Deals on Wheels

The Bicycle King of Miami was not born to his throne.

He grew up scavenging the train tracks and trash piles of old Homestead — then a land of five lakes. "You didn't' have no money to buy you a bike back in the day," he said while machining the rust off a steel washer in his cluttered back yard. "So you found a frame here, a wheel there. Then you had yourself a bicycle." Once completed, the bike meant pure transportation — a means to a tire swing or fishing hole.

But transportation was not enough for this young tinkerer. Soon, it became a matter of having a cool bike. The pursuit of coolness became all-consuming. Junk bikes made way for Classic cruisers —and Sling Shots and Tandems and Low Riders and Racers. His home became cluttered with bikes he'd fixed, tweaked or rendered unrecognizable — a Frankenstein of 1950's handlebars, a 60's chain guard, a 70's seat and a super-80's paint job. Soon extant parts would not suffice in the pursuit of coolness. The bike king soon began cutting them out of solid sheet metal.

"Cycling" in the young professional sense seems to hold no interest for the king. Nor does Lance Armstrong. "I'm an old school guy," he said, mounting a bike he'd modified to swivel as it rides. "I'm just about having a cool bike." Some of his bikes have been used in commercials. Others have made it to film. "I've got one coming up in that new Dodgie...what is it? Doogie Howser movie...My Sexiest Year."

Three triple-alarmed tool sheds contain an obscure history of American aesthetics. Burning Marlboros through a bushy handle-bar mustache, the king produces bike after bike from a shed so stuffed it seems ready to vomit cans of paint, primer, oil and grease.

At 48, the king (whose name is Jay) works six or seven days a week as a handyman at FIU. But when he arrives home, the real work begins. "There's too many bikes, man," he cries, gesturing to the carpet of parts that covers his back lawn. "I can't keep up with 'em all. I got a full time job, plus a family." (The bike king often returns home to find that his wife has taken in five new bikes for rehabilitation.)

But, like any addict, the king has taken to selling his poison to support his habit. He has never heard of Craig's List and prefers to do business in pure cottage fashion. You call him; he makes/restores/finds what you want; he sells it to you (in pristine condition) from his home at a ridiculously reasonable price.

"I don't care about the money," he said as he applied a thin layer of motor grease to my new bike's chain with a tooth brush. "I'm just trying to make a couple of bucks." The Bike King may be reached at (786) 426-8749.-Calvin Godfrey

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Frank Houston