New Bike Day (father-son adventures’ edition)

It is three decades ago since I purchased my first MTB.
At that time I thought it was the best looking thing I had ever seen. It was the end of the Eighties so the Giant Track came in all black with turquoise accents. When first shown to my granddad he called it in Dutch a ‘heuvellandschapsrijwiel’ or hilly-landscape-bicycle instead of the then common All Terrain Bike.

I thought this was funny, especially because where I lived no hills were to be found. I raced it at a local BMX track and collected some medals while doing it. I spend a lot of time riding and at that time didn’t know much about proper maintenance. My dad suggested to give the entire bike a full overhaul so we went to our LBS and purchased a good amount of parts needed to get the bike back in good/safe working condition. We spend a whole day fixing it up and the result was (in my eyes) a brand new bike. I loved it but sadly a few days later the bike we worked so hard on together got stollen out the shed.

Gladly after this bike-theft I was able to replace it through insurance with a more modern bike. I forgot the name of the model but it was a darker red rigid steel Jamis mountain bike. The bike store tweaked it on my request to a more ‘hybrid’ configuration with slicks and road gears. Again I fell in love with this new bike. One day I parked it somewhere outside, locked safely while inside for just a few minutes it was long enough to disappear. I liked the ride so another Jamis replaced the stolen one and this bike had front suspension. While being a more low-end model it was the first serious/trail-worthy mountain bike I owned. Over the years It had a good amount of mileage on a nearby artificial MTB track. After a few years it lost all of its stiffness. Funny enough my LBS had the exact same frame as some old stock with the frame-number being only one apart. I got it and re-build my bike with more updated parts.

As parts wear under the constant grinding of riding in muddy conditions this hobby/sport can quickly become massively expansive. At that time, as a student I thought I found the perfect solution and started working in bike stores. This way I could get the necessary replacements or upgrades for less. In these years, as part of the job I frequented the various Europeen bike expos and it kept me in the loop of what all manufactures were up to.

The next few bikes I got became more serious, and so did the riding. The company that owned the LBS I ran as a manager organized seasonal bike trips for the employees in the Belgium Ardennes and the German Black Forrest. My weapon of choice on these rides was a capable and stylish Commencal full suspension. It was off-white with gold, and had gold hydraulic disc brakes. Both the black Jamis Paragon and the Commencal Sub represent an older style of bikes and both are sadly collection dust on a different continent than were I live.

Soon after moving to the U.S. I found a straight forward, second hand Schiwnn road bike. It has a steel black frame and over the years I have put on some serious mileage driving it to and from thousands of assignments. It lives outside on the porch and is at the end of its long life. At the same time Zane grew out of his aluminum Woom 16 inch kids bike he got for his fourth birthday.

With the ongoing pandemic it took more than a year to find a bike that would fit my (riding)style. My wife found a nice 24 inch Specialized for our son and my eye was caught by a — what I would describe as an understated — brand new Cannondale Trail 5. A simple 29-er hardtail with 1×10 drivetrain, 100mm front suspension and Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. The bike looks and feels right for me. As a dad I am simply not interested anymore in fancy machines to tackle the biggest drops.

I think my new ‘heuvellandschapsrijwiel’ will offer a way more responsible ride since now i’ll have my son in tow. I am looking forward on shredding our local trails together and teaching him how to maintain his own bikes to come…

How Playing with LEGO Together Helps Us Get Through the Pandemic

By Bastiaan Slabbers and Jana Shea

Today, exactly one year ago, our family of three — like so many others — found ourselves scrambling as we reset our lives to deal with a global pandemic.

With three months left in the academic year, the School District of Philadelphia had made the decision to pull the plug and indefinitely shutter in-person education. Suddenly, we had to create a full-time learning environment for our Kindergartener, right in our home. The small screen of a laptop would become our son’s entire window to the world.

As part of a package to help guide us with homeschooling, the teacher shared a simple, colorful, one-sheet page of instructions. A 30-day LEGO building challenge she found on the Internet kicked off a momentum. Not fully capable of comprehending it at the time, we now credit this thoughtful gesture as a major stepping stone into the future development of our young creator.

What was only supposed to last two weeks, turned into a month and then another, until it was clear the lockdown was going to keep us stuck at home for the rest of the year. And into a new one.

Throughout it all, LEGO has been a balm, bridge, and brain booster.

The 30 days of builds as a STEM component of handmade home schooling turned into a daily passion. Builds grew more original and complex.

Online LEGO building “summer camp” helped fill solitary, sweltering days with fun and prepared our son for an all-virtual 2020-2021 school year. LEGO Life provides a safe social media experience where our “lonely only” child can connect with others to share his creations and story ideas. 

A fantastic tool to learn coding concepts came into our lives this winter when a generous neighbor offered a box not only filled with hundreds of bricks, but also a fully working (after some TLC and a rubber band hack), programmable LEGO robot.

Today, our son has a developing fascination with the art of storytelling, comic book creation and film making, completely inspired by watching tangible Minifigs come to life through the magic of animation (thanks to LEGO’s Ninjago movies and television series). With our pandemic kitten looking on (and sometimes starring as our own Meowthra), epic battles are recreated on the floor while the ‘director’ produces an appropriate soundtrack with his voice.

All things we have picked up this year are starting to fit together………like two studded bricks that form the base for yet another amazing build. And now our son is learning how to produce, direct and edit his own story.

Photographic Milestones

Amerika (2020)

Yesterday I woke up to find out one of my pics from my recent BLM protest images made it to Flickr’s Explore front page..

To be honest, it all started with Flickr for reasons I’ll come back to in a sec. In the earlier days of my photography career I had some of my images appear on the photo-hosting site’s most sought-after page before but I had to look up when that was. It turned out the last time was fifteen years ago.


A lot has changed in the industry but the good olde photo-sharing site always has a special place in my heart. Above all it is were I met my lovely spouse. It’s also where WHYY’s editor Alan Tu found my (monochrome) photo set from an Obama rally (with Joe Biden) a few days after I photographed them in 2010, behind Germantown High School.

He saw my work and decided to give me a call to talk about WHYY’s then still unannounced news effort, called Today their branding and hyper-local focus have changed a bit and I am glad to still be send out on occasional assignments.

To make the circle round, June 11, 2020 will mark a very unique day in my personal path in photography. Not only one of my images from the recent historic events made it to the Flickr front page, I also am assigned to cover an (due to COVID-19 Pandemic rare) appearance of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden as part of a small photo pool.

As I write this I am archiving the photos I made for REUTERS at a round table on the U.S. economy reopening with the same Joe that appeared in front of my lens almost a decade ago.

Thanks to everyone who made this all possible (and yes, that includes you too: Flickr!

Photojournalist ‪| (215) 839-8676‬