Yesterday, I made every attempt to get my flip-flop hub bike, Garnet, out of storage. My beloved Rocky Mountain is in Kingston, alas, but Garnet would be a great ride in bad weather. Single speeds are terrific for this, because there’s so little equipment to damage. And really, if I can ride the streets of Jakarta and the mountains around Tehuacan, then I know I can ride in Canadian winter weather. This town is only big if you haven’t got a ride, but then it’s monstrous. My bike was in the lockup alright, but the wheels were flat as pancakes and my pump was way at the back of the lockup, out of reach. Walking the bike to a nearby gas station, I realized the pump didn’t have the right nib, so was useless at blowing up my tires.

Posting to friends, I pleaded with them to share a spare bike. Nuthin’. Most bikes are probably in the basement at this time of year, since we’ve already had snow here. I was batting 0 for 2, and becoming determined.

After an appointment on Bloor St. at 5 p.m., I headed across to Lansdowne, where Bike Pirates is located.

According to their website (, Bike Pirates is a volunteer-run organization that provides a Do-It-Yourself workspace where you can:

  • Learn bicycle maintenance
  • Work on your own bike on a drop-in basis
  • Build up a new bicycle from scratch

They also sell new and used parts, and even fully refurbished used bicycles.


Just what I wanted… a used bicycle. I interviewed someone once–Scott–just after he’d bought one of these refurbished bikes. He insisted that it was exactly what he wanted, which was hard to believe since they only had a handful in the shop at the time. A couple of the volunteer staff–Geoff and Tom–had been kind enough to speak to me last year, so I felt comfortable going in. 

The sign out front said the shop was closed on Wednesdays. *sigh* Really? I thought. Really? Does it need to be this hard to get wheels? And then, someone inside moved. I waved. They came to the door. I know for a fact that Bike Pirates staff just really want people out riding, and that they have this open door policy, meaning that the place might be closed but you can easily convince the door to open with a few magic words. I namedropped shamelessly, and then told him my predicament. Only here a month. Need to get to interviews and appointments. Writing a book about bikes…

His name was Vince and he very quickly let me in to discuss a new bike. I doubt it was my particular magic words that did it: he’s simply a really nice guy. There were four bikes available tonight, but one was a commuter, something that didn’t appeal to me. Pointing at a bike, I told Vince I liked the straight handlebars, being used to them on my two bikes. I felt a little like Goldilocks when Vince pulled it out and showed me that this bike was too short. The other two had curved handlebars and frame shifters, something I hadn’t used since my teens. We pulled out one of these and surprisingly, it looked like a good fit. The name on the frame was Free Spirit.


“Yes please,” I giggled. “The bike and I already have something in common!”

“Do you want to take it out for a test ride?” Vince asked.

“No, thanks. I just really want a bike!” I knew he was doing me the greatest favour just letting me in the door, and I kept thinking of Scott and how happy he’d been. The tag read $190, which is high for Bike Pirates. This bike had had some major rebuilds–new tires, new drivetrain… it has fenders front and back, a back rack. A decent seat. I knew this was going to be a reliable ride if it had been rebuilt to this extent.  On the tag, I discovered that my friend Tom, who bulds tall bikes like the one below, had refurbished this bike. Vince had checked the work done.


The bike has a deep red frame and white handgrips. It’s fast and playful. It’s just happy to be and so am I. I’ve named it Jingas, which is Ojibway for Mischievious. Mischief is what we two are going to get up to, in the next four weeks.


Outside the shop I loaded my front and back lights onto the frame, and then clipped my lock onto it. I’d even brought my helmet, optimistically. As I stepped onto the bike, I realized we hadn’t checked the seat height, and this one isn’t easily adjusted. Holding my breath, I lifted my leg over the frame. Perfect fit, just like Scott had claimed.

On the ride home tonight, I looked up at a traffic light and realized I was only a couple of blocks from  Lansdowne and Davenport, where a ghost bike now sits to commemorate the life and death of Tom Samson. I did a Ghost Bike Ride in Jakarta for this man. Stopping the bike, I paid my respects. You can’t not be affected when you’re on a bike.

“Woo HOOOOOoooOOOO!” I screamed, riding along Heath Street on my way home. It’s that good, being outside on a bike again. It’s that good.

Bike Pirates doesn’t make any money on these refurbished bikes. You pay for any replacement parts on the bike but not the labour. While I thought it was a very fair price for the bike, it was more than I wanted to pay. Further, Bike Pirates doesn’t take bikes back to avoid purchasing stolen equipment. Still, I might be able to sell it to someone else in January. Or, I might have to add this one to my storage collection. I now have three bikes, which I think can officially be declared a herd. I have a herd of bikes. Does that make me a shepherd?