Interview and Images: Fiona Ryan and L'Equipe Provence

Cycling can take you to incredibly beautiful places, and sometimes, cycling can take you to incredibly talented people. Fiona Ryan, founder/owner/artist of FiFO CYCLE is one of those people. We met Fiona not soon after falling in love with cycling. She was making custom cycling caps by hand in her apartment in Brooklyn, NY. Her thoughtfulness as an artist and person made us want to collaborate on a custom piece of kit, just for Provence. Our L’Equipe Provence X FiFO CYCLE neck buff is the result of her artistry and attention to detail.
We wanted to know a bit more about Fiona and FiFO CYCLE, and how cycling influences her, the design process, and where we can grab a good ride in Colombia.

What sparked your love for cycling?

I probably first experienced the joy of seeing the world on two wheels when I was on the back of my Mum’s Peugeot road bike on the backroads where I grew up in Ireland. I got my own bike not long after…a beautiful Raleigh. I remember feeling totally out of control at first, but it was possibly my first real lesson in conquering fear. Sean Kelly was a local hero and I watched him and Stephen Roche battle it out on television but it wasn’t until Kelly blew past our front gate in a peloton during the Tour of Ireland stage race that I finally grasped the speed and power of the cyclist. While living in New York, I took up bike polo and traveled all over the US and Canada for tournaments, developing a deep love for the camaraderie of the game and meeting so many amazing people. Before moving to Colombia 3 years ago I bought an old Marinoni road bike, built by Wilis at Deluxe Cycles. On this bike I fell in love with mountains and climbing and we’ve traveled together all over the world. Climbing has taught me resilience and patience and has given me an inner strength and mindfulness that I couldn’t do without.


How did you start designing for cycling? 

It started pretty organically. I lost my favorite cycling cap and since I couldn’t find another comfortable enough I decided to make one for myself. The first time I wore it out I got 3 order requests, then my friend at Trackstar NYC suggested a caps-for-bike trade and it kind of grew from there. I freelanced as a textile designer and eventually found myself designing for cycling teams and races as well as running a small production of caps out of my tiny apartment.

When you approach a project for the first time, what kind of elements spark your process? Is there a formula or is it random?

I’ve been really lucky with the brands that I’ve worked with up to now. They usually approach me because they’ve seen my work at a race or in a bike store and we often have friends in common. So I try to get to know them better and understand their mission before I ever hit the drawing board. Then I mull it over for a while and go cycling. That’s where the real magic happens. Even if I’m really stuck on a design direction, I know I can go for a ride and usually by the time I return I know what to do. More often than not I’m given the freedom to come up with my own concept but I particularly enjoy pulling inspiration from art and nature. I really just try to keep my eyes open while thinking of the project in the background….then something will pop out at me…often it’s something I see on the street, but I also try and keep a regular schedule going to museums and that keeps the bucket of inspiration full!


The neck buffs you designed for us, they have such a unique pattern and design. Can you tell us more about this technique and why you chose this style?

As well as designing cycling gear, I’m also pretty hooked on paper marbling. It’s an ancient form of printing, also known as Ecru, originally used to protect books from damp in libraries. Colours are floated on a liquid surface and then printed on paper and the process is even more spectacular than the result. The colours move and expand to form these constantly changing shapes and you capture the moment when it appeals to you. I thought this would be perfect for the L’Equipe Provence project because the visual history of Provence is like a series of moments of colour, captured by intuitive painters. You had sent me one of Van Gogh’s olive tree paintings and right after I saw Loving Vincent on a big screen I realized the only way to do this was with marbling. I spend about a day mixing blues and lavenders and thinking about this incredible place, then the print sort of came together before my eyes in the marbling bath and I picked a moment!

What is your most memorable ride?

Oof that’s super tough. But it’s definitely in Colombia. I think riding to Rigoberto Uran’s hometown of Urrao was one of the toughest and most exhilarating rides I’ve ever done, followed closely by exploring the coffee country around Manizales. Riding in Colombia is just as much about the people as it is about the riding. It’s always an adventure and people are curious and proud that you want to take on their mammoth mountains. I’m terrible with Strava by the way…I forget to start it half the time. Here’s a link to a ride from Medellín to Guatapé which was probably my favorite day ride while living in Medellín.

Do you have a bucket list ride?

I’d love to cycle more of South America. As gigantic as Colombia is, it’s only the gateway to the Amazon and I really want to continue exploring. I’d also love to cycle more of Italy, mostly because of the food! There’s nothing like the promise of Italian cooking to get your broke ass over the last mountain pass!


Favorite race to watch?

Red Hook Crit, hands down…there’s nothing else like it! I worked for the race for many years and it was a wonderful experience seeing a new racing format come into its own. Also the competitors come from all walks of life and diverse cycling disciplines. It’s been amazing to see the women’s race grow and develop and I think the race has changed the face of women’s cycling.


Mechanical or Electronic shifting?

Mechanical, no doubt.

Who are the designers and artists that you respect or draw from?

I fuel the fire in the museums and galleries where I find myself. I’ve been influenced by so many, probably without realizing. I’ve never lost my fascination for the work of Bridget Riley. Since I was a child I’ve been obsessed with Jack B. Yeats and how he captures colour and movement. But I also have many friends who are artists and musicians and inspiration is never far away when they’re around.


How do you know a design is finished?

I usually don’t actually! That’s why I take a design as far as I can and then walk away from it for a while. I start working on something else for a couple of days, ride my bike and then come back to look at it and make final tweaks. It’s hard to let it go sometimes but I know if I’ve stepped back for a moment and cleared my head the cut-off point will become clearer.

What is your dream project to work on, cycling or otherwise?

I’d love to do some large scale marbling works. I don’t have the space for such a project right now but I’m confident an opportunity will present itself when the time is right! I’d also love to produce more apparel for women who cycle and travel. It’s a project that has been simmering in the background for many years but it’s a big undertaking because I want to create pieces that really solve problems and as a small producer it’s extremely hard to find good manufacturers to work with, especially with a modest budget. But I’ve been building a great team of expert sewers in Colombia and when the time is right we will bring it to the people!


What’s next? Any projects or rides you are gearing up for?

This summer I’ll hopefully be taking on the Alps and not dying! I’ve wanted to cycle Switzerland for many years and now I’m finally in the right place at the right time (Fiona is now based in Zurich). I’m also really excited to start working with Sacred Cycle in Colorado for a Caps-for-a-Cause project. We started a program at FiFO 2 years ago designing and making cycling caps that highlight small organizations doing great things around the world. Sacred Cycle takes survivors of sexual abuse out onto the trails of Colorado to conquer fear and take back their power. I’m going to use some marbling in this design and hopefully create something that represents the transformation that Sacred Cycle makes in Women’s lives.