For two of this city’s cherished parts, Albert and Reba. Your presence in Toronto explains some of my homesickness last year. Lucky me, finding you.
Albert de Ciccio and his wife Reba Plummer magically appear at every cycling event in town. I carded them at Icycle. I spotted them at their Green Living Show booth in April, where he had a fourteen-foot velociraptor for sale, made entirely of recycled bicycle parts; Reba was selling her famous Push the Envelope brand messenger bags, street bags and accessories.
At the Critical Mass event to lobby against removing the Jarvis bike lanes, Albert brought his homemade draisine—a pedal-less bicycle that you walk, which design is considered to be the original bicycle. I have been urged repeatedly to speak with Reba, who designs high-quality messenger bags and sells them through Urbane Cyclist. Albert kindly invited me to his show at La Carrera Cycles, entitled Recycled Bicycle Parts Sculptures, in June. Albert and Reba’s work are ubiquitous to the cyclescape of this city.
It’s November 14; this morning, thousands of us gathered for Jenna Morrison’s ghost bike ride. I have agreed to meet Albert at his home later in the afteroon. As I pull the bike out, it begins to rain hard. I can’t get the front wheel brake reconnected. Every block or so, I’m forced to stop. When I reach Albert’s street, the brake locks entirely. It’s been an exhausting day.
From the back of his house, Albert calls to me. He has been working in his shop. He gently takes my bike from my shoulder and places her on his stand. Tinkering with the brakes, he returns her to first-rate condition. He oils her chain and plays the cables a little. Albert beckons to me to sit while he goes inside to make me some hot tea. I am reassured by this sweet man’s presence; with his long hair and a roguish glimmer in his eye, he is my friend immediately.
Albert is grinning boyishly at everything. The world is his playground. He is not afraid to live.
“I’m nineteenth century hands-on in a cerebral society,” Albert begins. He feels fortunate that his father imprinted on him to think that things should be repaired rather than replaced.
I realize I have only begun to understand this about him. There are bicycle parts everywhere, all in a state of partial completion, but all imaginative and gloriously whimsical pieces of art.
“I’m feeling mortal these days and pressed to build more art. I have a lot of Frankenstein things inside me.” He says he just feels a need to make more stuff, even when he hasn’t finished the last project. “It’s a weird craving.”
At the show, I was introduced to his gyroscope (a spinning wheel that measures orientation) and his planetarium (a device that illustrates the solar system), his “height of mechanical devices.” Behind me sits his latest project: a pedal-powered blender he’s been contracted to build for ChocoSol Traders. It boasts a bicycle seat, pedals and a front wheel. The handlebars are replaced by a shelf on which rests both a blender and a chocolate grinder. There is an enormous bag of chocolate hulls off to one side, making the shop smell heavenly.
“How did you get started on this adventure?” I ask.
“I’m an extreme cyclist who dreams in bike,” he explains. Albert once spent three days in a friend’s welding shop, building a full-sized replica of a human skeleton, from bicycle parts. It became his media—art borne of recycled bike parts. Couriers always have lots of those.
Albert was a courier for fifteen years, which is where he met Reba. She started working as a messenger in 1987. After a few years of working as a mechanic, she opened a bike shop called the Bike Ranch. That progressed to selling messengers bag through her business, Push the Envelope.
The couple have several bikes. Albert has a city bike that “survived” his years as a courier, a Cervelo carbon fibre road bike for riding with the “posse of retired couriers,” and a touring bike that’s travelled the twelve hundred kilometres to Saguenay, on a “gastronomic tour.” He rides a mountain bike at Icycle. Five years ago Albert did a twenty-four hour race. He came away with the fastest laps, and a desire to be more collaborative in his thinking as a courier than competitive.
Later, at Urbane Cyclist, the more rational but equally driven Reba will tell me about her Bilenky, her twenty-eight-year-old Bianchi city bike and her touring Devinci.
“I put a double kickstand on [the Devinci] and I can stand it up anywhere,” she grins. “I have a picture of it in sand, fully loaded—that’s about a hundred pounds, especially if you put liquids on it!” she clarifies.
She often rides the Bilenky to shows, loaded down. They describe their Wike landscaping trailer as their minivan, and with the addition of Albert’s siderails, it doubles as advertising.
But both their eyes glow when they mention the tandem—a Burley Rivazza, called Riva—which they take out most Sundays. They like to do century rides to Kitchener-Waterloo or Hamilton, riding around Brantford, Cambridge or Paris.
Push the Envelope developed when Reba and her business partner Pete Gray saw a need for sturdy messenger bags. She has since branched out to doing street and urban bags, and custom work.
As passionate as Reba is about her bags, I can see that what really matters to her is Albert. Looking at the website later, her profile includes the line, “You can also see Reba competing and supporting her husband, ‘The Ice Emperor’ at Toronto’s winter ice racing events.”
Albert turns on the radio: the CBC is describing this morning’s ghost bike ride. “Looking for change” is the key phrase, at which Albert and I exchange glances.
It is time I left. The weather is turning colder but the rain has let up. I gulp the warm tea, hug my new friend, and climb onto my repaired bike. Is there something odd about my wanting to be back out on my bike on a cold, dark evening? No more maybe than Albert’s returning to dinosaurs and blenders, or Reba’s fascination with messenger bags. These are all cherished parts of the Toronto bike scene.
To see some of Albert’s amazing art, visit www.flickr.com/photos/martinreis/sets/72157602451185470/
For more information on Reba’s Push the Envelope products, visit www.pushtheenvelope.com/