For the first time in more than 20 years I do not have a bicycle.
Here’s what happened: The bike that I have been using since I arrived in Madagascar belonged to the Government of the United States of America (USA). A few days ago, I wrapped up my contractual obligations to that particular organization, and I had to give them back the bike.
It was a mid-level Trek mountain bike. I liked it.
“No,” the USA said, “we will not sell you the bike. Regulations require that surplus bicycles must be sold to the highest bidder at a public auction.”
“But you just had an auction while I was out of town. What if I were to match the highest price you fetched for the same model?”
“No,” the USA said.
I am staying in Madagascar; same job, same commute, different paymaster. So now I have to find a bicycle to use for commuting.
Plan A: Project Bike
I have an idea what I might do to become un-bikeless. But I can probably be talked out if it.
I’m thinking I want to get one of the many, many, old French bikes that I see around Antananarivo. It would probably be a single speed. It would probably be a Peugeot or a Renault. It will definitely be old.
The rainy season is coming, so I would want some fenders, which I can get here if I can’t find them pre-installed on my future bike.
I did some scouting this weekend. I went to the market in the capitol where sellers of used bikes are concentrated. It was a glorious selection of used bike and parts. There were even some new bikes; counterfeit Raleighs in particular that looked really chintzy.
But everything that caught my eye was a fixer-upper; a project bike.
I have a bad history with project bikes. I never complete them. What makes me think this will be different?
The difference this time (I think) is that I need transportation to get to work; I will be motivated to get this bike into working order. The other difference is that I have hundreds of low-cost bike mechanics available to me who (I assume) know these bikes and all their quirks.
So, commuter bike nerds, weigh in. Is it a good idea? How can I make it gooder?
Is it a bad idea? Talk me out of it.
Plan B: Another Boring Mid-Level Mountain Bike
There are good-quality, multi-gear mountain bikes available. A bike tour company such as MBIKE can set me up very well with something that’s brand new, or perhaps used but used only by low-impact tourists who don’t know how to properly abuse a mountain bike.
(I will probably get a mountain bike eventually for actual mountain biking and exploring the countryside, so don’t use “dual-purpose” as an argument to talk me out of this idea.)
But for the time being, it looks as though I will be taking the bus to work, which costs 400 Madagascar Ariary per day — about 13 cents US, and about twice as much time as commuting by bike.
The Gear I Still Have:
Last month I was in America. I dropped in on Bike Shop Hub in Tucson and picked up some commuting gear, knowing I would soon be giving USA back its bike.
Here is most of what I still have in Madagascar, laid out like skeletal fragments of homo satis habilis, where the fully-formed creature can only be inferred a physical anthropologist.
I bought a CygoLite Hotshot 2W USB Tail Light — including USB cable (because you can never have enough USB cables).
I was able to put this tail light to use for about two weeks. Plus I developed a custom mounting system for my rear rack.
My old Philips SafeRide 80 Headlight still impresses the locals, but it is starting to lose its battery charge life after several years — now its good for only one round trip commute. So I got a Light and Motion Urban 800 Bike Headlight.
I commuted with this for two weeks. I still haven’t had to recharge it.
And I bought an Abus Catena 685 Shadow Bike Lock. Interestingly, on my way back to Madagascar, I saw this very same model of lock at work in Paris.
I visited my storage unit when I was in Flagstaff and pulled out my Lazer helmet and some Velo Orange trekking bars that I’ve never used. I fully intend to put these bars on my commuter. Does anyone have a problem with that?
Yes. Of course. Here on Commute by Bike, I intend to document the resurrection of whatever old French bike I might get — unless I’m talked out if this plan. I will document all the stupid mistakes I make, and the triumphs too, if any.
So, should I do it?