Whenever I started Elcyclista I never imagined it would be the catalyst to introduce me to so many great and passionate people. Every day seems to bring someone new. Yesterday brought Stefan Bumbeck, cyclist and artist (or is it artist and cyclist?). When I studied at art college in London I often found the best work came from people that had a deep emotional connection with their subject. I guess the same goes for most things in life, but no doubt cyclists are definitely a passionate lot. Looking at his work and listening to Stefan you literally feel the passion he has for riding, and all the things that go with it. There is an effortless style to his work that disguises the immense skill and talent that lies beneath it. In the same way a pro has that effortless pedal stroke that we all wish we had. It is beautiful, evocative work.
We got into a nice back and forth, or is that a “half-wheel”, where I am sure we “crossed wheels”. It turned into the following interview:
Tell me when you got into riding and how long ago?
I started racing in 1984, I was 15. My dad was a racing enthusiast and an art professor at Middlebury College. I had bought a Raleigh Super Corsa at a cool bike shop in Middlebury with the money I earned working at Middlebury College food service washing dishes and serving food. I entered a citizens race the next spring. I was hooked.
Great name – What is your background? Where are you from?
I grew up in Vermont. Bumbeck is a Russian name and my Mom is Italian. She was a Giobbe. As the story goes my parents were eating in a restaurant. My Mom was pregnant with me. She kept noticing two old guys sitting on opposite sides of the room glaring at each other. Suddenly one leapt up and yelled “Stefan”, the other yelled “Béla”! The two old men were long lost brothers, split up after World War II. So my name is Stefan Béla Bumbeck. I’ve asked my Mom if that story is true so many times. I’m still not convinced that it isn’t fabricated, but it’s a good one anyway.
What about your interest in painting? Did you study painting or is this something you got interested in?
As I mentioned my Dad is a now retired art professor and an amazing artist. Those are some big shoes to fill. I’ve always painted and drawn and ridden bikes for as long as I can remember. I studied studio art and psychology and raced my bike through college (UVM). It just sort of all flowed together when I was inspired by the gritty quality of an illustration by Jordin Isup on the cover of Colorado Cyclist catalog. It was a very different style than mine, but I found inspiration in the combination of paint and subject. It also had this great distressed black and white photographic characteristic to it. I love that. I love looking at old pictures of trains, cars, etc…
Why bikes as a muse? What made you start using them as a subject matter? Bike racing is the epitome of man and machine to me. It’s one of the most efficient machines we use. When we push it as far as we can it is a testament to our very existence. There are fantastic stories of suffering and triumph in cycling lore. Ottavio Bottecchia was my first favorite. Brick layer and martyr. My first series of Bike racing paintings focused on Bottecchia. He lost his life because he would not promote fascism. Gino Bartali used to ride Jews over the Alps to free them from Italian fascists, because he thought it was the right thing to do. Greg Lemond was riddled with bird shot and nearly died and then he won the closest Tour ever! Lance Armstrong beat cancer! There really aren’t any better stories for me. It’s a subject that inspires me and challenges me technically. It’s hard to draft people and almost as hard to draw bikes.
What do you think you can capture in a painting rather than a photograph?
That’s a tough one. I couldn’t really do what I do without photography. I wish I was a good enough photographer to capture the essence of cycling. Painting bike racers really is self-serving. I really enjoy it. The translation that occurs from eyes to brain to hand is so salient for me. It’s immediate gratification. It’s really deductive at first and then when I’m nose to the canvas or paper it becomes completely spontaneous and gestural. I drink a lot of coffee, too. My lines get a little scribbly.
There seems to be a retro influence/period – do you find modern frames/bikes inspiring?
Absolutely. I love technology. It’s very easy for me to get all geeked out, but I’m completely aware of the origins. So many great technological advancements have origins in the bicycle world.
Do you find any of the modern steel frame makers inspiring? (Ira Ryan, Hufnagel, Richard Sachs…)
Richard Sachs is the MAN! Back in the day I had the pleasure of riding one his bikes for the Stowe Bike Club. It is a daily regret that I didn’t buy that bike at the end of the season. Man, I wish I had that bike. I also really like to look at Vanilla Cycles. Great colors and cool designs. I’ve never ridden one, though.
What is your current ride?
I have a Tarmac, a Transition for the Time Trials, a Cannondale F2000 SL mountain bike and a hand me down Cannondale Cross Bike. I ride the cross bike the most because it has full fenders on it. Weather in VT is hard on bikes. It still has 8 speeds. HA!
Given the choice of any bike from any period, what would you choose?
You have to have more than one bike! If I had to choose one bike from the past bikes I’ve ridden then I would have to choose my Merlin Xtralight. Not the new ones, the Cambridge Vandenbrooke style. I had one back in 1996, it had Campy Record on it. I loved that bike. I could ride it forever. Dirt roads, up mountains, criteriums, etc… It was a great all-around. Little whippy though. I would really like to try a Pinerello Dogmas. They are so cool. Especially the Team Sky ones.
What would your dream ride be and who with?
Any epic day that ends with a cheeseburger and beer with my Onion River Sports Club bros. I’m simple. That’s the best part of riding. All those epic days end with “That was the best ride ever.”
Tour or the Giro?
I love the passion of the Giro. There is a little more mystique to it as well. I love those dirt road climbs too. That’s a great throwback.
Coppi or Merckx
Campy, Shimano or SRAM?
Shimano Di2, Campy for style. You really can’t go wrong these days.