'Bicycle saint' looks to expand bike rescues

FRANKFORT — Stuart Harrod started repairing bicycles for fun when he was a boy.

He got serious about it two years ago, in his middle age, as gas hit $4 a gallon. Suddenly it made no sense to climb into a car for the short trip downtown for coffee. Peddling a bike worked fine. And if Harrod could bike around Frankfort — not being any kind of athlete — couldn't everyone?

Assuming they owned a bike.

That's where Harrod could help.

"I ran into some newcomers to town at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café. They didn't have much money, but they needed a way to get to work," Harrod, 46, said recently. "As it happens, one of my neighbors had two old bikes he was looking to get rid of."

Harrod took the old bikes, refurbished them and gave them to his new friends.

Word spread through the capital city. If you have unused or broken bikes taking up space at home, call Harrod. If you need a bike, call Harrod.

Scores of bikes moved through his basement workshop on their way back to Frankfort streets during the next two years. On average, they took two or three days to fix, Harrod said. No money changed hands.

There is an endless supply of bicycles if you ask around, Harrod said. They sit forgotten in garages and tool sheds. Kids turn 16, get a driver's license and never again touch their previously beloved BMX. Adults buy a 10-speed for exercise but gratefully surrender once a tire goes flat.

Remove the rust, clean and tighten the chain, replace any broken parts or leaky tires, maybe add a nice coat of paint, and you're back in business, he said. If a bike can't be fixed — and the cheaper bikes sold at discount stores often can't — it probably can be harvested for parts.

Pushing through his crowded workshop, where dozens of bikes await his ministrations, Harrod patted a battered orange frame. It was irreversibly bent in two places by someone's unwise decision to leap onto it while somebody else steered.

"This was a 1972 Schwinn LeTour, a really good bike. Damn shame," he said. "Still, it gave up a lot of its parts to other bikes, so it wasn't a total loss. We made some nice Frankenbikes out of it, as I call them."

Jamie Howell and her son each got a free bike. Howell, who manages the Kentucky Coffeetree Café, Harrod's favorite hang-out, said she uses her black 1966 Schwinn to get around Frankfort's compact, historic downtown. You needn't worry about traffic or parking on a bike, she said.

"It's great exercise. I never really thought about it until all the kids down here suddenly were riding the bikes Stuart had given them," Howell said. "My daughter just turned 16, so we're probably going to give her the family car and not buy another one."

Harrod said he's glad to be of service. As a silent partner in his family business, Harrod Concrete and Stone Co., he has the time to devote.

But demand is rising. Earlier this year, local newspapers published flattering profiles — one dubbed him "Frankfort's own bicycle saint" — generating more calls than ever. So he's plotting his next step.

Rather than continue alone, Harrod is creating a non-profit organization, Folkbike Re-Cyclery, to run a shop in downtown Frankfort where others, especially youths, can learn how to fix bikes for themselves. He hopes to open it this summer in a long-vacant, 19th-century industrial building that once produced horse-drawn carriages.

Harrod also is helping to organize local biking events to convince "regular" people that they can ride as part of their daily routines.

"There's more to bicycling than grown men wearing Lycra," he said. "I may only ride a few miles on any one trip, but I'll do that several times a week. It adds up."

Riding a bicycle, despite what some think, isn't an embarrassing sign of poverty or public evidence that you can't afford a car, he said. Plenty of people own cars but choose to drive them sparingly, he said.

An Alley Cat Ride that he tentatively plans for August will take participants on a laid-back tour around Frankfort to accomplish a short checklist of tasks, such as checking out books from the public library and picking a vegetable from the community garden.

"We hope everyone has fun," Harrod said. "The hidden message at the end is that you can ride a bike for useful, practical reasons, starting today."