Trackside Drew

Author: Drew Kaplan
Location: Berlin, Germany
Occupation: Photographer
Instagram: @drewkaplanphotography

1) You have both German and American heritage. Where did life start for you? Where did you grow up, when did you move abroad and why?
My dad was deployed in Berlin during the cold war and my mum had a thing for the uniform. And so I was born in Germany but moved to Texas with my family when I was 4 months old. I suppose I had this wanderlust in me ever since. I joined the Marines and served for 4 years, including two tours and multiple deployments in Germany and Japan. Life was good until the end of my active service- that’s when the wanderlust hit again. My mum told me that I could get a free college education in Germany and I figured why not - Europe kind of felt like the right place at the time - and still does after 13 years.


2) When did you first swing a leg over a bike? Did you start racing early or did that come later?
Boy, that’s a funny story. My dad literally pushed me down my grandpa’s driveway on my very first bike. I was immediately addicted-  I just hadn’t figured out those damn brakes yet. I hit a fence big time and had scuffed up knees but asked my dad to give me another push down the driveway. Not interested in racing at first, you would find me and my dad riding at all times. My dad had this old Motobecane randonneur bike from his time in Germany- drop bars, downtube shifters and all. I rode my first local race on it, but noticed very quickly that I wasn’t an endurance guy. I also didn’t like losing too much and stuck to playing football instead. I kept riding for fun, and didn’t give it much more thought until I broke my leg in 2011 and found myself on a turbo literally 4 weeks after surgery- the doc said no running so I figured riding was fine. Riding my first sportive (Berlin Velothon) just 4 months after breaking a leg took me back to my grandpa’s driveway- it’s addictive! I found myself looking for new roads and challenges.


3) Now you’re well known as being one of the best photographers on the track cycling scene. What were you doing before?
I suppose I was your average athlete turned soldier turned college student. I played football in high school and found myself studying physical education and psychology - hoping to become a coach so that I could work with athletes to optimise performance. Life took its funniest turn when I ran into Emanuel Rasch (Förstemann's Coach), while heading for my track and field class. He saw some sort of potential in me and asked if I rode track as well - taking me to the Berlin velodrome literally two weeks after arriving in Berlin. My path crossed Roberts a few time’s- introducing me to Damian Zielinski, and, later, Max Levy and Kristina Vogel.


4) Have you always been interested in photography? If not, when did you first find a love for it?
Totally! My grandpa was a photographer and I basically grew up in the dark room whenever my parents would leave me with him. I had a real passion for it but for some reason didn’t want to be sidelined with a camera. I wanted to be involved in what was going on and started taking less and less pictures. That broken leg in 2011 was definitely a turning point- kind of like returning to my roots of bikes and cameras. In a sense it did sideline me and I had to come to terms with it. It wasn’t until Förstemann literally told me that some of my shots were better than those of pro photographers that I ended up shooting a few small races and the emerging fixie scene. I don’t remember how, but I ended up getting accreditation for the Berlin Sixdays - working directly for the organisation just one year later. This is also when I found myself dropping out of college as I couldn’t focus on writing my master’s thesis and growing my business at the same time.


5) What are the most challenging things that face a cycling photographer?
Right now? Definitely the rona! Jokes aside. It’s travelling - especially flying. I used to love it, but that has changed. I carry too much gear - 3 DSLR bodies, batteries, strobes, huge amounts of glass (5-6 lenses), chargers, a MacBook, iPad, tripod and a monopod. Did I mention that giant glass? I both love and hate my 400mm lens at the same time. It’s fast, sharp and freaking reliable. It makes for incredible shots but it’s a burden to carry and requires a monopod. It does, however, remind me of my days in the military (I was a 0331 - machine gunner, carrying a medium machine gun and usually 70lbs more ammo than the rest of the platoon). Spreading 100 rounds throughout the platoon with each member was the way to go - this is sadly not an option when you work alone. The worst part of it is airport security. Milano and Berlin especially - both airports had me go through a complete incendiary and explosives check - making me miss my flight on both occasions. 


6) Finally, cycling is obviously a big part of your life now both professionally and personally. What positive impacts would you say bikes have had on your life?
Cycling has definitely had a great impact on my health and sanity. I was in a very dark place after breaking my leg in 2011 - doctors told me I would never be able to run again - and it turns out they were right. I’m not sure why, but I felt trapped. It felt like God closed a door - it just took me a moment to realise he had left a window open. I had to make it out and rediscover the world. So many things seemed foreign and holding on to the things I knew kind of helped. I ditched my running shoes and football gear for another bike and turbo, and the gridiron for the velodrome. 

I think the best part, though, was getting my fiance on the bike - showing her a different, healthier, way of living. She had a city bike when we met, but dreaded riding it. A friend loaned her a cyclocross bike, which encouraged her to buy her first steel road bike and she’s ridden to work on it every day since. We have four hounds (two whippets and two lurchers), who love going for a spin with us through the woods. We ride our bikes when we travel- especially when we visit my family in Texas, discovering Big Bend national park or the implausibly beautiful Lyndon B Johnson (estate/park). When I’m riding back in Texas it feels like I’ve gone full circle, from my grandpa’s driveway in Klein, to Berlin, and then back again.

Scuffed knees and learning to brake from a young age.
Serving in the US military, 2004.
Losing isn't fun, Drew chose football over racing in high school.
Crossing paths with sprint star Robert Förstemann.
Never miss an opportunity. Drew photographing Kristina Vogel.
Drew introduced his passion of cycling to his fiancé.

Now a regular trackside at the biggest events in the world.