I found this bike parked in Kensington Market one rainy spring day and was keen to hear its story. The chapter was written in a choppy style, to mimic the frame’s build. Thanks to Greg for his great story, and for the encouragement that building these things is much easier than I’d originally thought.

 

Banged up frame. Possibly silver in past, mostly blue now. Some rust. Chopped handlebars, bike parts that probably weren’t included in the original build. And check out that cowprint tape! Well-oiled chain. “Franken-bike,” said my somewhat more attuned bike radar.

Greg O’Toole.

Involved with no less than four bands. A lot of creative energy, like most cyclists.

He’s also poetic about the experience of cycling through the city. He says the slow change of landscape as you cycle through, the fragrances, the feel of the air as it moves past you—all this happens organically.

At the age of six, Greg learned to ride in the family’s driveway, in St. John, New Brunswick. His father got him balanced and told him, “I’ll hold on and you just go.” His father later admitted to not holding on for most of the ride.

“I realized then that I was good to go!” Greg admits.

Apparently, in St. John, your parking spot is the front lawn of whichever friend you’re visiting at the time. Greg brought this relaxed attitude with him to Toronto in 2005. The urban environment was different but not intimidating. As I listen to him, I realize Greg is a risk taker. He’s drawn to anything that might take him outside his comfort zone. Greg rode through the winters here in Toronto, happily. The East Coast winter weather is colder with lots of precipitation, so the snow didn’t faze Greg much.

He grins at me and says, “Rain is my least favourite weather because I feel badly for the bike, but the winter rides are awesome!” This brings us back to the Franken-bike.

“I want to hear about the handlebars,” I tell him. They’re drop bars, narrow and chopped back.

“How narrow can you go,” I ask, because recently I’ve seen straight bars that hardly allow any grip. My mountain bike handlebars are extra wide, which for me is comfortable. Greg smiles.

“Narrow bars take some adjustment, but you do get good control with them. I once had a straight bar that was really narrow,” he confides, indicating that it was a bit of an extreme. The bars on his current bike are a happy medium.

Anyone can assemble a Franken-bike, according to Greg. And the beauty of it is that it needn’t cost a lot of money.

“Sometimes great equipment isn’t necessary,” Greg says. “It’s what you do with it that matters.” For instance, the parts for this bike were collected from various locations. Greg walked into the Community Bicycle Network on one of their $2 Days, where he found a frame that was perfect for his height. Greg is a taller man and finding equipment is a challenge. The frame cost him a whopping $75. He also found some handlebars that suited him. Then, Greg visited the now defunct Parts Unknown in Kensington Market where the owner helped him find everything else he needed. He used the tools at the CBN to chop the handlebars back and to make other desired customizations. The bike cost him about $200.

“It’s a lot easier to build a Franken-bike than you’d think!” he enthuses. Greg loves working on the machine itself, and the idea of building a whole new cross breed of Franken-bike is appealing.

“And today, when technology takes care of so many things, it’s good to be doing things for yourself.”

Cycling in Toronto = thinking outside the box = good karma.

 

Advertisements