article.image.alt
08 September, 2020

The Man Behind the Lens: Getting to Know Jered Gruber

By: Allied Cycle Works

We talk with one of the most prolific -- and one of the most talented -- photographers in the professional peloton. We discuss Jered's most memorable day of shooting, his camera set-up, his love for his hometown of Athens, Georgia, and much, much more.

Jered, you're the preeminent American bike-racing photographer in the history of the sport. No question about that. But perhaps not everybody knows who you are. Can you tell us about yourself -- your background, where you live and what you do?

Together, with my wife, Ashley, we spend 8-ish months a year on the road in Europe chasing 50-60 days worth of professional bike racing, while also searching out our own adventures and projects. I got into photography through riding bikes. I was a mediocre at best pro with TIME Pro Cycling when I met Ashley walking across the street in Athens while on a bike ride with two friends. It was February 12, 2008. Everything changed in that moment. She crossed the street, we said hi, and the one friend, Jacob, asked what she was listening to. Jimi Hendrix. She had this air about her that day - she just breathed this air of calm happiness. We kept riding, but I only made it about a ten count farther down the road before I flipped it and asked her the classic: "So what's your story?"

It was quite the story. She was in Athens for the semester studying Chinese and Genetics before heading to China that summer on a National Science Foundation grant to study invasive species. After that, she was going straight to Innsbruck, Austria to study for the 2008/2009 school year.

Austria? My family is from Austria. I've spent a lot of time in Austria. And so we talked about Austria. We met up that night and talked about everything.

About a month or so later, I had decided I was going to Austria. To be brutally and embarrassingly honest, I knew I wanted to go to Austria with Ashley after that first night. I left in the middle of my first professional season to go live with this girl I had met by chance and who - at that point - I had only spent time in person with for approximately one month. Sure, we spent about 12 hours a day on the phone, but I think everyone thought I was insane. I probably was, but fortunately, I was insane for the right person. My person.

Once we were in Austria, everything got really pretty. We were in the ALPS! It was gorgeous. So I started taking more and more pictures from our rides and other adventures. I wrote some articles for PezCyclingNews - and also started posting a lot to Facebook - where I had a bunch of new friends. Ash had made fun of me for having 72 friends on Facebook, so one day I spitefully added HUNDREDS of people. One of those hundreds saw some of those early pictures and put me in contact with ROAD Magazine - I'm still working with one of my editors from there: Tim Schamber at Peloton.

It's a wild story of right place, right time throughout. Every step of the way. Truly. We came back to Europe the fall of 2010 after getting married. Instead of presents, we asked for money. We took that money, bought plane tickets, a 1500EUR VW Polo wagon, and hit the road. We visited a lot of companies that fall for Peloton. One of those companies was Castelli. We met Søren Jensen and Steve Smith that day. We just had a big call with them yesterday. Søren and Steve liked the images and the article we wrote about Castelli when we visited - and they asked us to shoot their Winter catalog in Flanders.

It was terrifying, but it went pretty well.

So we came back in 2011. That went pretty well. That was the year the Giro kinda sorta stole this (I still think it's a gorgeous picture) image we shot for Castelli of the Giau. Michele Aquarone offered us a job with the Giro in 2012, so we shot the Giro in 2012. In 2013, we met Thibault Hofer at IAM Cycling, and he's the one that begged us to shoot the Tour with IAM in 2014...so we did that. Each year built a little bit on the year before, until, somehow, we were truly in this thing and doing it.

Then 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016. Each year it felt like it would surely be the last, kind of like The Princess Bride and the Dread Pirate Roberts: "Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning."

Each year, we've been convinced that we won't get hired back, that the numbers wouldn't line up, that we just won't have work, but each year, it keeps on happening.

We spend our winters at home in the only place we could ever truly call home: Athens, Georgia. I had a life before I went to school at the University of Georgia, but it doesn't feel like mine. I've spent half of my life in and out of Athens, but it's the only life that really feels like it's MY life. That life pre-Athens seems like someone else's. Athens has given me everything: the bike, my cycling life, my friends, and Ashley. That innocuous little college town about 75 minutes from Atlanta...it somehow turned into the center of my/our universe. I love that. I love that Athens is our home.

Before Covid hit, how did you balance your time between being based in Europe vs. the US? Where were you based in Europe?

