Stuart Harrod keeps 16 bicycles in his Frankfort living room, and at least a dozen more in the basement.
Cardboard boxes hold handlebars, pedals and gears. Wheels hang from the ceiling and frames perch on stands, ready for repairs.
Stuart has bikes with baskets and banana seats, lightning-fast roadsters and tiny ones with training wheels.
“I like to restore old bikes, but how many bikes do I need?” he says, laughing, surrounded by metal and rubber in his basement workshop. “What do you do with them all?”
His answer: Give them away.
Stuart started The Folkbike Re-Cyclery in June 2008, when gas prices eclipsed $4 a gallon.
He spent a lot of time at Kentucky Coffeetree Café that summer, and he met people who couldn’t afford transportation to work, bus routes and the grocery store.
“At the same time, one of my neighbors down the street was cleaning out his shed and found two nice, old bikes that he was just going to throw away,” he said.
“I thought, wait a minute – don’t throw those away. I know some people who could use those.”
He restored the bikes, handed them out for free – and was hooked.
Neighbors dug dusty, 1970s-era Schwinns from their attics. His friend pulled another out of a Dumpster in Lexington. Bikes began appearing in Stuart’s front yard, dropped off by strangers while he was away.
His project spread by word of mouth. As of early March, he’d given bikes to 60 Frankfort adults and children.
Most of them have gone to people who rely on the bus to get around town. He’s handed children their first set of wheels, and replaced stolen bicycles.
A few weeks ago he gave a Frankfort woman a yellow cruiser and her 5-year-old son a bright orange Mongoose with training wheels. It was his first bicycle.
“It’s kind of like Christmas every day,” Stuart said. “You see the smile on their face, and you know you’ve done something to help them. It’s a lot more rewarding than what I was doing before.”
Stuart, 46, spent years working for his family’s business, Harrod Concrete and Stone Co. Now he’s a silent partner, a position that allows him to restore bikes full time.
“I just got to the point where I dreaded going to work every day,” he said.
“It’s a good situation now because I have time to do this, and I feel like I’m really – at least in my own small way – helping the community a lot more doing this than what I was doing.”
Stuart says he realized he needed a change as he headed to the basement at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, dressed in a bathrobe and slippers, to rebuild a back wheel.
“I thought, ‘This is a lot better than dreading to go to work and facing another day of drudgery,’” he said.
“It’s kind of nice to be able to do something you have a passion for and enjoy doing.”
Stuart usually spends two days fixing up each bike.
“I generally strip them down to the bare frame – right down to the ball bearing,” he said, standing next to a work in progress. “I completely rebuild them, replace any worn out or broken or rusted parts.”
Some are in decent shape and just need a tune up and a few new parts. Others are beyond repair, so he breaks them down and stores the pieces in cardboard boxes – it’s the “bicycle in a box stage,” he jokes.
“A lot of them aren’t worth fixing up, but they have a lot of usable parts,” he said, adding that he recycles the rest.
“I figure if I keep them long enough, sooner or later I’ll accumulate enough to build another bike.”
Three or four old, dilapidated bicycles can become one new one – people call those Franken-bikes, Stuart says. He often buys new tires, tape and brake and shifter cables.
Stuart never charges, but he does accept small donations if recipients want to contribute. He estimates about 20 percent of people do, and the funds go to buy supplies.
“Some people donate a few bucks, whatever they can afford,” he said. “But if that means they’re going to do without dinner tonight, no thanks. Just take the bike.”
Someone asked him once how he could afford to restore so many bicycles free of charge.
“How do you afford to play golf three times a week?” he answered. “How do you afford to keep your fishing boat on the river, and buy all the fishing gear and gas and docking fees? It’s a hobby.”
The good it does for other people is the payoff, he says.
“People need a break,” he said. “I figure this is something good I can do to feel like I’m giving back to the community in some way, and it’s a lot more rewarding than just trying to turn a profit.”
Stuart’s dream is to start a bike co-op in Frankfort, a storefront downtown where people could repair their bikes or build new ones. There would be boxes of free parts they could dig through, he said, and experts to help.
He’d like to gain nonprofit status, or work with an existing nonprofit, so he could accept monetary donations and seek grant funding. He’s looking for a space to rent now, in hopes that he can open it later this year.
He would also continue to recycle bikes for people in need.
“I’ve been into bikes for pretty much my whole life,” he said.
As a boy growing up in the east end of Louisville, Stuart says he rode his bike everywhere. He was hard on the vehicles, and it got too expensive to pay a repairman.
“So I kind of just learned how to fix them on my own,” he said.
At age 14, he got a job fixing bikes at Thornberry’s Toys. Because he was under 16, he didn’t get paid, but he learned the trade and got to use the shop’s tools on his own bike.
Stuart is still a cycling enthusiast, but not like you might expect. He’s not the skin-tight Lycra-wearing type, he jokes.
“Everybody thinks of cycling as Lycra and high-end road bikes, but a lot of people could use them just to get around town,” he said. “I ride mine to the grocery store, and I run my errands on it.”
Stuart straps his recycling bins to his blue Yuba Mundo, and he has bikes retrofitted with electric motors. A bike powers his family’s Oster blender, gutted of its motor and attached to the rear wheel.
He’s also helping a farmer process his wheat with a bike-powered grain mill – he removed the hand crank from a table-sized mill.
He’s got a cargo rack and plans to buy a trailer, and when he gets his income tax return, he’s buying a couch – and hauling it home on two wheels.
(Luckily the trip from M. Simon Furniture to his house is short – and downhill.)
Sometimes he even hauls bikes on his bike, hooking them onto the side when he delivers them to people in need.
“There’s so much more to cycling than the road bike guys or the mountain bike people,” he said.
“Nothing against that, I’m all for it. But there’s a lot of people, just regular folks, who ride bikes – and they don’t wear Lycra either.”
Stuart hopes his work encourages more Frankfort residents to ride bikes to work, school and on errands, and that it will bring more bike lanes to city streets.
“I enjoy fixing things, I like to tinker, I like to work with my hands,” he said. “I think I can keep a lot of old bikes out of the landfill – I’d like to see them on the road.”
If you’re in need of a bike or would like to donate an old bike or parts, call Stuart at 502-682-5246 or visit folkbikerecyclery.org.
“Frankfort Faces” is a series that highlights people from within the Frankfort and Franklin County community. Each feature follows one of the city’s most unique personalities and includes a story, photos and video, which can be found by clicking the TV icon attached to the story online at state-journal.com.