Walking around East Harlem a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a parking lot filled with classic bicycles. Many of them sported Puerto Rican flags. Most appeared to have lights and speakers. Since the bikes were lined up on display and the man standing near them seemed friendly enough, I drew closer.
This is how I met Don Pedrito. He rescues classic Schwinn bicycles (and only Schwinns) and restores them lovingly himself. He has dozens!
The bicycles are not meant to be sold. Restoring and customizing these bikes is a labor of love for Don Pedrito, a way to display Puerto Rican pride, and it keeps him busy in his retirement.
When I asked why the Schwinn bikes seem to have cultural resonance with people from P.R., Don Pedrito explained that there are several reasons. First, many were manufactured in Puerto Rico. Not only did this earn the company a degree of local loyalty, but they were relatively affordable, well-made, and easy to fix – especially compared to owning a car. When he was growing up they were everywhere. They were even customized for various occupations – he showed me one that was once used by kids to deliver loaves of bread.
Personally, I liked the modernist look to the bikes, including the springs, gears, and kickstands. I only took photos of a small fraction of Don Pedrito’s collection of bicycles. Just when I thought that I had seen them all, he’d pop out of his shed with another! I had a great time taking photos of my favorite bikes, talking with someone about their passion, and seeing a familiar object with new eyes.