Health & Fitness Issue: Pimp my ride

Music Editor Leilani Polk makes the best of a free bicycle.

click to enlarge Leilani sawing — that is to say, liberating — her bike. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Leilani sawing — that is to say, liberating — her bike.

Over the years, I’ve acquired lots of random stuff from my dad’s rental properties, abandoned by former tenants for convenience’s sake or in evicted haste. Most recently, dad dropped off a clunky, lightly battered, black-and-yellow bicycle I nicknamed Bugly.

When my roommate first beheld the Bugly beast, he insisted I scrap it and start over. “That thing is heavier than you are and it’s made for scaling mountains,” he said, indicating his own sleek, lightweight Sirrus as a more suitable alternative.
But a free bike is a free bike and I know me; if I didn’t use the one I had right here, I likely wouldn’t end up biking at all. Hell, Bugly sat in my living room for months before this story finally prompted me to try and put it to use.

First I needed the proper power tool to break off the U-lock that had made it impossible to ride. After about 15 minutes of buzz-sawing through the thick metal shackle amid high-pitched, sparking shrieks, the bike was officially liberated, with a satisfying snap.

Now it was time to make it ride-ready.

I’d never had a reason to go to the St. Pete Bike Co-Op before, but it’s pretty close to my house and there was no better place to get advice on Bugly’s potential issues. The nonprofit cooperative bicycle shop offers instruction on bicycle repair and maintenance a few days a week from a small building off the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Courts, its handful of erudite local bike enthusiasts assisting local folks with their cycling needs.

I was characteristic of the sort who shows up there — able to ride but not sure what to do beyond that. Co-op volunteers don’t fix your bike for you; however, they do show you how to fix it, give you access to the co-op space and tools, and walk you through the repair, all of which I came to learn when Matt Kannenberg lent his friendly expert hand. After we discussed my future biking habits, he told me Bugly was a WalMart or Target model, made up of low-quality components, overly engineered, rather cumbersome, not good for long-distance stretches, but in good condition and perfectly fine for riding no more than a few miles from my house, in and around downtown St. Pete. “The good thing is that it’s not theft bait at all,” he laughed.

He claimed we could get it road-ready in less than an hour, and we proceeded to do so. We fixed the simple issues and worked around the ones that proved more complicated, from removing a Derailleur cable to oiling up a brake cable to adjusting the chain and limit screws and tightening the bolt on the bike stop so it could stand without toppling over.

I probably could have paid the $5/day use fee — I was there less than an hour — but instead opted for the $20 month-long co-op membership so I’d be motivated to finish what I’d started sooner rather than later.

So far the free bike has paid off and I’m remembering why I liked riding so much — you get to where you want to go so much faster. Walking is just so damned tedious.

The St. Pete Bike Co-Op is located at 559 Mirror Lake Drive N., St. Petersburg; more info at

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