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Mandem Cycling Club is more than a cycling club, it is a movement. A movement that’s creating more space in the cycling scene by making it easier to get out there on two wheels and…just ride.

In this episode of Everyday Cyclist, we’ll chat with Chris McGarrell, the founder of Mandem CC, and the catalyst of the movement. After the club’s accidental creation (and explosion), the momentum hasn’t stopped – taking over the non-competitive cycling scene in Toronto while making waves across the country. The world of cycling doesn’t have a track record of being inclusive, diverse and non-competitive, so if you’ve been on a Mandem CC ride (or glanced at the IG), then you know how much it means to the growth of community.

Chris isn’t one for the spotlight, so we were excited to sit down and chop it up, over some peppermint tea. We’ll chat about how Mandem CC came to be, Chris’ journey to becoming a community leader, mental health & wellness, un-group rides & no-drop philosophies, the future of Mandem CC and much more. We hope you enjoy this time with Chris, we’re grateful for everything he does — we know that we wouldn’t be here without him. RESPECT.

How did Mandem CC come to be?

From the Very Beginning

The pandemic was the pandemic, bro, you know, like everything was closed.

I wasn’t able to go to the gym at that time. My boy and I had a routine. We were working out together.I was playing basketball every now and then and then in the blink of an eye and everything was gone, you know.

So I remember specifically from that summer 2020, there’s like a streak of like black dudes killed on and it’s like front, front page news like week after week or it felt like every day I know, but like I heard being like, mad, miserable and, like, just depressed about it and going to work and coming home and turn the TV on and just, like, you know, listening to all the pundits and their opinion of what was going on and shit.

I was just down back and then I just had this random idea to possibly get a bicycle And I have friends in the city that I’ve been riding.[…] And then my boy Darkie who’s like my right hand when it comes to life[…]he used, have a BMX back in the day.[…] So I, I texted him and I was like, ‘yo, would you ever get a bike again?’. He was like, yeah, I was like, for real because I’m thinking about getting a bike and he’s like, yo, let’s do it like he and I just kind of just made that pact, just us too. That’s how it started. 

I went to Perry Sound, he went to Hamilton. We both picked up our bikes the same day and at that point it was like, mission accomplished, you know. So, I remember being at my apartment and being so happy, like, the bike is just there, like, le like leaning up on the mirror, just looking sexy!

[…] I took a picture (of the bike) at the bike shop and I put a post on my Instagram….the comments blew up and dudes I knew from high school, from basketball, from different job – like everyone had a bike all of a sudden.[…] But then people were like, yo, when’s the first link up?

The First Rides, Season 1

People were aggressively DM’ing me like, yo! like, what are we doing? Like people started to go on their bike rides and, tagging Mandem CC (on Instagram) […] so people were tagging the account before the count had any content!

And it prompted me to have a ride.

So I just said, you know what…on this day, Morningside Park! If you come, whoever comes…you know, I did not know what to expect. Like I was thinking if anything initially it was gonna be like myself (and my friend) Darkie, maybe two or more of my boys tops….but it was like seven of us!  

It was more just like I did it for my boys the first time and then like, yo, that was sick.

Let’s do it again. So I said, yo, they (City of Toronto) have ActiveTO on Bayview Avenue, let’s try Bayview….and then there were 15 people, four women came.

And then the third week we met at the Humber Bay Bridge and there were 40 people there. And I, and then that day I got shook, I was like this, this is not the flex, this is not, it wasn’t what I wanted. […] I wasn’t envisioning anything but aside from me and my boys linking up and making shit on dumb photos and videos on Instagram. You know, so that moment I got a little scared about it, but I didn’t know what was happening and I, I didn’t know how to prepare for it…I tried to self sabotage it like the following week, I remember specifically like altering the schedule in a way to make it less appealing. So, like the following weekend, I had a ride like Saturday morning, 8 a.m. Nobody’s coming to this! 25 people at 8 in the morning, 25 at 8 a.m. on a Saturday.

And then the following day on Sunday it was 10 a.m. and it was like 30 and then I just let go. […] the minute I let go is when everything just blossomed like crazy. It was an epic summer.

On Equity, Diversity & inclusion

I have a bit of a skewed, unpopular perception about that when it comes to inclusion,diversity and representation. Because I grew up in Scarborough, (but) I grew up in a very white neighborhood and I was in French immersion. So I had, like, single digit black friends until like grade 7, grade 8. Like all my friends were white. But once you get to high school, especially in Scarborough, that’s where you become who you are in mind. As far as I’m concerned, you get to grade 8, grade 9… that’s gonna shape who the kind of person that you’re gonna be for the most part. So when I got to high school, I had Greek friends, Macedonians, Tamils, Punjabis, like everything Filipinos, I had everything.

