Wheels are spinning

Johnny Aguiar

Photo By Andrea Lavoy Wagner

Hundreds of bicycles spill out from a white garage on Park Avenue in south Chico. It’s called Farmer John’s Barn. The business owner, Johnny Aguiar, a retired farmer, collects, repairs and builds bicycles, and most recently, pedicabs. With pedicab No. 9 almost ready to get “off the runway,” Aguiar’s goal is to have a fleet of 10, which he rents out every weekend. However, he can’t quit farming, he said, pointing out a man-sized tomato plant growing up among some 700 bicycles in the back of the shop. The area, which he calls “the museum,” holds some bicycles that date to the 1930s.

How did you get started repairing bicycles?

I had a few that I took to the flea market and I saw how well they were selling, and I thought this might be something I could get into. This [building] came up for rent and I rented the whole thing. Then, a couple bikes came in, a couple bikes went out, and it just ballooned. It started from December to now, and I would say it’s close to 750 to 850 bikes total.

Where do you get the bikes?

I bought a lot of them from out of town, from Willows, Corning. And then, of course, there’s people cleaning up their yards. The fire department brought [some] to me. They had like 15 or 20 of them.

What do you do with them besides make pedicabs?

Last December, it was kind of unique that this family came in, a mother of three, and their place had just burned down and they’d lost everything. She brought her bike in to sell me so she could get another bike. I said, “Why don’t I just fix up your bike?” And I did. We’ll probably get another 10 to 15 bikes for kids, the little bikes [in the next few weeks]. You’re lucky to get $5 out of them and you put $20 into them. So I figured I might as well just give them away. I gave eight away last year. So I’d like to do maybe 10 or 15 this year, because I just got way too many bikes.

How did you learn how to repair bikes?

As a 6-year-old I worked on my dad’s brand-new ’48 Pontiac car, because my dad was not mechanically inclined at all. I’ve always built things. On the ranch, on the farm, you’re always improvising.

What’s your motivation?

My main thing [with the pedicabs] is to help some of the people who can’t help themselves. They over-drink, and if they didn’t get a ride home they’d either try to drive or get picked up for alcohol. Plus you recycle, like I’m recycling these van seats [used for pedicab seats] because they’d end up in the trash bin.