Michael Barry - Owner/builder at Mariposa, and ex-professional
Michael Barry has raced for the biggest teams over the years, but what you probably didn't know about his is that he's also listened to the BIGGEST tunes as well. We sat down with Michael to talk empathy in the peloton, taking a new perspective on cycling, and a really diverse range of music.
When were you born and where did you grow up?
MICHAEL: I spent the first 20 years of my life in Toronto, Canada, then moved to Annemasse, France for three years, then Boulder, CO, then Girona Spain.
What is your Current City?
MICHAEL: Toronto. We moved back here when I retired from racing in 2012 to be closer to family.
You obviously were on the road a lot when you were racing and it seems like you’re still getting around a fair bit now days, do you pick up music from different cities and cultures when you visit? Hows traveling different now to when you were racing?
MICHAEL: Traveling is far more relaxing now as I don’t have to worry about a coming race and my fitness, health etc. Being a pro cyclist is a 24 hour a day job—the next race and fitness never escape a racer's mind and they influence almost every decision. As a result, I think I now observe more of my environment and am more relaxed. While traveling to races I missed a lot of what was going on outside the race (the culture of the place, the environment etc), as we were always moving forward with a place to go and an objective down the line—there wasn’t always time to simply stop and observe. But, I listen to a lot of music while traveling, whether on the plane, in a bus, in the hotel room or in a car. The right music will motivate me, calm me, inspire me…. I’m always looking for new music to fuel those emotions. And, I like listening to local music as I can learn a bit about the culture.
Where was the last place you travelled? What music were you listening to?
MICHAEL: I’ve traveled a fair amount within the province and eastern Canada in the last few months as my son has been racing cyclocross but the last long distance trip I took was to Austria for a Rapha photoshoot/product testing. In the car with my son, I’ll roll through the satellite radio stations picking up everything from 1980’s metal and rock to hiphop to more mellow tunes for the post race drive home. On the plane to Austria, I was likely listening to the National, Aero Flynn, Jose Gonzales, and Bon Iver, as I find all three of them good for writing or reading to. I’ll put on classical music to fall asleep. I was also listening to Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi’s latest albums.
What’s it like as an ex professional to be going to races with your son?
MICHAEL: It’s good fun. Sometimes my father will come as well. I’ll pin on the numbers, he’ll pump up the tires….My father took me to races when I was my son’s age and now he’s doing it all over again.
Overall, I certainly see racing through a different lens than I once did, especially local racing. And, perspective is a good thing. Many people are far too heavily invested in their children’s performance, or in their own racing and tend to lose perspective. Of greatest importance, is that the kids are having fun and that they don’t buckle under the pressure and burn out. Too many parents and coaches create a performance based environment at too young an age and the joy of sport becomes overshadowed by work, fear of failure etc. Sport is too hard not to be enjoying it and the greatest tragedy is when a kid doesn’t have the desire to get on his/her bike again because he/she has been pushed too hard from a young age.
Does he show new music and are you passing on stuff to him?
MICHAEL: We move the dial back and forth between the channels on the Sirius. From Ozzy Junkyard, to Hiphop Nation, to Classic Rock, to top twenty. His playlist on iTunes is composed of Imagine Dragons, Ozzy, Daft Punk, Fireflies….
What are you writing at the moment?
MICHAEL: I have written the occasional article for Soigneur magazine but I don’t have time to write as much as I would like. I keep notes, write when I can in a journal, but, unfortunately, haven’t pursued it beyond that due to time constraints.
What music do you remember growing up around? Who was the first person to get you into music?
MICHAEL: My father had a good collection of vinyl and my parents always either had the public radio station on or the stereo on. My mother also often took me to the Toronto Symphony. So I was influenced heavily by them early on.
Every day after school I’d come home, put on one of my Dad’s records, and would do my homework on the living room carpet. Most of the time, it was the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Gordon Lightfoot, Led Zeppelin, and CCR. In my teen years I listened to a lot of rock and then electronica/techno, then Brit Pop (Pulp, Oasis, Blur, the Stone Roses, Charlatans UK, Paul Weller…) and hip hop (Dr.Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mobb Deep, Gangstarr, the Roots, Mos Def, Tribe Called Quest…) When I moved to France, I listened to quite a lot of Francoise Hardy, Serge Gainsbourg, and Brigitte Bardot.
What is the first song you remember liking?
MICHAEL: The Beatles, A Day in the Life. I’m sure I loved some kids' songs when I was really young but the lyrics in the Day in the Life struck me when I was about 8 or so.
Did you play a music instrument as a kid?
MICHAEL: Let's use the word ‘play’ loosely because I was terrible, but I played the Baritone/Euphonium in grade school. I didn’t practice enough because it was tough carrying that thing home on my bike. I didn’t have the patience to work at it either as I wanted to be outside riding or doing some other sport. The first time I took it home, the neighbours called to ask if everyone was okay as they could hear a terrible noise.
If you could go back and learn a musical instrument, which would it be?
