November 16, 2013
Arriving home, I pull off my sweater. The scent of the workshop has woven its way into the fabric: grease, paint, rubber, flux, and oil. In the aromas, I can identify each distinct chemical, but together they mean only one thing. I inhale for half a second as I pull off the sweater. To me, it is the aroma of bikes being built and torches with flames heating tubes in the hands of craftsmen wearing dark glasses and royal blue aprons. It is the smell of fresh paint, ball bearings being carefully placed in cups of white grease, and tubulars being glued to new rims.
An hour before, while working on the bike, the odor was unnoticeable. I was immersed in it. Now, at home, the shop aromas clash with the manufactured floral scents of laundry soap, shampoos, and household cleaners. I’ve scrubbed my hands, repeatedly, but they’re still stained black. The darkness of grime also marks the lines on my hands, like reverse fingerprints, etching the crevasses, and accentuating the callouses formed over thousands of hours by gripping brake levers tight, while climbing, while sprinting, while holding my bars as my bicycle bounced beneath me on cobbles. Read on.
October 21, 2013
To most people cycling is freedom. When asked what their first memory of riding is, they’ll likely recall the joy they felt as they took their first pedal strokes or when they coasted down their first hill. In those moments, they became free from their parents’ grasp and free to move fast and see the neighborhood alone.
In a similar way, the sporting experience should be one of personal growth and development. But for many amateur athletes, it isn’t. Their sense of freedom becomes blurred. Instead, the playing field or race course becomes a feeder system to the professional ranks. The joy of play withers under the external pressures of performance, business, entertainment, and ego. Physical and mental health become secondary to achievement.
In the documentary Senna, the World Champion Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna was asked to identify the driver who gave him the most satisfaction as a competitor. Read on…
June 16, 2012
Recently, Team Sky asked the riders to design T-Shirts. It was a fun project, which my family helped me out with– my wife, Dede, came up with some ideas while our boys coloured in the sketches. In the end, we settled on the design below that is being sold here. Antidote, who designed our team Sky clothing, refined the images. Behind the image of the peloton reflected in the sunglasses there is a brief story that sparked the idea:
When I was a young boy, my parents returned home from my third grade parent/teacher interviews and told me what they had learned. The teacher’s comments were positive, she was content with my participation and my work. But, as they wrapped up the meeting she said, “At times Michael’s mind is off in the distance, in another land. It is as if I can see bicycle wheels spinning in his eyes”. This wasn’t surprise to my parents or the teacher. With a cycling cap in my backpack, bike brand stickers on my textbooks and photos of Fignon, Merckx and Mottet taped to my binders, I spent hours daydreaming of riding and racing. The T-shirt was designed to reflect the passion of the spectator and the dreams of cyclists.
While racing the Tour of Switzerland with the team, I put together this playlist for us to listen to on the bus before and after the stages: Rainy Day Sunshine-Suisse2012
June 7, 2011
When we were kids, my good friend Noah Rosen and I spent most afternoons and weekends racing our bikes up and down the neighborhood streets. At nightfall the races would end, and we’d retire to the basement with a bowl of popcorn to make forts, watch movies and play his father’s vintage pinball machine. Noah still remembers the evenings fondly, “ When we were playing pinball the room would be glowing in the darkness of the basement. But, maybe it was just our childhood enthusiasm.”
We’re still good friends and ride together whenever I’m back in Toronto. Noah now runs Velocolour and paints frames beautifully. Earlier this year we decided it might be fun to collaborate on project together, as we’d done at art school when we were kids. The idea was to paint a Pinarello with a unique design, which told a story. The frame would then be auctioned with the proceeds going to Right to Play, an organization that brings sport to children in disadvantaged areas. Within the project and design there are elements of our youth, which tie it all together.
After bouncing umpteen ideas off each other we agreed the frame should be painted with vintage pinball machine graphics. Noah succinctly said, “The connection made sense as a starting point. Childhood memories of us playing together, being kids, formed the design of the paint scheme, which would hopefully raise money for other kids to do the same thing.”
Often, while riding in the middle of a peloton or in the midst of city traffic I have the feeling I’m the ball within the machine, bouncing off bumpers, shooting through holes, and accelerating when it is clear. When I find the flow of the peloton, or the city traffic, the feeling is sublime.
Pinarello kindly donated a 55 cm Prince carbon frame for us to use as the canvas.
The auction will take place at the end of June. Details will be posted soon.
Here are some of the photos of the project development. I’ll post more photos of the frame in the coming days.
January 19, 2011
In thirteen years, the season of the professional cyclist has progressively become the cycle of my life. Years and months are broken down into a race program in which we plan goals, training, rest and time with our families and friends. Our year begins in November at the first team meetings and ends in late October as we cross the final finish line. As is custom with most team, Team Sky was together in January for the second training camp of our season. After a hard week of riding with my teammates, where we accumulated 35 hours of riding, my commitment is as it was over a decade ago. But, my perspective has changed as maturity has given me appreciation, experience and understanding, which have replaced a neopro’s angst.
Each morning at the training camp the team gathers around the mechanics and massage therapists who prepare our bikes, bottles and food for the day’s ride. As we zip up booties, strap up helmets and fill our pockets we chat about the route and the prescribed efforts. Inevitably we leave the hotel a few minutes after our planned departure as someone struggles to adjust his position or requires another layer of clothing. Without panic we wait and then roll away together in our small peloton.
