Talking to you, it’s easy to understand that you’re truly passionate about the world of cycling… has it always been like that? Where does this passion come from?
It’s thanks to my father that I started cycling at a very young age. I’ve always loved to roll and to train hard, because of the feeling of freedom that it gives to me. Besides my activity at the shop, I keep cycling every day. Cyclism has an incredible rich history too, with more than 150 years, thousands of brands and artisans… it’s a bottomless pit of new findings, if you are curious and passionate enough. I feel really lucky to have been able to make my trade from my passion.
Is there one particular cyclist or brand that you carry close to your heart? Can you tell me a little about it?
I feel a special devotion for an old italian racing cyclist called Gino Bartali. Double “Tour de France” and triple “Giro” champion between 1936 and 1948 and protagonist of a legendary rivalry with Fausto Copi, he utilized his condition of professional cyclist as a cover to help saving the lives of 800 jews during WWII.
He was a devout catholic and close to cardinal Elia Dalla Costa, who mobilized the cleric to save many jews from being deported to the death camps. Gino joined a resistance cell, and thanks to his ideal cover as a cycle racer he was able to smuggle false documents inside the frame of his bicycle during his training sessions. He was famous for the great distances he covered for training, sometimes up to 400 kilometers, and whenever he was controlled by german or italian soldiers, he never allowed them to inspect his bicycle claiming that, as a professional cycle racer, his machine was milimetrically fine-tuned. The documents inside it bringed new identities to countless jews that hid in monasteries all around his homeland.
After the war, Gino Bartali didn’t speak about what he did… « We don’t do good actions only for trumpeting them from the house-tops ». He refused to gain mediatic fame with his actions, and kept the story for himself… This kind of man is the reason for me to love this sport as much as I do.
Every bicycle that you have found or restored has its own history, sometimes because the bike itself and other times because of the person who came to your workshop looking for it… do you have any particular anecdote that you keep closer to your heart?
Every case is different, and they are often beautiful experiences. Many customers ask me for a model in particular. Sometimes their first bicycle, other times the one that an idol of their childhood used to race with … it usually takes some time before finding what they are looking for. Many times there are grandchildren who bring to my shop their grandparent or grandmother’s ride for a complete restoration.
The most gratifying thing is to see a photograph of the grandfather, with a big smile on his face, on top of his shiny and like new old bicycle.
It’s been many years since the big comeback of cycling, but the love for vintage is being more and more common nowadays. How would you define your clients?
I feel lucky to have a very diverse clientele. From a student who’s looking for a solid and nice bicycle for his daily commute to the passionate collector. Besides the clients I see in person, thanks to Instagram I can meet new people very often, so there’s some of my bikes in places like Japan or Australia. The enthusiasm for vintage, and for vintage cycles, isn’t a local trend but really a global movement.
Things are changing here at Aix en Provence too, and I hope that more and more bicycle paths will be put in place in the years to come. This will help people to make the leap and let the car in the garage.
Let’s finish with a standard question for all our interviewees: What is your favorite vintage item?
To be honest there are too many things to choose from. I’m an avid collector of very diverse stuff… At my workshop I use to listen to many vintage vinyls, so I feel like choosing the one I’m listening the most at this moment: Stevie Wonder’s single (45 bpm) “Hotter than July”.
Learn more about Gabriel and his workshop on his Instagram or Facebook. and, if you’re in the south of France these days, come see him at the vintage fair
“Le Quartier Vintage”, that takes place on September the 18th, 19th and 20th in Aix-en-Provence.