MICHAEL: Guitar. There is not much better than sitting around a living room, or camp fire, listening to someone talented playing a guitar. I wish I could bring that kind of joy to others.
How have your musical tastes changed and developed over the years since?
MICHAEL: I now listen to most genres whereas when I was a young teen in 8th-9th Grade, I mostly listened to rock. Friends, my wife, ex-girlfriends and my children have introduced me to everything from electronica, to hiphop, to pop, to classical.
What was the first album you bought with your own money?
MICHAEL: Led Zeppelin IV and Rolling Stones Hot Rocks—both on cassette. I think they’re probably still in a drawer with all my other cassettes at my parents’ house.
What was the first gig / concert you remember going to?
MICHAEL: 1991— Soundgarden and Guns n Roses (Use Your Illusion Tour) in St.Petersburg Florida. I think I had been to others before that but that was the most memorable.
What's the best gig / concert you've been to?
MICHAEL: Bon Iver in Poble Espanol, Barcelona. It is a small venue in the centre of Barcelona on Mont Juic. Justin Vernon is unbelievable live. We also went to a number of good shows on the beach/coast in Spain—they were more memorable for the venue than the music. Most recently we saw London Grammar in Toronto—it was a brilliant show.
Whose musical taste do you really admire?
MICHAEL: That’s a tough question. I like people who have open minds—free flowing and are always looking for something new to inspire themselves and others. I had a teammate with Saturn, Chris Fisher, who was always painting, dreaming, trying new things, looking beyond the scope of what most people see. He introduced me to a lot of new music. An old friend, who was also my agent, Bob Mionske, also introduced me to new music. Like Chris, he draws, doodles, paints, and is introspective. So, those two come to mind immediately, but there are many others. My friend Stig Somme, who is not only a brilliant paediatric surgeon in Denver but also a wicked cyclist, alpine skier and back country skier introduced me to a pile of music as well. The commonality between all of them is that they live outside the norm, challenge themselves and are open minded. I know music inspires them.
I think there are a lot of similarities between art and professional sports, they both are extremely personal and require an inspiration not just motivation. What was your inspiration to ride?
You’re right. Cycling and art are similar—they can both be calming, therapeutic, meditational, inspirational and enriching. Many of our family friends, and our customers, are artists and cyclists—from musicians to writers to architects to fine artists. When I was young my inspiration to ride was the victory, the goal of being a pro and racing the Classics, Giro and Tour. But that fizzles the closer you get to the goal, and before you know it the dream is a job and it becomes difficult to get out the door to ride when the weather is lousy or you’re tired. But, then, as I grew older, certainly in my final years pro and now, it is the mental aspect that I crave and cherish the most. I’ll ride in most weather and absorb every minute I can on the bike. I almost find it hard to believe it was once something I grew to dislike—but that was because my motivations were all wrong. Now I realize how much a good ride can put everything in the right place. To ride is a privilege and something I will never take for granted.
Is there anyone you’ve been on the road with who has had just brutal taste in music and you’ve been forced to suffer through it?
MICHAEL: Some of the young guys the last years I was racing with Sky liked to play top ten pop really loud on the bus which I had a hard time getting used to. I’m pretty easy going though, and will put up with almost anything if it suits the vibe at that moment.
Did you ever use music to put you in the right headspace for a race?
MICHAEL: All the time. We had a good sound system on the Team Sky Bus so music was often on before and after the races. Prior to that I always had headphones and an iPod to chill me out and rev me up. My younger son asked me the other day why we have so many sets of headphones—they are all from my racing days as I was always looking for good quality sound so, bought a good few pairs over the years.
I now build custom steel bike frames (Mariposa Bicycles, which is a family business) and restore vintage bikes, so in the workshop we always have something on to keep us going: the day starts slowly with the national radio station (CBC) for current events and cultural news/interviews, then we play music the rest of the day—everything from the blues, to Pink Floyd, to Kendrick Lamar to Kid Cudi, to Motorhead—not much top ten pop though.
How’d you learn to build frames? It’s very much an art. What do you enjoy most about building?
MICHAEL: I grew up in my father’s bike shop and workshop, so I was constantly around bikes, cyclists, mechanics and frame builders from a young age. When I was in grade 5 my father and I built a frame in the evenings after school. That was the first time I held a torch. Then, when I moved to Europe, I was away from it all. Five years ago, when we moved back to Toronto, I spent several months with him in the workshop learning to build frames, carriers etc. Frame building is both art and craft. I enjoy the rhythm to the process, the creative aspects of making something with a few bits of steel that can evoke emotion on so many levels. I enjoy the satisfaction in always being able to improve and the frustration in seeing where improvement can be made. I enjoy sharing the process with my workmates and family. But, finally, the greatest joy is seeing a bike being ridden—because, really, a bike is nothing until it has a person on it who is thrashing over the countryside sitting comfortably, as if it were an extension of his/her body.
Do you listen to music when you ride?
