Last week was a quiet one, with everyone getting back into their fall schedules. While this week began that way, it sure didn’t end on the same note. It is so inspiring to hear about the imaginative things people get up to and how much you can accomplish just being out on a bicycle.
Shawn Micallef has been on my radar since the beginning of this project. Who would have more astute, more playful bike stories than a senior writer for Spacing magazine! Shawn knows Toronto better than almost anyone because he spends entire days exploring the city on his bike, hoping to capture its beauty, its history, its architecture and its emotional appeal. He researches the social and political landscape, and then shares his findings in magazine articles, on Twitter, and in interviews. He also attends an outrageous number of events where he is regularly invited to participate. Watch for the very dapper man with the distracting hair. Why must all my interviewees share this trait? Worried about your hair? Get a bike!
Shawn is also the author of an outstanding book called Stroll, that encourages its reader to take walking tours of Toronto, and the Murmur project that offers a listener interesting audio facts at key locations in the city.
The next day, I found myself at The Rehearsal Factory on Gehry Street listening to two young men describe chopper bikes. These two have now built four choppers.
I carded The Widow Maker because its forks were three feet long; the bike is approximately ten feet wheel to wheel. Who rides this thing, I wondered? Well, as it turns out, me. I rode that baby up and down Gehry, screaming in absolute delight. Yessir, I ride a chopper. Riding a chopper is no small feat. The boys warned me that only 1/100 people who attempt it can get their balance on these things the first try. The centre of gravity is high, the bikes are heavy, and you have to lean into turns rather than use the handlebars for steering. Lucky for me, I have always aspired to owning a motorcycle, so I was very motivated to learn. Lucky for my children, I survived my teen years because my parents outright refused to let me have one. This week, I lived my teen dream and bad-assed my way down Gehry.
You should totally get one of these. They’re awesome. And if a 54 year-old woman can ride one, you can too.
On Friday afternoon, I was in Dufferin Grove Park interviewing a much-loved and highly-regarded team of people who use bikes to bring social and political messages to the masses.
Cyclops (Cycling Oriented Puppet Squad) is a subgroup of Clay and Paper Theatre. All summer long, Clay and Paper Theatre presented The Peddler’s Wager: A Play of Forced Migration in various downtown parks. The gig started in Dufferin Grove, and while we only moved our seats between acts in the final performance, the entire production would more typically pick up and move parks. The Wager featured spectacular musicians, enchanting (and sometimes frightening) paper mache and cloth puppets, song and dance, and some truly mindful messages. To advertise these events, four cyclists would ride around the park beforehand with large, enclosed trailers. Inside the trailers, a Cyclops team member would sit with a puppet, shouting the joyful news that a play was about to begin! Come join us! You won’t be disappointed! Clay and Paper Theatre is all about shaking up our cultural and political status quo.
We will not be pushed around anymore. We can make our own way, together.
Not so many days later, I discovered Cyclops again at the Bicycles and Women Picnic. Cyclops is all about drawing attention to bikes (and then shaking up the status quo).
A small move like getting on your bicycle might change the world.
All team members ride on heavily decorated bikes that cannot be ignored. Every team member is colourful and the group offered me a rich diversity of delightful, happy, inspiring, thought-provoking, teary stories. We are really blessed in this town to have such a team. Want to know more? Get on a bike and help them change the Toronto landscape for the better.
On Saturday night I was interviewing an inspiring young woman who rides a Garden Bike. I found this bike—the frame bedecked with ivy—locked up out front of the Robarts Library.
She assures me its a shadow of its former loveliness and that it originally bore gerbera daisies, a big sunflower and daffodils, as well as the ivy. “I can never be sad when I’m riding it,” she tells me genuinely. And before you get to thinking that anyone who embraces this aesthetic is of meek character, I must assure you that she was very keen to hear about the chopper bikes. Her stories were outrageously full of Toronto colour and I have never laughed so hard at an interview. Her chapter, like the chopper bikes chapter, will not be one you can read to your children. This gal has panache coming out the wazoo. And distracting hair. *sigh*
Finally, yesterday morning I met a young man studying at George Brown College, but parachuted in from Winnipeg. He rides a truly beautiful racing Bianchi, whose frame bears modest witness to its history. Forgive me not including a shot, but the one I took didn’t turn out and I don’t want to do it an injustice.
My interviewee wanted to meet me at the Nordheimer Ravine, one of the many places he goes to feel connected to the real world when the concrete world gets overwhelming. This young man admitted to feeling safer on a bike here in Toronto than he has ever felt riding in Winnipeg. While he will never fall in love with Toronto, he does love exploring the quiet paths, trails and walkways in our many greenspaces. “There’s lots of great stuff that’s closer than you think.”
Feeling overwhelmed and stressed? I think you know what to do. And you never know: I may even card your bike!