“Farmer John” Aguiar stands out in the world of local bike recycling
Cycling is by nature a green sport, with one notable exception—the greasy, rusting heaps left in basements, back yards and landfills after riders lose interest or upgrade to better equipment, or a bicycle’s natural life has simply run its course.
But the efforts of Johnny “Farmer John” Aguiar illustrate how a little know-how, some elbow grease and a lot of patience can be used to breathe new life into old bikes and parts.
“What I do is I buy and sell used bikes, for other people and myself,” said Aguiar, whose nickname, “Farmer John,” is no idle claim.
“I am actually a farmer,” Aguiar added, “and as a matter of fact may go back into farming to grow exotic seeds.
“I’ve been a logger,” he offered. “I used to run 16 head of horses to give people rides. I retired twice.”
Indeed, Aguiar’s appearance and mannerisms—old brown wide-brimmed hat, cowboy boots, and plaid work shirt coupled with an “Aw, shucks” demeanor—indicate he’d be more at home on the farm than his current place of business, an old white garage at the southern end of Park Avenue that he’s dubbed Farmer John’s Barn.
The only visible indicators of his latest direction in life are the grease stains running from his ankles to his thighs. And, of course, the bikes flowing out of every opening of the building.
Aguiar rented the building in December 2009, intending to sell the tools, small appliances, old computer components and other typical flea-market fare that filled the 20-by-60-foot barn on his property in Forest Ranch. Most of the inventory that he brought down the hill to his Park Avenue “barn” still sits on a few tables in the corner. The rest of the space is filled with bicycles, bike parts, and tools and machinery to fix, build and restore bikes. “I started out with six bikes, and now I have over 1,000,” he said.
The bulk of these bikes rest on the side of the building, in what Aguiar calls “The Museum,” his personal salvage yard of pedal-driven machines waiting to be revived, or stripped of parts—which are then cleaned up, repaired and categorized into piles for future use.
“There’s very little that I can’t or won’t use,” he explained, noting that rare leftovers are cut up and recycled for scrap metal.
While leading a tour of his domain, Aguiar stopped often to point out certain bikes and parts. “This is old-school, rare as hen’s teeth,” he said, picking up a set of gears. Pointing to another bike, he explained, “That’s a brand-new $200 bike and someone ran it over and bent both rims. I recycled the rims from another cruiser, replaced the spokes. And I’ve got a truing machine [for wheel alignment]. I’ve got a little bit over other bike shops because I have a welder and some other tools they don’t, and I actually build stuff. Let me show you.”
Aguiar disappeared around the corner of the building. Three minutes later, he rounded the red tractor parked in front of Farmer John’s Barn with a small whoop and a big smile, one hand holding his hat in place while his boots pushed the pedals of a refurbished trike pulling a sturdy-looking, red-framed pedicab.
“Hand-built from the ground up, mostly out of parts I’ve found,” he announced as he rode in tight circles and explained what goes into the cab, one of nine he’s built so far. The seats are recycled from vans and the wheels from old BMX bikes. He takes particular pride in what he calls his “signature”: a steel floorboard. Aguiar rents pedicabs out for $20 a night, and also sells them.
Aguiar also builds other bike trailers and modifies bikes for senior citizens and the disabled, and he claims there’s no reconditioning or repurposing project that he won’t tackle. “I’ll do everything and anything that can be done to a bicycle,” he offered, “and if I can’t do it myself, I know someone who can.
“It’s just some mechanical knowledge and a lot of plain old common sense,” Aguiar says of his expertise. “You actually learn as you go. Each bike has all its differences—different wheel bearings, different gears. It helps to have the right tools; you can’t just do a screw driver and a monkey wrench and start putting them together. And a lot of times I’ll make a mistake and have to backtrack.”
Aguiar chuckled when asked if he considers himself a cyclist. “I had one bicycle when I was 16,” he answered, “and I had it until I left home. I gave it to my neighbor for letting me park my car at his place, then never rode a bike until a year ago. I’m 69 years old.”
His recycling efforts extend beyond bikes. Aguiar has restored two of three boats on the Park Avenue property, one for his own fishing pleasure and two he intends to sell.
There’s also an old Enloe Medical Center van he bought wrecked; he said he intends to restore it to move bikes. “I picked this thing up after they’d left it sitting eight or nine years,” Aguiar said. “It started right up. Hell, it even had three-quarters of a tank of gas in it!”