It's hard to believe anything goes on in this dark strip of seemingly neglected warehouses in the city's west end, north of St. Clair. Until, following the light from the only lit warehouse around, I hear the whir of bikes and cheers. I'm in the right place. I knock loudly on the handle-less solid steel door and immediately all is quiet. A suspicious voice asks, "Who's there?"
When I hear people repeating my name questioningly, I shout, "Is Taro there?" That's it - the door opens and I'm in. Tonight, Taro is the password to this secretive affair.
Inside, the long skinny warehouse has wall-to-wall ramps. The guy who let me in quickly locks the door and a few of the assembled BMXers look at me warily. As I search for a familiar face, someone calls out,"What's up, Colin?"
Looking up, I see Taro Saito chilling on a platform above the ramps. This is the home of the Inner City Circle, and Taro is one of the original members.
Sick of having no indoor facilities where they can ride their BMX bikes in the winter, the Inner City Circle have set out to change that. After two weeks of cleaning this former auto shop, gathering wood and designing and constructing the park, the ramps are finally complete. So this is a night of celebration.
The riders jump, spin, grind and slap the ramps as I head up the rickety ladder to the chill room. Saito is watching the riders and yelling encouragement. I pull up a chair and ask him what the secrecy is all about.
"This is the only indoor skate park that allows bikes and is TTC-accessible. The word has spread. We just don't want the place overcrowded right away."
But there are other reasons.
With plans to go public in the future, the group is still working on getting waivers printed and learning about the legal side of running a skate park. Insurance costs a fortune. Some skate parks choose to operate without insurance, but the risk of lawsuits in the event that someone gets hurt are financially too big to contemplate.
For now, Inner City Circle members, a mishmash of high-schoolers, university students, landscapers, truck drivers and production assistants, are happy just to have a private place to ride. All of them have a key to the warehouse and can ride any time, day or night.
"This is so cool," says Saito. "It reminds me of, like, 15 years ago, when people just pulled together and got shit done. People are pouring their blood, sweat and tears into this thing."
And then the inevitable happens: someone gets hurt. Yves Tremblay misses a ramp and his face smashes into the masonite. His body slides limply down the ramp. He's out cold.
People rush over, a first-aid kit comes out, and when we realize how serious this is, an ambulance is called. It's the second time in two weeks that a call has been made.
Before long, the police show up with two paramedics in tow. Yves is carried out on a spinal board. We later learn he has a broken cheekbone and may need plastic surgery. But it's par for the course.
"It's expected," says Saito of the accident. "It's bound to happen here or there."
The accident puts something of a damper on the evening, but the riding continues. As every BMXer knows, you progress by paying your dues. Yves is currently paying his.
When Burlington professional BMX rider Mike Wilkinson arrives, it's obvious he's impressed. It's his first time here, and the ramps are much better than he expected. He shakes Saito's hand with a huge grin on his face. "This place is mint," says Wilkinson. "This is a huge dream of mine."
Saito laughs appreciatively. "I think this is a dream of everyone I know."