From hereon, bike interview descriptions will appear in bi-weekly lots. Sorry for any inconvenience.
You will notice all the interviewees are named here. In my final two months, I’m attempting to capture as many of the movers and shakers—big name or no—who keep this city cycling. If you don’t know the names yet, I urge you to get to know them. In this town and in the current political environment, they matter.
My first interviewee in mid-October was Eric Kamphof from Curbside Cycle. Eric gave me all sorts of interesting details on the history of Curbside, its present mandate and its future direction. While Curbside makes decisions based on the Annex cycling phenomenon, its decisions also have quite an impact on cycling in Toronto generally, and on North America. He told me they were seeing people being sold the wrong types of bikes originally, and set out to change that. What people in the Annex wanted really was something they could leave outside, something that wouldn’t immediately rust out or require too much maintenance. What they wanted was a city bike.
Eric told me that Curbside was responsible for bringing city bikes to Toronto and Dutch bikes to North America, which is quite a feat. We agreed that cycling in North America has over the years had an image problem. Curbside is working to make cycling glamorous, to encourage more people to take up the activity, regardless of when or why or even how often.
And what of Eric himself? Well, as we talked shop, he suddenly turned a little whimsical and said to me, “There’s just something about bicycles. I hope I never figure it out!” Eric rides around town on a commuter bike called a WorkCycles. Top of the line. It’s the centre bike, with the blue arrow reflector, the high handlebars, and all the class in the world.
My next interview was with someone who has impacted Toronto politics and the Toronto cycling community fabric for a couple of decades, Frank de Jong. Frank says our bike culture needs inspiration, and to know that we’re groovy. Outside the political arena, Frank is a music teacher. And yes, he rides his bike to work. In the political arena, Frank rides all over Ontario to make a point. And as a regular Joe, Frank rides all over North America, just for fun. He often rides to the southern states, across western Canada, in northern Canada, heck he’s even ridden across my beloved Manitoulin Island, a feat I have not accomplished yet. He had a terrific Huck Finn bike story, which I promise to relate.
Frank sent me a recent shot of one of his volunteers collecting lawn signs on a bike.
One unexpectedly sunny but cool day, I met Rui and Layne from Art Spin at the gates to Trinity-Bellwoods Park. While I have never attended an Art Spin event (much to my embarrassment), I heard some extraordinary tales and statistics. Rui’s first attempt last summer was actually called Gallery Spin, and 30 people attended. The numbers increased with each of the four tours, until last September just under 200 people cycled in the event. This summer, the numbers increased again, until this September they had 400 participants. Rui and Layne have just begun planning for next year, and their biggest worry is how to manage that many people. They both laugh at having such an amazing problem and consider it very flattering. “If the biggest issue is our success then that’s great!”
Both Rui and Layne, along with their other partners Casey and Vanessa, take their civic responsibilities seriously. These events keep them connected to society in a socially minded way, and they want to remain authentic while impacting people in a positive way. They find it exhilarating to see hundreds of people ringing their bells and smiling, and learning new things about their public space while on a bicycle. While their mandate is considered art performance, what they are really doing is showcasing the city. And I say Amen to that, because in my mind it’s one of the best cities in the world.
Below are shots of Rui and Layne’s bikes, respectively. They are both very attached to their equipment and I can see why.
Last Monday morning I cycled across Eglinton Avenue to an unassuming shop on Cranfield Road. The shop is called Bicycle Specialties and its owner’s name is Michael Barry, Sr. I have resisted getting this interview all year despite so very many people recommending it. And yet, now that I have met him (“It’s Mike,” he assures me) and his incredible herd of 100 bicycles—all in pristine condition and all with a story that begs a book—I’ve realize what an impact his work and his reputation continue to have on this city.
The one type of bicycle strongly recommends is cyclo-cross. He advises “… 3/4 of an hour on the grass is worth 4 hours on the road.” Mike also has a beater bike (or a treader as they’re called in England) that he commutes on regularly.
Until four years ago, Mike was building Mariposa bikes, a much respected name in the industry. His daughter-in-law, Dede Demet Barry, won the 2002 Montreal World Cup race which Mike believes was the last World class road race ever won on a steel frame. Mike also built one as a sixth birthday gift for his son Michael, who “never wanted to do anything else.” If you don’t recognize the name Michael Barry, Jr. I recommend you google it. And do it soon, because I have a Skype session booked with him.
Everything about this kind man and his illustrious herd can only be described in terms that sound over-the-top, but I assure you no words do either justice. As soon as I entered the shop, I knew I was in the hallowed halls.
There is one piece of advice I should like to give as a result of this interview. If an Englishman offers to make you a cup of tea, by all means accept!
My final interviewee was a man who is quietly changing the way people look at cycling (and to some extent, banking) in this city. Nick loves riding the Martin Goodman trail to work in the mornings on his Kona.The day we met was miserably wet and cool, but Nick rode in oblivious to that, and grinned broadly in greeting.
Nick Cluley was brought to Toronto to design an ING Direct Cafe on the corner of Yonge and Shuter streets. The cafe is available for community groups to well, build community. They also offer fair trade coffee and tea, and baked goods, the proceeds of which go entirely to charities. Several computers are set up in the cafe, with free Wi-Fi. Behind the scenes is where the bike action really heats up. Out back of the main cafe was a hallway where two brand new cargo bikes were waiting for donation.
In the basement of this rather startling building was a herd of Linus bikes, waiting. In November, plans are afoot to donate these bikes to adults in St Jamestown. The adults will be selected by children in St Jamestown, children who have volunteered their time in a manner worthy enough to be awarded a free bike from MEC. That herd is not temporarily residing in the basement, but their presence is felt nonetheless.
Who is this Nick fellow? He was introduced to me as “on the ING board, on the Cyclist’s Union board, and cycling obsessed.” Nuff said.