are lino-cut block prints that he produces from his studio cum bikeshed in the garden of his rustic farmhouse in the wilds of the Charente region of south west France. We caught up with Dave to find out how he got to be living such an idyllic lifestyle, what inspires him and how to ride a tandem.
Dave waxes lyrical about this stunning part of France he and his wife have settled in. Having cycle toured much of the country for over 20 years they had a rough idea of where they eventually wanted to settle after he took early retirement from a career in the police force. But it was the Charente that won them over because of its excellent climate, purportedly the second sunniest part of the country.
It’s also the meeting point of three different landscapes: forest, wheat fields and vineyards. Whichever they pick for their daily rides, the countryside is always criss-crossed by picturesque lanes devoid of traffic. And so it is that Dave has found a tranquil idyll, integrated with his French neighbours in a tiny hamlet, his days spent cycling, print making and gradually restoring the old farmhouse in which they live.
It’s all a long way from where he started as a young man from Bolton: “I would have liked to have studied Fine Art at university but it wasn’t really an option for me. It seems ridiculous now but it was the late 70s and a time of mass recruitment so I joined the police force in Greater Manchester aged 18.”
But one passion, cycling, has burned strongly throughout his life. Catching the bug as a 14 year old on a cycling tour from Bolton through the Ribble Valley, Yorkshire Dales and Lake District, Dave found himself hooked. Throughout his career he commuted by bike, up to 40 miles a day and was proudly car free for much of that time.
It was the moment his wife bought a tandem for their tenth wedding anniversary that was the real life changer and defining moment. “All our family holidays were (and still are) bike tours. We rode Audax events on tandem very regularly and got into long distance riding in a big way.” They also rode with a touring club, the Bolton Clarion. They have fond memories of its members: “A great set of people. The wonderful late Albert Winstanley was a member and it was lovely to have his acquaintance. His articles and accounts still really resonate with me. He rode into his 90s and was always the perfect gentleman - a hero of mine.”
His favourite ride is the one that starts out of his very own back yard, through Braconne Forest, down the Tardoire or Bandiat valley and into the region known as Perigord Vert. "It's hilly, covered with tiny lanes that twist and turn through beautiful countryside and villages that haven't changed in centuries."
Dave has said before that he aims to “capture the freedom of a bike ride, the thrill of a descent, the sublime feeling of contentment of riding beautiful lanes and tracks. I want to make beautiful images that make you daydream about your next ride or relive your last.”
He modestly describes his artistic ambitions as, “an unfulfilled challenge…the first reveal of the printed image is usually something of an anticlimax, there’s always something you didn’t envisage. Sometimes it’s a nice surprise, other times it’s a bit disappointing, but it’s always compelling.”
He takes photos on his rides and occasionally makes sketches. Back in his studio (and bikeshed) he works on the drawings on a sketch pad or a drawing app on his ipad. These are transferred onto a piece of lino which he begins to cut away to reveal an image of what he wants to print.
“There’s something special about the cutting process that I find totally immersive, and I can lose myself for hours doing it.”
There’s a wide selection of prints available to buy from his Etsy shop. “I want to continue to make prints that other cyclists want to hang on their walls.” In his quest to do so, his sketchbook and ‘cutting list’ of ideas expands daily. He’s able to sell his work at comparatively low prices and takes commissions. You can get an affordable custom piece of art as you are only paying for a portion of the overall work - he will sell the whole edition of prints over time.
As someone who has done some impressive long Audax events and rode the Raid Pyrenean with his son when he was just 15 years old (an epic traverse from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean), Dave still retains a few cycling ambitions. He aims to ride every Col in the Pyrenees. “I’ve ridden all the famous TdF ones, but the lesser ones on back roads look very special. I’m making a start this year with a four day ‘raid’, collecting 18 Cols with my son and a few mates. I hope it’ll be an annual thing until they’re all ticked off.”
However, Dave’s favourite bike remains a tandem. He and his wife have three in fact: a tourer, a road bike and a mountain bike. “Nothing beats a tandem ride,” he says. “There would obviously be a picnic. Going out with friends who are fellow tandem enthusiasts – that’s simply the best.”
And, with a philosophical slant on his favourite mode of transport, he adds, “Tandems take your relationship in the direction it’s already heading, but you get there quicker.”
Dave Flitcroft’s prints are available to buy through his Etsy shop.