The Bike Project / Bike 'Master' Pimps Israelis' Rides

This Yom Kippur, when Israeli cyclists fill the street, meet Yves Nahor, a certified bicycle mechanic and a true aficionado of two-wheeled transportation.

When Israel's fastest, sleekest and most die-hard biking enthusiasts need to design a custom cycle, Yves Nahor is ready for them.

Take, for example, Yigal Tzafati. There is hardly a cyclist enthusiast in the north of the country who hasn't heard of 74-year-old. For more than 20 years, Tzafati, a resident Kibbutz Degania Bet, has been putting in between five and seven hours on his bike. Even when he was sidelined with a devastating injury three years ago, after a Subaru collided with him while he cycled on the road's shoulder, he kept on pedaling.

On a blazing summer day, about a week after another collision that cut short another challenging ride, Tzafati stood in a bicycle store on Kibbutz Afikim in the Jordan Valley. As the sun beat down on the asphalt, and under the cover of air conditioning that mocked the heat outside, Tzafati spoke with his Nahor, who is his friend despite being more than 40 years his junior.

As the two men spoke enthusiastically about the Vuelta race in Spain, Tzafati forgot about the two incidents that demolished his beloved bicycles on the curves that descend from Poriya to the Sea of Galilee. After a week in the hospital and innumerable scratches and bruises, he hurried to meet with Nahor, who would take his latest shiny new cycle and recommend the right upgrades to make it a truly customized ride.

“These conversations are the part I love the most about my work,” says Nahor, 32. “I talk with the cyclist and it focuses him. I can build him a bike to his specifications. Then, in the end, he’ll have the kind of bicycle that suits him the best, according his riding style and his budget.”

A Provence dream becomes a German reality

Among the throngs of Israeli bikers, Nahor stands out thanks to a special title he earned in Germany: Fahrradmechaniker – a certified bicycle mechanic. In 2007, he completed his professional studies of the bicycle in Germany, which took him about three and a half years. What is considered obligatory in Germany in order to enter the field is still a distant vision in Israel.

“At the age of 17, I traveled to Provence with my father for a bicycle tour. It was there that I got hooked on cycling. When I was discharged from the army, I bought a bicycle and started riding, and slowly I decided that it would be my direction,” he says. Nahor, who holds German citizenship, traveled to the town of Breisach where, armed with government funding, he began his professional studies of the bicycle.

“There were tough times, of course, but I always just told myself that I had to get that certificate and I couldn't go back to Israel empty-handed," he says.

His studies revolved around day-to-day practical work in the company owned by someone known as a “meister” – a master craftsman. The company owner registered Nahor at the college and gave him daily tasks, which he faithfully tracked, along with everything he learned, in a special notebook. “The company owner gets a list of subjects from the college that he has to teach the student,” Nahor says.

Nahor worked in the town of Freiburg. While the state funded his studies, the company owner paid a salary that, according to Nahor, “is definitely enough to live on.” Along with his job, Nahor had to travel to the college twice a year and stay there for two and a half months. There he took courses such as metalworking, frame-building, wheels and more.

Sabra skeptics

Despite his passion, Israelis were skeptical. “When I came to Afikim for vacations, people asked me what I was studying. When I told them, they all said it was strange. Nobody believed that such a profession existed,” he says.

But Nahor was pleasantly surprised. When he returned to Israel in 2007, he found cycling to be a rapidly-growing industry. Three job offers were already waiting for him, and he chose in the end to work at a bicycle store in Tiberias, close to Afikim.

“Over the past few years, the bicycle field has been developing and becoming more professional," he says. "More and more people are going into it. They come from various walks of life. Women are joining, too.”

Nohar's job, he says, is to work with the cyclist to truly understand his needs, desires and budget for a bicycle. Then he can put a bicycle together for him according to all the variables.

What does he think about all the cyclists in Israel? “Israeli cyclists are very smart. They have a lot of knowledge. They learn, compare, investigate, become experts and learn the bicycle’s cost-benefit ratio. They’re wise consumers and fun to work with.”

Despite all this, Nahor believes that “we are still far behind. The culture of cycling in Europe has progressed much further. There’s no respect for cyclists here. The conditions aren’t good and there are many dangers.”

Meanwhile, this month he is fulfilling a dream. He is opening his own bicycle shop on Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov Ihud, and hopes that the industry will continue to grow so that maybe one day, he too will become a meister training the next generation of bicycle mechanics.