uying Bikes


Sydney, 2006

Australia flag

Back in 2002 we spent two months in Darlington and by bicycling almost everyday worked our way up from nulls to being able to do a 30 mile (50 km) round trip. We'd hoped to make a week trip from Darlington to Nottingham stopping every day at either farm bed-and-breakfasts or at friends along the way. But just when we were nearly in condition time ran out and off we went to London the usual way. Since then we have really hardly been on bicycles. The most recent two times were in Sumatra when we rented bikes for the day and again got a taste of it. Unfortunately the first time Gerry took quite a spill, requiring some first aid.

Now we don't know whether the Sumatra experience should be described as wheting our appetites or as "inspite of". Either way, well before we got to Sydney Gerry set his heart on buying bicycles. His goal was to go around Sydney and later, if possible, tour part of the country. Jan liked the idea but Gerry was the piston in the engine.

Once in Sydney we found it surprisingly hard to find used bicycles; that is, ones that had the price we wanted to pay. We saw one at a yard sale that was the kind of price we wanted but in such bad shape we immediately rejected it. We were advised to try e-Bay and checked it out once or twice but only to find a deal that was too good to be true: a $600 bike (almost new they claimed) for $60. We stayed well away from that one.

Finally, after nearly four weeks in Sydney, when we were in Bondi Junction, a suburb of Sydney that has become our preferred shopping area, we found a man's bike in a pawn shop. Well, actually it was called "Cash Converters". These stores are akin to pawn shops, except, as far as we know, they buy things outright from customers who want money. We went in to ask about bicyles, expecting a response that they didn't have any, and were very happy to find they did. Being psychologically unprepared to buy, at first we didn't know what to do.

Gerry in Cash Converters with his new bike
Gerry in Cash Converters with his new bike

Gerry overcame his own buyer's reluctance and made a deal. With a few "if's" - if the flat tires would be good if filled with air; if he would get a 30% discount. The first was readily agreed to and the second — we think fake reluctantly — and so we had a deal. While Jan went to the library Gerry went to the "garage" (he hadn't heard a gas station described as such in a long, long time) and got air. The bike worked! Then he went into the nearby K-mart and got a helmet (legally required), a bike chain, and a repair piece for one of the brake pads.

Gerry's bike parked in the living room
Gerry's bike parked in the living room

Before we got bikes we knew that we'd have a storage problem. There simply isn't any room for them. We'd asked our neighbor if she objected to a bike being in the hall and she didn't. We asked our landlord and she didn't. So now we keep the bike in the hall when we are active and put it in the living room before we go to bed.

Richard holding Jan's new bike
Richard holding Jan's new bike

All well and good, of course, but one bike isn't much good when there are two of you. But as luck would have it, Jan remembered someone suggesting an online site called the Trading Post. She logged on, found a couple of decent sounding deals. One in particular appealed to us because it was in Cronulla and we knew we could get there — the train line that is closest to us goes directly there. We immediately called and made arrangements to go to see it the next day.

We went down several hours early so that we could do a "fam trip" (as people in the travel business say about a familiarization trip) of Cronulla. It's an hour trip on the train, and thus for practical purposes as far from central Sydney as our old home of Middletown was from Manhattan. The bee-line distance is only 20 km. Cronulla sits on a spit of land, or peninsula; we first looked around the small harbor and had a small lunch. Then we walked along the beach and found it very, very nice.

(A few days later we learned from the news that it was the one-year anniversary of the Cronulla "race-riots". They were pretty small-time compared to American, British, or French versions. Apparently immigrants of Lebanese descent liked to go to Cronulla for Sunday picnics on/near the beach. A few of the more boisterous young men gave them a bad reputation. A few of the less civilized Aussies, sort of the equivalent of Hell's Angels, started a fight. The rest is history and resentment.)

Then we walked over to the Woolooware station where Richard, the seller met us. He picked us up in his car and took us to his house and showed us the bike. In fact, in his backyard he had about a dozen; although he seemed relecutant to confess it, it seems that he must buy bikes, fix them up, and sell them on. When we learned that he is primarily a highscool teacher of Japanese we guessed that he does this to supplement his income.

We couldn't ride the bike home because it was too far and because Jan didn't have a helmet and because Gerry's bike was in our apartment. Fortunately for us Sydney trains allow bikes on in non-rush-hour. So home it was. The next day we got Jan a helmet and that night we had two bikes in the living room. If anybody had come by they would certainly have asked how Santa got them down the chimney.

Both bikes are far from being expensive high-tech items. They are somewhat heavy, with the wider tyres of mountain bikes, but with the requisite 15 to 18 gears. We've now made one 10 mile outing and are thus happy to be getting our cycling legs back. It was a really pleasant ride even though it was on city streets with some worries about traffic.

December 15, 2006