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Bikeless in Madagascar

by Ted Johnson

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.

Madagascar Commuter BIke

Potential replacement. Who wants to talk me out of this?
Photo: Ted Johnson

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.

As consolation, a representative of USA gave me a safety light promoting Safety Light

An accessory for a bike I don’t have reminding me of places I can’t get to from here.
Photo: Ted Johnson

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.

Bikeless Accessories

The spot where I used to park my bike at home.
Photo: Ted Johnson

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.

CygoLite Hotshot 2W USB Tail Light

Sadly, the prototype for my mounting system was destroyed when uninstalled.
Photo: Ted Johnson

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.

Light and Motion Urban 800 Bike Headlight

Photo: Light and Motion

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.

Abus Catena 685 Shadow Bike Lock

I think this bodes well.
Photo: Ted Johnson

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?

Ted Johnson is lives and works in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Follow his hardly-ever-about-bikes blogging at Half-Hearted Fanatic, and tweeting at @TedJohnsonIII.

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4 Responses to “Bikeless in Madagascar”

  1. John M. Hammer says:

    Book a flight to Pretoria. Buy a nice folding bike like a Dahon ($-$$) or a Brompton ($$$ but if it floats your boat and you have the cash…). Fly it back with you as luggage. Be sure to bring a pair of extra tires and a supply of tubes back to the boonies.

    Get your explora-bike later but buy a project bike as soon as you get back to town with your new/barely-used folder. Having the project bike will be a nice… project… and once/if completed will give you an option next to the folder for some of your around-town trips.

  2. NewBikeGuy says:

    Support your local bike store 🙂 Find a worthwhile project bike, haul it to a trusted local shop along with parts from eBay and local market, and have them build just the bike you need. Instead of a project bike, call it a bespoke bike restoration!

  3. JohnnyK says:

    What NewBikeGuy said

  4. Friso says:

    Hi Ted!
    Nice blog! I am Friso from the Netherlands. Could you please provide me with an educated guestimate on what a person from Madagascar would pay for a normalcity bike? I’m doing a little research for an educational website on economic issues and I am experiencing a lot of trouble finding this one little factoid! You’d help me a lot! Thanks beforehand, greetings,

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