DAY OF THE BICYCLE by John T. Harrigan

By anguillian November 27, 2017 10:42 Updated




Bicycle riding on Anguilla in the 21st Century is engaged in mainly for competitive and recreational reasons. The sleek, streamlined race bikes and the BMX/ Mountain bikes manned by fitly attired and skilled riders, are a far cry from the bicycles which ruled Anguilla’s rugged roads around the 1950’s to mid-1980’s. The British made bikes of that era were used primarily as an essential mode of transport, since private motorized vehicles or public transportation was hardly existent. The option back then was, to ride a bicycle or walk to and from your destination.
My introduction to bicycle transport was at about the age of five years old which was as traumatic as my first plane ride at the age of ten. My brother, Joe, was taking me along to the village grocery on the carrier of his 26 Triumph when due to my utter fear of falling off, I failed to heed Joe’s instruction to, “keep your legs out” which resulted in my left heel becoming caught in the spokes of the rear wheel and has left a permanent scar, fifty years since. Maybe it was partly to guard against such potential risks that bicycle “towing” was outlawed by the St. Kitts police and vigorously enforced by officers Thomas Ryan and Ashley “Urvins” Carty whose harsh reprimand of persons caught contravening this rule was tantamount to being slapped a one hundred dollar fine. (Sargent Ryan and Officer Carty had formed part of a peace keeping constabulary subsequent to the expulsion of the St. Kitts policemen from Anguilla on May 30th, 1967).
The man I most admired as an expert and ingenious bicycle operator while growing up was my dad, Haraldo Harrigan. This slow but equally sure rider had maximized the carrying capacity of his 28 Hercules by creatively adapting the plywood cut-out of a kitchen sink onto the carrier of his trusty vehicle. Being seriously involved in the retail business, this modification allowed for the movement of much merchandise including 100 lb. bags of flour, sugar, rice and very importantly, on the weekends, several cuts of farm-fresh meat transported from Little Dix to his business outlet in the Quarter. Indeed, Harrigan was very resourceful and quite savvy when it came to aspects of logistics. I vividly recall that one Saturday afternoon I was instructed by Daddy to take his bicycle and run over to Fredrick Brooks’ grocery in North Side and purchase for him a 50 lb. bag of onions. This was for me a rather challenging assignment, not to mention a potentially embarrassing one since I was not quite experienced on the 28 Hercules with a 50 lb. payload and there existed the very real possibility of some of my school mates seeing me on Haraldo’s old bicycle carrying a bag of onions. Happily, I made the return trip from the Quarter to North Side successfully and heard no mention of it the following Monday at Valley Secondary School.

The wear and tear on the sturdily built Hercules was minimal, however over the years the excessive weight had resulted in the rear wheel developing a distinct wobble which provided much amusement for youngsters on the Stoney Ground road as Harrigan leisurely moved through.
Who would undisputedly be considered the most iconic female bicycle rider of all time on Anguilla, is Ms. Ada Finch (decd.) of Sandy Hill. This meticulously attired lady, decked in pearl necklace, Go-Go sun shades and other finery, could be seen on the Long Path road during the mid-morning purposefully making her forth-nightly trek to the Valley on her 26 lady-frame Raleigh to transact important business. After paying her dog and house taxes at the Treasury, Ms. Finch would cycle to Lake’s market where she would select her grocery supplies and secure them in a box, made fast to the carrier by a discarded inner tube. Ms. Finch would next make an intended brief stop at Haraldo’s where she would engage the shrewd businessman in some tough negotiations before coming to an agreed price per pound for a wedder goat (castrated ram) she would sell him the following Friday. Ada would then head back east to Sandy Hill arriving home by lunch time, quite satisfied with a successful day of business accomplished thanks to her marvelous transport- her dependable two-wheeler.
Other ladies who were avid bikers back in the day include Dr. Phyllis Fleming Banks. With one centrally located secondary school, many students, including Dr. Banks rode bicycles to school. She along with her two siblings would traverse four villages daily to arrive at the Valley Secondary School on time each morning. I recall that Dr. Bank’s bike had developed a minor mechanical fault where the left pedal would slip as a result of a worn cotter pin which prevented the pedal from engaging fully with the centre axel. A situation I found a bit amusing as the rider resumed peddling after mounting the hill outside my parents’ residence. Dr. Banks is credited for teaching a number of girls from the Little Dix/Shoal Bay community to ride a bike, as she allowed them on occasion to practice on her bicycle on the return leg home from school.

