It was time.
I’ve been waiting since March for Mario to return my bicycle and here it is mid-July. I don’t think it’s coming back.
Not that I was expecting to see it again.
Mario used to work for the complex where we live. When he started showing up for work on foot I was kind of surprised and concerned. I knew that he lived over behind the airport and that is a bit of a hike to be taking twice a day.
It turns out that his bike frame had rusted in half.
It happens a lot. We’re an island surrounded by salt water. Nothing metallic survives for long. Walk down most any road and you can count the number of rusty broken bike chains, coiled like withered snakes off to the side. They rust. They snap. They drop off and are abandoned.
You see a lot of the especially on either side of the Sir Barry Bowen Bridge, a modest grade but the steepest on the island, demanding just enough exertion to bring a corroded chain to the snapping point.
Calvio’s — conveniently located just south of the bridge — can throw a new one on your bike in under 10 minutes for about $15. I wasn’t the first person to snap atop the bridge and coast down to the bike repair shop for a new chain.
Rust, and its evil twin, mold, are your enemies.
Even inside homes, rust settles like the morning dew on the most-delicate components inside computers, telephones, toasters, televisions, light fixtures and cameras. Unprotected, they can go dead in a matter of months. I recently bought a water- and dust-proof camera because I thought it might last a few months longer than a traditional one. We’ll see.
Back when I loaned my bike to Mario, I was recovering from surgery and knew it would be months before I’d be pedaling again. Better that he get to use it than watch it sit and rust like some kind of avant-garde art project.
Then Mario got fired.
And he was gone. With the bike.
“OK,” I reasoned. “He’s going to need that bike to find a new job and get himself re-established. Let it go.” Despite the insane explosion of golf carts and vehicles on this island, most people still bike or walk to work.
Besides, we have Old Moncho’s 59 to get us where we need to go.
I ran into Mario in early June. He was walking. He still has the bike and he’ll get it back to me, he assured me immediately, and without any prompting. I assured him that wasn’t foremost on my mind.
Last month, obviously feeling much healthier, I began window shopping for a new bike. While the cheap and clunky Chinese beach cruisers still dominate the hardware store showrooms, more and more, a Huffy hybrid mountain bike is showing up like the most muscular puppy in a new brood. And I reveled in the prospect of riding something on which you actually change gears.
For about a minute. (How much revel can a guy take?)
Who on the island can fix a 12-speed bike, I wondered? And what would I do with all those gears? This island is the flattest thing since pancakes.
It also occurred to me that a basket would look pretty silly on a mountain bike. And you need a basket. More than you need gears.
The main point is, I missed riding a bicycle. Golf carts aren’t all that much fun here. Not any more. Traffic is nuts and maintaining one of these bolt buckets is even nuttier. A bike is healthier, saner and not so expensive to fix. (This is not to say I am rejecting Moncho 59. Far from it. I love the beast, in my own way and cherish its companionship while driving home on many a dark and stormy night.
So, I decided to go with China’s finest: the traditional Golden Cycle Hurricane, base price $298 BZD.
Business kept taking me back to Castillo’s Hardware, the place where Rose and I bought our first bikes. (She is still riding her’s, by the way — refurbished once or twice by the grease-daubed techs at Calvio’s.) Bikes seem to move in and out of Castillo’s rapidly. Twice last month I saw grinning Dads carry out shiny new miniature Golden Cycles for their big-eyed tykes. Complete with training wheels.
For the last month or so, I’d joked with Karla, the store’s bike tech, about how close I was to buying one. Every time I walked in, she would ask, “Is today the day?”
“Almost there, Karla!” I’d reply. “Have you got black?”
“Sure thing,” she’d say. “Just say when.”
Last week there was a stack of bicycle boxes in front of Castillo’s, looking like a deck of giant playing cards.
“New shipment of bikes?” I asked.
“Yes, Mr. Bob.” said Karla. “Are you ready?”
The next day, it looked like Christmas in the bike section. There was a sleek Huffy mountain bike — with gears! And a Huffy beach bike with enormous tires, a butterscotch-colored frame, a cute little basket and a cup holder! And an assortment of the old standby men’s, women’s and kids’ Hurricanes in reds and silvers and greens.
Out back were about a dozen bikes still in boxes, waiting to be assembled.
“I think I’m ready for that black bike, Karla.”
“OK, Mr. Bob. A 26-inch, right?”
We walked back to the cartons where Karla studiously check the packaging labels.
She stood up. And smiled slyly.
“OK, Mr. Bob. Do want green, red or silver?”
I wanted black for a reason. In bicycles, I crave the anonymity black gives you. It is just like the scores of other bicycles sitting out in the bike racks all over San Pedro.
A bright colored bicycle? To me that just says, “Steal me.” And lately, that has been a huge problem. Proportional to the rise in bolt cutters, I imagine. A hard working young man I know just went through two used bicycles in less than a week. The first he left unlocked for an hour. The second … the lock was cut through like it was butter.
The other reason is that as an intrinsically shy person, I try very hard not to stand out in any social situation. I get referred to as “Mr. Rose” if not completely ignored. Most everything I own is a muted shade of blue. I’m not the life of the party. And you’ll never see me leading the parade. Black just blends, in my mind.
So. Not black?
And that is how I ended up with a green-framed bicycle ($298), with chrome alloy bumpers ($25) and a gray plastic-coated basket ($35) on the front. And a Bell lock & cable ($22). Um, plus tax. It all came out to about $207 USD, not so bad for my main mode of transportation.
A friend who saw the mean green machine immediately offered this observation: “Well, if it gets stolen, it sure is going to stick out.”
Oh, well. A few days of rain and mud and it is going to look like every other bike on the island.
Just a brighter shade of green in places.