La Carrera Cycles hits the road

Futura Colnago at Red Bull Academy / 381 Projects by Christopher Kaiser
Futura's Colnago at the Red Bull Academy / 381 Projects. Photo by Christopher Kaiser

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.

Nadir Olivet by Colleen Kirley
La Carrera graffiti mural by Colleen Kirley
Nadir Olivet and the La Carrera graffiti mural by Whisper. Photos by Colleen Kirley

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."

Nadir Olivet by Colleen Kirley
Nadir Olivet and Samuel Baldit Martinez
Nadir Olivet with one of his beloved Cinelli's in front of the shop and inside,  in the mechanic's pit. Photos by Colleen Kirley

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."

Nadir Olivet and Samuel Baldit Martinez by Colleen Kirley
“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” - Nadir Olivet and Samuel Baldit. Photo by Colleen Kirley

La Carrera by Christopher Kaiser
La Carrera front window with art by Elicser on the wall. Photo by Christopher Kaiser

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 14
La Ocho CMWC 02
La Ocho CMWC 06
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

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The story of La Ocho

14 - La Ocho CMWC

by Colleen Kirley
designs by Dieter Janssen

Dieter Janssen, architect and former professor at the University of Toronto, wanted a custom bike and went to La Carrera Cycles. One day, while he was in the shop, he overheard owner Nadir Olivet talking about having the Cycle Messenger World Championships (CMWC) in Guatemala. Janssen had recently taken interest in racing tracks – he visited the 333-metre outdoor velodrome in Cuba and has ridden the Forest City velodrome in London, Ontario – and when Nadir mentioned the figure 8 track, he was immediately interested in being involved.

Janssen was up for the challenge. He enlisted some students and created a work-study program out of the track. “It’s a complex geometry," Janssen said. "Because of the physics of that geometry – we really needed to get right in terms of making this track function properly.” On Janssen's website, you can view just how complex this work was – pages and pages of diagrams and equations map out what will ultimately become the track. “We worked with a mathematician who recommended some people who were also interested in the project. Very quickly, we had a team together."

05 - La Ocho CMWC

Janssen's team began sketching some ideas out and talked to Nadir about what he had in mind. They ended up finding out that they would be able to build the track in a soccer field in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Nadir was impressed by how they were able to manage designing a track in Toronto that would be built over 3,000 km away. He said, "They used topographic maps of the area to lay out the track. Without even having to go to Guatemala, they were able to make the track fit the area perfectly."

La Ocho CMWC

After the schematics were figured out, it was time to build. Based on the Human Powered Roller Coaster (HPR) – designed by Toronto architect John Consolati and used for allycat races in the 90s – the track would have steep banked turns and a bridge that crossed over the middle.

La Ocho differed from the HPR in building technology. The HPR was made of solid plywood: La Ocho would be made out of dirt and plywood. Rammed dirt – densely compacted earth – became the foundation for the track. "It's an interesting technology that’s common as a building practice in that part of the world." Janssen said that the interesting thing for the team was that they were working so precisely with mathematics and high-tech models, yet using "a really low-tech process to realize it." Nadir was extremely adamant on the track being ecologically sound, sourced from the earth and good for the community. Even the wood from the bridge was sourced out to members of the community after CMWC.

La Ocho CMWC 02

Once everything was calculated and the models were perfectly scaled, it seemed as if La Ocho would finally be a reality. The track was fast and challenging. If messengers had the chance to ride it for CMWC, they would have competed in heats of four for two days of preliminary racing, accumulating victories until the final day of elimination rounds. Unfortunately, no one got to race on La Ocho.

As the messengers were making their way from all corners of the world to Guatemala, so was a major tropical storm. Hurricane Agatha brought heavy rain and flooding to the city in Panajachel, wiping away homes, roads and bridges in the community. The rain washed away the polo court and swept La Ocho into the river.

"It was disappointing because we had almost realized it, but it's never been ridden," Janssen said. 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…a lot of us would love still see it happen."


If you like unusual racing tracks you can check out the Red Bull Mini Drome at Evergreen Brick Works on October 8, 2011.

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The Ride For Real Food

Riders of all ages set off on the 30km ride up to Vaughan for the Ride For Real Food

By Emily Van Halem
Photos by Nathan Payne

Earlier in September, I introduced dandyhorse readers to the West End Food Co-op and how this blossoming group is taking its values concerning local food, sustainable transportation, and community-based action and applying them to bikes.

The co-op is implementing a fleet of bicycle delivery trailers to deliver nutritious food to Parkdale residents once they open their storefront at Queen & Dufferin. To raise money to implement a community kitchen space in their new home the co-op organized a bike-a-thon.

Food + bikes + a gorgeous ride up to the Kortright Centre for Conservation? I couldn’t help but sign myself up!

I rustled up donations from friends, donned my cupcake cycling jersey, and hit the trail with an energetic team of cyclists all in support of the West End Food Co-op’s vision for a local, sustainable food system.