It's usually about eight months of the year in Europe. Before COVID, the normal path of our year started with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (last weekend in February), took us through the Classics, the Giro, the Tour, then we'd head back to the US for August - to shoot the Colorado Classic and to just hang out in Colorado and ride gravel and mountain bikes. At the end of August, we'd head back to Euroland for the last part of the Vuelta and fall fun chasing our own adventures. We love, love, love the fall. It's my favorite season. For sure. I try to waste as little of it shooting bike races and using as much of it as possible doing fun stuff or doing commercial shoots for different brands. In the end, we end up spending around eight months a year in Europe, three months at home in Georgia, and one month in Colorado.

We don't have one true base, but we do have a bunch of little "homes." We have a friend in Tuscany who lets us stay in his place near Siena during that time between Strade Bianche and Sanremo. It's a crucial little period of our year where we get ourselves back into work mode and catch up on all the tasks we push off over the winter (because we're riding bikes, hanging out with friends, gardening, drinking coffee - basically doing nothing - full on Do Nothing Club).

Once the Classics really kick off, we're in Belgium full-time - from the day after Sanremo through to Liege. In the past, we've spent this time at a lovely little cycling house in Oudenaarde, The Chainstay. Last year, we got an apartment in Gent - and LOVED it. We'll always love the Chainstay and Oudenaarde, but for two people who spend a lot of our time in rural areas, the chance to spend a month and a half in an amazing, beautiful, fun city like Gent? I'm getting excited just thinking about it. It was a highlight of 2019.

After the Classics, we really hit the road in earnest for the Grand Tours. May and July are full on hotel to hotel times. June offers a lot more possibilities for us and usually takes us to one of our favorite bases: the Dolomites. We spend as much time as possible with the Tavella family at the Ustaria Posta in Badia. It's out of this world beautiful and so much fun to get the chance to spend real time there. The options for the adventurous rider on a gravel bike with mountain bike gearing are limitless and all gorgeous beyond words - and ungodly hard. I love it.

Tell us about your 2020 season. How long were you over in Europe? What was it like trying to get back to the US? Was it a panic?

The 2020 season started more or less normally in terms of dates, but absolutely everything else was off. We flew over as late as possible (because that's what we do) to Italy. The original plan was to fly from Italy to Belgium, shoot the Opening Weekend, fly back to Tuscany, then get ready for three-ish weeks in Italy. The EF team doc told us to get out of Italy as quickly as possible - and stay out - so, we drove our car from Italy to Belgium, shot the Omloop, then watched the season and the world fold up completely. Ashley even went all the way to South Africa to shoot Cape Epic - only for it to be cancelled the day before it was supposed to start (I think). I had decided to stay behind - just in case she got stuck in South Africa in some kind of UAE Tour quarantine repeat, plus, we had picked up a sweet project from Craft. I was going to do a shoot in Norway! I was excited. Of course, it fell apart. So, instead of taking pictures, I just kind of rode bikes in Belgium for the first half of March, wondering what was going to happen. It became pretty evident that something was definitely going to have to happen as the month wore on though.

We left on my birthday, March 16. I wouldn't say it was a panic, but we were looking to get out of there quickly. It was clear that we could get home, the only question was whether we wanted to go home. I advocated for staying in Europe. Hard. I thought that Belgium would be a nice place to weather the quarantine time, and once quarantine was up, we would be in a better place to pursue possible projects. Nothing against America, but Europe is a whole lot prettier - and filled with a lot more possibilities in a much smaller space. I'm SO happy Ashley stood her ground hard and said - I want to go home. I went home begrudgingly, dragging my heels the whole way. I wish I could punch March Jered. I can't imagine my life if we hadn't gone home. It makes me sad to imagine a life in which we hadn't spent that time at home.

