The Cult Of Balduzzi
For this blog post I thought to write something about the experience of working as a bicycle mechanic, in general and on a TDA tour. And also about a special chance meeting with an inspiring, though unknown character in the bicycle world. The bicycle, one of our species’ more influential, beautiful, and positive inventions. Since the late 1800’s it has been helping people get around, efficiently and quickly, and in many parts of the world they are still the main mode of transportation. An invention, access to which, has also proven to alleviate poverty, a cause the TDA foundation is contributing to. Considering that more than 1 billion have been made to date, it’s hard to see how someone could not be influenced by this elegant machine. Though relatively simple, the parts and tools needed to maintain them are specialized enough that user service is limited and the need for trained technicians high.
It’s hard to settle for less after one has experienced riding a good quality, well-tuned bike. I think part of the reason the bicycle has become so popular is cause riding one is fun, and its many times more fun if it “gets out of the way” and lets you become even more immersed in the experience. A missed shift, weak brakes, rattling parts and persistent squeaks and squeals all have a way of getting in the way, and quickly reminding you that a lot of times riding a bicycle is also a “chore”. In that way, the competent bicycle mechanic quickly becomes an ally, especially when you have access to one almost every day on your quest to cross a continent by pedal power.
Many years ago, as a budding mechanic sometimes overwhelmed by how much there actually is to know about fixing bikes, I came across an article about a master in the field. In the town of Bolzano, northern Italy, there apparently was someone who painstakingly made every “bici” he touched work perfectly. He was out of step and out of sync with the current cycling industry trends, of flash and hype, but to me he seemed like a breath of fresh air. Beyond the few useful tips that were passed on, the article represented a state of mind. To almost compulsively strive for perfection of your craft, despite financial repercussions and industry pressure is not often seen. Even for an experienced mechanic, because of the high sensitivity to adjustment of some parts, bicycle maintenance can still seem like a bit of a black box sometimes. There is a combination of experience, intuition and a healthy dose of trial and error. Essentially what Marco represented to me was a sort of anti-laziness. So many times, to make a bike work perfectly one must try a myriad of solutions and revisit the same issues over and over until the problem finally becomes clear. To do that one has to take time, have interest, be humble and work hard. Still a combination I’ve yet to achieve of course ;
Now for the cherry on top and the happy ending of the story. Through the years I had passed on the article about Marco to a few shop buddies. When one of them found out I was going to be in northern Italy while working on the TDA Odyssey tour he half-jokingly asked if I was going to visit Marco. I kept the idea in mind, and thought there might be a chance when we stopped in Brixen, only 30km from Bolzano. Luckily the stars aligned, the gods smiled, and I made the trip to visit ciclibalduzzi that day. In typical Italian fashion, which has irritated a few on this trip, the store hours included a siesta from 12-4pm, hence my timing necessitated a bit of a wait. I should also say that beyond “bongiorno” my Italian quickly deteriorates. Nonetheless, meet Marco I did. He understood how I knew about him, what I’m doing in Bolzano and the Odyssey tour, and that he had somehow become a “piccolo” legend amongst some mechanics in Canada. This I think he appreciated, because he quickly began expressing his dislike for carbon frames, flashy designs, internal routing of cables etc., just like in the article 🙂 After a brief 20min conversation, ironically and hopefully not insultingly I asked him for a picture together, but as more customers entered the store I said my “arriverdercis”. A good day in my books.
I feel that working on tours with the TDA has greatly benefited me as a mechanic. As I’ve mentioned before, bicycle maintenance is a good amount of trial and error. Working on the same bikes continuously from 6 weeks to 4 months(Africa) gives one a tremendous amount of feedback if what you’re doing to fix something is actually effective. Though you may see many more bikes working in the shop, beyond the quick test ride and the few people that come back, you rarely see a bike again, at least for a long time. Working on tour I find out the very next day if my adjustments did the trick or not. Also on many of the TDA tours, crossing remote regions of the world, access to parts is limited and the need for resourcefulness and ingenuity high. There’s a lot of satisfaction knowing that people are safe on their bikes and enjoying the ride. Some bikes will take weeks to sort out thoroughly, but that’s ok because patience is certainly one of the antidotes to laziness. So keep those tires pumped and chains lubed to make my life easier…or don’t, cause I enjoy every minute of trying to get those “bicis” running silently anyways 🙂
Special thanks to Tour leader Gergo for making the meeting with Marco possible.