Hamish Greenland modelling his invention, the Barbra.
When we saw a flyer on a utility pole advertising the Barbra, we knew we had to find out more about it. Earlier this week, finally riding our bike with a sample Barbra on our handlebars, we discovered that we were a little self-conscious: first, because none of the other bikers we passed were equipped with anything even remotely similar; and second, because its name, which is printed in large type on a label sewn to its side, seemed to be implying that our handlebars were similar to breasts. And yet, our hands were very warm.
The Barbra is a Toronto man’s answer to a very Toronto problem: cold hands while biking.
The device, which slips over a bike’s handlebars like a hood and attaches easily with a buckle and a velcro strap, is bright orange, and has yellow reflective stripes on both ends, for extra visibility in the dark. Made of wind-resistant fabric, it’s designed to act as protection for hands during the chilly winter months, when cycling becomes a constant battle against frozen, wind-lashed extremities.
The Barbra works. It deflects enough wind that a cyclist using it could get by, even on cold days, with a relatively light pair of gloves, making it easier for them to brake and shift safely. There’s even enough room inside for a bell, and there are holes, with velcro closures, for lights and mirrors.
It was invented by Hamish Greenland, a lifelong winter cyclist and longtime Toronto resident, who came up with the idea for the product two years ago, while he was commuting home from work on his bike, on a particularly cold winter day (he has a day job at a locally headquartered media company). “I found myself taking one of my hands off the bar, and putting it between my backpack and my back in order to keep it warm,” he said, as we spoke in his downtown living room. “At one point I realized that it was not a good idea to be shifting like this, because my fingers were so cold.”
The Barbra entered its first production run earlier this winter (at a factory in Vaughan), and has so far only been advertised on utility-pole flyers, each of which bears a picture of Greenland on his bike, modelling the Barbra. Handlebar protectors like this are widely available for motorcycles, but are far less common (though not unheard of) on bicycles.
The name was chosen for memorability, but Greenland admits that it has its flaws. “It was only after I registered the name that I found out that Barbra Streisand would get hundreds more web hits,” he wrote, in an email. But that’s Google’s fault.
This might have been the ideal winter to bring such a product to market. With record-low snowfall, these past few months have been abnormally hospitable to bikers. Geoffrey Bercarich, of Bike Pirates, told us, during a phone call, that the bike repair collective is busier than usual for this time of year. “There’s a lot of bikes out on the street,” he said.
Despite favourable weather, it remains to be seen whether Toronto’s style-conscious riders can embrace a device that puts safety ahead of looks. Greenland is well aware that the world might simply not be ready for neon bicycle lingerie.
“It seemed obvious to me,” said Greenland, a staunch proponent of bicycle safety, of the Barbra’s motorist-attention-grabbing colour scheme. He said that perhaps the next model would be in “Queen Street black.”
The Barbra can be purchased at Barbra.ca, or at Duke’s Cycle.
Photos by Andrew Louis/Torontoist.
This article originally stated that “there are no plans to create models in other colours.” In fact, the creator of the Barbra is considering a black model. The last paragraph of the article has been changed to reflect this.