‘The bicycle feels like a drawing tool’ – Artist Krysten Koehn on falling in love with Colorado again
For American rider and frame painter Krysten Koehn, cycling is much bigger than power numbers or racing. She tells Rouleur how it has inspired and shaped her life to this point
This article was produced in association with Pas Normal Studios
When some people ride their bicycle they look at the numbers displayed on their computers. They think about how many watts they are putting out, or how many kilometres they have remaining, or if their average speed is high enough. They rarely see the landscapes that lie beyond the hedgerows, or the way the road curves in a pattern ahead of them. Colorado-based cyclist and artist, Krysten Koehn, is not one of those people.
“The bicycle feels like a drawing tool. I've always thought of bike riding as drawing lines in a landscape. Even if there's nothing tangible left from that, it still feels like an important part of my artistic practice,” Koehn tells me via video call, dressed in dungarees with her black and grey hair tucked into a baseball cap. The way the American woman talks about her surroundings makes it clear that she experiences the world a little differently, and perhaps more deeply, than most people.
“I've always had a visceral love for the mountains. I feel it in my body, I feel a lack in my body when I'm not close to them. Colorado has so much wilderness area, you go out into these landscapes and environments, and there's just you and your bike and nature.” Koehn says. “I don't really care about data, I use Strava because I like to see the lines. I ride a lot, but I'm not the kind of person who needs a goal in order to ride, I just love it. I just want to be outside. The bike is the most enjoyable way that I've discovered to do that.”
Koehn is speaking from her house in the shadow of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, an area where she grew up with her family, but has only recently relocated to after over a decade of being based in Europe, working as an art teacher.
“I was teaching art in international schools, and I discovered bike riding when I lived in Switzerland,” Koehn explains. “When spring came round, my entire community stepped over a bike, so I got my first road bike too. At first I hated it. It was so different and hard compared to all of the outdoor sports that I was really accustomed to, but I did eventually come to love it as this perfect way of discovering a place. It was a way to go much farther than on foot, and at the same time still retain an intimacy with the landscape.”
Moving back to the Colorado in 2021 was never part of Koehn’s plan, but the Covid-19 pandemic changed things. When she was back visiting family on summer break from her teaching job in Europe, Koehn was able to rediscover the area she grew up in once more, this time with the bicycle as her vehicle for adventure.
“It felt like a complete rediscovery. It was magical. I think I really had to leave and experience the world and then come full circle to appreciate being here. Coming back and discovering Colorado's landscapes on a bike was a whole different animal,” Koehn says.
As Koehn spent more time in her homeland that summer, the grey skies and flatlands of Northern Europe became less and less of an appealing prospect by the day. “As the weeks passed and my departure date grew closer, I felt more and more like I couldn't leave. I couldn't go back to flat, windy, dark, rainy, Northern Europe where I've been looking out the window feeling sorry for myself. I really spontaneously just ended up staying,” she explains.
Koehn tells me that she almost felt as if the universe was giving her signs that moving back to Colorado was the right thing to do. Within 24 hours of deciding to stay, she’d managed to sort out a place to live, a car and a new job which gave her the opportunity to move away from teaching, a profession which she’d fallen out of love with after it digitised during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Now I'm working as a bike painter. It is an absolute dream. I get to paint bikes all day, which is amazing,” Koehn says with a smile. The American woman works for bespoke bike brand, Mosaic Cycles, creating stunning, hand painted frames for customers who want to stand out from the crowd. The job came about after the brand’s founder and owner, Aaron Barcheck, saw some of Koehn’s previous work and asked her to create a design for Mosaic’s “Artist’s Series” collection.
“I told Aaron that I'd love to do it on the condition that he taught me how to paint it myself. I definitely had other motivations for that, because I'd been looking to leave education for many years since the pandemic. He was generous enough to do a mini-apprenticeship with me and show me the process from start to finish. I painted my own bike and it was really successful, it felt really natural. He also confirmed that I was a natural at it, and I solicited him for a job,” jokes Koehn. “I've been here since June and it’s a dream.”
Koehn has named the bike she created for Mosaic’s Artist Series ‘Atlas.’ It is inspired by the tapestry of gravel roads and trails around Colorado and the feeling of infinite discovery that they evoke in her.
“The bike itself subjective. It is an objective map of Colorado. It’s about coming back here and rediscovering the place through cycling. It starts with a fade that goes from burnt sienna to a dark sage green, which are really unique colours. Then the translucent pearl overlays are cycling routes, the ones that had this aspect of discovery which was so enlightening and wonderful,” Koehn explains. “I superimposed over the fade in a couple of different layers, and they create different shapes when they overlap.”
Koehn now spends her days creating bikes for customers with either the ‘Atlas’ paint job or a vast array of other designs Mosaic Cycles offers. Occasionally, she designs and paints entirely custom bikes on request. “It is really fun to be able to translate what is important to me. I love that my work can penetrate the boundaries of other people's existence, and that they can find value and beauty in it without having to have experienced the exact same things that I have,” she says.
When she’s not in the studio painting, Koehn is likely to be found exploring the mountains in Colorado, dressed in Pas Normal Studios cycling kit, a brand for which she has been an ambassador for the last four years. She caught the attention of the Copenhagen-based company back in 2019 when she decided to cycle 2000km from Amsterdam to Girona in ten days, documenting the experience on her social media.
“They've been really supportive,” Koehn says. “It's definitely a brand that has been associated with going hard and going fast and I'm just not that kind of rider, but I still feel really supported by them in what I do. I think they recognise that I'm a multi dimensional bike rider, and they appreciate that. It's led to the most important people in my life, my closest friends.”
The friends that Koehn made through the international cycling community that forms part of Pas Normal Studios shaped the American woman’s life when she lived in Europe, and these are relationships that Koehn continues to treasure now she is based at in Colorado. They form an important part of Koehn's cycling experience and are part of why she loves the sport so much.
In the modern world of cycling, where technology, power data and numbers can sometimes feel like they are taking over, Koehn is perhaps a reminder of how important it is to look beyond the computers on our handlebars, and soak in nature and people that surround us. Whether that’s the dramatic, rocky mountains of Colorado, or the vast, flat landscapes of Europe, there is always beauty to find if you take the time to look for it.
“I love the feeling of being small and insignificant. Nothing does that like nature. Nature is just so big and vast and innate,” Koehn says. “Out here in Colorado, the only sign of civilisation will be the trail that you're riding. It just feels like everything there is.”
Watch the Krysten Koehn and Pas Normal Studios film, Subjective Landscapes, here