It was with an air of pride and purpose that retired head teacher Mrs. Celestine Harrigan John rode her spanking new green 26 Humber from Welches to the VSS during the tumultuous period of the late 1960’s. Aunt Joan of North Side made her way to work at Gumb’s Travel Agency in the Quarter on her well-maintained bicycle. I can clearly recall the very modest lady walking the bicycle at the Mahogany Tree junction as the incline seemed to prove somewhat of a challenge for her.
With virtually no paved roads on Anguilla in the 1960’s and prior, bicycle maintenance was critical. Bertram (Bertie) Richardson of North Hill had come to the aid of a growing number of cyclists with the coming on stream of his business, Bertram’s Cycle and Repair Shop. If you needed any part from a spoke to a frame or even a complete bike, Bertie was the go-to guy. I recall my brother James and me striking out for North Hill from Little Dix early one Saturday to source some patching (tube repair kit), brake blocks and a generator for our bikes. That was my first trip to North Hill and it seemed like an eternity to get to our destination. I wasn’t the least apprehensive about getting lost in such unfamiliar territory as I trusted my older brother’s navigational prowess, and on my American styled Oxford Spyder bike followed every turn he made on his 26 Raleigh. Bertie, of course, had all the accessories we needed and the thrifty businessman, without fail, introduced us to his impressive line of Bata shoes and high school uniform shirts and trousers. We vowed that we would be back. I left with thoughts of that pair of suede leather uppers haunting my mind which would have been a classic replacement for the pair of oversized rubber “fisherman” school shoes my mother had bought me from Clifford Reid (decd.) at the Yellow Banana. I do recall that I convinced her to buy me that Indian-styled pair of footwear a couple years later upon entering second form at the VSS.
When it came to the entire matter of bicycle repair and maintenance, my dad Haraldo was again most ingenious and resourceful. He was an artisan at producing brake blocks with a lifetime warranty. When the relatively soft rubber of the original block wore down to the metal bracket, he would burn out the residue and remake the block using far more durable slabs of truck tire which he securely fastened to the bracket with wire. These blocks, (patent pending) provided increased braking power but created a most irritating noise when the wire engaged with the wheel rim. Perhaps this sounded like music to my dad’s ears and proof that he had come up with quite a versatile invention.
The main replacement parts on bicycles during those early days when most roads were essentially stony foot paths, were the inner tubes and tires. Due to severe budgetary constraints, Stevanus (Stee) Niles (decd.) of the Quarter was unable to replace the inner tube of the front wheel of his 28 Hercules. He however fell upon a plan to replace the tube with strips of cloth which he reasoned would be a near perfect substitute. Sadly, Niles’ innovation was short-lived when road-tested as the tire, not being fully inflated, came away from the wheel rim and the strips of cloth went flying with the wind.
Eustace (Rushie) Brooks who rose to the rank of Anguilla’s Postmaster General from 1970-1995, could be seen during the 1950’s on his 28 Hercules delivering mail to Anguilla’s out-districts as far as West-End. This beloved retired civil servant was that essential and dependable link of communication to the people he gladly served, thanks in large measure to his faithful bicycle which he traded in 1959 for his more luxurious BSA motor cycle.

