Art in motion: Ribble collaborates with illustrator and designer Vic Lee

The British brand teamed up with British artist to produce a unique urban e-bike

This article was produced in association with Ribble

Maps are one of the most crucial resources in life. They have evolved into various forms over the years – what once would have been ink scrawled across brown pages might now be brightly coloured lines on the screen of a smartphone. A map tells you where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going. In some ways, humans draw their own maps as they find a path through life – this is something that resonates especially with British illustrator and designer, Vic Lee.

He is now a world-renowned artist who has worked for some prestigious clients, but Lee’s pathway into the industry wasn’t linear, or usual. His love for design began during a tough upbringing during which he explains he was forced to be self-sufficient. When it came to trying to scratch his creative itch, this self-sufficiency meant Lee could be found collecting flyers outside nightclubs and glancing at French Connection catalogues as a teenager, poring over graphics, logos and fonts.

“I used to rip all the pages out of the catalogues and keep the bits I liked. I didn’t know what design was, but I knew I loved what I was seeing,” explains Lee. “Being outside is so inspirational to me, because you see things that have been created. You see how the patterns and everything that surrounds us has been designed and made. The outside world is far more engaging to me than being stuck in a gallery. I still love looking at art, but I get the most kick out of my surroundings.”

It wasn’t until Lee was in his early 40s that he discovered how to harness his passion for outdoors into his own work. In the years before that, Lee worked as a graphic designer, as well as a postman, decorator and on a cruise ship. “I was 42 years old when I started illustrating my local street, which was Lordship Lane in East Dulwich, London,” says Lee. “I sold it as a limited edition print and it blew up. I was getting orders from loads of different places, then doing the whole of London and selling prints to art collectors from all over the world. A piece for Zetta Hotels was my first commission.”

Perhaps as a result of his unique journey into his craft, Lee approaches his work with simplicity. His medium is pens and he keeps his work mostly black and white, enjoying how that helps achieve striking clarity in his detailed illustrations. Keeping things monochrome also allows the granular details on Lee’s maps to retain their sharpness, from creative illustrations to intricate inkings of street names.

“The work that I do comes out of my head. It just pops out,” he says. “I’m a storyteller and I want people to be engaged in the work I do. I don’t want them to see everything in one go. You have to really look at all the streets and you see all the little people and the businesses and you recognise things and it suddenly becomes part of where you live.”

He remembers walking along pavements, photographing each building before going home and piecing it together with his pens, illustrating the streets freehand. For Lee, creating his artwork is a journey of discovery, allowing him and others to recognise the details of areas that they may frequent regularly, but without really seeing what makes them special. It was his refreshing approach to appreciating the great outdoors that drew British bike brand Ribble to Vic Lee’s work.

“Vic’s artistry is very free, and it represents the freedom of cycling, the benefits and the nice surprises that you might get on a ride. That made it a great fit for us,” says Sasha Castling, Ribble’s Head of PR.

Ribble allowed Lee to work his magic on a prototype alloy frame, bringing to life an urban e-bike, showcased at Rouleur Live 2023 in London. The frame, fork, seat post and handlebar is Lee’s work, accompanied by a Sram Red AXS group-set and Hope components to create a premium, money-no-object build. The art-work on the bike represents the bike’s journey from the North of England, in the heart of the Ribble Valley, to the hustle and bustle of the Truman Brewery in Shoreditch, where it would be unveiled to the public.

“Sasha explained that the company was based in Preston and I thought about how the bike was coming down to London and wanted to chronicle that journey,” says Lee. “There is actually a cycle trail which goes all the way, so I took elements of that and then hand drew them onto the bike. I didn’t want to be too specific to an area, I wanted to almost see it from the cyclist’s point of view. You have to allow your eyes to travel down the bike until you get to London.”

Ribble chose to give Lee an urban e-bike to work on, rather than a road or gravel model. Castling explains that Lee’s design touches on the 126-year heritage of Ribble, yet the frame itself is a prototype of an e-bike the brand is working on for the future. “We had extended mountain bike bars on an urban bike, so we’ve been challenging the urbanisation of that bike. I thought that the style and the contrast between Ribble’s past and future could be perfectly conveyed through Vic’s artistry,” Castling says.

The Ribble x Vic Lee bike is incredibly eye-catching – the detailed design means that more can be discovered each time a person looks at it. Lee explains that he was grateful to be given the creative freedom by Ribble to put his own flair into the design – he worked without any type of stencil or plan, simply placing words and shapes on the frame in the places where he believed they fit best.

Working in pen, there’s no margin for error or mistakes, something that – while risky – means Lee is forced to follow his intuition when inking. “I did a mural a few years ago and someone said to me that they’d seen it over the space of six months, yet every day they saw something new. You see little bits like that on the Ribble bike: places and bridges and leaves and roads which all lead to something else. It’s a journey that you take and you can picture where the next stop is going to be,” explains Lee.

As the Ribble x Vic Lee bike represents a map of the brand’s journey from Preston to London in the lead up to Rouleur Live, it seems wrong for a piece of art that carries so many stories to simply sit still, once its time at the Truman Brewery came to an end. Castling knows this and is making sure that, out of respect for the maps that adorn the frame, the bike is continuing on a journey of its own today.

“It’s currently at the Ribble Head Office so everyone can see it in person. Then it’s going to our flagship store in Clitheroe, then it’s stopping back off in our Mailbox showroom in the Midlands, then to London and Bristol and back around, so it’s staying on a journey.” says Castling. “It’s an absolute legacy piece for our brand and will always be part of our history.”

For Lee, he explains it was refreshing both to work on a canvas that took him out of his comfort zone in the form of a bicycle, and to collaborate with a brand that isn’t afraid to try something new and take risks. “It was a brave thing to give me, because they didn’t know what I was going to do. I just did a bit of a rough sketch, Sasha allowed me to do what I wanted and this was it,” says Lee. “For me, it isn’t about me creating art, it has to be about me creating something that other people can get lost in.”

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