Local Riders Q&A - Michael Barry
Michael Barry is a former world-tour professional cyclist who rode for a number of world-class teams including T-Mobile, High Road/HTC-Columbia, U.S. Postal Service, Discovery Channel and Team Sky. He raced 5 Giro d’Italia and 5 Vuelta a Espanas and one Tour de France. He has supported Lance Armstrong, Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and many other top names over the years.
In 2004, he wrote his first book Inside the Postal Bus. He most recently wrote Shadows on the Road in 2015. Barry has also written two other books, one being the great; Le Metier: The Seasons of a Professional Cyclist. When I first got into the bike I found this book to be a real eye-opener of grit and pain behind the sport. It comes highly recommended from me.
He was born in Toronto, Ontario and his father Mike Barry Sr. was a racer himself in the 1950's and 60's. After immigrating to Canada, Mike opened a speciality bike store that manufactures hand-made class frames under his own Mariposa brand which is definitely worth checking out here - https://mariposabicycles.ca
Michael, his wife Dede and his father continue to run the business and build frames in Toronto.
As a racing cyclist, which results are you most proud of and why?
I’m not one to focus too much on results. I had some good races, but am most proud of the work I did for the teams I rode for—I really enjoyed riding as a domestique, sitting on the front of the peloton all day and setting up the team leader for a victory. Also, the TTT victories were great moments. There is little better than flying along with teammates, crossing the line together, and stepping up on the podium as a victorious team. Cycling is a team sport but, other than the TTT, it is rare the team gets to share the moment, so those victories are special in many respects.
Which are your favourite stretches of road to ride on locally and what is it that you like about them?
My daily commute through the park system in Toronto is pretty good as it feels like I'm in the middle of nowhere despite being in the fourth largest city in North America. There are an abundance of routes, both technical dirt trails and bike paths, which run along a river in a ravine. I can ride to and from the shop all year, as long as there isn’t a foot of snow, in which case I’ll run.
The same question for roads anywhere in the world?
I still love the roads around Girona, especially the gravel roads and paths up into the Pyrenees. I could ride up there all day everyday.
What is your most memorable moment on the bike or involved with cycling?
My life has been spent on a bike, so it is difficult to pinpoint one moment. I’d say, the most memorable have been riding with family. This year my wife and I took two of our tandems and did a weekend trip with our boys (ages 11 and 9) north of Toronto on gravel roads. We saw some great countryside, rode all day, ate a feast mid-ride and went for a swim in a lake once we got to the hotel. To me, days don’t get much better than that.
Has racing affected your relationship with the bike? If so, how?
Racing did affect it for a quite a while — when cycling felt like a job, as it did in the middle part of my career because I was singularly focused, had militant coaches and/or raced in a toxic environment, I wasn’t always having fun and riding was a chore. As time went on I learned that with balance and perspective everything is more enjoyable and that I needed to remove myself from negative environments to enjoy riding a bike. In the last third of my career I rediscovered the love for riding that I had as a schoolboy and still feel it today.
Do you agree with Mickey Goldmill's advice to Rocky that 'women weaken legs’
No. They seem to make me stronger.
We are in the midst of a well publicised boom, has it affected you? Do you see any negatives to the increase in popularity?
A boom is good for everybody—the more people riding bikes the better.
All cyclists, whether they race or not, seem to obsess over the weight of their bikes. Why do you think this is?
Because you have to haul extra weight around which, of course, requires more effort. The irony is that most non-racers who obsess about the weight of their bike could lose far more off of their waistline and would feel a much greater difference in performance than if they spend it on lighter wheels or bottle cage. I stopped worrying about weight a while ago and care far more about comfort, functionality and durability.
Do you approach riding, or ride your bike, differently now to when you first got into cycling?
I ride for enjoyment more than anything else. I don’t have performance goals like I once did. So, there has certainly been in a change in mentality in that respect. But, I still like to ride all day and to push myself a bit in the hills or the town sign sprints.
Who has been your favourite pro riders over the years and why?
Tough question. When I was a boy my heroes were Merckx, Fignon, Bauer, Mottet and Kelly. As an adult, I respect those who were good teammates, respectful of others who are dedicated and hard working.
What was your favourite era of professional bike racing?
The late 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s—when I was a boy I absorbed everything I could find from this period. The racing was also dynamic and less controlled than it is today.
Mudguards, mudguards and mudflaps or racing bike with clip on guards through winter?
I most like a proper winter bike with aluminum mudguards, flaps and neatly fitting stays. Clip on mudguards look terrible and don’t do much in the way of keeping the spray off. Also, if riding in a group in the rain, proper mudguards keep the spray off of the others while clip ons don’t.
Do you enjoy a cafe stop or do you prefer to ride straight round?
Stop. Always. When I was a pro we’d stop for a coffee or coke and pastry. Now, I often stop for a proper breakfast or lunch.
Assos, Rapha or neither?
Better not to get overly caught up in brands. Look neat and tidy, wear clothing that fits and don’t wear clothing with holes.
What is your favorite piece of cycling kit (either something you currently own or have in the past)?
I like our Mariposa cotton caps and wear one everyday.
Do you prefer to get your head down on main roads, keep a good tempo going on the ‘B’ roads or get onto the back-wacks? What about the rough stuff on your road bike?