So for me, the idea of diversity inclusion wasn’t even like a word that I would even refer to because I just thought that it was just natural. That was just my life. But I also know that not a lot of people have the benefit of that experience. Because, if we were to go to Uxbridge right now where it’s like 90 something percent white, right? They’re not gonna see it through that type of diversity lens. You just live in a white town, like you can’t import Indian people and Filipinos just so that you can look good on Instagram.

What are you gonna do there? So in their defense, like they have that stigma that they just look super whitewashed or something like that. […] What happens, inow is that you get organizations that come up and it’s to counter that….so that you have like super Black clubs or super Filipino clubs and it’s fine if that’s like your circle or whatever, right? But it’s like you can’t play both sides, right? If you can’t talk about the inclusion and the representation and then you just do it with your people. That’s why with Mandem it’s like you look at the (instagram) page long enough, you’re gonna know a black guy runs it, right? But you look at those pictures […] every race is there. We have people from different sexualities that are there, you know, different body types that are there, and like that to me, holds more weight than anything. It’s just because that’s just who I am and it’s a reflection of my life and my friends and my connections.

On the ‘No Expectations’ Philosophy of Mandem CC Rides & ‘No-Drop’

Every club has some expectation in it. Even if it’s like, even if they say it’s a drop or no drop, right? There’s still an expectation there. If I say it’s a drop ride, that means if you’re not fast enough, I’m gonna leave your ass, right? But then if I say it’s no drop, that means you can be as slow as you want and we’re gonna circle back and make sure you’re good. But you, you might not feel good about that. I’ve been on one of those rides…have you’ve ever been on a ride where there’s ‘no drop’ and you’re the slowest?

So as much as it gets promoted as a good thing too, it includes everybody. You don’t want to be that guy or that woman at the back feeling like you’re slowing everything down and like everybody is at the end hanging out and then there’s one or two people that have been mandated to watch you because you’re not at a certain level yet, right. So I don’t do ‘drop’ or ‘no drop’ at Mandem because technically we’re not even doing group rides. We don’t ride on the road, we ride on the Martin Goodman trail or like the trail system…so you can’t ride side by side if you wanted to. […] You can go as slow, as fast as you want. Like sometimes if it’s a short distance, I’ll circle back and like, you’re good and just check in with people, but it’s not a good feeling for the person that has to do the sweeping or the person being swept.

if you want to come through, come through…if you want and the distance is too long for you, link up with us at the beginning, hang out, ride the first couple of kilometers and go about your business or meet us at the end. Like, it’s totally open and it eliminates a lot of the nuance that exists with the traditional approach to what a cycling club and what a group ride looks like. Like we do not do group rides, I say that all the time.

You advocate for mental health and wellness, did that come before of after Mandem CC?

So I can say this, the bike definitely helped me with my personal mental health, 100% definitely offered some clarity and a disconnect from stuff, bringing back that childlike wonder that we had of exploring and being outside and like falling and touching dirt and stuff that we take for granted.[…] So, the mental health aspect just came, just flourished naturally just from riding a bike a lot and then through Mandem CC. […] I received a lot of messages from people who have told me, straight up, how much being able to participate in Mandem CC has helped them with their mental health. 

So you know, ‘I’m going through a divorce and it’s been rough, but this is the realest shit for me’ or ‘I battle depression’, ‘I’m recovering addict’ […] So, not to say that I’ve taken those messages and, this is going to be one of our core pillars of our corporate whatever. Like, no, it’s not that deep but I’m just, I’m just aware of it. 

So that does add a layer of like responsibility on me to a degree. It’s like I know if I were to take it away, that it’s not just me saying I don’t wanna ride a bike anymore. I’m stripping this from some people that need it that don’t have anything else at that time or, or not or maybe they do but like rolling with Mandem is like for them…the best thing they can do because there’s nothing like it, right? As adults, you don’t really make friends, it’s hard, right? Like whoever your friends are, your friends and like through outdoor community, stuff like this and then there’s other sports associations and stuff like that as well. For you to make friends and like, actually build, like, genuine connections as opposed to going to a bar and meeting someone and chopping it up in that type of environment, right?

To go back to your question, like that mental thing…it keeps me riding the bike, and then when it comes to the Mandem CC offering and how it benefits others – it keeps me wanting to keep on doing it almost, you know, it’s like, fuck the t-shirts and like, you know, all the hip hop music that I put on the page and, like, all that type of stuff…..like those link ups! […] But I know how much weight it holds in some people’s lives, you know.

