The Bicycle Man Is A SoWal Legend
September 24, 2010 by Gina Moreland
If you're looking for a used bike and you ask a local where to find one, you're likely to be told to go see "the bicycle man". He's sort of a living legend around SoWal.
The dictionary defines “legend” as a non-historical story, or the story of an admirable person.
The definition applies to the life of 89-year-old Leon Sulfridge, better known as “Jack, the bicycle man.”
Perhaps you've seen him sitting on his front porch with his two-wheeled work scattered across his front lawn. But his story goes beyond that of a man pedaling bikes. Jack has been sitting there for 22 years and has single-handedly recycled thousands of bicycles, long before recycling was the thing to do.
His life story dates almost a century, but his bicycle story begins just over two decades ago, in 1988. It was then an old truck dumped a load full of broken bikes and bike parts into the bayou, near his home. Jack walked down the road to check it out. One by one, he hauled back to his house the the bikes deemed trash. On his front and back porch, he began to apply a lifetime of learned skills...to bikes.
Jack was raised in Detroit and fixing things was in his blood.
“I like to say I was born and raised in a garage.” He laughs.
Not far from the truth, as his father ran a garage and machine shop. As a young man, and throughout his life, Jack was always fixing something. He worked as a maintenance man for 42 years at a corrugated boxing company in Virginia, where he retired.
When asked if there was anything specific he did as a maintenance man, such as work on the boxing machines. He just smiled and shook his head, “I ‘spect you could say I did it all.”
After “doing it all,” Jack and his wife returned to her native Florida – and he has been here ever since.
So what happened to those old bikes he found in the Bayou? You guessed it. He fixed them up! He put them on his lawn with intent to provide a good, working bike to others who couldn’t afford one brand new, or afford one at all.
After fixing the bikes on the bayou, Jack would buy bikes from thrift stores, fix this or that, or just shine them up and put them on his lawn.
He began to be known as a guy who could fix bikes and his home became the perfect spot to get rid of an old one, if you were in the market for something newer. These days, he makes fewer trips out and most old bikes are delivered to his doorstep by people who know him.
His reputation has grown and as a result, Jack has recycled thousands of bikes since those first few dumped in the bayou. He has spared our landfills of thousands of bikes and turned trash into one of the most “green” modes of transportation there is – before the phrase “going green” was uttered.
Of course, Jack doesn’t advertise “going green.” He doesn’t scream, “I recycle” from the rooftops, nor does he boast the charity work he often does one on one (though an average bike returns about $40).
He is not in competition with any new retailer, his bikes are definitely used and many brands are long out of business, most with mix-matched parts.
In addition, Jack is careful at his “garage sales” to abide by county requests. He never uses signage, his bikes sit a required distance from the road and he does not advertise. He simply rocks in his rocking chair on that old front porch and waits to share with those who stop. And people do stop.
The traffic and his craft keep him busier than most his age. Whether it is tinkering with an abandoned bike, restoring a really old one (that he won’t part with), or just rockin’ in his ‘ole rocking chair with his Jim Beam hat on, he sees it all as a reason to rise in the morning.
Jack said just the other day, “oh, you know, I’m just happy to have something to do since my wife died. It keeps me going.”
Though almost 90, Jack keeps a kindred spirit with any environmentally-conscious artist around SoWal – always seeing the life in something many would throw away. And in that way, he is certainly worthy of legendary admiration.