It all started with an old ten-speed someone had left by the curb. We were on our way to see a drive-in movie projected onto the wall of a taco place and the most excitement we’d had in months, so I guess we weren’t thinking clearly. Our oldest daughter really wanted a bike to take to college in a city where nice bikes get stolen. Even not-nice bikes get stolen, but if you get a bike for free and it gets stolen, it’s not like it really belonged to you anyway.
I think we had quarantine googles on when we saw this bike. At least me and my daughter did. My husband kept trying to tell us “it needs so much work” and “this is a terrible idea” but all my daughter and I could think was “let’s get this treasure in the back before Dad/Joe drives off.” Dad/Joe wasn’t wrong. The bike needed new tubes and tires and pedals, and we could have kept going. It was a fixer upper. It also turned out to be a men’s bike too tall for my daughter to climb on. Somehow we didn’t realize this until after we got the bike back from being repaired. To be fair, the tires were flat when we found it so the bike would have appeared shorter.
Suddenly we didn’t have a Free Bike anymore but an Albatross. Joe was not happy about being out the money for repairs on a bike no one could ride, and my daughter had lost her dream bike (her words). It became my mission to fix the issue so that the next time we slowed down to trash pick something, the bike couldn’t be used as a cautionary tale.
This is where the pandemic came in handy. It turns out bikes are a scarce commodity right now. I guess everyone rediscovered the outdoors and stores aren’t getting new ones like they used to. If you have a bike in your garage gathering dust, it’s worth more than usual. Don’t price it too high, but don’t give it away either.
I cleaned the bike with a little WD40 and took photos of it in our backyard during the magic hour. I got some close ups of the rust because this was an almost 45 year old bike and us 40-somethings show wear. I skipped eBay and listed it on facebook and craigslist because they’re free and better for bulky items like bikes. At first I only got borderline creepy replies on craigslist because, well, craiglist, but within a week had a serious buyer on facebook. The guy pulled into our driveway, took a look at the bike, said “it’s in great shape” in a surprised tone, and had the wheel off and bike mounted on the roof of his car within 5 minutes.
We walked away with $27 after what we spent on repairs. Okay, so flipping bikes won’t replace our day jobs.
The level of obsession and focus I then spent trying to procure a replacement dream bike for our daughter made me realize I am a broken person. I looked at so many bike ads, I lost the ability to distinguish between an adult bike and a child’s bike. Supposing I’d bought a 15″ paw patrol bicycle with flat tires, I was not as confident in our ability to flip it like a curbside vintage Schwinn.
The key was to be quick on the draw without being impulsive. I responded to two ads within minutes of posting only to be told they were already sold. I missed out on a delightful looking cruiser for $40 and a $25 mountain bike that still haunt me in my dreams. I almost bought a child’s bike that clearly stated it was a child’s bike. I considered buying bikes I probably wouldn’t trash pick. I woke up in the middle of the night and checked for new listings. As I said, broken.
Finally I went back to creepy craigslist, where not as many people sell bikes, so not as many people go looking to buy there either. I held my breath when I saw an ad for a woman’s mountain bike for only $44. From the photos, it looked worn but in good shape. It had all its parts, such as the chain and seat (you’d be surprised at what people try to sell). The ad even said “You can ride it home.” I drove 15 miles across narrow rolling country roads to see the bike, so it wasn’t feasible to test this out.
This was by no means a fancy bike, but it seemed right for my daughter’s needs. It was 1) manageably sized, 2) in working order with no needed repairs, 3) not worth stealing (also, see 4), and 4) hot pink. I figured if she hated it I could at least sell it to some sleep deprived person on facebook for $50 and make up the gas money it took to pick it up.
I was a little nervous going to meet a stranger from craigslist by myself. I could tell the guy was old school when he said to call instead of email and that his phone wasn’t one of those smart ones. This is how you should buy a used bike, in my opinion. Drive 30 minutes, wondering if you’ll get murdered once you arrive, and then 30 minutes back wondering if you made a mistake but relieved you weren’t murdered.
The guy was older, shirtless and in cutoff jeans, sweating heavily in 95 degree midday heat while he tinkered on something in his garage. He said he used to have a bike shop’s worth of inventory on his driveway, but that he and his wife were packing up and heading south to North Carolina. I told him why I wanted an old bike and he agreed crime was getting worse everywhere, gesturing to the rural lane he lived on where the worst crime I could imagine was a game of mailbox baseball.
I liked the guy. He wanted to talk about everything from crime to dental emergencies and it reminded me of when I used to work for hospice and drove out to pick up donations. People would call on the phone and say they had cases of Ensure or unopened catheters they didn’t need anymore and I’d write down their address and look it up on this big map book I kept in the car. I was technically supposed to try and find a volunteer to collect donations, but I liked getting out of the office and driving around. It was like a game to find the street name in the index, locate it on the master grid and then work out how to get there without getting lost. I almost always got lost, but it was still a fun game.
I’d pull up and ring the bell and usually an older person would answer the door and want to talk about how grateful they were that hospice had cared for their husband or wife at the end. Sometimes they’d talk about the illness that stole them away before handing over a box of meticulously organized gauze pads and bed chucks and mouth swabs. Even if I knew we would have to throw out certain items, I thanked them profusely for their donation and wished them well. I felt like the final ambassador to something heartbreaking but inevitable. Maybe they felt a little emptiness with the box out of the house, but maybe the next day they felt a little lighter.
The bike is great, by the way. I have no idea if it will last through fall, but it cost us $17 net and it’s the right size for my daughter to ride. She loves the color and calls it her barbie bike (barbie dream bike?). The guy I bought it from seemed a little sad when he loaded the bike into the back of my car. Clearly the bike had never been his, but it was also one of the few remaining ones in his driveway. His bike shop was going out of business. He was heading south to warmer weather and what he hoped would be less crime. I told him my husband and I were thinking of retiring to the Carolinas one day too. It’s true, even if we have no plan and a long time before our youngest is out of school. He said “I’ll look for you on the pink bike” and I laughed and drove off, scanning the curbside for discarded bikes on the way home.