Late Saturday night, Mike Barry Sr. passed away. I was very sad when his family confirmed the news with me. When I went to the Mariposa Bicycles shop in mid-November to meet with him and talk about vintage bike parts, I only ended up seeing him for a short moment. He didn’t look good and had to cancel our meeting. He was apologetic, but I could totally understand.
Mike was 80. The custom bicycle company he started with John Palmer is on the verge of turning 50. In 1969, the two English expats made a track bike in the basement of a Toronto home. The frame was composed of tubing they’d acquired from the Canada Cycle & Motor (CCM) racing division, which, by that time, had shuttered. Mike had also told me that before they got to that cache of tubes, tragically, a good bit of that metal was used as rebar in someone’s concrete construction. In 1972, Mike opened Bicyclesport, a downtown shop where the bikes were made.
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His influence, however, went far beyond frames. He and Mike Brown formed the Toronto Randonneurs so the two of them could organize and ride bevets and rack up enough kilometres to gain entrance into Paris-Brest-Paris, the world’s premier randonneuring event. They were, in a way, too successful. “The problem was that we engendered so much enthusiasm in our staff at Bicyclesport that they all went to P-B-P and Mike and I had to stay at home to look after the store,” Mike said in an interview. He probably also organized the first cyclocross race in North America.
I feel that in Ontario, any cycling enthusiast is no more than two degrees of separation from Mike. If you haven’t chatted with him in his shop, you’ve seen him at an event, whether it was a downtown crit or a cyclocross race his grandson was competing in. If you haven’t been on a ride with him, someone you know has. You know someone who got into cycling because of Mike.
As the editor of Canadian Cycling Magazine, I have a few favourite duties for each issue. One is the Vintage Velo section, mostly because every few months I’d get in touch with Mike and arrange a visit to the shop, which his son, Michael, and daughter-in-law, Dede, run. Mike would find some cool old bits from his extensive collection – Lucchini derailleur, Vittoria Margherita shifter, Lucas King of the Road acetylene lamp – and we’d chat about them. Some of my favourite pieces were Mike’s Palladini hubs. They were from a bike shop that Mike knew from his youth. The place was bombed during the Blitz in November 1940. The shop didn’t make it, but the hubs did. They eventually made it into Mike’s collection in 2006 and were later a part of his Torpado project. I’d not only learn about the parts themselves, but Canadian cycling history, from the old track in Delhi, Ont., to the artwork of Greg Curnoe. Mike was always so generous with time and vast cycling knowledge.
I’m going to miss Mike and those chats. Many of us will miss the man who is the father of modern cycling in Canada.