If you have ever owned a bicycle, chances are you have visited a local bicycle shop when you needed something fixed or replaced. These days your visit to a bike shop may take you to a modern storefront where you may find a sales, repair and accessory buffet for bikers.
However, there are still little shops in most communities where a bicycle enthusiast actually runs the place and he or she recycles parts to do repairs. Back home up north in Attawapiskat my cousin Robert was basically a jack-of-all-trades when it came to fixing anything made of a metal including cars, trucks, tractors, all-terrain vehicles and bicycles.
I remember that my summers in Attawapiskat revolved around my bicycle. When I did not have a bike I was pretty much left out of the loop as my friends raced around the community on two wheels. We were never gentle with our bikes. We rode on all sorts of trails and roads to get to where we were going. Our bikes went through mud, water, wet clay and sand. We drove them over coarse gravel, rocky riverbanks, tree stumps, tall grass, brush and fallen trees.
Inevitably, our precious bikes would break down. At first we did our own repairs. If the brakes or brake-cables broke, we stripped them and used a method of wedging one foot between the frame and the back tire to stop our bikes. When the lines that operated the gears stopped working we removed them and wedged pieces of wood, metal or even small stones to lock everything into a middle gear for the best overall ride. Anything beyond these simple repairs and we had to make a visit to Robert with the hope that he had what we were looking for.
In a way, I looked forward to visiting Robert’s shop in the middle of town. At the time, he maintained one of the few garages in town that could accommodate a truck or car so that he could work indoors. His yard was filled with abandoned cars, trucks, four wheelers, the odd tractor, heavy machinery and a collection of old bicycles.
Whenever, I ended up with a bent wheel that could not be mended at home, Robert was sure to find a good tire from his collection. None of us were fussy – all we hoped for from Robert was to get us going down the trail again. There was no attention paid to colour matching, finding the right size or having a full set of spokes for a replaced wheel. As long as it worked and we could ride our bike we were happy and we gladly paid the five dollars it took for Robert to put us back on the road.
As an adult I have had the opportunity to travel to many towns and cities across Ontario where I managed to spend some time bicycling on old rail lines and paved trails. It doesn’t seem to matter where I end up, there is always a bicycle man nearby and just when I need him.
Almost all of these little shops are owned by bicycle enthusiasts who have been repairing bikes for years. Many of these places are well stocked and the owners are able to find everything you need with a quick check on well-organized shelves and in orderly bins. These shops are spiffy and feature all types of brand-new products and parts.
However, I still enjoy those little bicycle havens where some interesting person is more than happy to chat about bikes and he has a wealth of dirty and rusty old parts, bolts, wheels and rubber from a collection of rejected bikes piled high. Here you find the ultimate recyclers who turn one man’s garbage into a valuable enterprise.
The other day I paid a mere $20 to a legendary backyard bike-shop enthusiast by the name of Armand in Iroquois Falls. The experience was fantastic as I had the chance to search through his interesting pile of bikes and bike parts for the perfect wheel. He found an older style wheel that has provided my mountain bike with a new lease on life. We both enjoyed the quest for the wheel.
My visits to the old-time bike shops always take me back to the days when my bicycle was such a huge part of my life. In our “everything is disposable world”, it is good to know that it is still possible to make something new from something old.