As technical editor for both BikeRadar and Cyclingnews, I get a regular pile of mail from both readers and industry folk covering a vast range of bike-related topics on a near-daily basis.
"What bike should I get?"
"Why isn't my [insert bike part here] working?"
"We'd like to submit our latest thingamadoohicky for review."
By far the most common question, though, is much simpler in nature: "How do you get the bikes to stand up by themselves in your pictures?"
Sure, I could resort to the obvious solutions, be it jamming a stick in the rear wheel, leaning the bike up against something, or the common 'one, two, three, go!' method usually employed by two-man teams. But I often have to operate solo so the latter isn't usually an option and would rather not have extraneous support staff ruin what may otherwise be a great bike shot.
So what's a tech editor (and hack photographer) to do?
Back in the days of steel frames, I took a page out of high-tech maglev trains and would station two powerful electromagnets on either side of the bike hooked up to a portable generator. Carefully balancing the current would lock the bike bolt upright – or even lean it slightly if I deemed artistically appropriate. The setup was a major pain to travel with but it worked, and worked well.
Alas, today's crop of aluminium and carbon machines have relegated the equipment to the storage shed as the amount of power required to balance the miniscule amount of remaining steel hardware was much greater than Future Publishing was willing to pay (after all, they already pay for my exorbitant salary, utilities, car, hair care and supply a regular shipment of Haribos) and I've had to get much more inventive in my solutions – and the new airline surcharges for baggage didn’t help, either.
I've tried everything since then: an IR remote-operated and spring-loaded arm that would momentarily hold the bike by the saddle (too many scuffed bikes), artificially flat-spotted tyres (got sick from the rubber fumes on the belt sander), screwing bike wheels into the ground with U-bolts (got reprimanded by Colorado DOT), Super Glue (inconsistent bond on asphalt and dirt), you name it. So what works now? Simple: The power of suggestion.
I've found that by merely asking the bike very nicely to stand still for a bit, it'll comply. After all, it's the feature object in a photo that will be seen by countless eyes, it's often happily basking in Colorado sunlight, and it was just polished to a shiny luster with a brand-new Sham-Wow. Just set the bike as close to the balance point as possible, beg and plead a little bit, and voila! I do have to be quick with the shutter as the fickle bikes bore easily and occasionally roll away but it's worked well so far. Bike treats such as high-quality grease and oil help.
Then again, Photoshop gets the job done, too.