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December 23, 2010
Le Métier 2nd Edition is essentially unchanged from the 1st edition that sold out in three months, with just a few notable exceptions. The 2nd Edition is paperback and comes in slightly more compact dimensions, making this edition substantially less costly than the 1st ed. David Millar and Christian Vandevelde both pen forewords. There is a new finishing stroke with an afterword about his 2010 Tour de France experience with Team Sky. The book contains four chapters — Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer — which map the slow crescendo of a pro’s season.
Le Métier can be purchased at Competitive Cyclist.
November 16, 2010
A few weeks ago when the latest copy of Rouleur (issue 20) arrived in the mail. The cover got me thinking about workshops. The cover shot was clearly staged but it sparked thoughts of real workshops, and specifically my father’s frameshop. There is something great about a work space where bikes are built from scratch. Creativity and the construction of something unique give a space an attractive element whether it is the back of a professional team’s truck or a dusty garage.
I’ve always been intrigued and enchanted by the builders as they brazed, filed and cut in my father’s frameshop in Toronto. Now, my lifelong friend, Noah Rosen, brazes and paints frames in the old workshop with the precision of a craftsman and the eye of an artist. He is passionate about his work and it is stirring to see his devotion to the job and his meticulous attention to detail.
Whenever I am back in Toronto, I relish my days in the shop and wish I had more time to learn from the artisans and artists who work there, as chat they over tea and discuss the things we love.
For the same reason, I also like watching the team mechanics at work on our bikes. They methodically check tires for cuts, true wheels, tape handlebars and pay attention to all the details that make the difference between good and great. Committed to doing their jobs properly, they rarely join us for dinner as they opt to stay out in the truck, late into the night, working on our bikes or preparing equipment for the coming days of racing.
Although he’s now retired my father was asked to build another couple of Mariposa frames for artist Paul Butler. The job was one that was worth firing up the torches for as he was asked to build a replica of Greg Curnoe’s Mariposa. Curnoe’s painting of the bike is now in the National Gallery in Ottawa, Ontario. And, Curnoe who died on his bike when he was hit by a car was a close friend of my father’s.
Below are a few recent photos taken by Dan Bereskin of the workshop, and my Dad building the Curnoe replica. The others photos are of different workshops my father has had over the years and a few of the mechanics, painters and builders at work.
September 28, 2010
His legs turning over fluidly, my teammate appeared effortless compared to his rivals. They hung over their handlebars; ragged and limp like old cloth dolls. Their bodies lacked the potency to contest for the victory. Riding alongside him, I was panting, as he breathed rhythmically. As we crested the climb, the time gap to the breakaway was announced. It was several minutes ahead of us. Our directeur sportif soon ordered my flying teammate to ride on the front in pursuit. As we moved forward to begin riding in the wind, I asked him how he felt. “Really good.” Could he win? “I think so.” Throughout his career he had ridden as a domestique. And now, with the legs to win, he was asked to once again ride in pursuit.
The directeur, working with the knowledge he had, made his decision. Based on the riders’ knowledge, it was the wrong decision. I dropped to the back of the peloton, spoke with the directeur, explained the situation, and he changed the plans. My teammate ended up winning a stage and finishing second overall. From the team car, the directeur sees little of the race and relies on instinct, experience and the scant information he receives over the radios.
While recently sidelined by injury, I had the opportunity to sit in the team car through most of the Montreal Grand Prix. The experience was eye opening as the race within the caravan is entirely different. During a race we, the riders, have a limited and singular view of the caravan. We return to the caravan for bottles and food, pass through it when we are dropped, use the cars’ slipstreams to chase back on to the peloton and drop back to the cars with mechanical problems. High expectations are placed on the directeurs as they must react to our movements. Cyclists assume they have the right-of-way in the caravan and usually we do. It is said that with experience we become acrobats on our bikes. In turn, the directeurs become magicians behind the wheel, as they seem to narrowly avoid tragedy dozens of times during a single race. Their skills are impressive. In a hilly race their senses are constantly engaged as the peloton splinters into groups and suffering riders weave through the cars in an attempt to return to the front.
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August 26, 2010
On September 10 and 12th two ProTour races will be held in Quebec City and Montreal. (www.protourquebecmontreal.com) The circuits, which wind through the city centres are hilly and hard. In 1974 the World Championships were held in Montreal on roughly the same 12 km circuit which we will race on in a few weeks. The major difficulty on the course is the climb up Mont Royal– a tough ascent which shadows the city centre. We will climb it 16 times.
In 1974 Eddy Merckx dominated and won the race. The World title was the final race he needed to achieve the triple crown of cycling: victories in the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and World Championships. In 1976 the same course was used for the Olympic Road Race and then through the late 80′s and early 90′s Montreal held a yearly pro men’s World Cup. Through the 90′s, and until last year, the city hosted the Women’s World Cup on the Mont Royal circuit.
As I was looking through the piles of photos my father has from a lifetime in cycling I found a few he and a friend, Gil Smith, took at the Worlds in Montreal. Some of the pictures are from the track events and some are from the road race.