Field Notes: Toronto International Bicycle Show Finds its Niche
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Field Notes: Toronto International Bicycle Show Finds its Niche

Everything bike-related that you could want.

Bike polo at the Toronto International Bike Show.

An attacking player glides through the slot and takes a wild behind-the-back shot. It’s off, and the orange plastic ball he’s fired in the general vicinity of the net careens off the wooden boards behind.

It’s tough to fault him—he’s done it all while riding a bike, wielding a mallet in one hand, clutching the handlebar with another.

Pretty much everything at the 30th annual Toronto International Bicycle Show has a biking bent, even the traditionally equine sport of polo.

“You have to be technically proficient at a dumb thing,” explains Dylan Roberts after partaking in a gruelling match at Bike Polo Toronto’s Great Lakes Winter Classic, here for the fourth year. “And good at riding your bike,” he adds.

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The tourney, which has drawn 14 teams from across North America, is just one of the events unfolding at the show, started in 1986 by Carl Bastedo, and held at the Better Living Centre, a 200,000-plus-square-foot venue at Exhibition Place, from March 4-6.

“This is the largest consumer bike show on earth,” a spokesperson says during a guided tour. “When you walk in, all you can smell is rubber.”

Rows and rows of bicycles are up for sale all over the labyrinthine bazaar that’s given far and away the most real estate. The show this year boasts more than 175 vendors, and among them there are companies selling bicycle tours, fashion-forward cycling shows, and something labelled “energy balls.”

Above the droning of the thousands of attendees who make it out over the course of the three-day event, cheering can be heard coming from the Toronto X-Jam competition. BMX bikers negotiate a layout of ramps, half pipes, rails, and walls. Each provides a launching off point for a trick—and a unique opportunity for injury.

A rep couldn’t give the Toronto International Bicycle Show’s overall attendance, saying events of this scale are highly competitive so organizers keep numbers private. Apparently the Motorcycle Show Toronto is a rival. Seeing an X-Jam competitor somersault like a self-propelled Evil Knievel, this is understandable.

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At the Flatland’s Unlimited Contest Series, other BMX bikers take turns practicing routines on more even ground. One twirls his bike around like a ballroom dancer would a partner. The bike is clownishly small, and the moves are surprisingly elegant.

A different stuntman balances on his bike’s real wheel while the frame is upside down, standing on pegs. He loses balance and takes a spill on the concrete.

Someone on a tricycle who isn’t a child rumbles along the designated Test Ride Area, where visitors can try out new rides.

The tricycle rider works at the Drift Trike Canada booth, which sells all-ages tricycles that can be used to shoot down hills at speeds of 85 kilometres per hour. Suddenly, bike polo doesn’t seem as niche.

Drift Trike Canada’s owner, Ken Dore, has flown in from Victoria, B.C., to make the show. He says people are drawn to these trikes in part because they aren’t like anything else here. “It’s just so different,” he says, as footage of trike riders doing 360 spinouts plays on a TV. “It’s not your typical down-hill mountain bike, or road bike, or BMX bike,” the 48-year-old tricycle enthusiast adds.

There’s also the nostalgia factor. “With older guys, guys my age, it reminds them of their childhood with the big wheels,” he says, referring to a kind of three-wheeler popular in the ’70s that these low-slung drift trikes resemble.

On Sunday afternoon, a pair of cyclists mount a single folding bike outside the Better Living Centre. There’s a platform and footrests affixed to the rear of the bike for the second rider, and they take off towards Dufferin Street.

No doubt there must be a club, group, or league for this, too.

Photos by Josh Sherman.