Remember how I said the book project had ended? Well, apparently it hadn’t. The bike energy seems to have its own agenda. I contacted a few names that had eluded me all year, and several were available this week! You will be happy to know that the project is drawing to a close of its own accord now.
On Tuesday, I met with Gil Penalosa, a man who’d been recommended to me way back in January of last year and whom I’ve been chasing ever since.
Gil is the executive director of 8-80 Cities, whose goal is to help create vibrant cities and healthy communities by promoting walking and bicycling. Gil is all about walking and cycling and he gets invited to cities worldwide. If I started this bike project naive, I am ending it as a strong advocate for infrastructure, but also for a change in citizen mindset. Walking and riding a bike makes so much more sense in a busy downtown core, and this is what Gil preaches all day long. He showed me images of cityscapes he’s visited, both of problems encountered and of improvements to encourage pedestrians and cyclists. The conversation was charming and full of enthusiasm on both sides, and at the end I felt we could change the world. And then I realized that if everyone recognized the potential, we could change the world. What Gil does is life changing, if not immediately world changing.
Oh yeah. And he rides a sweet Batavus, with enormous white panniers. I found it among the herd outside CSI looking very elegant and casual.
For more information on Gil and his passion, visit www.8-80cities.org
That afternoon, I was invited to meet with one of my early interviewees again. The first time we met, this young Jewish man denied having any bike stories (he had them, but didn’t realize they’d be inspiring). This time though, he had a spectacular bike story for me. He had just returned from Israel where he’d ridden the width of the northern end on a mountain bike (he has a road bike here). It was an annual charity ride, and he raised $2770 for the hospital. The images he shared with me of riding beside the Sea of Gallilee and to the top of some extremely beautiful mountains in the country were overwhelming. I’ll say he had a story. And, he named his bike Willow.
On Thursday, I met with Janet Bike Girl! Janet is an artist who works with stencils of bicycles.
Her workspace at 401 Richmond St. is a sea of stencils, and of products that proudly display these designs. Her simple yet breathtakingly beautiful designs are painted onto walls, posters, acid-free paper, t-shirts, buttons and stickers. Every style of bike is represented, and a few I’ve never seen before (these she calls fantasy bikes). More interesting for me though was how strong an advocate Janet is for all things cycling. Her bike stories were fun, but her passion was tangible.
For more information and to view some of her extraordinary stencils, visit www.flickr.com/photos/janetbikegirl
An hour later, I was sitting with Jared Kolb of the Toronto Cyclists Union. Jared only recently took over as the Director of Membership & Outreach and I have been sensing changes there. As expected, we discussed the union and its history for most of the interview. I did collect a few stories from Jared (he certainly deserves to have this job), but he and I were picking each other’s brains much of the hour. Jared was really excited about this book project because its aims are his aims—to get more people out cycling and to build and strengthen the Toronto cycling community.
At the end of our conversation, Jared asked me a question that made perfect sense, yet it stunned me to hear it. He asked what the bike union could do to improve. After I’d picked my choppers up off the floor, I gave him a contact name for a person I adore at LEAF, my favourite volunteer gig in town. These people have it right. They carefully train their volunteers for each role, and then they treat you like your contribution matters, regardless of how big it was, or how long you were at it. And then I told Jared that, given what we’d discussed, the buzz I’ve been hearing around the community, and the fact that he’d asked this question, that he had already found the path. I’ve always liked what the bike union stands for and there have been some amazing people involved with it. And with Jared Kolb and Andy Garcia at the helm, I really like the direction it’s taking. I’m proud to be a member of both the bike union, and of the Toronto cycling community.
Want to get involved? Better still, want to become a member of the Toronto Bicycle Union? Go here! http://bikeunion.to
On Friday morning I could be found at Urbane Cyclist. This shop comes up so often in interviews that I felt I needed to follow up. I have also been wanting to speak with Reba Plummer, owner of Push the Envelope. Reba, to my great delight, started out as a messenger. Her bike stories were playful and intriguing, as well as romantic. She and I had a great conversation about her messenger bag designs and how the business had developed, and then we talked about co-ops. This was on one wall of the shop, created during a meeting of the members.
Urbane Cyclist is a worker co-op (rather than a producer co-op or a consumer co-op). Their primary mandate is to give jobs to their members. She mentioned several very good benefits offered or in the works, but more exciting for me was the direction they want to take the business. She declares that they expect more of their employees, in order to grow the business, which is in everyone’s best interest. “You can’t just be a worker here: you have to be an entrepreneur.” This was another sweet story about building community, going above and beyond. Something I see occasionally is the community member (any community) who moans about change, but doesn’t participate to make that happen. Reba and the staff at Urbane Cyclist want to prevent that attitude. This was the common theme to so many of the interviews I did this week and it was really heartwarming.
On Friday evening, I visited with Marty Kohn of Kohn Shnier Architects. Someone had recommended him as having some good stories, and I was not disappointed. Marty‘s basement brags several Moultons and a Mariposa tandem, which he rides all over the world with his wife, Dufflet. A couple of the bikes actually have the phrase Dufflet Pastries painted across them. His wife appeared an hour or so into the interview and added a few interesting details of her own. I heard about their trip across the Pyrenees and riding with Dr Alex Moulton, and so many more adventures. And then, Marty sat back and declared, “We fetishize all kinds of things and I’m not immune to that. Still, there’s no such thing as a bad bicycle. You can make pretty much any bike a nice thing to ride.” And then he took me downstairs to meet his herd. Sorry I have no photos (I’m waiting for him to send me a couple!)
Marty has been repairing old bikes for a long time, but up until recently it’s been mostly for friends. Marty has a new goal. He wants to begin fixing up clunkers to give away to people who don’t have a bicycle, in some of the marginalized parts of town. My response was to suggest I connect him with a few of my earlier interviewees who are doing similar (but not identical) work in the city. It’s all about building community, isn’t it?
On Saturday I had my last interview this week. The fellow I met with was someone I carded. You know, I haven’t been carding bikes this past month because I was so busy collecting all those stories I’d missed earlier in the year. Yet, when I walked by this single speed early in the week, I couldn’t resist it. There was a metal head badge on it, and all the components were maintained and clean. Look at me. I know what a head badge is!
The bike looked so loved!
It turns out that this bike brings so many of my themes together elegantly. The owner bought it at CBN and it had been built as a model for bike share programs. Further, the owner has bought from Igor Kenk and feels that, while his mischief as a bike thief cannot go unpunished, what he has contributed to the bike community in other ways should also be recognized. There may be good reason why the community allowed him to continue, and why we were complicit.
This owner rides year-long and is often recognized in the financial district for his enduring love of cycling. I asked him if he knew the phrase Les Domestiques because I felt he must be brushing against this community. He did not, but wrote it down for later. Then, he asked me about other ways to get involved, because he wants to get to know the cycling community better and to maybe contribute to it. I told him about ArtSpin, about Cinecycle and Janet Bike Girl. We talked about Clay and Paper Theatre. We even discussed messengers, at which he declared, “there aren’t a lot of jobs in society that appreciate the qualities ‘tough’ and ‘fit’.”
Now, see? All of the bike project’s themes have been serendipitously brought together in a single interview, with a man I carded. Neat project, eh?