I stay off the main roads as much as possible to get away from the traffic and see some nice countryside. A good ride becomes great when I can discover some new places/roads. And, yes, I'll ride the rough stuff on a road bike.
What do you think about Strava?
I don’t use it while riding. I can see the training benefits but I don’t like how it has negatively affected group rides. Since retiring from the professional peloton, I ride without a computer. For me, a big part of riding is being out in the environment, sensing it, being connected to it, feeling how my body is moving and letting my mind wander. I find computers take most of that away.
What do you think about Sportive rides?
They’re great for building community, raising money for charity and getting more people on bikes. I ride several throughout the season—all fundraisers for differing charities—and we organize a gravel road fundraiser called the Growling Beaver which benefits the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s.
Do you have any cycling pet hates?
Pretentious riders who think they know-it-all, follow all the bloody rules that have been written all over the internet, but don’t have any real etiquette or understanding of the fact that cycling is about sharing knowledge and experience not who has the fanciest bike or jersey or who can sprint the fastest.
Are there any cycling traditions that you think have been, or are being, lost as a result of changing attitudes and behaviour? And are we better off or worse off as a consequence?
As I mentioned, computer technology has changed cycling, racing and the group ride negatively in many respects. But, I do think there is a large and growing sector of the cycling population, especially among the younger generations, who are coming to understand, and appreciate, the true qualities of cycling: the adventure, the shared effort, and the community. The growth in gravel riding, bike packing, touring is encouraging.
Cotton cap or helmet?
As a boy I had quite a collection of pros' caps (some autographed). Then, when I became a pro I would almost always ride to the sign-in/startline with a cap on. Before starting the race, I would find a kid amongst the spectators to give it to as I remembered how special those caps were to me and how much it meant to me when professionals had tossed me their caps. I didn’t keep any of the helmets I wore as a professional but have a cap or two from every team that I rode for. Helmets tend to mask a rider’s face and expressions whereas a cap can accentuate them as everybody wears a cap in their own way.
The benefits of spinning a low gear compared to mashing a high gear is often discussed. Putting aside the serious, physiological and mechanical aspects, what cadence you think looks right?
About 90 rpm.
White, black or coloured socks?
When it comes to socks nothing looks better than crisp white socks just above the ankle contrasting a dark tan.
Frame pump or mini pump?
I prefer a frame pump on the seattube but do use a mini pump at times. On a touring bike a a frame pump mounted on a peg behind the seat tube looks good. Never Co2 cartridges.
What do you like to talk about when you are on a ride with friends/team/club mates? Do you prefer to keep the subjects lightweight or get your teeth into something contentious or controversial?
Riding can make conversations come alive so I just let it flow and start chatting. Deep conversations can be good as they are often therapeutic—cycling allows people to get things off of their minds and can put them in a good place. The best riding partners are those who are well read, can keep a good conversation going for hours, are humorous and easy going.
Who would be/is your perfect tandem partner? Would you ride captain or stoker?
I’ve been riding with our boys who quite a lot. They’ve got good little engines and we have a lot of fun together. The rides I’ve done with them this year have been some of my best days on a bike.
Which three words best describe you?
This is a question I won’t even try to answer.
When where/are you most happy?
Now, with my family.
Who would be your guests at your perfect dinner party (dead or alive)?
I’d love for my children to meet their great grandparents as they ask about them often.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I’d go back to see how my parents grew up—Wimbledon in the 40-50’s when my Dad was a kid and to Brooks, Alberta, Canada where my mom grew up. My father has many great stories of his time growing up in post-war London, and more specifically the bike shops and the club cycling scene. I’d love to see and experience that, to go for a long rough stuff ride with him with a couple of stops in the pubs along the way. My mother had a much different growing up experience in ranch land in central Alberta. It would be intriguing for me to spend time with her, my uncle and grandparents and to see the life they had out there as kids. Maybe, going back would give me a better understanding of our lives, my grandparents, my parents and myself.
When was the last time you cried?
As I get older I seem to cry at sad scenes in movies. So, most likely, it was the last time I watched a movie with a heart wrenching scene, which was probably a month or two ago.
When did you laugh the hardest?
We laugh a lot as a family as the kids have a good sense of humour and we just do silly things together. Most recently, we were riding the tandems and my son was explaining pronunciations of street names and how he like to change the pronunciations of the names he thought sounded “terrible.” He started rhyming off all sorts of names as we were climbing a hill in central Toronto. It was just silly stuff, but in the end it was extremely funny, because of the circumstance, his conviction and thought process, and the inanity of it. We came to a standstill as I couldn’t pedal I was laughing so hard.
Are you the type of person who likes to have a plan? Or do you prefer to wing it?
Loose plan and then wing it. Due to bad planning, I’ve learned a good adventures becomes a great adventure with a little of the unexpected. Aren’t we all happiest when we introduce novel experiences into our lives?
If you could edit your past, what would you change?
Life is full of ups and downs. We learn and grow. I’ve made mistakes but through them I’ve learned a lot about myself. Overall, I try not to look backwards but forward.
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
Gloves that keep your hands warm while riding on the coldest days. Growing up in Canada, I’ve tried everything and other than bulky leather and wool mitts nothing seems to do the job.
Big thanks to Dede Barry for providing me with the images. The photo of Michael alone in the mountains is by Kristoff Ramon. The image of Michael in Sky Gear with the boys is by Ian Austen.
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