Across Continents

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Mitko’s bike

That was it. Something Dewi, who’d taught me the art of cycle maintenance, had mentioned. Nothing to be dreaded more than when someone brings you a bike they’ve already had a go at fixing. Apart from, of course, someone claims it was their friend who’d tried. I’d been asked if I’d take a look at Mitko’s bicycle. Delighted of course. Fixing these things is the one skill I do carry on the road, a means to help repay people’s hospitality whenever the opportunity arises. Besides, he’d struck me to be such a good-natured chap, it’d be a real pleasure. You really couldn’t do anything but want to help.


It had taken quite a while just to clean the bike up. Chipping caked on mud, set hard, out of the gears. I’d known they didn’t work, and the brakes needed replacing. Lots of play in the steering, similarly with the pedals. Would have been a great instructional piece. At least the handlebars looked straight. With the help of Julie, an English lady in the village with a garage full of tools, a bike shop in the nearby town of Elhovo, and a bag of parts Mitko had found for me, work could finally begin.


At home you’d probably throw the machine away, pop down to your local bike shop and pick up another, all for less than one hundred quid. But that’s the UK. And this is Bulgaria. I’d sourced the parts for less than six Leva – about three pounds. I’d decided the best thing to do was to strip it right down. It had taken a while – there’d been some serious over tightening going on, and someone had tried to chisel the pedals off. But I’d got there in the end, even managed to remove the seat post, notorious for getting jammed solid.

Two days later I’d reassembled the bike, fitted new brakes, repositioned the saddle to a less eye-watering angle. Even managed get five or so of the gears working, which, considering the amount of play in the pedals and frame, I’d been quietly pleased with. But what really mattered was what Mitko made of it. He’d looked absolutely delighted when he’d come to collect the bike. That was more than enough for me. But then, half an hour later, a knock at the door. Some minor adjustments needed, I thought. No. He’d brought me a box of chocolates.


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