Bikes for the World

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Success Stories: Frankie Hinds Barbados


Frankie Hinds—the Pinelands Creative Workshop lead bike mechanic—was a latecomer to the Pinelands bike project, but it would appear that he was destined for it from early childhood.  A resident since age 6 of Pinelands, a low-income area in Barbados, Frankie took early to bicycles, inspired by a cycling uncle.  From his uncle, Frankie got his first bike at age 11--a hand-me-down Raleigh—and rode it constantly.

In a short time, his uncle taught him some basic skills, working on derailleurs and shifters, and then—noticing some precocious talent—challenged him to true his road bike wheels.  “I told him he’s crazy,” said Frankie, but his uncle started at the beginning, teaching him “how to spoke it”, constructing a wheel from scratch.  In so doing, Frankie absorbed the underlying numeric logic of spoke interaction.  After all, “it’s a question of numbers.” 

Soon Frankie was truing wheels for friends in the Pinelands area.  He recalls his early days, working with bikes that were so oxidized that when truing a wheel using his thumb as a gauge, the rust on the rim would wear down his thumbnail.

Bikes for the World bikes, at least, don’t put his thumbnails to the test on a daily basis.  However, they do often require some work.  To satisfy local tastes, he modifies “drop bar” road bikes, substituting straight handlebars and new brake assemblies.  Although the conditions under which Frankie labors are not always the best, he generally converts each bike in the space of 15 or 20 minutes.  His small workspace is generally crowded with bikes, and lacking a truing stand or work stand with clamp, he must hang a bike by its seat on a strap from the ceiling.  Unsteady, but functional, permitting him to stand and use both hands. 

Frankie did not come straight from the schoolyard to the bike shop, however.  On leaving school, Frankie became interested in Rastafarianism and organic foods, selling natural fruit juices as a micro business.  However, the competition for space in his mother’s kitchen limited his volume and ability to earn a living—a recipe for frustration.  Even with a small loan from the Pinelands micro-credit program, the business simply could not grow. 

In early 2001, with the growth of the Pinelands bike project, an opportunity came for him to work in the shop.  Frankie began truing wheels at Pinelands on a part-time basis, and when the regular mechanic resigned to take a job outside the cycling profession, Frankie stepped up and took his place.

Not only did Frankie have a natural mechanical talent, but he found helping others fulfilling.  There was “always a joy to it.”  A neighbor or a customer would bring a bike in bad shape, Frankie would work on it, and “when it leaves, you got it riding perfect.”

Frankie brings this philosophy to his own bike, converting an old Schwinn one-speed cruiser into a sturdy six-speed mountain bike, with a large basket able to carry his tools to and from work.  

With four 40’ container shipments and approximately 1700 bikes annually, Frankie is able to handle the bike assembly and reconditioning needs of the project with the part-time mechanic assistance of his friend Clyne Alleyne.  On an informal basis, customers and young people from the neighborhood hang around and clean bikes.  (Pinelands once tried to start a training program, but the first student came one day, and failed to come back the next.  Frankie laments that bike repair service, in this throw-away society, is “a dying trade”.)

While working with bikes and helping customers ride them is personally fulfilling and pays a modest salary, Frankie has other things that are important to him.  He and his girl friend have just built the shell of their new home and, once they install electricity, they plan to dedicate Sundays to cooking and selling soy-based food products, reflecting their personal values, their enjoyment of each other’s company, and—hopefully—to supplement their family income.  A steady job at Pinelands frees Frankie to experiment and take risks. 

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