By Tammy Thorne, with files from Colleen Kirley
It was in La Condesa, Mexico City, where I had my first official safety meeting with Nadir Olivet.
Olivet not only cares about the safety of his fellow cyclists, he also cares deeply about the craft of building and painting bicycles.
During our meeting he introduced me to a man named Futura from NYC.
Futura painted the Colnago bike in the photo above. Futura (or Futura 2000 as he is also known) is also one of the earliest pioneers of graffiti art.
This fact was hard for me to fully comprehend, so I just thought of him as the amazing polka dot bike painter to help keep my brains from exploding.
We were in La Condesa for an urban bicycle race (aka "alley cat") called Chill 'n Go that Olivet helped organize as a precursor to his 2010 Cycle Messenger World Championship event in Panajachel Guatemala, which would feature a specially designed figure-eight track called La Ocho. Olivet is also a fan of unusual racing tracks.
Fast forward a year-and-a-half and I'm sitting in the back of La Carrera Cycles, in its final days, discussing cyclist safety, personal well being and the future of cycling with founder, Olivet.
One of the trademark orange walls in back of the shop has been freshly painted by graffiti artist Whisper in homage to Olivet's last days in the space.
Why orange? "I think it all goes back to being Guatemalan," Olivet says. "Guatemala has always been a hotbed for art and expression. Everywhere you go there is art and colour and art is an expression of who you are and who your family is. You see it in the barrios (neighbourhoods). Every family has a different colour. And I like beautiful things."
"Especially when that beautiful thing is something that represents you," he says. "And the bicycle is art. It is an expression of who you are."
Olivet has been influenced directly over the last five years by pioneers of urban expression like Fab 5 Freddy, Stash and Futura. His favourite art bike at the moment is the Cinelli painted by Keith Haring, currently on the Cinelli home page. Futura agreed to paint bicycles in exchange for a Colnago frame. "A Colnago is the ultimate expression, it's a bike with soul. It has art in every facet of its engineering. I only know of a few bikes that I've actually ridden that have soul, that have that feeling for me. It's been Colnago and Cinelli and Fondriest."
Olivet launched La Carrera in 1993 and has organized and promoted many cycling and arts events since. La Carrera Cycles (the shop) was born in 2002. He moved to Harbord street in 2005.
He sold the shop last month and La Carrera Cycles will be on hiatus as of the end of September.
On October 1, the new owner, Samuel Baldit Martinez will officially take over the space at 106 Harbord. The new shop will be called Chill 'n Go. The colour has not yet been decided, but it cannot be orange.
"I don't want to sell my name because I'm not sure what my next step will be and I've invested too much time in La Carrera to sell that," he says. "It's been a big part of my life. That said, I need a break." He says he is figuring out the next thing to do professionally and spiritually.
"I'm just going to figure out what makes me happy. I definitely want to talk to bike builders like Colnago and take in as many races as I can. Then, take a look at where I want to take La Carrera next."
The closing of La Carrera bike shop is a shock for fans of finer bicycles and is especially sad for that neighbourhood's many serious cycling enthusiasts in particular, but Olivet - as always - has big plans in store. Next up is a trip to Japan where legendary bicycle maker Nagasawa has handcrafted a bicycle for him, dedicated to his mother (the person who most inspires Olivet) and painted orange.
On receiving the bike Olivet will be invited to a night of drinking with Nagasawa. This is an unusually difficult task for Olivet who is not a drinker, but who instead shared a smoke with the revered bike builder as he somehow convinced him to build him a bike. Perhaps it was Olivet's pragmatic philosophy that won him over.
"It has to be a bike you like - with bikes you develop them because not every person is the same. The difference could be of height or because of injuries or lack of mobility and so on, so you actually have to find something that fits you and suits you and that is how it starts to develop. It becomes an extension of who you are by those factors. Then it goes into an expression of who you are by colour and the look and style," he says. "You learn a lot about people from working on their bike."
Olivet learns a lot about people wherever he goes. He's travelled to over 20 cities around the world and worked in almost as many. He left Toronto in the late 90s after suffering a non-cycling-related injury: a broken heart. He says, "I didn't want to be here and that was all I could do: ride my bike. So I got work riding my bike."
He took work as a bicycle messenger in NYC, D.C., Germany, Holland and more, making him one of the first "international messengers." Which brings us back to his brainchild, La Ocho, the figure-eight track and the Cycle Messenger World Championships - aka "the worlds" - in Panajachel, Guatemala.
When torrential rains caused flooding that wiped out hundreds of homes the international courier community came to the aid of locals who had lost everything. Olivet led messengers to collect and distribute supplies to help the victims of the tropical storm. He received the Marcus Cook Award last year from the International Federation of Bike Messenger Associations for organizing the event. The award recognizes those who inspire and empower the wider messenger community and put themselves before others. (You can read more here about Olivet winning the award.)
The track, La Ocho, was designed with the help of Dieter Janssen, a Toronto architect that enlisted a mathematician and a team of students to help figure out the geometry of the track. "They used topographic maps of the area to lay out the track," Olivet says. "Without even having to go to Guatemala, they were able to make the track fit the area perfectly."
La Ocho CMWC designs by Dieter Janssen
Based on the Human Powered Roller Coaster (HPR)‚ designed by Toronto architect John Consolati and used for alley cat races promoted by John "Jet Fuel" Englar in the 90s‚ the track would have steep banked turns and a bridge that crossed over the middle. But before a single race could be held, La Ocho was washed away in the floods that devastated the region.
"It was disappointing because we had almost realized it, but it's never been ridden," Janssen says. But he wants to see it in use, and is eager to work with someone to put the plans in motion. He said that the track can be made anywhere and that everyone is ready to start the project up again. "I think the team that we have was also excited to see this thing come together, and a lot of us would love still see it happen."
No one got to race La Ocho, but those cyclists who are wild at heart can race the world's smallest velodrome in Toronto on October 8.
Olivet is also the man behind bringing one of the most unusual tracks ever built to Toronto. Red Bull's mini drome event will at Evergreen Brick Works on October 8. Registration is still open at 106 Harbord. It is free for spectators. Participants get a complimentary copy of our new Food Issue of dandyhorse. Mmmm bikes! There's also a cash prize. Check out this cool photo of the mini drome.
Olivet's advice for participants?
"Clear your mind." The spectators will likely be going crazy, so getting focussed could be a challenge.
"Think of it like being in a bubble. And run the cleanest tires you can," he says. "Wrap them in Saran wrap beforehand."
The Red Bull Mini Drome event will be Olivet's last event before going to Japan to meet Nagasawa again. Next up: he'll open a new bike shop in Mexico City's La Condesa or Roma neighbourhood.
But over the next year he plans to "just get in as many rides and as many races as I can."
"This will help me determine where cycling is going," he says. "It's hard for me to walk away, sure. But for me, now, it's going to be hanging out with the old guard and seeing how they keep motivated… How does Colnago or Masi keep motivated? I want to go by the roadside with those guys and find out how they keep motivated by what they are doing."
"I want to see where cycling is headed next."
Futura Colnago and La Carrera Cycles art photos by Christopher Kaiser
La Ocho designs by Dieter Janssen
Mexico City photos by Tammy Thorne
Mini Drome registration photos by Manny Perez
Nadir Olivet and Samuel Baldit Martinez photos by Colleen Kirley