Gearheads, weekend warriors, and everything in between

Adam Burton, Sports Editor

Everybody has something they’re overly attached to. Whether it’s that old stuffed tiger you had as a kid, or the ever-growing jungle of houseplants taking up your entire living room, we often develop emotional attachments to the inanimate objects that colour our lives. A select few, however, take this a step further. For a certain class of Mile End fuckboys, dads going through a midlife crisis, and general gearheads, bikes are more than possessions. It’s hard to explain what makes cycling so attractive; some do it for the aesthetic, some for the health benefits, and others just like turning an old piece of junk into something new

For Elias Andraos, U3 Science, part of the appeal is being able to roll up his sleeves and get his hands greasy. In his spare time, he runs a bike salvage shop out of his backyard and kitchen.

Andraos’ love affair with grease and gears began when he started commuting to school on an old beater because of his chronic knee pain. One fateful morning, his rear axle snapped, and he was left bikeless and stranded. Devoid of options, he entered McGill’s bike co-op, the Flat Bike Collective, and found just what he needed.

Nicknamed “the Flat,” the Flat Bike Collective is a hub at McGill for all things bike. It offers concrete education, inviting students to come to learn how to fix their bikes with their own tools, and it also offers workshops on bike maintenance. But the Flat also makes bikes accessible to more students by selling them for cheap.

“This one guy Tommy helped me take a look at it,” Andraos recalled. “He kind of just showed me how easy it was to fix these things. Of course, you do need some tools, but the tools are fairly minimal. It just kind of blew my mind that you could just fix bikes that easily. So then I started tinkering more on that bike.”

Andraos’ fascination quickly grew, and after messing around with a few trashed bikes given to him by friends, he decided to make fixing up old bikes a mainstay in his life. He has made a practice out of finding scrap bikes for almost nothing and fixing them up for free and gifting them to his friends.

“I started just browsing Kijiji for broken bicycles, and it's amazing,” Andraos explained. “You can find someone's broken stuff there and fix them up. After a while, I didn't have any friends without bikes anymore, so I started selling them on the listserv of the outdoor club.”

During the many lockdowns last year, repairing beat-up bikes was a great way for Andraos to occupy his hands and mind.

“I just really needed that kind of aspect of working with my hands and seeing the progress,” Andraos said. “You have some unreadable piece of junk, and you work on it, and it becomes better.” Since the re-opening of in-person activities at McGill, Andraos has started volunteering at the Flat.

The Flat is able to sell bikes so cheaply because of their access to the stash of bikes that have been abandoned on campus. Buried in the deep recesses of the SSMU building, sad, lonely bikes with no home are stored for six months, anxiously awaiting their riding partner to come retrieve them. Unfortunately, most never get to go home. After six months of waiting in the parking garage, the Flat is free to do whatever they like with the bikes.

While most of the leftover bikes are rusted and derelict from months of exposure to the cruel Montreal winter, there are always parts to salvage. Every Friday night, the volunteers at the Flat congregate in their workshop, and work on bikes to eventually sell at cost on their website. In Andraos’ eyes, accessibility is everything when it comes to cycling—making bikes more affordable builds a sustainable, pedestrian-friendly city.

“Compared to what I know from Germany, cycling here is still very much seen as a sport,” Andraos said. “For people that are into biking as a sport, that's fine. But as a method of transportation, it still can be expensive.”

Andraos himself has a veritable zoo of bikes in his backyard, from old road bikes, hybrid commuter bikes, to his self-dubbed “frankenbike” that he uses for commuting during wintertime. The frankenbike features a rear rack like no other. He attached a mounted rear fork from another bike to his seatpost with a sturdy line of paracord and added a stainless steel kitchen rack to top it off. With these modifications, he can bring his friends, comfortably seated behind him, along for his various escapades.

Andraos’ “frankenbike” was inspired by durable German engineering. In cities where biking is the transit status quo, bikes are built to last, and they don’t skimp on durability or comfort.

“I told my German family how you can't leave bikes out in the rain, and they wouldn't believe me. Like, ‘What do you mean a bike that you can't leave out in the rain? That's ridiculous.’”