What’s your favourite piece of cycling gear?

What’s your favourite piece of cycling gear?

One is my saddlebag from Velo-Colour, it’s a pocket rocket. So it has my extra tube, it has my multi tool in there, it has an adapter for my valve, I think an emergency kit is in there. Sometimes I put a blunt in there…but I love it. And then I need my shades, I need my shades.

One is my saddlebag from Velo-Colour, it’s a pocket rocket. So it has my extra tube, it has my multi tool in there, it has an adapter for my valve, I think an emergency kit is in there. Sometimes I put a blunt in there…but I love it. And then I need my shades, I need my shades.

What does the future of Mandem CC look like?

Now this goes into the (idea of) Spring Training and the ideology behind that, because last last season, so end of season two going into season three, […] I was extremely overweight, you know, and I wasn’t even sure if I was allowed to ride my bike based on how much weight I gained. And that kind of shook me because I was like, am I not gonna be able to do it, man? Because I chose to just be lazy and gain crazy weight and not take care of myself. So I told myself after last year that I’m not doing that again.

So once last season ended, I gave myself a bit of Grace October or whatever, November.

And then I said, I’m gonna lock in and get my shit.

And so that’s where the whole spring training idea came behind it where I was like, I know first hand that from my story when I took my overall physical illness a bit more seriously and focused on my eating and I lost some weight or whatever I enjoyed and riding my bike way more like I, I’ve been on my bike a handful of times so far this year, but I’m, it’s, it’s a way different experience at this weight and with this level of mental clarity.

So now I’m just like, ok, let me see if anybody else would benefit from that journey now as well. So we’re gonna lift weights sometimes, we’re gonna go do a spin class, we’re gonna do yoga, we’re gonna do some other activities. It doesn’t always have to be bikes and burgers and pizza, you know. […] We are a community group and I’m starting to like, let things take shape […] and it’s looking like we’re just gonna be another cog in the overall Toronto Wellness space, period. And yeah, the majority of the time what we’re doing is going to be on a bicycle, but it’s not limited to that.

A movement and initiative like Mandem CC, 4 years in, is a lot of work. What keeps you going?

I have a very supportive group….that core group, like I have a dozen people that on any random day, they’ll message me like, ‘if you need anything, let me know!’. Because they know I’m strong enough to do it by myself, but they (also) know that I’m doing it by myself and they’re benefiting from it because they’re so close to it, and they’re habitually making themselves available to help me. So shout out Kimmie, shout out to MK, my boy Cycle6, my boy Dane & Sarah. You know, I can go on and on. There’s lots of people that are always just willing to just do something extra for you if I need it. I really believe in (the idea that) ‘gratitude as a currency’, you know.

So I make sure I, when I tell people I, I appreciate you or thank you for doing this or, or whatever and I got and it just comes back to me every time, you know, so that responsibility aspect, like I limited to a certain degree but not like taking on too much, like even like some of the like extra events like spring training, for example, like it wasn’t hard work, it was just more like a bit more time on my notepad on my phone and then my spreadsheet and people and confirming and just being that, you know what I’m saying, like I could have maybe gotten someone to do that for me if I wanted to, you know, but I like, I like the personal touch that I put on it and I think a lot of people also appreciate that personal touch that I put on it. Like, I’m like the Chris that runs Mandem CC like I’m DMing you…not somebody from my team responding to you.

What is your hope for the future of cycling?

There’s something I’m working on right now. I can’t speak on it because it’s super sick and I don’t want anybody to steal the idea. So, but I will say this because I have said it before…

Mandem CC for the most part, largely benefits adults.

I want to do some stuff for the youth and I have a super, super sick idea and I have some friends in high places that are waiting for me to present something for the youth. And when I do remember this conversation, can’t wait to see it, because in a perfect world….l would like to execute this next year. Next year is our 5th season and that’s a milestone year for me.

Five is serious for me, not only just for my milestone of the number, like I’m the fifth born son, sorry, the fifth born child of my family, right? I’m number five. And my middle name is Elliott starts with E number five. And when I played basketball at, I wore number 32 3 plus two is five.

So there’s a lot of like numerology for me when it comes to like five, you know. So for next year, obviously is gonna be a milestone season for Mandem CC.

More of the same, more social events, more link ups more like that’s not gonna change. But this concept that I’m working on right now to benefit the youth is gonna really…the haters are gonna have a tough time!