When Tim Koerber first went to Oman, he had never even heard of the place, let alone traveled outside the United States. The trip transformed him into an absolute weapon of a photographer, helping him refine not just his riding and technical photography skills, but building his confidence to deal with the unexpected. Because, let’s be real here, the unexpected is something that shows up pretty often in the world of professional mountain bike photography.
Since then, his career has brought him places to shoot not just mountain biking, but kayaking, snowsports, and now even motorsports like Ultra4 racing. This January, Koerber joined TGR in Bentonville, Arkansas to shoot TGR Tested 2018 and enjoy ripping hundreds of miles of singletrack in the crisp winter air.
TGR caught up with Koerber this spring right as the trails were starting to get tacky again.
What marked the start of your photo career?
Bikepacking through a foreign desert was not something Koerber learned in school. Tyler Allyn photo.
I graduated from UNC-Asheville with a New Media Art degree, where I had studied video and animation. After graduating I came to the realization that while I loved video work, my computer wasn’t up to the task of handling intensive editing, and I wasn’t in a position to buy new gear, so I started snapping more photos on my riding trips. Photography is something that had always been a life-long passion, and I really enjoyed immersing myself more and more.
I was part of the Bike Farm and we were in charge of bringing Red Bull Dreamline to the Oskar Blues Reeb Ranch, which got me the chance to shoot tons of BTS build footage of the build, some super rad time lapses, and the chance to shoot the final event. Things started to pick up a bit from there. I spent a little time in the Yukon learning the business side of photography from Dan Barham, and ended up getting a couple PODs on Pinkbike and a photo in the Photo of the Year comp from that trip. After that I got called up to shoot a section of the Freehub Photo Book 6.3 when they featured the Asheville/Brevard area, and then I was invited to participate in the Deep Summer Photo Competition at Crankworx in 2015. A little after that, Oskar Blues bought a photo from me for the branding on their IPA, and things have been slowly coming together more and more ever since.
In the field, if you can't find Koerber, look up. Burke Sanders photo.
Getting the call from TGR to shoot Tested in Bentonville was probably one of the coolest things to happen. I grew up watching all sorts of ski and snowboard films (can’t a kid from North Carolina dream of pow days?) and to be able to work with TGR was truly a dream come true.
What have been your favorite trips in your career? Do you have a favorite photo from one of them, something that truly captures the essence of that particular mission?
I haven’t been on a bad trip yet, some of them entail a little more suffering than others, but they’ve all been great in their own way.
If I had to choose one, I would go with the Oman trip. I had never been overseas before and to be honest I didn’t know where Oman was when I was asked to go. Logistics outside of the country weren’t easy, a lot of info is semi restricted, and finding quality maps was really hard. I had never been bike packing before. It was all kind of a gamble, but I think it really paid off. We had some of the longest days I have ever had in a saddle, in some pretty intense conditions, but the people we met, and the experiences along the way really make that trip stand out to me. Some of my favorite photos ever definitely came from this trip.
Koerber's Oman expedition taught him a thing or two about shooting in extreme environments. Tyler Allyn photo.
Photography is an art fueled by inspiration. Where do you draw your inspiration, and are there any other photographers who have caught your eye?
Bruno Long might be my favorite photographer, his work on the Diamondback dream ride series is top notch. Pascal Shirley produces some rad stuff across a lot of different genres. And I would have to say Tim Zimmerman might be my favorite snowboard photog of all time, although Nic Alegres stuff is super rad too.
My buddies Cooper Lambla and Tyler Allyn from the US National Whitewater Center produce some really cool video pieces in some wild places. They’re a huge source of inspiration and have been a lot of fun to collaborate with on projects. Their latest piece “Frontier of Firsts” is so rad. I was stoked to see them premiere it at the Mountain Film Festival in Telluride last week.
Recently I have been working on a ton of non-biking related projects. I got called up to film one of the Ultra4 races, which was so different than anything I’ve ever been involved in. The King of the Hammers event is the culmination of all of the Ultra 4 events, and I would be stoked to get out and film that race. It’s so gnarly. Really. Go look up the highlight reel from last year’s race.
Entering the annual Deep Summer photo contest with a picture of Seth Burke whipping through Whistler's epic fog was a dream come true for Koerber. Tim Koerber photo
I’ve also been working on a ton of kayaking projects. It’s been rad to be around the water more, and to have a reason to embrace the rain (it’s been unreal in North Carolina lately, over 30 inches of rain in the month of May, and it’s not letting up any time soon). WNC is a whitewater wonderland, and it’s been rad be able to tap back into that super talented group of friends for some rad missions.
What kind of gear do you consider indispensable for a day on the trails? Cameras, bags, bike stuff, etc?
I’ve been using the new Shimoda Designs camera bag which has been great. It’s the best fitting camera bag I’ve ever worn. I have the 40 liter bag, and it’s a good size for most of my missions. I would like to eventually get the 60-liter bag for overnight and winter ski missions, but for biking, that 40-liter is unbeatable.