There are those for whom biking is more serious than a gentle summer breeze running through their hair; it’s a way of life. For Craig Knobovitch, a U3 political science student and Montreal native, biking is a sport, hobby, and a living.

Knobovitch started getting serious about cycling at 14 when he got his first road bike and began competing in road races around Montreal. He eventually joined a junior cycling team, and through his coach, got his first job at a bike shop called Rossi, a high end Orbea dealer in Lachine.

Fixing things is second nature for Knobovitch. He’s always had a fascination with how things work, from playing with legos to building his own computer. Working as a mechanic came naturally to him.

“I've always been a technical kind of person,” Knobovitch said. “Over the summer, my tower fan broke. So instead of [...] buying a new one, I opened it up and saw it wasn't actually broken. A wire pipe came loose, and something was just out of place. So I fixed it, cleaned it, closed it back up, and it works like brand new.”

Knobovitch isn’t just a gearhead, however; he also loves to bring his bike out for expeditiously long rides, and still races occasionally. The feeling of open road and his Orbea Orca beneath him is like no other for Knobovitch.

“There's nothing like the agility that you have on a bike,” Knobovitch said. “It’s like running on your feet, but at the same time, you're going faster and you're more akin to a motorcycle or car [....] You can explore more because you're not confined to just being on paved roads. You could go off road, you can go on little paths and cool little places that you might not otherwise have known about.”

For other bike enthusiasts, it isn’t so much about the destination or distance, but about the journey. Sophia Gorbounov, U3 Engineering, has been biking for a while, but has grown to love it even more since coming to McGill.

Like a lot of people, Gorbounov donned her first helmet young. Ever since, she has adopted the two-wheeled way of life and hasn’t looked back.

“My dad got me a bike with training wheels, and then took them off when I wasn’t looking,” Gorbounov said. “[He] said ‘Go, I'll stand behind you’ and then didn't. So that's how I learned to ride a bike.”

Gorbounov describes herself as a casual rider, mainly using her bike for commuting and biking with friends. In her home town just outside of Toronto, biking was the only way to get around, so getting used to pedaling places was a necessity.

“I grew up in the suburbs, where things aren't necessarily very walkable, except if you're trying to get to more suburbs,” Gorbounov explained. “All my friends biked. Everybody biked.”

Now that she’s at McGill, biking has become an integral part of Gorbounov’s commute to school. Even though walking or bussing are viable modes of transport, they just don’t do it for her.

“I get bored very easily and I need stimulation wherever I go,” she said. “Because you have to look around and stay alert, I find that [biking] gives you something to do. It brings fun to something that's not always fun.”

Gorbounov’s morning commute even serves the dual function of commute and hair blow-drying.

“In the summer, when I had to go somewhere, I would take a shower right before I left,” Gorbounov said. “I would bike pretty fast, blow drying my hair kind of. And it really helped with the hair volume. I say this with full seriousness. I have employed the strategy, it works quite well.”

On top of the extreme practicality of biking, Gorbounov has found biking to be a great way to bond with friends. Ever since moving to Montreal, Gorbounov has spent a lot of her summers mounted on her bike, surrounded by friends, going wherever she pleases.

“It's so easy to socialize through biking. It builds a really good foundation for friendship,” she said. “I like to do activities, and now I have friends that are similar to me in that they also like activities, and it's always really hard for us to find things to do.”

Picking up some friends who are deep down the bike rabbit hole has allowed her to appreciate the “gearhead” stereotype attached. She mentioned a friend whose passion was researching different models of bikes and their specifications.

“It's so fun for people whose bikes are a hobby,” Gorbounov said. “It gives you something new to observe that you wouldn't have previously. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, look at this thing over here. I love this bike because of this and this.’ See, I never would have thought of that. But now I'm looking at it. And I'm like, he's right.”

“It's fun to know about things, because I feel like it expands what you observe in your everyday life. It makes your everyday life a little better.”

Illustrations by Xiaotian Wang, Design Editor