Am I right in thinking that this is probably your longest stretch away from Europe in a long, long time? What do you miss the most? [ed. note: This interview occurred before jered returned to europe in august]

It was possibly the best period of my life. I've never felt so relaxed, so completely without stress. I didn't realize how much stress I carry through April - during the race season in general. I felt like I could just float, like the whole of my fears and worries had been lifted off of my shoulders. It was the first time we had been home in the US for spring since 2010. I hadn't seen a March, April, May, or June in the US since before Ash and I were married in 2010. We also had our beloved dog, Lula, find us on a gravel ride just north of Athens on April 1st. I say she found us, because that's exactly what happened - this little black missile of a dog came flying out of the woods - of course, this is a pretty normal thing for us in Georgia and the South in general - but this dog was different - she came up, full sprint, whimpering, begging for love and attention. After approximately one minute of petting this perfect little lab/pit mix with the happiest face I've ever seen, it was pretty clear that we were either going to have to throw rocks at this dog to get rid of her...or take her home. We took her home.

Did we miss Europe? Absolutely not. I've had my fill, I've loved it, I've enjoyed it, but home is really that wild, new frontier for us.

It was a real struggle to pick up and leave our life at home and come back to living out of our little van. I'm happy we made the jump back to Europe - for better or worse - because I think it's where we should be right now, but doing the "right" thing has never been so hard. We miss our home, we miss our little baby, Lula, so much.

All that said, I'm pretty happy to be back here in Europe. It's so BEAUTIFUL! It's endlessly interesting, constantly changing. Every day is an adventure. I know that feeling will pass at some point, but I do love that high school me feeling of coming over here for the first time and feeling like I've been dropped on a different planet.

As for getting back here at all Thankfully, we have Spanish visas, so we were able to return to Europe with zero issues. It was nice to at least have the choice. If we didn't have our visas, we wouldn't be here. Full stop.

As you look back at the years you've spent shooting races -- is there one you look forward to the most every season?

Up until this year, I would have said Strade Bianche. For sure. I had a pretty traumatic post-lockdown Strade Bianche though, so I still feel a little bitter towards it. For the March edition of the race, I was supposed to be on an in-race moto. You can't get better access than that. Four and a half months later, I couldn't even get a badge, let alone a vest. Any color. We did well throughout the day, but the finish in Siena was pretty traumatic when I couldn't even get to the Via Santa Caterina to shoot. The cop just stood there - stone faced and annoyed - you can't go, you don't have a badge. The race is coming, I'm freaking out, and there's just nothing to do but turn around and figure out some other shot. I was so frustrated. There were at least half a dozen photographers right there, but I couldn't go, not me. It felt like such a slap in the face - why had I left my happy home, my perfect little life to come over here for this bullshit? Just writing about it today still makes me so mad. It makes me hate racing, hate just how illogical so much of it is, how petty it can be. We have to give up so much, struggle so hard for every single picture, but at the end of the day, a lot of our success rests in the hands of an uninterested policeman or a press person who doesn't give a shit about you. It really made us question our future shooting races. Why do this? Why do THIS when we can make more money, have more fun, and do way cooler stuff working directly for brands? An actual shoot is such a pleasant challenge - if you do the right things, you'll generally come out on top - everyone will be happy. At a race, you can do ALL the right things and end up with next to nothing, in tears, wondering where the hell you went wrong. That frustrates me, us.

Your wife Ashley is also an accomplished photographer. What is your working dynamic like when you're shooting together?

We're teammates. Everything we do while shooting is with an eye on maximizing the two of us. At a start line, we can be working for different teams, different projects. Ash could be on the EF bus, and I might be on the AG2R bus, something like that. That won't be a concern at the Tour de France, since we will have zero access at the start, and there will be no bus time in 2020, but in years gone by, it was a cool way to split up and put a bunch of stuff into our little black boxes.

Out on the road - just like the starts - we look for ways to maximize the two of us. If one of us is taking a "risky" shot, the other might take a safer one to make sure we get something. At finish lines, one of us will be on the line for the safe shot, and the other will be roaming - looking to do something different, special. At the Tour, I spend a lot of time trying to get to weird spots for different finishing angles. I'm a huge fan of side on bunch sprint shots. I took some a few years back that still make me really happy. It's so hard to shoot like that, but it's such a different viewing experience to see a sprint from the side.

When we chase Grand Tours - Ash is the driver, and I'm the navigator. Ash is a bad ass driver, and I think I'm a pretty solid navigator. Both are hard work. It's a nightmare doing that stuff solo. I don't know how solo shooters do it.

