Recently, I was explaining to a new friend that I’m working on this project. He laughed and said it sounded like fun because you can embellish the stories. I corrected him immediately. These stories are so good they don’t need any embellishment. I told him two of the stories from this week and I could see him blanch. My imagination is just not strong enough to improve on anything I’ve heard this year. Thank you again interviewees for sharing your beloved bike stories with me. I only hope I can do them justice.
I started the week seated in a private garden with Jennifer Tibbitt, proud owner of Dirt Mamas. Jennifer is a self-taught gardener for hire. She tells me there are three reasons people retain her: she’s a woman, she travels by bike, and she has a great business name.
Jennifer was raised in the western provinces and her lifestyle is relaxed and kind. All her life, Jennifer has relied on bikes for transportation. When she started Dirt Mamas, a bike was the natural choice of vehicle. Interestingly, Jennifer wants to clarify that she never intended to use a bike for altruistic reasons. Rather, she didn’t have a license in the beginning and besides, the bike was practical. As time went on, the bike became her life. It is a dependable vehicle and she can have different adventures with it than she could with a car or a truck. Sometimes she does have to rent a truck, but not often. And now, while Jennifer and her husband have a car and find it valuable sometimes, they more often find it a hassle. The bike is never a hassle.
Just be patient if you find yourself riding or driving behind Jennifer when she’s hauling a load on a trailer. With heavier loads like mulch and topsoil, she’s a slow moving vehicle.
To hire Jennifer for your garden, visit www.dirtmamas.ca
The next day, I had my first phone interview with one of the founders of the organization Les Domestiques. Les Domestiques are elite cyclists who work in the financial district. At work, they are all influential people, “captains of industry” as a member once described them. Under the motto Cyclists Who Serve, their goal is to give back to their community by entering charity rides. Last year alone, the group raised $8,000,000. That was no [sic]. All of those zeroes are legitimate.
And yet, my interviewee tells me that, while there are a lot of different personalities in the group, those who are drawn into it all want to simplify their lives. As they ride together, they talk about how the wind feels blowing through their hair, of the joy of challenging themselves, of experiencing real weather conditions—all the “basic joys that connect us to the core of human experience.” He also explains how cycling brings them even the most intimidating names to a basic level, that bikes bond everyone together.
For more information, visit www.lesdomestiques.com
Midweek I heard stories from one of the most wholesome women I’ve met yet. She is, in every respect, the girl next door. When she didn’t respond quickly enough to a card on her playful checkerboard bike frame, I impatiently carded it a second time. This time I actually included my phone number. I really wanted to hear this story.
For an hour she shared how she customized the bike herself, how her ex-boyfriend—still very much in the picture—got her into cycling in Toronto and continues to maintain the bike for her, how much she wants to get back into leisure cycling. Right now, she commutes across town every day, and uses the bike for errands and transportation.
And then, quietly she shared how she will not be allowed to ride for six weeks because she is having surgery next week. It is a blip only, she assured me. I was ashamed of myself for having hounded her. Her response was that her ex-boyfriend also wants to share his bike stories. These are stories of the common man and woman, and are among the most tender that you will read in this book.
On Friday afternoon, I was listening to a young man who spent his summer “wrenching” for the new bike shop Cycle Couture, on College Street. He described it a “gorgeous shop, where the level of design is out of this world.” The owners have “built it like an art gallery”; the shop is open, and bikes are parallel to the walls to give a sense of more space. Each bike has a handwritten note attached, reminiscent of a piece of art. It’s a “fashion-oriented shop, that represents the changing of the landscape.” The bikes are all high-end and represent a consumer desire for an assurance of safety. The vast majority of their clientele are women. I find this intriguing.
Want to visit Cycle Couture? Visit http://www.cyclecouture.ca for more information.
Finally, yesterday morning I finally got my interview with an esteemed member of the Toronto bicycle police. Sergeant Gerard Klunder happily shared details on how this squad operates. I can tell you that they take this position of their own accord, and that if they find it doesn’t suit them, they can transfer out at any time. He himself has been part of the Community Response Unit, the umbrella unit that includes such deparments as the bicycle police, for about four years. The bike patrol deal with “menace crimes rather than major crimes” and as you’d expect their role is more accessible and have more flexibility in their duties than those officers who ride in cars.
Here’s the clincher. Can you guess Sergeant Klunder’s favourite activity in this role? He loves recovering stolen bicycles. This year alone, he has already recovered ten bikes.
As the sergeant escorted me back to the door, he gave some excellent advice. “It makes my job easier if you register your bike. You can do that from the Toronto website www.torontopolice.on.ca/bike. If your bike is stolen, report it. And more important, know your serial number. The serial number is the best way to trace a bike.”
Holding the door open for me in a most courteous fashion he said, “Chances are, if your bike gets stolen, you won’t see it again. But you might!” His eyes twinkled.
It doesn’t get any better than this, does it?