16 January 2012

The Little Man On The Little Bike That Didn't Fold

In Brooklyn, there's a bike/pedestrian separated from the Belt Parkway only by guardrails (and, on two bridges, not even that) and Jamaica Bay by thin strips of sand and, in places, by small dunes, shrubs and, believe it or not, a few cacti.

About twenty-five years ago, when I first started riding there, I saw a little man on a bike that, to my eyes, seemed too small even for him. He'd stopped to pick some prickly pears and other fruits I didn't even know could be picked from plants that grew so close to cars and urban sprawl.  He motioned for me to stop and share one of those culinary treasures.  It was surprisingly sweet and tasty.

He didn't say much. He never did--not even when, even more to my amazement, he showed up on some organized ride or another that started at Grand Army Plaza.

I haven't seen him in a long time.  However, I still recall his small stature, silence and his bike: a small-wheeled, non-folding bike.

Probably the closest such bikes ever came to the mainstream market in the US was when they were marketed as "polo bikes."  I think that was during the early 1960's, or possibly even earlier; I know that it predated my active cycling life.  In any event, a few years later, in the middle of my childhood, bikes with similar dimensions appeared with "banana" seats and all manner of scaled-down race-car accessories.

But that man's bike looked like a grown-up's utility bike built for a dog or cat.  It even had a rear rack built into its frame, fenders and a rather sober paint job. As I recall, the rack even had pegs for a pump. I used to see bikes like it strapped to the bumpers of RVs in Europe 30, or even 20, years ago.  

I'm not sure of the wheel size:  It looked something like the size that was sold as 20 inches in this country, but with somewhat narrower, lower-profile tires.  However, the tires seemed more like smaller versions of the old French demi-ballon tires than what came on the Raleigh Twenty and Peugeot folding bikes.

Not long after I first met that man, I found a bike like his in some curbside trash.  After rescuing it, I gave it to one of my riding buddies who was something of a tinkerer and liked novel machines.  (If I remember correctly, he owned some version of the MG car that was never sold in the US.) I don't know what he did with it:  Not long afterward, he moved to Idaho or some such place.

Somehow I imagine him the way I always imagined that little man on the little bike I met so many years ago:  in his own world, making his own way on his own little bike that doesn't fold.


  1. Novel machines rescued from the trash are the best kind.

  2. Justine, I bet there's a photo of the bike you describe on this page: http://www.moultonbicycles.co.uk/heritage.html

    I enjoy your blog - thanks for writing.

  3. Ah...banana seats and high-rise handlebars; how I dreamed of having a bike with these growing up in the late 60's. All I had at that time was an old "English Racer" (remember that silly term) three-speed stuck in first gear. Finally, one Christmas I received my dream bike only to find out how hard it was to pedal, and how very uncomfortable it was to ride during my long paper route. Oh the memories of youth and being on your bike!

  4. Interesting, I can't imagine what bike this is. Almost sounds like a Moulton F-frame, though I'm sure no one would put that out on the curb.

  5. Justine,
    Bravo on recycling the bike!
    Paz :)

  6. Chandra--Thanks.

    Velouria and Chromatic--I've suspected that the bike might have been a Moulton. Too bad I never photographed it.

    Chris--Isn't it funny that those three-speeds were called "racers"? Isn't it also funny that bikes with pretentions of being drag racers could be so hard to pedal and so uncomfortable?