We met in the morning at Magwood Park in the Humber valley just north of Bloor Street. The place was already bustling upon my arrival with registration, pre-ride socializing, and last minute bike adjustments thanks to the Bike Pirates. The event was clearly all-ages. While I was probably on the younger end of the peddling riders, participants ranged from children (in bike seats) to a spunky 75 year old woman!

We had a 30k ride ahead of us – perfect for a range of experience levels. The route took us through the meandering recreational trails along the Humber River and on only a few kilometres of road riding on Islington near Steeles. I can now proudly say that I have cycled underneath the 401, which is pretty much as close as I like to get to the highway. Once out of the Humber River trail system, it was rolling hills until reaching the Vaughan-based Kortright Centre. Novice riders took the unexpected inclines in stride as they soon found out that the inevitable descent always made them worthwhile.

Bike-a-thon riders on the final stretch!

In typical West End Food Co-op style, we were met with delicious, homemade food including pizzas baked on site in a wood-fired bake oven. Good, healthy, REAL food was the order of the day with ingredients for our lunch sourced from local farmers, including the Kortright-based Matchbox Garden & Seed Co. that farms 2 acres of mixed vegetables for Toronto farmers’ markets and a CSA.

Matchbox Garden & Seed Co. gave participants a tour of their 2 acre farm located at the Kortright Centre

After the ride, I had a chance to sit down with a few of the riders, including Sheryl Spithoff, a family physician at the Parkdale Community Health Centre. She learned about the co-op when it was announced that her CHC would soon house the co-op’s retail store and kitchen space in their basement. “For the many seniors, newcomers, and families that use our services, having the co-op so close will help improve access to healthy food because it’s often otherwise not available or too expensive.”

The co-op is working hard to meet the diverse needs of the west end community. Working with neighbourhood agencies and funders the retail store will strive to ensure equitable access to healthy, local, and sustainably produced food.

The community cannery workshops continue to attract people and there is growing anticipation for the cooking classes the co-op will run in their new kitchen. All funds raised by the bike-a-thon will go towards paying for the costly renovations that will be required to implement a full-sized kitchen space. Now, with almost $10,000 in the bank thanks to the bike-a-thon, they are definitely on their way to their goal. Donations are still needed for the kitchen project and you can donate online here.


The Fall 2011 issue of dandyhorse magazine is our first Food Issue and features guest editor Bob Blumer of the Food Network. Join us on October 3, 2011 at Parts & Labour in Toronto's west end to celebrate the new issue. We'll be raffling off two brand new Linus bikes: Food Issue Launch Party!

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Bike Spotting DIY: Where do you like to bike?

Submit your photo for our dandyhorse Bike Spotting series and tell us where your favourite place to ride is, and we'll post it here! These are some of the submissions we received so far.


Tom Polarbear: The Martin Goodman Trail, east and west, because it's mostly an off-road paved multi-use trail and is car-free. Plus you get to see lots of interesting people using it!

David: Island of Martha's Vineyard where my children and I live car-free.

Doug Vallery
: Lawrence Park - because it is quiet, with treed neighbourhoods, good cross-street integration and controlled access across major arteries. Plus, there's integration into the Don Valley bike path system in the Glendon and Sunnybrook areas.

Want to be featured in an upcoming Bike Spotting DIY? Go here to submit your photo and response.

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Food Issue Launch Party at Parts & Labour – October 3, 2011

You may lament the end of summer — and pantsless cyclists — but here at dandyhorse we love crisp autumn rides and an excuse to indulge in hot chocolate. Kick-off the season in style with dandyhorse's first ever Food Issue at Parkdale's Parts & Labour on October 3rd.

$7 and a pay-what-you-can donation ($3 suggested) will get you our tasty new issue, a chance to win one of two brand-spanking new Linus bikes and a special performance by LUxURY Bob.

Our first Food Issue is guest edited by Bob Blumer of the Food Network — this is a guy that bikes 1,000 kms in 10 days and calls it a vacation!

Also in this issue:

*dandyhorse pits Canadian pro rider Ryder Hesjedal against Toronto courier Kevin Barnhorst

*Two of Toronto's best chefs concoct energy bars that actually taste good

*A cyclists' tribute to Jack Layton

*Artwork by Jason van Horne

~~~Details: ~~~~~~~~~~~

What: dandyhorse launch party
When: Starts at 8 p.m. on Monday, October 3rd, 2011
Where: Parts & Labour -- 1566 Queen Street West -- MAP
Cost: $7 for magazine + PWYC donation ($3 suggested)
More: Facebook event page.
Download a high quality version of the party poster: Food Issue Launch Party Poster PDF

Raffle tickets only $5 each! Draw is at 11 p.m.
Linus bikes are courtesy of Curbside Cycle
Please note: the same person can't win both bikes.

dandyhorse is 100% volunteer-driven and needs yours support to keep rolling! All proceeds go directly into producing Toronto's favourite bike book, dandyhorse magazine.

Remember: Park your bikes in piles.
Walk it or lock it if you've had to much to drink.

Art/watercolour by Chris Simonen -- Text/design by Colleen Kirley

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