Five Minutes With... Markus Stitz
11 November, 2022
Markus Stitz is a staple of the ultra-distance scene in the UK. Not only a racer, Markus is a photographer and documentary filmmaker as well as the author of Great British Gravel Rides. You may also know Markus under a different name, Bikepacking Scotland.
All photos by Markus Stitz
1. You are a bikepacker and a filmmaker and have magically woven those two worlds together so we can come along for the ride. What was it that pushed you to document your bikepacking adventures as you have?
I documented my round the world trip on YouTube, and when I started Bikepacking Scotland in 2017 saw that video content is really important to publicise the routes I was creating. I never saw myself as a YouTuber (and still don’t), as I wanted my films to be more than just one person’s experience of a journey. I had a bit of a rough time at the end of 2018 personally, so I decided to tackle the Highland Trail 550 for a third time and then to take a month off in 2019 to race the Silk Road Mountain Race. But I didn’t just want to race, I wanted to get to know a country I hadn’t been to before and decided to travel in Kyrgyzstan before the race and document my journey in No Stone Unturned, just on my iPhone. And all of the sudden the filming mojo was back, and the film did really well. Shortly afterwards Schwalbe approached me and offered to finance another film, and so the filmmaking became more and more part of my work.
2. In this world of adventure filmmaking it's easy for the viewer to forget it isn't quite just ride and shoot. Could you tell us a little about the process you use for your films, both documentary style, like Maiden Race, and adventure, such as your new Exploring Boundaries, and how these processes differ?
What all of those films have in common is that they are unscripted. I do think the essence of adventure is the unpredicted nature of it, and the magic of the moment. But there are subtleties to that. With ‘Maiden Race’ I had to make sure I stick to the rules of unsupported racing, while at the same time managing the logistics of the filming by bike and train. There was little capacity left to actually think about the film, but I always try to think what shots are needed to make a good film. Due to filming for 10 days there was a bit of room for error as well, my first day on GBDURO didn’t really lend itself for great footage. ‘Explore Your Boundaries Argyll and the Isles’ was different, as I knew the area we were travelling through well, and had a much better idea what the final film could be. However, when I was out with Jenny we had some pretty challenging weather, which was not the greatest for filming. At the core of a good film is to understand the people and landscapes you are portraying. That takes time, and the longer I have to film, the better I am at capturing the essence of both.
3. You recently released a book, Great British Gravel Rides. It is a must read for anyone gravel minded in the UK, but the format is a little different than people might expect. Could you tell us more about how the collection has been created?
As I mentioned with my films, at the core of my work are people. I have developed a number of gravel routes in Scotland over the last years, the Perthshire Gravel Trails, trails in Argyll and in the Cateran Ecomuseum. So from experience I knew the nature of gravel cycling in Britain, and through those projects had met many interesting people. So when Vertebrate asked me to work on a ‘Great British Gravel Rides’ book, they initially wanted me to just do a guide book. But the idea of having 25 routes that simply mirror my riding seemed a bit boring. I think people inspire other people to do things, so I went through my address book and wondered if I can find enough people to portray and fill a book. And to include their favourite routes in the book, which then can be ridden. My input in the book is the photography and writing, and the coordination. At times it was not easy to travel across the country to ride bikes. The other deciding factor was that most routes should be available to ride by public transport, as most of my travel was by train. I think the book shows how multifaceted gravel in Britain is, and what an amazing wealth of opportunities we have so close to us.
4. As camera technology advances how do you find it advantageous to your filmmaking or conversely do you ever find it gets in the way of capturing a story?
The great opportunity is that cameras get much smaller, and much better at capturing film in challenging conditions. I mostly carry everything by bike, and ten years ago that would have been more challenging. What I think gets in the way are effects and gadgets no one really needs. If you look at my films, you won’t find any effects, transitions etc, they are quite simple. If technical innovation means longer battery life and better footage, that’s cool.
5. In the first Explore Your Boundaries film you and Mark were travelling around county boundaries after the restrictions in the pandemic confined us to our counties. Now these have lifted what has spurred you on to continue the adventure?
For both Mark and me the idea of having adventures close to our doorstep is something that we want to get across, and Explore Your Boundaries is the ideal concept to do this. There is also a magic in the concept of plotting routes along those boundaries, as it makes the decision making so much easier. At times when I was planning routes I wanted to make sure I include as many scenic bits as possible etc, and then the whole route became convoluted. So simply following the boundary of a council, very much the same concept as following a straight line, means that there will be moments of surprise on the route.
6. Many know Markus Stitz as a behind the camera, relaxed pace rider. However, looking at the DotWatcher results you've also completed some pretty gruelling races, the Highland Trail 550, Atlas Mountain Race and Silk Road Mountain Race. How do you find competing vs adventuring?
I think they are two things that go very well together. I love the social buzz of races, meeting people and really exploring what my body and mind are capable of. I am not one for short races, I love the logistics of a longer race and the unexpected nature. I got into what I am doing by doing the Highland Trail 550 in 2014 on a singlespeed, and races are a good way of monitoring where bikepacking and gravel riding are headed. Looking at ‘Maiden Race’ it is also hugely beneficial to understand what people are going through in those races, especially in tough times. There have been many moments in races like the Silk Road Mountain Race where I personally didn’t have the strength to point the camera at myself, but as a filmmaker and photographer those are the moments that define the race. I am just back from documenting Mark Beaumont’s record on the North Coast 500, and think that exactly that background knowledge and experience allowed me to decide when the best times are to get the right shots.
7. What is your top tip for bike photography?
Develop your own style, work hard and try to make the most of the moments you get to portray. And always treat it as a privilege to be able to be out in nature.
You can buy a signed copy of ‘Great British Gravel Rides’ from Markus for £25 here. Postage is included in the UK, for international orders there is a small surcharge.
Use DOTWATCHER in the order form to get a 10% discount.
More information, sample pages and reviews can be found on greatbritishgravelrides.com.