Bikes! Bikes! Bikes!
This past two weeks I was becoming a little uptight about collecting stories, given how late in the year it is. There are a lot of loose ends to tie up before I can consider the project complete, but the book has its own agenda and timing so I have to let that unfold. Last week, no interviews presented themselves, yet when I drove into Toronto for the two scheduled appointments this week, I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with three more. There was also a Christmas celebration to attend, with a surprise twist.
Weeks ago, I made a decision to end the book with a full-circle sort of story, so on Friday morning, Miss J and I pulled up in front of Duke’s Cycle. Ten years ago this season, Miss J and I fell hard for each other, and it all started at Duke’s. Gary Duke had lots of intuitive comments to make on cycling in general and on our Toronto landscape particularly, and it was a very great pleasure to spend time with him in his new digs. Gary likes to ride road bikes from his shop herd because when it’s time sell one of them, he knows how the bike feels. He can then make intelligent recommendations to improve his customers’ experience.
Gary and his wife Chantal commute into town on the Martin Goodman trail; Gary describes himself as a destination rider. A very pragmatic man, Gary is not a toodler. He also tells me that Duke’s started out as a hardware store, selling a wide variety of items, bicycles being just one of them. It only became recognized as a bicycle shop in 2003, after they stopped selling skates from the basement (that being a big part of their heritage).
As with all my bike shop stories, I don’t endorse Duke’s as the one place to purchase your bike. It’s a great place for sure (well, they sell Rockies!) but not the only one in town. What I am endorsing is that you find a place that you love and respect, a place where you feel safe making such an important decision, where they carry the kind of herd that interests you, and where the sales staff are attentive to what you want. You should be as proud to say you bought your bike there, as I am to say that Duke’s did me proud, even all these years later. That, and they have some great bike stories!
Looking for a bike or some bike equipment to put under the tree next weekend? Visit www.dukescycle.ca
That same afternoon, I met with Chris Chopik. Chris and I go back: we were neighbours for a few years, and he is a board member at my favourite urban forestry volunteer gig, LEAF. Chris has been a real estate agent for years, and now works with an organization called Evolution Green. Evolution Green works to inspire people to “establish new models for conducting business.” I wanted to speak with Chris specifically because I knew he often took his bicycle on business outings. Yes, he has taken clients out on rides, the destination being a house viewing.
Chris mostly rides a green Strida folding bike, and when he passes the 11-14 year-old boys, they shout out, “Hey Dude! Sick bike!”
Our conversation followed a strongly existentialist model which—as is always the case when Chris and I get together—challenged my thinking. Neat, eh?
When I interviewed Mike Barry, he introduced me to his protege Noah Rosen, another quiet giant in the cycling industry. Noah is a bicycle painter extraordinaire. He has won awards for his work and is respected internationally as a leader in this industry. Noah owns and operates VéloColour, a custom bicycle painting shop specializing in contemporary bicycle refinishing and vintage frame paint restoration. I have seen his work. Noah’s own bike is spectacularly beautiful. When people ask if he’s worried about his bikes being stolen, he laughs. VéloColour frames are unique, making them too recognizable in a resale situation. He is however very careful where he locks up, in case something scratches his paint job. Noah’s favourite colour right now is grey, which is the main colour of his current bicycle frame.
Noah is a busy man, but I was fortunate enough to get an unexpected interview with him on Friday evening. He is working on a three-month backlog at the moment, but if you want a bike painted in time for the spring, you should definitely visit www.velocolour.com
At the same interview, Noah invited his girlfriend to join us, so the three of us met in her studio, the Elevator Art Lab on Niagara Street. Suzanne Carlsen is another extraordinary artist in the bicycle industry. She designs and creates the most exquisite bicycle accessories, like chain guards, head badges and saddle bags. Head badges are attached to the front of your frame, and I’ve heard them described as “a hood ornament for your bike!” I snagged this image from her website, www.pokacycle.com
And just in case you’re still searching for the perfect gift for me, she’s in the process of designing head badges that feature trees! Be still, my beating heart! I find it charming that her bike has none of the personalized touches that she herself creates. It is a very functional bike (but in my favourite colour… )
Notice that Noah’s bike bears a personalized chain guard. Well, they’re both artists and are very much in love. In fact, Noah says he often rides with his arm around Suzanne. Since it helps my writing to try out anything my interviewees are doing, I guess this means I need a cycling date!
My fifth interview occurred while I was making merry at a Christmas celebration. One of my friends introduced me to a man who does the Donut Ride every weekend. This fellow has only had a bicycle for two years, and yet has already developed enough skill and speed to keep up with the fastest.
Martin Heath likened the Donut Gang to a chain gang—unaffiliated, amorphous, they take over the road and race each other. “It is like the extreme end of herding cats.” And yet, Michael Barry Jr. joins the Donut Ride whenever he is in town. He loves the camaraderie and the challenge, and if anyone lends credibility to an event, it is Michael Barry. Whatever the reputation of this event, it’s part of the Toronto landscape, and because I had the chance to collect the story, I did!
For more information on the Donut Ride, visit www.donutride-toronto.ca
The final offering to the book this week was a Christmas party, held at the cafe Grapefruit Moon. The party was hosted by my beloved bike shop, Bateman’s Bicycle Company. When I finally arrived (well, I was in interviews!) Rob came right over and thanked me genuinely for my support over the three and a half years he has been in business. He explained that the party had a dual celebratory aspect: Bateman’s is about to take over the space of a nearby bike shop, from a good friend who is ready to retire. Bateman’s will be expanding for an astounding fourth time in three years.
Rob and Jamie are both really excited at how much cycling has grown in popularity while they’ve been in business, and I say Amen! to that. What I also say is that this shop has always provided the kind of service I want: friendly, inclusive, timely and dedicated to getting the job done right. The staff are professional and require an appointment, yet they have—by policy—invisibly scheduled appointments booked for emergencies. And that was how I met Rob four days after he opened. Rob has built a successful business on a customer-focussed model, which works for me. For more information (or just because I love them), visit/www.batemansbikeco.com
I don’t say go to Bateman’s just because I do. I say find a shop where they treat you as well as Rob and Jamie treat me. And when you find them, hold them close, especially when they’ve been imbibing. Do you want to know what Rob whispered in my ear as I thanked him for a great party and headed out to Miss Jackson at 1AM? “You’ve always been my favourite customer.” I expect he said that to everyone as they left, because that’s Rob’s style. Still, I don’t care. I think I’m gonna hold him to it.
In case you’re worried, the interview process has only unofficially ended. I have collected lots of stories, but am leaving things open for a few weeks yet in case I’m lucky enough to hear a few more. Anything collected from here on will be woven into the fabric of the book as if I’d heard them before the Christmas break.
So, got a good story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m listening!