Will Bryant is everywhere these days. His art adorns ice cream shops, soccer stadiums, cozy homes, playful office spaces, and a solid handful of cycling kits that dropped during the last couple of years. It’s easy to wonder how a “white dude in the suburbs making happy art” (his own words) has made such a widespread impact on the design world in recent years–until you have the privilege of spending some time with him.
Will’s happiness is infectious. His spirit is encouraging. And inside of it all are so many layers of self-awareness, curiosity, and humility that the fact his contemplative mind produces such ebullient designs actually feels like a triumphant miracle.
We started our day with coffee at Flat Track in East Austin. Even rolling in with five hours of sleep and a heavy heart, I immediately sponged up the same upbeat energy that permeated our first collaboration together. Coffee and tacos helped. Will was recognized in line for espresso by an adoring fan. “I promise this doesn’t usually happen,” he tries to assure me. It didn’t help that we were both wearing Will Bryant x The Athletic tech tees, truly an example of the band wearing its own t-shirt to the concert. Then again, the level of playfulness felt perfect for the occasion.
After we knocked off the rust with coffee, we hopped in the car and headed east of Austin in search of some of the last gravel within an hour’s drive of the rapidly-evolving city. I used to ride these roads all the time and it was fitting to circle back to this place during peak bluebonnet season, wishing the drive were longer so we could chat about even more things before hopping on our bikes.
We met up with Will’s friend Zac at the VFW, where one of the managers came out and asked us to park a bit further from the building since they were having bingo and burgers that day and it was going to be a well-attended soiree. When I said it sounds like they go wild on Fridays, she confirmed, “It’s always balls to the wall here on Fridays!”
I felt like I knew Zac before we officially met. He’s supported The Athletic and Will’s designs big time, and with a bit of correspondence and personalized postcards, there was already a deep understanding that we were going to get along. It’s this feeling that makes the roller coaster ride of resuscitating a small business worth it. The few opportunities I’ve had to get out in the world the last few months have always felt more connective than ever before, thanks to a radical change in my personal attitude and the Community aspect of The Athletic. It’s amazing what heartbreak, mistakes, good design, and friendly vibes will do for one’s ability to be grateful and present. Within minutes, Zac was up to speed on my recent life experiences and I was digging into his backstory.
The three of us pedaled into a stiff headwind, south towards Bastrop as the strong winds brought warm temperatures into the hill country. We all have a crisscrossed history with Arkansas and Texas, artsy interests and a yeehaw milieu. This ride felt like home. Rides like this are what I want for everyone who interacts with The Athletic. Sprawling, immersive dialogue between new and old friends, bonding with one another while moving through the landscape.
Our broken hearts don’t need band aids, they need space to stay broken open and to let new light in. We laugh, not to spite the world, but to embrace it. There is beauty and pain everywhere, and holding two truths in equal regard is such a grand theme of human-powered exploration.
We saw massive white and brown birds hopping along through the knee-high brush. Crested caracaras, a tropical falcon that looks like a hawk and behaves like a vulture. These comparisons are part of the species official description, and yet they only tell a part of the story. Looks like a this, acts like a that. Is totally a caracara. I slammed on my brakes to watch them picking through old bones and then taking off with clumsy athleticism to distance themselves further from the human intruders in their open range. Central Texas is the northernmost reach of their range, and it was a real treat to see them out amidst the cattle and the bluebonnets. Together, we marveled at the beauty each of us highlighted for the others to see. It’s so important to slow down and observe. And to speed up and get a little loose on the gravel descents so you can laugh like a little kid, fully aware of all the pain and pleasure life entails.
In Bastrop, we grabbed beautifully handmade breakfast tacos on fresh corn tortillas. Will’s was a crew cab taco that warranted an epic double take. All of his designs felt perfectly at-home in the country enclave outside of Austin, succulents and FM radio mixing with trendy cafes and old school diners in perfect harmony. For a blissful few hours, life felt like I nervously hope it always will. Friendship, laughs, tears, doubling back in search of the perfect wall for bike portraits. For all I am missing, it was so affirming to simply be there.
And that’s what our collaboration stands for. More than any whimsical doodle or immaculate color palette, we work with humans we count as friends. We strive to create designs that are fun on their own and even more meaningful with context and stories behind them. We hope to champion the humans behind the art and the connections that make this community as special as it is.
Sometimes simple beauty is really hard-won, and that’s something endurance athletes and artists alike can relate to. I hope tales from a friendly bike ride with Will and Zac help you feel the warm embrace of good humans navigating the confusion of life with laughter and tears and a MOSTLY FUN attitude.