Any time I’m shooting on the water I swap over to Watershed dry bags with the padded camera liners. They’re the best dry bags in the world, and they go everywhere with me. It’s nice to have such a rad company right down the road from me in Asheville, they’re willing to help me out with bags for all sorts of missions. I use their bags for everything, and always have one just for clothes at the take out, so no matter what happens during the day I have dry clothes waiting for me. Hypothermia sucks. Dry clothes save lives!
Oman's endless desert was a true test on equipment. Tim Koerber photo.
Up until recently I had been shooting on a Canon 5d mkiii, with a 16-35 and a 70-200 as my primary lenses and borrowing additional gear from Canon as needed for shoots. I sent all my gear in for service a couple weeks ago and found out parts no longer exist for repairs on my lenses, so I’m in the market for a whole new setup. It’s looking like I’ll be jumping onboard the Sony train from here on out, as a lot of upcoming work has video components to it as well. Right now, I’m running a mix of borrowed and rented bodies and glass, my little DJI Mavic pro, and whatever else I can get my hands on for until my new Sony gear comes in.
What’s the hardest part of shooting mountain biking? What makes it worth it?
Stopping in the middle of a rad descent to shoot photos has to be one of the hardest parts. It’s so hard to break the flow of an awesome trail to snap shots sometimes. All I want to do is ride with my friends, it’s hard to stop everything to get the shot. It’s always worth it, I love being able to look back at the rad places I’d been, and to share stories about the things that happened along the way, but the struggle is real.
Ikhide Ikhigbonoaremen goes big in Bentonville. Tim Koerber climbed 20 feet up a tree to find the right angle for this shot. Tim Koerber photo.
Tell me about some of your favorite Bentonville moments? How did you deal with the cold? What was it like working with the TGR crew?
Bentonville was rad. I expected it to be pretty cold, it’s a similar latitude to back home, but some of the extremes of the temperature swings were surprising. Fortunately for me, I was coming straight down from a ski trip in Vermont where it had been close to -22° Fahrenheit. I’m pretty sure Mount Washington set the record for coldest day, -100 or so, while we were up there, so no matter what happened in Bentonville, it was warm by comparison.
Coming from up North, I was pretty prepared with hand warmers, gloves, layers, and everything in between. I think my gloves and jackets ended up getting worn by about half the group in Bentonville.
TGR's Ben Dann and Austin Hopkins are stoked to have a smooth ride to shoot Bentonville's trails. Tim Koerber photo
Working with TGR’s Ben Dann and Austin was rad. I grew up idolizing TGR and ski film culture, and to be working alongside them on this project was kind of a dream come true. They’re both super chill dudes who happen to be both talented filmmakers and ripping athletes. I would be incredibly stoked to get to work on more projects with this super talented group of folks.
What are your thoughts on winter mountain biking in general?
I love winter riding. We don’t get a ton of snow back in Western North Carolina, so riding frozen trails is something I actually get to do a lot of. We have a few seasonal trails that are only open from November to April, so in a way, the winter riding scene in Pisgah is the best kept secret of the South. The views open up, the snakes are gone (have I mentioned I hate snakes?), and the trails empty out a little.
It gets cold, and sometimes the freeze/thaw cycle makes riding impossible, but for the most part, some of the best rides happen in the winter.
Thanks to Specialized’s Turbo Levo, you guys were able to follow the testers with a little extra help in the form on an E-Bike. They’re a contentious subject, but are your thoughts on using an E-Bike as a production tool?
I’ll be straightforward, E-bikes are super fun. From a production standpoint, I’ll take any help I can get while hauling a 60-pound pack into locations. Being able to have that assistance hauling gear is definitely a luxury, and while I don’t get to experience it very often, I always appreciate it when I do.
There’s a lot of hate on E-bikes out there. And I can totally understand that. There’s this misconception that they make riding easy. They can help with that, but most people that I know who have ridden them and have done testing end up pushing harder and actually have a higher heart rate on the E-bikes than on traditional bikes.
E-bikes may be a contentious subject, but when your day involves riding with 70 pounds of camera gear, they can be a powerful production tool. Tim Koerber photo.
Last year I was invited out to a Soil Searching event at Specialized where they brought a bunch of trail builders from across the US to talk about how they could help on a more local level with trails, how they could support builders more, and what they could do to advocate for bikes on a more personal level within each community.
The most interesting thing I saw that whole week was how opposed each builder was to E-bikes initially. Every single one was concerned about access issues, additional wear on trails, and all of the other concerns people seem to voice (sometimes loudly) about the whole situation. The most impressive thing was how within being on one for less than a minute, each of them had changed their opinion about the bikes and actually wanted one for their own personal use.
It was a complete flip of what seemed be the hardest group of opinions to sway. Long story short, E- bikes are still bikes, and before you form an opinion about them one way or another, you owe it to yourself to try one out to see what they’re actually all about. They’ll never replace a traditional pedal bike for me, but I would love to have one of my own one day.