Bikes, Boards, Boats and getting your ground game on

Felt Mountain Bike by the Tomsk River Bridge, Siberia - Ground Game

Felt Mountain Bike by the Tomsk River Bridge, Siberia

The bike is a modern day horse, the right bike can be a workhorse, and if you add a skateboard, you now have an urban, tactical ground transport system (your ground game). Bikes sometimes go on buses, and often on trains but many times you don’t want to have to deal with the bike at your destination, like in the case of going into a busy downtown core for a business meeting. Or perhaps you’re going to an airport, or renting a car at the other end of the train ride. These occasions are when you lock your bike in the safest place you can find, extract your skateboard and proceed to the train. The combination of bike and skateboard provides an Expat with a rapid, light weight, transportation strategy, that can’t be matched in it’s diversity of uses and cost to implement vs. benefits.

At 52 years old, it may sound childish (to some), that I’m such an advocate of the bike and board transport system. However, when I was a backpacker in Australia in my early 20’s, I owned 4 surfboards (at a time, sold each), 1 skateboard (lasted me years, then I mailed it to Canada) and a forgotten number of bikes. Once I was living in a youth hostel in Freemantle, Western Australia, up on the hill with a view towards Perth and out to the Indian Ocean. I made a bet with a brash young Dude in a flashy new car, that I could beat him to the train station, where we were catching a train into Perth. The girls rode with him and I set off on my skateboard, knowing that I could use the momentum of the hill we lived on to gain enough speed to cruise down the pedestrian mall, which runs block after block through the very center of Freemantle, all the way to the train station. I won that bet because the car could not go where I could go, however I got lucky and timed the stop light at the bottom of the hill, whereas the car had to wait at more than 1 stop-light.

Skateboard benefits worth their weight in gold, is how a skateboard can be used to move heavy objects like boxes of books. Then, when strapped to your backpack with the wheels facing out, the first roll-aboard was born years before Travelpro patented the design we know today. Plus, have you ever seen how children love them? Everywhere in the world, kids want to ride on skateboards. If the environment is right and there’s a safe place to learn, then it’s almost impossible to damage a skateboard, however you do need to be aware that learning means falling and sometimes falling means pain, which can lead to crying. Always use caution and protective gear when learning to skateboard. It’s also not the best type of sport to take-up if you’re not in decent physical shape, as for me, I’d been riding the bikes and boards for my my entire life. I’d also been around boats and skis since before I could walk, however I’ve never lived anywhere that a boat would be more of an advantage, although many places I lived, like Sydney and Hong Kong where I would have had one if I had more time to get my hands on one.

Getting your hands on a bike is the easiest thing, since there are used bikes in garages everywhere on the planet. Often times a person will give, or lend you there a bike, just because it’s been sitting so long that the tires need replacing. Once an elderly couple in South Florida gave me a perfect-condition Peugeot 10 Speed that had been in the closet of their closet for decades, the only thing I had to do was buy new tires because the old ones had dried out to the point of rotting off the bike. The guy at bike shop was in shock at the condition that this antique road bike was in, as for me I loved it and rode it by the old man’s place after to tell him about all the fun he’d missed out on. Riding home on that bike, down the beach on sunset, after a hot day of swimming and laying-out in the sun with my girl, remain some of my fondest memories.

My current bike, which I just now came back from riding, is a stealth (matte black [dull]) urban mountain bike, I call the Canadian Mongoose (my ground game). The previous bike was a Snake by Caloi (Brazilian bike maker), so the Mongoose followed the Snake, and Canadian because it’s tricked out with kit from my favorite gear store in Vancouver the World (Mountain Equipment Co-op), to be as good or better than my Dad’s mountain bike in Canada (which I mooch while there)

December bike ride

December bike ride (Photo credit: siliconpalms)

, but also I have an awesome street racing, 18 speed Trek that was given to me by my Dad’s best friend, he kept it in excellent condition and it rides beautifully. Having said all that, my passion is urban mountain bike riding here in Sampa (Sao Paulo, Brazil), which is a sport I feel I’m part of pioneering. This city has the most challenging riding of any city I’ve seen, part of the challenge is the danger of crossing major roads and hiways because of potential crime/violence. The risks of urban riding here are much more related to cars, motor-bikes and people, this adds a whole new dimension to the sport of regular mountain bike riding – which btw: where I come from in Western Canada is not only perilously dangerous, if you screw up on some trails, you are dead for sure.

Anyone who doesn’t own a bike, is because they don’t want one and that’s normally because they forgot how much fun they are. Now in every city in the world there are bike rentals, get your gusto back on, improve your ground game and get out there and take a peddle. Also, never go to Amsterdam and not rent a bike (unless it’s snowing), that is the one city in the world where no other transportation system can compare. The bike lanes go towards the on-coming traffic but on the safety of the sidewalk. Dutch people revere the bicycle and it’s the most fun of any city to ride a bike in, although China is no slouch on bike lanes and many other places have more people moving around on 2 wheels, under their own power, than people in cars.

Canadian Mongoose, custom made mountain bike

Canadian Mongoose, custom made mountain bike

Here in Brazil it’s expensive to buy imported bikes, and although my custom made bike cost me about $500 USD because it was made with KHS frame and imported parts. The Kona I like would set you back $5,000 USD but it’s available because they sell. Sadly though the Brazil government increases prices for a bicycle profile that Brazilian manufacturers are not able to manufacture. Brands like KHS, Specialized, Trek, Cannondale, Kona, Scott and others represent no more than 3 percent of the total volume of bicycles sold in Brazil. However, they’ve been selling here for a long time, so there’s always used ones somewhere, that someone wants to unload. Realistically I’d say you just walk into a busy bike shop and buy the best used bike that comes closest to your needs, and ride by the shop every month to see if there’s a used Kona come in for sale. My friend that owns Moema Bikes in Sao Paulo speaks perfect English, can build any type of bike, has every accessory, and sees Gringoes ride up and sell a bike (with tears in their eyes) because they’re going back Stateside, or moving overseas, those bikes sell really fast but there’s always a bike for the right price, ready to ride away on – just make sure you know where you’re going and how to get there, especially in Sampa.

The bike is irrefutably the best method of sight-seeing too, what are you waiting for? Just pick up a local newspaper, or better still, find the classifieds online and search your scene for “used bike for sale”. Or walk into a bike with a MasterCard and ride out on my favorite, a brand new Kona (Deep Cove, BC, Bike Maker). Just remember to buy a bigger lock, and that you can’t leave it parked anywhere for very long – even the big locks get jacked in under 30 seconds. A fancy looking bike attracts the thieves, dull it down and don’t leave it tied-up outside super-busy areas, like at bus stations etc…. Get yourself the best helmet you can find, not some sissy Tour de France looking racing helmet – a full-blown Extreme-sports helmet and the correct gloves. Wear excellent footwear, never flip-flops (unless it’s to the corner store) and always, always “ride to arrive alive”!

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