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Today, we took our daughter’s bicycle to a shop in Isola to fix a hand brake cable. Actually, it is not her bike. We are borrowing it from a colleague during our stay in Milan, because his children have outgrown it.

Last summer, when we signed our daughter up for a week-long Pedalheads camp in Victoria, we could not imagine that her riding would be one of the most important and enabling skills for our sabbatical stay in Milan. In fact, she has been riding the bike so much over the last five months, that the brake cables stretched and had to be replaced.

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On our way to the bicycle shop, we came across a motorcycle dealership/store that occupied tree corners of an intersection. Before coming to Italy, I was half-expecting a Ducati dealership at every corner. If I had seen this particular corner sooner, it would have certainly exceeded my expectations.

As we were passing by, I peeked inside the mechanic’s shop, where some bikes were being serviced. It reminded me of a documentary series that I saw a few years ago, where they compared the manufacturing processes, with all the inherent cultural nuances, of Japanese and Italian bike makers. For example, at Honda, the managers knew up to a second how long it takes to assemble a new bike (something around a minute). When they asked a Bimota mechanic the same question, he was a bit puzzled at first, and then replied: “As long as needed.” Later, as he was building the bike, he stopped a couple of times to wipe the partially-assembled motorcycle clean, because “he didn’t like how it looked covered with oil”.

There is definitely a flair of art about Italian bikes, and the un-rushed way they are built and maintained. Too bad we were pressed for time and did not stay longer and observe the masters at work. Oh, the irony!

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