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This Is The Real Life: Buenos Aires

From Issue 88 • Words and Images by Antonio Bigarini

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Breaks are good; changes are healthy. And I am thinking maybe I need a break from cycling after landing in the southernmost city of the world: Ushuaia, Argentina. Here, the strong winds and freezing temperatures make this one of the most inhospitable places for cycling I’ve ever seen. So I’m thinking this is the right spot to take a break.

I’ve hired a van and I hop from one breathtaking place to another, enjoying nature, wild camping, hiking and having top-quality steaks for dinner. I love driving on the long flat roads from Tierra del Fuego, while heading north toward the Carretera Austral. As I’m leaving the frigid southern reaches of South America, temperatures begin to increase slightly and from time to time I see on the horizon a bicycle and the shape of someone suffering while pedaling. It must be hell riding out there, I repeat to myself.

axel in the city center
Axel in the city center.

In a different context, I guess I’d be envious, but not in these conditions. This is not cycling to me; it’s not fun. However, I must admit those brief visions little by little are bringing cycling back to my mind. I simply can’t avoid it. That’s why I am already thinking where to ride in the next few days. Just a simple ride would make it. I will be in Buenos Aires shortly, and the first thing that comes to mind is getting in touch with someone from the urban bike scene there; in my experience, cities that are not that bike-friendly are more fun to ride in, and the cyclists are usually enthusiastic, interesting people.

That’s why I arrange a meeting at BAF, Buenos Aires Fixed, a shop that bike messengers, fixie riders and other urban cyclists use as a base, not far from the city center. My idea is simply to meet, chat and ride. But as I enter the shop, I realize immediately that there is and there will be much more. The place has an incredible energy, every little detail seems to be thought-out and well-placed, and people are so friendly that I feel we have always known each other.

matias pol and joaquin having a fernet
Matias, Pol and Joaquin having a Fernet and Cola at BAF.

After tasting my welcome drink— an incredible Fernet and Coke, which is Argentina’s sort-of national beverage—I walk around and see no big bike brands, just one logo. It’s BAF. A few minutes later, I am told by the guys who run BAF, Joaquin Vidal and Matias Herrera, that they design the frames themselves, which are then produced here in Buenos Aires. Before being sold, the frames are subject to a stress test by experienced riders and bike messengers like Pol, who at the moment of my visit is testing the brand-new BAF Endorfina model made with alloy 6061 T6 tubing.

pol axel matias and daniela at puerto madero
Pol, Axel, Matias and Daniela at Puerto Madero.

Pol rides approximately 80 kilometers a day, from narrow cobblestone streets in old Buenos Aires to broad avenues filled with crazy car and bus drivers. If a bike makes it with him, it will most likely make it with anyone else. “Today was a bank holiday,” he says. “I shouldn’t have worked—but to me this is something else, it’s just fun.”

baf crew at puerto madero
BAF crew at Puerto Madero.

One by one, I talk to all the crew and soon understand that not just the bikes are produced locally but also the rims, tires, bags, pedal straps and even clothing. Axel, one of the guys on the crew, is launching his personal clothing line called RCP, which he sews himself. I am impressed by how much of BAF’s product is self-generated. It’s unexpected; these guys are not living a trend; they have a real passion and very firm ideals. They are tired of living in a city ruled by cars.

axel at puerto madero
Axel at Puerto Madero.

After more conversations, it’s finally time to ride. While bikes are being carried out of the shop, I realize we are all riding one bike brand, and that’s BAF! I grew up in Rome, not the most bike-friendly place in the world, but I guess the guys already know the same defensive riding techniques in this other capital city. “It takes time to understand the drivers’ psychology, but you will be fine,” I am told at the first traffic light. The fear is gone soon; as an amateur racer, my first instinct is not to think but to just keep up the pace.

sergio axel and gabriel
Sergio, Axel and Gabriel.

Fears turn immediately into a mix of challenge and fun, and I try to catch up with Pol, who heads the peloton. Jeez, I think, he’s riding a cargo bike and I’m struggling on a normal one to keep up! I realize that since I left Rome I’m not used anymore to riding between cars. No matter how many alleycat races you have done, when you leave the traffic, you forget how to mix with cars. When we stop to wait for the others, Pol tells me, “You see how I ride? I am saving money to go somewhere in Europe, where I can earn well working as a messenger—the plan is to leave in a few months.”

pol doing tricks in san telmo
Pol doing tricks in San Telmo.

We keep on riding together toward the city center, and spend the rest of the day riding and talking bikes. The day after, I am supposed to meet just Pol, but unfortunately in the afternoon the city is hit by a big storm. I send him a text: “Shame, let’s meet tomorrow.” He replies: “I am riding in the middle of the storm and I love it, I have a big delivery outside the city.”

front door of baf shop
Front door of BAF shop.

The next day, we spend the morning together in San Telmo. He has the BAF bike he is testing and the messenger bags he received as a sponsor; and he begins to show me around. Suddenly, he gets a call and needs to run for a delivery “If they ask me if it’s possible in one hour, I always tell them I will do that in 20 minutes. They need to understand I can do the impossible.” On leaving Buenos Aires, I have seen yet another face of cycling, far from trendy posers but as real it gets with BAF and its people.

sergio axel and gabriel
Sergio, Axel and Gabriel.

This story, together with my love and respect, goes to all of them: Joaquin, Matias, Daniela, Sergio, Axel and, most of all, Pol—who a few days after my departure lost his most important race against a bus in the middle of the city. I never saw anyone riding as you did, Pol. Rest in peace, brother.

rip pol
RIP Pol.
This story originally appeared in issue 88.
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