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High-risk fund-raising for South African cycle book project

Authors of Bicycle Diaries choose all-or-nothing way of raising cash

Two South African cyclists have chosen an innovative – if risky – way of raising funds to publish a book about everyday cyclists in South Africa.

Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler have been travelling around their country with bikes and a camera, taking photographs of as many of their fellow cyclists as they can and interviewing them to find out why more South Africans don’t ride bikes – particularly given the country’s poor public transport infrastructure.

The pair have published their Bicycle Portrait photos and interviews on a website but then decided they wanted to publish a book too.

To raise the money they used Kickstarter, an innovative fund-raising website for creative projects. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing way of raising funds; once you’ve put the details of your project on the site and specified how much money you need to raise and by when, you can only sit back and watch. If enough people are inspired by your project to make a contribution, you get the money, but if the target amount isn’t raised by the specified deadline, you don’t get a penny.

So far the project has generated $15,000 through the site – hitting its phase one target. Now Stan and Nic are looking for another $7,500 in the second phase of fund-raising.

Stan Engelbrecht said, “The Kickstarter concept is completely based on trust. We have to trust that people will believe in our project and and promote it to their friends and peers to ensure it gets funded – and our backers have to trust in us to deliver the beautiful product that we promise them. This kind of 'social' responsibility feels great and we feel like our backers are part of our team - and we want make them happy! And their belief is us inspires confidence.

“What we envision for the Bicycle Portraits project is rather ambitious - we aim to publish a beautiful all-encompassing profile of contemporary South African bicycle commuter culture. We're photographing all of the characters for the book from our own bicycles so we are currently spending as much time as we can travelling around South Africa. This takes a lot of time but it's a great deal of fun. We really want to make the book something special, and we want people who look at it to get a true sense of the characters we meet and photograph – but producing a book (and project) on this scale is expensive and time consuming.

“The best thing is that we are offering our funders a beautiful book (plus some other benefits, depending on their pledge amount) instead of just asking for money for nothing in return.”

Stan and Nic have photographed and interviewed more than 100 people already and are still busy finding more subjects. They’re also shooting video for a documentary to accompany the book. They’re aiming to publish the book next year.

Asked who the most memorable character they’ve met on their travels, Stan said, “Although so many of the people we come across have incredible stories and inspirational lives that it's hard to say that one person really stands out, I must say Mickey Abrahams [pictured above]. Mickey was really an inspiration to meet. Here is a man with so very little but so proud thankful for what he has. His outlook on life and circumstance is truly original and humbling.”

The pair have come across some interesting cultural issues on their travels. Stan said, “In some black cultures it is not traditionally acceptable for women to ride bicycles, even though it would make complete sense considering the distances women often have to travel on a daily basis in rural areas. So we have encountered and photographed very few black women for our project. We hope that the Bicycle Portraits project will break down some of those stigmas and we'll see many more people out there empowered by getting on a bicycle!”

The best way to be sure of getting hold of a copy of Bicycle Portraits is to pledge $50 through the Kickstarter site.

Lifelong lover of most things cycling-related, from Moulton Mini adventures in the 70s to London bike messengering in the 80s, commuting in the 90s, mountain biking in the noughties and road cycling throughout. Editor of Simpson Magazine ( 

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