One of the most impressive bicycles on the road during the 1970’s was one owned by Glenn (Jessie) Hodge of East End. Jessie took exceptional pride in decorating and maintaining his 28 Hercules which he rode to the Valley daily to attend his job at the Public Health Department where he was employed as an officer with the Adeses Egypti Mosquito Eradication Campaign. Being someone of deep religious persuasion, Hodge had creatively adorned his bike’s blue chain case with the caption, “Consider Your Eternal Destiny.” I clearly recall during one lunch hour on the Webster’s Park as Jessie was riding some laps, showing off the capabilities of his prized cycle, he drew the ire of one VSS student who chided him to the point of abuse for having the words, Consider Your Eternal Destiny prominently displayed on his bike. Sadly, a few years later, that former VSS student was confronted with his eternal destiny while piloting a light aircraft in the region. (RIP.).
Bro. Stephen Rogers who had migrated to St. Thomas during the 1960’s had returned home for a brief visit while his bond was being renewed and was being accommodated at his sister Maude’s residence in Wattices. Stephen awoke one night to what he thought was a heavenly visitation, as a soft yet brilliant light illuminated the roof above his bed. Enraptured in the awe of the moment, Bro. Rogers uttered in the most reverent and tremulous tone he could muster: “My Jesus I love Thee, if ever I love Thee, my Jesus ’tis now.” Upon awaking the following morning, Rogers realized that the apparition was truly caused by a celestial body, and was in fact the brilliant beams of the moonlight filtering through the eaves of the cottage and reflecting majestically on Precious Carty’s new bicycle which she had left in the care of Maude (upon migrating to St. Thomas) which was stored suspended from the rafters. No doubt Bro. Stephen considered the obvious explanation of his “vision” as somewhat of an anticlimax to his near Abou Ben Adhem experience.
Riding his bicycle until he was well into his sixties, Haraldo who is now ninety-seven (97), had vowed to not drive a motor vehicle until he had seen the Shoal Bay road paved which he and his cousin Renford Hawley (decd.) had pioneered. Haraldo acquired his driver’s license in 1986 much to the dismay of the motoring public, for almost invariably whenever the traffic slowed to a crawl, my dad was leading ahead in his Toyota wagon with his signature tatch broom secured to the roof. It seemed he had adopted his policy from travelling on two wheels to four: “Tek yer time, tek yer time!” In a very fair assessment of the bicycle, Harrigan had made this very profound observation: ” The bicycle is the best vehicle man ever mek; it does not burn one drop of gas.” Unfortunately, a dear lady from Island Harbour was evidently ignorant to the fact that the bicycle was fully man-powered, as it is reported that she regularly gave her son money (which he gladly accepted) to buy gas for his bike. She reasoned that her son’s daily six-mile trek to and from the Valley Secondary School was quite a costly venture fuel wise. One could only imagine her shock and fury upon learning that the bicycle needed no gas and that her dishonest boy had taken her for a ride. (Pun intended).
A revolutionary concept in bicycle transportation was introduced to the island around the early 1980’s when the first double cycle hit Anguilla’s roads. Ceceile Simmomds of Deep Waters who had returned home from New York with her husband, drew the attention and wonder of the public as they were admired traversing through the town and villages on their somewhat ungainly twin cycle. In retrospect, the operation of the Simmonds’ unique tandem vehicle offered a lesson in the all-important virtue of unity and us as a people working in a reciprocal manner toward a common cause. Indeed, if one rider neglected to do their share of peddling progress going forward would be significantly retarded and would lead to burn out of one party. No doubt, this selfless mode of biking and transport was exemplary and indicative of the marital bond this fine couple shared.

With Anguilla’s busy thoroughfares today inundated by modern motorized transport, the lowly bicycle is now but a relic of an era past. Fifty years since our Revolution has brought significant economic progress leading to a more affluent society. But has giving up our bicycles helped our physical wellbeing or our overall health? The ease with which we are able to commute to our destinations in this far more modern era has in large measure led to increased lethargy and our more sedentary lifestyle which has evolved is considered a major contributing factor to many of our non-communicable ailments.

In concluding, I pay special homage to those old British made bicycles of yester-year and their distinguished operators who helped in unsung ways in impacting the social and economic development of our homeland, Anguilla, over 50 years past.

By anguillian November 27, 2017 10:42 Updated


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