After the race is over, I edit all the images, and Ash takes care of everything else - emails to clients, food, tending to my grumpy little self... Ash has started editing more on her own, but in this moment, it still makes the most sense to dump it all in my lap and work my way through it. I'm not the fastest, but considering that I'm editing from four cameras - I feel like I do move pretty quickly. A big day at the Tour might yield 5000 images. Less memorable days are around 2000.

Favorite stretch of road to ride? Favorite stretch to shoot?

In the US, I think I have to give the nod to Kingsport, Tennessee right now. In Europe, I think the Dolomites are my favorite. Northeastern Tennessee/southwestern Virginia wasn't even on my radar until recently. It has all the things that I love: quiet, tiny roads; deep, dark forests; wide open, rolling farmland; always up and down; that feeling that you're the only one around. There's something about Appalachia in general that strikes deep for me when it comes to riding bikes. I'm still working on exactly what it is, but I love it. We're currently working on a plan to ride from Washington, DC to Kingsport, Tennessee at some point this fall.

As for the Dolomites...that one is pretty easy. The prettiest mountains, never-ending single lane farm roads and dirt, a happy place to stay, friends to enjoy it with... Swoon.

I'm also in love with Scotland. I want to ride bikes there SO badly. I'd love to spend some more time up there, if we get the chance. Ash has made it clear though that Ireland must be explored next - at least in some small way - then we can return to Scotland. I say that like it will happen this year. That kind of talk is five year talk. It will happen - eventually. In a perfect world, we will get a cool project and then direct that project to where we want to go. We'll explore it, learn about it, then hopefully make some cool pictures, maybe even a story

You're a Georgia boy: Did you ever have the opportunity to shoot the Tour de Georgia?

Ah man, I wish. More than anything, I wish I had the chance to race it. The amazing day in April 2004 that Cesar Grajales won atop Brasstown Bald started in Athens. People still talk about that day. He was racing for an Athens-based team, Jittery Joe's. I wish I could have been a part of that. It would have been so cool to have the chance to race in such a big race (at the time) at home in Georgia. I still think about it. I've had this conversation with a ton of really good riders in Georgia - we all wish we could have had the chance to race in our state's biggest race.

Is there one single race day in your shooting career that stands out above all others for the drama you witnessed and the photos that came as a result?

I'm kind of happy I waited until now to answer this, because I think the most dramatic event I've ever shot in was for sure that hail storm at the end of Stage 2 at this year's Dauphine. I had just finished up for the day with some entirely forgettable shots from about a kilometer from the finish. I was definitely a little disappointed, but kind of over it. The clouds started gathering in earnest, thunder rolled, lightning streaked across the sky, and then from one moment to the next - the world exploded in hail. Fortunately, I had this tiny little umbrella in my bag - the kind that is generally only good for approximately three uses before falling to pieces. This thing couldn't even stay upright in the hail. I had to hold the umbrella open as the hail came crashing down. About thirty seconds after it started, I couldn't figure out why my feet were so wet - I looked down, and I was standing in this river of water and hail. Fans were running, looking for some kind of shelter, and then the last riders started to emerge into the open spot where I stood - their mouths wide in a terrifying rictus. I've barely seen Edvald Boasson Hagen wince before - but there he was - his mouth wide open in a full silent scream. To be perfectly frank, seeing Edvald like that was when it hit me just how insane this moment was. He's kind of a beacon of calm, so if Edvald is suffering - it has to be bad. I did my best to just shoot as much as possible in that storm of storms. I had no idea if anything was working - that's always the trick with storm shots - there's gold there, but you just have to shoot and pray. I will never, ever forget that storm though.

What brand camera do you shoot? What does your race-day set-up look like?

Nikon. We have four Nikon D850s. We each have two with us. One has a 24-70 2.8, the other has a 70-200 2.8. It's ultra simple. And it works. I used to play around a lot with prime lenses, but I'm honestly tired of carrying around eight lenses in a bag. The 85 1.4 might render this particular shot a little bit prettier, but I probably won't get it in focus (which I can't blame the camera for - it's truly amazing how well autofocus works these days - but autofocus for an in focus point of approximately a millimeter with someone moving quite fast is just a lot to ask from the black boxes). In general, the goal is to get as much as we can into the black boxes. Those two "basic" lenses really help us do that. Also, we do a lot of running. It seems that most of the best pictures aren't exactly where we park the car, so they involve some movement to get there and back - sometimes up to a kilometer away. If you're doing a race chase that involves multiple spots, it means running all the way back to the car after the race passes. I run a lot at Grand Tours. With cameras.

