One night last fall, Manuel Vera lay awake in his bed consumed by something he knew must be true: A lot of bikes never see the light of day.

Children outgrow their bicycles. Adults buy new bicycles and don’t bother to sell their old ones. Some people simply stop riding. Manuel reasoned that garages, sheds and basements everywhere must be full of old bikes. Wouldn’t it be nice to get them back on the road? And wouldn’t it be nice if he helped make that happen?

That is why every other week or so, Manuel can be found in a little park at the intersection of Sligo Avenue and Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring with a sign reading “Free Bikes.”

Big bikes. Little bikes. Tricycles. All free.

Some people wonder if there’s a catch.

“I tell them, ‘No. This bike is yours,’ ” Manuel said.

Manuel is 71. He retired five years ago from Pepco, where he managed a program that helped companies lower their energy use. He’s always been a cyclist — competing in time trials and triathlons — and when the coronavirus pandemic started, he sent a message to his Silver Spring neighbors that he would be happy to perform tuneups on their bicycles.

He’s a self-taught mechanic who can handle tasks such as replacing tires and tubes, adjusting brakes, tightening cables, adjusting derailleurs and replacing shifters. He asked people to pay for the parts their bikes needed. His labor was free.

A meticulous recordkeeper, Manuel has tuned up 104 bicycles in the past year, which turns out to be pretty much all the bikes in his neighborhood that needed attention. So in November he sent a note around saying if people had bikes that were taking up space, he would fix them up and give them away free.

He wasn’t sure at first how he was going to do the giving-away part. He didn’t want anything complex.

“I just wanted to be some dude in the street with a sign,” Manuel said.

He approached a church near his house — Light of the World on Georgia Avenue — and got permission to stand there on a Sunday as services let out.

“I brought four bikes,” he said. “They were gone in minutes.”

He’s since moved to Sligo Avenue Neighborhood Park, which he says is the perfect location.

“There are apartment buildings nearby and a food pantry,” he said.

Most of the recipients are working-class people, immigrants, people for whom a bike is not at the top of the shopping list. But shouldn’t everyone have a bike?

Since November, Manuel has given away 40 bikes and spent $298.21 of his own money on parts.

“Which is no big deal,” he said.

Manuel is always working on three or four bikes, which he clamps to a washing station in his backyard before moving up to his deck to be tinkered with. To find donor bikes, he monitors a Facebook group called Buy Nothing.

He still rides, trying to fit in a 13-mile loop twice a week that takes him on Beach Drive to Garrett Park and back. Occasionally when he’s out, Manuel will recognize a bicycle that has passed through his hands.

“It’s nice to see a bike I had to clean the cobwebs off of out on the street,” he said. “You know that bike hadn’t been ridden in 10 years.”

And when he sees that bike, he’s transported back to his boyhood in Peru and the moment his father let go of the bicycle Manuel was learning to ride.

“It was such a surprise,” Manuel said of the instant he realized he was on his own, upright, pedaling by himself, able to go wherever his bike might take him.

The grapes of wrath

Do not give your dogs raisins or let them scarf them down! That was the message several readers sent me after reading my Monday column.

I’d mentioned that if our dog, Archie, had his way, he’d partake of pretty much everything we eat. But the oatmeal raisin cookies I snack on could be disastrous for him. Raisins — and grapes — are bad for dogs.

Twitter: @johnkelly

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