The weird and wonderful world of AI-generated images for cycling

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A few years ago we at CyclingTips wrote an article tackling the (slightly silly) question: Could AI be about to steal our jobs as cycling writers? The answer, of course, was “no” (at least not yet), but it was still fun to dive into the fascinating world of neural networks and AI-generated text.

The concept behind the technology is simple: give the AI ​​engine a text prompt, and it will spit out a long passage of text for you, building on your prompt and drawing from the myriad of texts it was trained on. The results are often fascinating and more than a little entertaining.

Today we dive back into the world of neural networks with a look at AI-powered technologies imagery. Take note, professional cycling photographers.

Over the past two years, we have seen an explosion in the number of AI image generation platforms available online. You may have heard of DALL-E 2, created by the OpenAI lab founded by Elon Musk, or its lightweight cousin Craiyon (formerly DALL-E mini). Midjourney has also been causing a stir in recent months, particularly in the fantasy art world, but these are just a few of the many options available.

These platforms all work much like the AI ​​text generators we talked about last time. Under the hood of these sites and apps are neural networks that have been trained on huge libraries of existing images and their descriptions to understand what certain objects look like and how they interact with each other. When you feed these AI routines with a text prompt, they do their best to create an image that matches that prompt, based on the learning they have done.

Some of the results are truly breathtaking.

Some examples of art generated by the Midjourney AI platform. As an example, see the prompt that was given for the second image from the left.
Here are some examples generated by a site called Enstil, based on the text prompt above.

After observing the growth of this space, it made us think: what is possible in bike with AI-generated images? What would these AI platforms create if we fed a bunch of cycling-related prompts? And would any of them be suitable for use on CyclingTips, for example?

And so we played with a bunch of free tools: Enstil, Craiyon, Stable Diffusion, Midjourney and DreamStudio, feeding a bunch of different cycling-related keywords. The results, we’re sure you’ll agree, are fascinating, entertaining and, in some cases, more than horrifying.

We started with a simple prompt: “a cyclist going up a mountain”. Here is what we got from DreamStudio:

The background seems to be pulled directly from another image, but this driver – it has some issues.

There’s also a lot to take from this DreamStudio effort:

The more you watch, the weirder it gets.

Here are some attempts at Stable Diffusion:

And some from Enstil:

Again, nice scenery. I wonder where it comes from?
This handlebar design will never catch on.

Next, we tried the word “platoon”.

This one from DreamStudio makes it look like it could be a screenshot from a glitchy 1980s VHS of Tour de France highlights.

Here’s how Enstil interpreted “platoon”:

Are the kits real kits or an AI hodgepodge of multiple shirts? And where’s the old buddy’s bike?

Alright, let’s say you’re a bike designer and you’re looking for some futuristic ideas to help you with your next model. Maybe you look to AI for inspiration? Here’s what you’d get if you dropped “Specialized Full Suspension Gravel Bike” in DreamStudio, for example.

I have a headache.

Speaking of a lot of hits…

DreamStudio seems to like doubling up.

Let’s take a look at what some AIs do with a “state-of-the-art bike in a showroom.” First, here is the stable broadcast:

Looks like we don’t need to send James or Dave to Eurobike next year.

Enstil also had some ideas:

Perhaps the showroom DreamStudio envisioned was a little too crowded.

Again with dubbing.
Are they rays or cobwebs?

Here’s Midjourney with the prompt “a showroom full of futuristic bikes”:

I love the color palette here.

Changing gears, how about some close-up portraits of cyclists?

“Realistic close-up cycling portrait” by DreamStudio. Sounds a bit like the Schleck brothers? Again, it’s unclear why this generated two.
Don’t mess with these guys (Sam Bennett vibes type right). (Image: Dream Studio)
For some reason, DreamStudio AI defaults to a male portrait, doubled. Here is what he generated from “Realistic, close-up portrait of a female cyclist”. Always two. Pretty impressive detail in the face though.
This. meanwhile, it’s just heartbreaking to watch. (Image: Dream Studio)
This is not a depiction of a “realistic cyclist close-up”. It’s a horror show.

The practice of gravel is all the rage at the moment. Let’s see what the AI ​​does with it.

It looks like a painful leg injury.
And this man has no bones at all.

Here is “A Cyclist Celebrating Victory in a Cycle Race”, first from the Enstil:

Does it look like a real picture with the details changed?
Pretty much the same, but these faces are not good.

Here’s Stable Diffusion’s effort with the same prompt:

I would suggest he keep his feet on the pedals, but it’s unclear where his left pedal is.
It’s important to wear sunscreen, kids.

Speaking of faces, Craiyon seems to really struggle with this.

Here’s a Stable Diffusion series that went surprisingly well from the “black and white, filmstrip, pained face, cyclist, bicycle” prompt. Anyone looking for a cover for their new indie rock album?

Alright, let’s go through a bunch of additional images generated from a bunch of different prompts.

Alright, so a lot of this is pretty dumb and unusable. But there are ways to get the AI ​​to create images that are a bit more useful. Using more feature-rich and well-developed AI platforms is one way (DALL-E 2 seems to be the gold standard but access is limited at the moment). Or you can try asking the AI ​​to be more artistic rather than photorealistic.

This is from DreamStudio using the “sketch, illustration, steampunk, bicycle, high detail” prompt. It’s still a mess, but the styling is gorgeous and there’s real potential here.

Speaking of artistic, it’s possible to generate some really wonderful stuff with Midjourney. Check out these two stunning images generated from Leonardo da Vinci’s “sketch of a futuristic road bike” prompt:

Better yet: how about some Pixar portraits of some pilots?

“Close-up Pixar portrait of male cyclist dark sky”.
“Pixar close-up portrait of woman cyclist dark sky”.

These are just some really awesome images from Midjourney. Which brings us back to one of our original questions: is AI capable of generating images that are good enough to use on a professional website?

For most of the images above, the answer is a pretty decisive no (as fun as they are to watch). But in the case of more artistic or abstract creations? There is obvious potential there.

At CyclingTips, we often look for non-racing photos to help illustrate articles on various topics. It can be difficult to find a photo that talks about, for example, road safety or the mental health benefits of cycling. AI could clearly help in this regard, particularly if a more abstract or stylistic image is appropriate. As you can see above, Midjourney already allows you to create great content just for this purpose.

There is, of course, an ethical dilemma to be resolved here. Using AI to generate images like this directly takes jobs away from those who do this stuff for a living. Not surprisingly, there is considerable controversy over the technology for this reason. That and the fact that these platforms effectively generate images from different images that others have originally created – in itself an ethical gray area.

We are not going to solve these problems today. What we can say, however, is that race photographers need not worry. Example: Here is Enstil’s interpretation of Remco Evenepoel’s victory at the Vuelta a España.

How are your arms, mate?
Fingers for days.

And here is a preview of the final podium of the Vuelta 2022:

How tall is this guy in the middle? !
What is in the left “hand” of the rider in the yellow jersey?

As far as racing footage goes, at least, we could stick to the pros for now.

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