Tell us about your business: What's your balance between race-day shooting, outdoor product photography, and studio photography? Looking a few years into the future, will that balance change?

I think we do around 60 days of race shooting per year. We try to fill the rest of the year up with as many other projects as we can, but it all depends on the year. We cherish our off-time and are perfectly content to do as little work as possible. I bet we end up only working about half of the year, but most of those work days are 16-18 hours. It takes me a long time to recover from the big races or a big shoot. I feel like so much goes into it. I feel the same about articles as well. I don't know what it is about me, but everything I do feels like such a struggle, like I really have to give EVERYTHING to get what I want out of it. It's exhausting. It's also why I get overwhelmed so easily.

In the future, I'd LOVE to do more work outside of racing. It's nice - it's a great way to be noticed - but it doesn't pay that great, and the lifestyle is anything but easy. I don't like how I feel during Grand Tours. I hate how shooting a Grand Tour takes the bike away from me. It's so sad that I got into all of this, because I love bikes. I love how riding a bike makes me feel. I love just thinking about bikes. I'm hopelessly addicted to the bike. It kills me to spend almost four weeks around a bike race and basically have the thing that I actually love taken away from me. I think I'd be far more ok with the lifestyle if I didn't love riding my bike so much. Sometimes, I shrug and laugh, but other days, I really stop and think about what my life would look like if I didn't "waste" so much of it riding all the time.

I don't know what the future holds. In my fantasy world, we would work for a few big cycling brands, some outdoor brands, and maybe for a region like Alta Badia. In this perfect world, we'd spend half the year at home and half the year in Europe or elsewhere. Ah, just writing that gives me the wistfuls. It would be so nice. It seems so sustainable.

Many of us are dilettante photographers. What is the best single piece of advice you can give an aspiring photographer?

Two things! Shoot lots and move around a lot. We are both entirely self-taught. Truly, I'm a product of guess and check. I've started using flash a lot in the last year or so - I don't have much of a theoretical knowledge in it - so I just take a practice shot - adjust - take another practice shot - adjust - and then, when it looks about right, I shoot the race, or the fan on the side of the road, or whatever. There is a lot of time at a stage race to practice while you wait. Digital film is free - so experiment!

As for the moving around a lot - I see so many people just plop down and shoot the first semi-decent spot they see. Again, at a race, there's usually a decent amount of time, so why not walk that stress out a little bit and think about all the possibilities - take test shots - imagine what that will look like with a race in it. I look high, low, side, behind, trees, rocks, anything that can give me some kind of a different, interesting angle. It's truly therapeutic for me to walk around. I've been called a Tasmanian devil when I'm shooting races. I'm super high strung, nervous, generally freaking out about not getting something good - so the walking definitely serves a great dual purpose: research and calm. I've also started listening to music while I pace around. It's amazing how drowning out the nonsense that drunk fans generally direct at us helps calm me as well (TAKE MY PICTURE! WHY WON'T YOU TAKE MY PICTURE?).

When we come to a spot, for some reason, I always think: someone could take a cool shot here. There always seems to be something that can be done. It might not be a scenic, it might not be action, it might not even have anything to do with the race, but there's usually something hiding there - I just have to find it. I love it when I feel challenged like that - and step up and find that picture. It's such a great feeling. Intoxicating.

WHAT'S ON HEAVY ROTATION ON YOUR SPOTIFY PLAYLIST? WHAT'S THE BEST BOOK YOU'VE READ LATELY?

I'd be lying if I said ANYTHING else besides Taylor Swift's new album, Folklore. We listen to it on repeat, over and over. It has really struck a chord for us this summer. Ash is a long-time TSwift fan, and I've been dragged along (not complaining!), because I like pretty much all music. Actually, what am I saying - I like Taylor Swift. If you don't, fine. Why am I defending myself? ha.

