By Rob Brownie
Native to South Africa, Richard Poplak lives in Toronto where he writes and cycles
competitively as a road racer. His previous books include The Sheikh’s Batmobile:
In Pursuit of American Pop Culture in the Islamic World and Ja, No, Man: Growing
Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa (both published by Penguin). Poplak first
met Igor Kenk in 2003 when he stepped into Kenk’s Bicycle Clinic to sell used bike
parts. Years later Poplak was invited by filmmaker and publisher Alex Jansen to write
Kenk’s story, using film footage that Kenk had agreed to have taken of him before
he was eventually arrested. The author was available for an interview in Vancouver
recently, one stop of many in his cross-Canada book tour.
You’ve written about some heavy topics in the past- how did your earlier
work prepare you for the Kenk project?
I am interested in being controversial. Understandably, Kenk is viewed in a certain
way by the cycling community, which I am part of. I wanted to break through that
and write a story that would portray him as something more than just a villain.
You see his crimes are not so black and white and that is what people are so angry
with. The big problem is that many, many people in the community were involved in
his crimes. We were all duped into his ring and I was one of those people. I was told
about the store and I had some parts to sell from an old bike. I supported his crimes
as I did business with him.
Judging from the images of his bike store, he worked and lived in chaos.
The store was really a representation of his mind and in many ways it was
installation art. That is who Igor is and how he thinks.
What can we learn from a paradoxical character like Igor Kenk?
This story doesn’t restrict itself to Toronto. Bike theft is something anyone can
relate to whether you live in Portland, Vancouver or Miami. What Igor did was
sum up the bike thief ethos. He allowed us to feed into our desire for cheap shit.
He hated the people who came into his shop because he saw them as agents of
their own destruction to some degree. What can we learn from him? That we need
to look a little closer at our over-consumption and that if we are immoral we can be
Igor is pictured throughout the book wearing a T-shirt that reads “I’m
Absolutely, I’m so glad you point that out. He is exhausted with himself and his
compulsion to accumulate. He makes the wrong choices along the way in every way.
Kenk is a man of furious appetite; you should see how he eats.
While doing your research you went to Slovenia to learn more about Kenk’s
Had I not gone to Slovenia the book wouldn’t look like it does now. The style we
used comes from an underground graphic art technique used in Yugoslavia in the
1970s and 80s. Printing press use was heavily restricted at the time, so artists were
using old photocopiers. I fell in love with this style, and so the book looks authentic
because it imitates this. The style is located somewhere in the makeup of Igor’s
Have you spoken to Kenk since he was released from prison?
Once, at the Toronto launch party for the book. It was insane. There were five
hundred people there and at the end of the night Igor shows up and started dirty
dancing with his shirt tied around his chest!
Has anyone shown an interest in picking up the film rights for the book?
Yes, an animation company called The Juggernaut. There is a brief video clip on their
website. You should check it out.
Any thoughts on how we can prevent bike theft?
The only thing that will change the situation is if we have a program in place that
requires us to register our bikes.
How do you lock up your bike?
I have a New York Kryptonite lock… I once snapped a key in the lock and it took 45
minutes for a locksmith to cut through it with a metal saw. People walked by and no
one said a thing…