Riding Art: The Mastery of Stephen Lund, Cycleangelo
By Robert Hawkes
When most of us look at local streets, we see them as ways to get around, to enjoy the surroundings, and to interact with neighbours. To Stephen Lund they are also a sketchbook.
Before dawn on New Year’s day of 2015, Victoria resident Stephen Lund set out with his bike and global positioning system (GPS) tracker, and during the ride traced out Happy 2015. Now three years, and well over a hundred GPS tracked works of art later, Stephen, is known worldwide for his cycling artistic creations.
Stephen Lund spoke at the 2015 Victoria TEDx event, and his online video (A Creative Spin: Pedaling My Art) is both instructive and inspirational: https://youtu.be/OsMMysaZRyg. In that address he talked about the transformational nature of that first cycling doodle: “My bike was no longer a bike, it had become a paintbrush, and the entire city was my canvas.”
While many refer to his patterns as GPS art, Stephen prefers the term GPS doodles. His reasoning is that, to some, the word ‘art’ is restricted to the talented few, while we all doodle. Over the years his doodles have written various messages, drawn creatures real and mythical, celebrated seasons and events. He has drawn whales, doves, mermaids, movie figures, bagpipes, the Queen and the Easter bunny, to name just a few.
Each work of art requires extensive planning. He starts with a large Photoshop map of the area. The streets have been highlighted in a darker colour, making it easier to see potential patterns. As Stephen points out, it is not so much that you are creating patterns as discovering them. He plans a route and marks it as a layer over the map. Iterations gradually lead to the plan for the cycling drawing. Especially for the more complex figures, detailed directions are required to guide the trip. He then rides the route using a GPS device that precisely records his position using signals from satellites. Following the ride, the track is downloaded to the Strava App, which plots the path in red on top of a city map.
While the doodles vary in length, typically they are about 70 km of cycling distance and take several hours to complete. His largest figure, The Sea Creature of Saanich Peninsula, includes the region from the city to the ferry terminal, and encloses an area of more than 90 million square metres. One of his more complex figures is titled The Siren of the Salish Sea. Sirens were mythical creatures with beautiful voices that lured sailors to their deaths. This GPS work of art required about 14 hours of riding time to complete, and he had to overcome three different flat tires along the way.
A number of his artistic creations include James Bay. For example, one of his most popular drawings, Garmina (named after his GPS device), is an 11 km high giraffe with the ring road in Beacon Hill Park as the eye of the giraffe. Garmina required about 115 km of cycling. Another GPS doodle pictures an ant between Simcoe and Niagara Streets, about to be eaten by a huge anteater traced out of Victoria and View Royal streets. He playfully titled this one Fine Dining in James Bay.
Anyone can enter the world of GPS art, even if you don’t cycle. You can walk, skateboard or ride a mobility scooter as you carry a GPS device to trace out a pattern. As Stephen commented, once you start moving you begin sketching. Your first sketch could be as simple as a rectangle of streets representing a window. The Strava App is freely available for both iPhone/iPad and Android, although a paid premium subscription services adds features. While there are competing apps that will similarly plot your path, one advantage of the Strava app that Stephen uses is that it allows you to easily share online with a Strava community. People from more than 60 different countries follow Stephen’s GPS doodles on Strava.
As Stephen eloquently expressed, “In each of us is a deep desire to create and to express. What excites me most about GPS doodling, is that it takes the intimidation out of artistic expression. If you can move, you can doodle.”
While most of Stephen’s cycling is in the Victoria area, his GPS art has taken him to various cities across Canada, and to Switzerland, Mexico and Italy. He won a global competition that included a trip to the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Switzerland.
As a professional writer and branding/marketing expert, Stephen Lund helps organizations express their goals and activities in positive and creative ways. It is fitting that the creations of his hobby, inspire countless people from dozens of countries to express themselves creatively through GPS tracked art.
In response to a post on his blog, Stephen summarized one of the virtues of GPS art this way: “Because it disguises exercise as creative expression and urban exploration, it has a lot of potential as a way to inspire people to get physically active.”
While by no means the only GPS cycling artist in the world, Stephen (who is nicknamed by cycling associates as Cycleangelo recognizing his artistic and cycling expertise) is certainly one of the best known. He came to Victoria from Calgary in 2011 (partly to permit him to cycle all year round). Through his cycling he knows all of the city very well. He finds himself in James Bay pretty frequently. “At least twice a week I land at Shoal Point Moka House for coffee…the terminus of Tripleshot Cycling Club’s early morning Tuesday and Friday rides.”
Follow Stephen Lund’s latest GPS doodles at https://gpsdoodles.com or on Instagram at roadrashyyj. You can see his cycling accomplishments and doodles at the Strava site https://www.strava.com/athletes/6202092. When this article was being written in early April, he had already logged more than 4500 km of cycling in 2018.
The next time someone cycles past you, don’t assume that they are just getting exercise or moving from point A to point B. Maybe they are creating art! Why not try out GPS doodling yourself, and perhaps share your local creations with us at the Beacon?