I also love making playlists for the seasons. Songs come and go in my life - and I love to keep a sort of record of the music I'm listening to. I made a playlist for Spring 2020, which morphed into Summer 2020. It's allllll over the place: Orville Peck, John Prine (RIP), Caroline Rose, Tove Lo, A$AP Ferg, Lana Del Rey, Anderson .Paak, The Weeknd, Future, Doja Cat, Dolly Parton. I love music so much - one of my greatest regrets is that I don't spend all of my time trying to find the songs that give me goosebumps or make me want to go ride my bike really hard or make me bawl my eyes out when I ride or just get me through long editing sessions...or just something that makes me happy to listen to it while I make pancakes in the morning. I don't know what it is, but I have a very emotional reaction to songs - especially when riding my bike. Don't worry, I don't cry on group rides or anything, but sometimes, when I'm alone and that one song hits at just the right moment, I'm just a big ball of dripping tears. I've come this far, so I'll admit my latest cry inducing song: Unwritten. Natasha Bedingfield. Don't laugh too hard at me. It's not my choice. It just HAPPENS. I'm not apologizing, this isn't high school anymore.

As for books - we generally listen to most of our books these days. Audible is a great friend. We just finished this Scottish murder mystery called, Laidlaw. I loved it. The author narrates in his amazing Scottish accent. I loved it. I might listen to it again. I also recently started listening to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Sometimes, it's a bit much for me, but there's so much golden dust sprinkled throughout - it's a wild ride, and I like it. We also recently finished listening to the entire Harry Potter series. We've been listening about 5-10 minutes at a time for about a year - it's our go to bed listening. I don't know what it is, but listening to a book is the perfect way for me to go to sleep.

I also recently started leaning in to my inner bike dork: cycling books. I don't know what it is, but I've always shied away from cycling books. I found Slaying the Badger to be extremely entertaining. I'd happily listen to it again. I also listened to Vaughters's book this summer over a couple of solo rides - it was a surprisingly good listen. I never thought I'd be enthralled by JV's voice...turns out, he's great. I love people's genesis stories - especially related to bikes in this case. It's generally so innocent, so interesting, so relatable.

What photographers inspire you the most, and why?

Oooooof. That's a pretty big list. Right now, I'm in love with the work of Gioncarlo Valentine and Joe Pugliese - looking back a little farther, Richard Avedon. Portraits terrify me. There's something about a perfect portrait that utterly disarms me, makes me feel like I'm actually seeing a part of that person's soul. That feeling is why I think I'm so scared of them. I don't even know where to begin. I feel like I'm this fully capable carpenter with all of the tools, but I just don't know what to do. I'm actually hoping to have a call with @joepug before the Tour. I'm so excited to talk to him about portraits, because I feel it's truly this uncharted territory for me, and I want it to be a part of me. I feel like sometimes I lack that human element, and it frustrates me. Joe was also the one that talked me into getting a flash before last year's Tour...which I used so, so much. It transformed my Tour experience somehow and made it a journey of these bright, colorful captures of roadside France. It was a game changer for me. So, if this next conversation with Joe is anything like the last one, it's reasonable for me to be at least a little excited.

I really do love to just look at pictures though. I don't care what genre, what it's about, who took it - famous or not - I just love looking at beautiful photography, interesting photography. It gets me excited. I think there are so many great photographers out there, and that keeps me hungry. If I look back at what the scene was like when we started almost ten years ago, and I think about how if I came to the game with THAT level now - no one would even notice us, not even a second look. I think so many people are at such a better starting point now than they were 8, 9, 10 years ago - and I can only speak for cycling. I mentioned this to someone else recently, and they confirmed the same - but for music. Young musicians have every chance to learn so much through something as simple as YouTube that they start out at a much higher level than before. That's one person's opinion - I'm sure others feel completely opposite - but it certainly seemed to fit perfectly into what I've seen on the picture taking side - so I'm running with it.


The Accidental Capitalist: Getting to Know Blythe Jack

Another installment in our occasional series on the most interesting and influential women in the global bike industry

24 August, 20

Judge, Jury and Executioner: A Conversation with James Huang

The foremost technical expert in the English language about high-end bikes? Not much debate on that one -- it's James Huang

11 August, 20

Getting to Know Jess Money

Another installment in an occasional series on the most interesting and influential women in the global cycling industry

24 July, 20

Measuring The Metric That Matters

Altitude gain shows us how hard a ride is

20 July, 20

Q&A With Michael Barry

Where does our love for the sport of cycling take us? For Michael Barry, it led to a decade at the very top of professional road racing

15 July, 20