MICHAEL: No. I did for a while but now I prefer to be in tune with the natural environment. It is easier to find flow when I'm in synch with nature. To really calm myself, to find a good headspace, and get the most out of my body I like to hear the wind, the birds, the water in a creek, the tires on the road, the chain ticking over, my breath….On some level, all that is also music.
Also, when in traffic it is way too dangerous to block out noise so I never use them while riding in the city.
I just assumed everyone listened to music or something whilst out riding but it appears I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. I’m going full nature when I ride today, test it out.
MICHAEL: Okay, let me know how it goes.
What was it like on the bus pre-race when you were racing? Is everybody doing their own thing listening to their own stuff or is there a more communal atmosphere?
MICHAEL: It depended on the team. Most teams music was independent with everyone listening to headphones but the last three years when I rode with Sky we almost always listened to music on the sound system. On many levels, the music brought us together as a team. Or at least, I like to think it did. On USPS, Zabriskie always had some fun compilations that he’d play.
It’s a tough one the communcal music. I’m all for the idea, its smart but we’d do it sometimes and I remember often not being into it, or wanting to take control of it at least. How did that environment change over the years you raced?
MICHAEL: On Sky it was good fun as I was introduced to new music as riders put together different playlists for races. And, of course, when the music was on we could still chat, which doesn’t happen when everybody has headphones on. That sense of team and community is what I miss most about bike racing (that, and just riding my bike everyday).
That said, computers have negatively affected the vibe on teams as riders immerse themselves in the tech instead of chatting. When I first started racing teams would gather in the hotel lobby after dinner, go for a coffee, and sit around together before heading to their rooms. That happened less and less over the years as riders started to go straight up to their rooms to get online. And, then in the room, roommates would converse less and less as they would watch shows, surf the internet, focus on social media etc. That didn’t happen before and I think riders got to know their teammates better as a result—this, of course, improved the respect and understanding within the entire peloton.
I could not agree with you more on this. I’ve had a big issues with the lack of empathy, mutual respect and care between riders in the bunch, it was actually one of the biggest factors in me choosing to end my road career and I think the rise of tech and the reduction of communication between riders outside the race is directly responsible that. But what are you gonna do, ban Netflix? It’s a challenge because it has been a societal change that is exemplified in the pro peloton. Have you ever had a ‘victory’ song or a track you associate with any performance, good or bad?
MICHAEL: We are the Champions?No, not really.
Did you ever smuggle music during a race?
MICHAEL: Once in a TT in Vuelta Catalunya I wore headphones with an iPod. It looked just like a radio so nobody said anything. I was probably listening to some 90’s techno—likely Jerry Bonham/Spundae as I listened to that a lot during efforts.
What song do you play to get things started when you’re throwing a party?
MICHAEL: Hmmm. That’s changed over the years. Recently, my older son has been playing Cardi B, Bodak Yellow. That seems like a good place to get things started…maybe….But, I could also play Volcano Choir, Byegone, as that builds nicely.
Dude not gonna lie, Bodak Yellow, that song does it for me. Does musical taste influence how well you’re going to get along with someone?
MICHAEL: Nah. If the music they like isn’t great just intro them to something better.
What’s a song that if someone played would instantly make you friends?
MICHAEL: How about Comrade by Volcano Choir.
And inversely song that would instantly turn you off someone?
MICHAEL: Maybe Kid Rock? Although the old cliche, 'don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ usually holds true, so I’d give them a second chance.
Have you ever played a song or pretended to know a song to impress someone?
MICHAEL: Not recently. But, I’m sure at some point I have played a song to impress. I’ve never pretended to know a song to impress.
A song you’re embarrassed to admit you like, but listen to often?
MICHAEL: I’m not overly embarrassed to admit it, but Ryan Adams cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album is pretty amazing—I listen to that often. Now that I’m old, I find myself bopping my head to a lot of 80’s music that wasn’t overly great but has a good beat and brings back some nice memories and emotions. Recently, my wife, sons and I have been blasting 99 Luft Balloons which is pretty awesome, especially when we all dance together.
I did not know about the Ryan Adams cover album, will listen. I bet you’re not the only one who secretly loves that either. A track, or tracks, for the highlights reel of your career. How does it play out and which songs are you going to score it with?
MICHAEL: Holocene by Bon Iver. The song has a lot of meaning, for me. To me, it is about the perspective you gain with maturity and experience, and our place in the world and time—connectedness, flow and meaning. Cycling, racing, my career on a bike, took me a on colourful journey with many high and lows. Cycling made my life rich in ways I could have never have imagined and had I known before the journey it would have taken me on, I’m not sure I would have pursued it. That dream wasn’t reality, but ultimately reality was far harder, more profound and rich than the superficiality of the dream. The calm I feel when I listen to this song, is where I feel I am at this moment in my life, and where the journey has taken me.
What’s the best way to listen to music?
MICHAEL: Lying on my back on the living room carpet with headphones on and my eyes closed. Or dancing with my wife and kids.
If you were colonising Mars and could only take one album, what would it be?
MICHAEL: Mozart: the Piano Concertos
Mate, thank you this was a real pleasure.