Big wheels in the used two-wheel business
“Men’s Giant mountain bike,” read the advertisement. “65 GBP ($100.) Recently overhauled and in good shape. Many others for sale.”
In the hunt for a bike to ride while we’re in England but mentally ticking the “too good to be true” box on this one, I was prepared to move on in my search, probing the Gumtree website and the local Pennysaver. But something made me send the advertiser a text message. And something encouraged me to head to Haywards Heath on a Saturday morning train to check out the guy’s wares.
I’m so, so glad I did.
There, we (Gabi, me and our friend, Annie) encountered Steve and his brother, Noel, co-proprietors of TigerBikes. Tucked away in a basement shop behind a petrol station across from Haywards Heath train station, they refurbish dozens of bikes each month, selling an average of 15 a week for “affordable prices, so people can have access to a bike,” Steve told me.
It’s a thriving business, re-fitting discarded bikes and making them available at reasonable prices to a culture that seems as dedicated to travel on two wheels as it does savoring pints of bitter. Last August, the affable, approachable brothers sold 75 bikes in one week.
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“We’ve found some of the bikes in a landfill, and we buy others or they’re donated to us, then we restore or refurbish them,” Steve says. The brothers check the identification numbers on each bike against the local police database to make sure they’ve not been stolen, and then set to work piecing them together to make them road-worthy.
They scan eBay and online sites for parts, and their searches have created a bike nut’s dream workshop. Poke around long enough and you’ll likely find whatever you’re looking for. Steve fishes through a box of parts and hands over two patch kits for me. Another bin yields a purple helmet that fits.
“Sorry,” Steve apologizes. “I seem to be out of locks.” And he proceeds to tell me the best place to buy a good, inexpensive lock.
Good to go.
They also stand behind what they sell (unique in the used sporting goods equipment business, from my experience.) “Any problems, just give me a call,” Steve said.
The guys also have an evolving bike museum in their midst. Some of them are collector’s items, some two-wheeled oddities that defy practical use, others nostalgic reminders of days gone by.
There’s an “unrideable BMX bike” that has a gear exchange box so the rider goes forward when pedaling backward and vice versa. To make matters more challenging, the handle bars come equipped with a gear differential that makes the bike go right when you turn left, and, well you get the point.
The brothers charge a small fee at public events for people to have a go at the bike, and there’s a reward if you can make it 100 meters without falling off. So far, no one’s been successful.
There’s a Swing BMX side by side bike, too, whose front wheel slides to the side of the bike, rotating on a pivot that allows the two wheels to roll side by side instead of in front of one another (though good luck trying to ride it with that uncomfortable and unbalanced configuration.)
There’s a Schwinn Super Sport whose owner used it to win the Hawaiian Iron Man in 1973, a 1950s child’s bike with original hard rubber tires and brakes, an antique tricycle, and an 1800s “penny-farthing” two wheeler (one very large wheel, one tiny) that comes with a black top hat.
“You have to wear the hat if you’re going to ride the bike,” Noel says.
I take the Giant for a quick test ride in the petrol station parking lot and give it a favorable report. We load it and a second bike (for my friend Paul, who’s visiting and needs a steed while he’s in town) onto the train back to Lewes.
Two bikes for less than it would have cost to rent one for five weeks is a good deal, indeed.
And I know just guys to take them off my hands when our visit is over.