Bikes can be a quandary when coming out cruising. Often car-less for the first time since age 16, many of us are inclined to believe that bikes will be essential to our very survival.
Bozo and I were no different and invested in two Montague folding mountain/multi-use bikes with knobby tires that are fine on pavement as well as more rugged terrain (Bahamian roads).How has this equipment fared?
The bikes are great. They’re a bit bulky even when folded (and our lack of folding pedals makes them more cumbersome), but at least they are real, regular sized, totally ride-able bikes when you take them out…
…which we almost never do.
Right now, they are moldering along with our car in Oriental, NC, which also happens to be where they get the most use—and where a twenty year old, $10 used banana-seater from Sears bought off Craig’s List would be just fine.
The fact is, living on the hook in the Bahamas, bikes are a total pain in the butt. To use them, you have to get them out of storage (our spare stateroom), try not to knock over anything important on the way to the back deck, load the beasts into a small dinghy, get them to shore—usually through a seaway and then up some rickety ladder—without dunking them, assemble them, ride, and then reverse the process.
Unless you can safely leave them ashore somewhere, this is the hassle you go through every single time. Soon, walking a mile or two (or hitching 10+) starts looking pretty good.
I would feel lazy except for our newfound friends, the Weeds. They had our admiration as we watched them take their bikes to shore in Black Point. Come to find out they are both experienced bike racers, yet they have since abandoned their bikes in Long Island! As in left them there, for charity.
Given, this was after riding from Salt Pond to Clarence Town and back (80 miles round trip?). Also given, they are living in close quarters on a 31-foot trimaran. But these caveats aside, I take comfort in the fact that even bike enthusiasts don’t bike long in the Bahamas.
There is good reason for this. Communities are clustered around the waterfront. The first paved road didn’t come to Great Exuma until the 1990s, so the core infrastructure (stores, restaurants, etc.) was built when people either walked or rowed—just like us cruisers! Only new businesses on the bigger islands have gone “suburban” and are sprinkled along the Queen’s Highway (that’s the name of the main road on every island) just like Route 1 back in the States. Everywhere else, there isn’t much to see after the first mile.
Plus, the roads are mostly pothole-ridden with no bike lane—except in Duncan Town, population 43, which now boasts miles of brand new pavement. Don’t worry, I can’t explain it either.
You should also know that driving is a contact sport here, so bike riding soon becomes downright suicidal. The fatality rate for 2008 in the US was 1.27 deaths per 100 MILLION miles traveled. On Exuma, we’ve got less than 80 miles of road to work with, only 5000 people and we average over 3 traffic deaths per year. Sometimes folks don’t come 250 yards out of the Fish Fry before flinging themselves into a tree at 100 MPH. Seriously. Driving casualties (whether fatal or just really messing people up) are an unbelievable problem in most all communities in the Bahamas.
Admittedly, much of this happens late at night after drinking, but even daytime on the roads can be frightening. I drove behind a guy in his 80s (I know whose car this was) while he weaved between his lane, oncoming traffic, and the bush. I slowly increased my following distance to 40 car-lengths, because whatever accident he was going to be in, I didn't want any part of. And this was at ten AM on a sunny Tuesday morning.
Despite saying all of this, we do sometimes miss the Montagues. When we were in Brunswick, GA, for several weeks, shopping venues were miles out of town. Bikes would have made that trip much easier. As it was, we walked out and taxied back, doing fewer big trips (maybe every 10 days) rather than easier-to-organize, short trips the bikes would have made possible.
We also spent a month in Charleston, SC, at the city marina’s Mega Dock and enjoyed having the bikes there, as it was almost a half-mile walk just to get to shore and then several more to find the “real” town. And we like having them in North Carolina when we go there for summers.
The real difference seems to be…THE DOCK! If we can keep the bikes ready to grab and go, we use them. If it’s a huge rigamarole to get them to shore and back—especially if there’s little payoff and a high change of death or damage-we never do it.
If we were going to be at a dock more often, especially in the US, I would carry the bikes. And I definitely wouldn’t be caught dead on the 7-inch mini-wheel types. (Actually, I don’t think they’re up to most riding). The Montagues are great to ride and have held up well despite the saltwater environment and essentially no maintenance, so I can recommend them highly.
But in our reality, when at anchor in the Bahamas as we usually are, even the best bikes languish. If you've got better things for which to allocate the same space or weight, don't bother.