It was a warm September evening. I was riding with my daughter Zoë, and her friend Mario Cranks, from the very center of Madrid, Retiro park, north toward the Gate of Europe, Puerta de Europa, the iconic twin office towers that lean toward each other. I was on a flat black aluminum Peugeot single speed borrowed from a Spanish model.
Before our ride, we sat on the grass in Retiro, and enjoyed a picnic of jamon and brie sandwiches. I admired Mario’s sparkling silver and black Arregui Velaquez custom-brazed fixed gear bicycle, which he had leaned up against a tree. We left Deirdre (my wife and Zoë’s mom), to play in a Spanish pickleball match in the park, and on our bicycles headed onto the streets toward the far northern reaches of the city.
Mixing with big city traffic, and not being the ride leader, was novel for me. Just to get to our starting point at the park, I had followed Zoë, who knew the route nuances such as when to hop up on a sidewalk at an intersection, and when to “salmon” up a short section of one way street to avoid worse traffic. I watched my 24 year old daughter; her face still stitched and bandaged from a run in with a hatchback the previous week, skillfully pilot her bent Vitus onto the biggest street in Madrid, Gran Via, into the sharrows lane, through the giant roundabout, the Circulo de Bellas Artes, at and finally to Retiro park. That whole way, as we shared space with cars, cabs and buses, I had conflicting feelings of pride and concern, but I was really unable to do much except keep an eagle eye out for potential dangers, and to stay on her wheel.
One of the remarkable things about bicycling in Madrid is that for most trips it is the fastest method of transportation—faster than the metro, the bus, or taxi. And, as Zoë says, “It gets me out in the fresh air and out of the stuffy Metro.”
Before long, we merged onto a big six-lane street named Bravo Murillo. Mario was out front setting a brisk pace, and I was doing my best to stay on his wheel, with Zoë keeping pace and laughing at us from behind. We hesitated briefly at a couple of red lights before standing on the pedals and rocketing through. I watched Mario “dust a bus”—pulling up right next to it and lightly running his right hand against the bus for its entire length as he passed it. At one point, Mario squeezed through an impossibly small space between cars by dipping his 72cm wide handlebars left and right to avoid hitting side view mirrors. Mario calls this style of riding macarreo or “outlaw,” although I’m pretty sure he was toning it down a bit on my account.
As we sailed over a gentle rise, out of the saddle, standing on the pedals, we passed a blue and white squad car. “Whoop-whoop”—the sirens of the Renault police car sounded from behind us. The officer on the passenger side pointed at us. We were getting pulled over–on our bicycles. Exactly how much macarreo had they witnessed?
The officers didn’t get out of their car, and gave us a lecture that only lasted the length of one red light. Mario listened respectfully, nodding and promising to behave better, less macarreo. The officers mentioned a 300 euro fine–per person. Zoë and I were chastened, but they let us off with a stern warning. After the squad car pulled away, Mario turned to us and said with a gleam in his eye, “Okay guys, now we have to be serious.”
We continued north, a little less lawlessly, toward our destination, the shop of the 80 year old ex-tour de France rider and frame builder Higinio Domingo ‘Perucha’. His life story is fit for a movie, and a documentary is in the works. For more about Perucha’s incredible biography, see Boneshaker’s excellent profile. Once inside Perucha’s shop, you cannot help but notice the boat, which dominates the sparsely lit interior. Perucha constructed the ship entirely inside the shop as a way of resisting eviction and defying political corruption. Perucha, welcoming and quick witted, showed us his Vitus 888 bicycles, with his name on the seat tube. While he was helping us, a few young apprentices worked away happily at a bench, with occasional input from Perucha.
Zoë presented her bent Vitus, and asked if Perucha might be able to fix it. He waved her around to the front side of a map filing cabinet, and from a drawer, produced a single red, aluminum Vitus tube, exactly the color needed to repair Zoë’s bike. Perucha was probably the only frame builder in Europe with both the skills and parts to do this job. He told us about his time working in the Vitus factory near Lyon in France, and asked me if I spoke French. I answered “Si” thinking he had asked me if I had been to France. He teased me about my “French” for the rest of the evening.
When it was determined that Zoë’s bike could be fixed, and that she would return with it the following week, it was closing time, and Perucha invited us to the bar next door. We piled our bikes against the wall inside the bar. Joined by Perucha’s wife, Consuela, and the young apprentices, we enjoyed tapas and beer, and the richness of Perucha’s stories. Zoë sat next to Consuela, who took a keen interest in Zoë’s stitches, and the two chatted away about bicycles and sewing, sharing family photos. Mario and Zoë helped translate the fast-paced Spanish conversation for me. Perucha remarked that the famous Spanish rider, Luis Ocana, was not well-liked. Perucha and his wife both knew him before he took his life.
Plates of olives, chorizo, bread, and other tapas kept coming out. It was a typical neighborhood Madrid bar. The best Spanish values were on display at that bar: the importance of face-to-face interactions, spending time with family and friends, and enjoying good food together.
The ride back to the center of town was all down hill. We flew back down Bravo Murillo, lights blazing, faster than cars, passing mopeds and scooters, and popping out into the Plaza Dos de Mayo, where we stopped in at Viva Bicicleta (watch for an upcoming blog post about this shop), the cool vintage bike shop where owner Ruben, and Mechanic Lyb, were finishing up their day. The new All City Mr. Pink (Senor Rosa, as Zoë had begun calling it) I had brought Zoë from America was sitting on a table by the register. It was about 9pm on a Monday, but the Spanish nightlife was just getting started.
Thanks to Mario Cranks for the image at the top of this post, and for his hospitality.
William SchmittMay 15, 2018 at 10:57 am
A great story, any pics of the repaired Vitus?
The Beautiful BicycleMay 18, 2018 at 7:52 am
Thanks William, I’ll have to ask my daughter to take a few photos of her Vitus. I don’t have any of the repaired bike.