Last spring I thought it might be a good idea to buy a secondhand bike for our daughter to leave at the shore house that my family shares in New Jersey. This would eliminate the heaviest bike from my car’s bike rack and reduce the time spent loading the bikes for each trip.
Memorial Day weekend is always the biggest weekend for yard sales at the Jersey Shore, so we decided to try to find a bike while we were there. There were a few signs posted around town that said simply, “Bikes for Sale” with an address below, so we headed in that direction. The small yard was full of “vintage” bikes in many sizes, most covered in rust, but none that were the right size for our daughter (24-inch wheels). Then I spotted a shiny, red folding bike that looked brand new.
The seller told us the bike had been bought new many years ago, but it had hardly been used at all. I remembered the rows of brightly colored Bromptons and Dahons in the bike shop where we had bought our bikes a few months earlier and thought maybe we had found a bargain after all. While the asking price was more than we had planned to spend on a used kid’s bike, this one could adjust to fit anyone in the house. My husband was skeptical, but I was convinced it was the perfect solution. Finally, he agreed to let me buy it, but only if I could get it for less than asking price (after seeing the overpriced rusty bikes). A ten dollar deduction sealed the deal, and the folded bike in its carry bag went into our trunk.
Back at the house, the man who wanted no part of that ridiculous looking bike (my husband) couldn’t wait to try it out. After adjusting the seat and handlebar, he disappeared down the street, and I have to admit that I was worried that the bike would fail its first test ride in some major way. But he returned in a few minutes, trying not to smile. “It’s fun. Goofy, but fun.” He reported that everything had worked fine, but the brakes were extremely stiff. Our daughter and her two cousins were anxious to try out the “new” bike, but we only allowed them to go a short distance and very slowly due to the brakes.
When we returned home after the weekend, I did some research on the mysterious “HON California” folding bike we had bought and discovered that it was an early Dahon. The company was forced to change its name because of a conflict with the Hon Company that made office furniture, so they added the “Da” from David, the founder’s first name, to Hon, his last name.
According to the serial number scratched into the frame at the fold and the number on the Sturmey-Archer hub, the bike was made in 1985.
I decided to take the bike to our bike shop for advice on the stiff brakes. The owner was helping another customer, but excused himself for a moment to quickly let me know that he believed I had a near mint condition “D-1” (if I remember correctly). When I told him how much I had paid for it, he said a collector would pay at least twice that amount just for its parts. He regretted to inform me that they will not do work of any kind on the bike, since they cannot get parts for it and would not risk breaking anything that they couldn’t replace. He also did not recommend folding bikes for children. Then he returned to his customer, leaving me with the nice young employee who seemed to hope I wouldn’t ask him any more questions about the bike. I left the shop a bit overwhelmed with the all the information, and also a bit disappointed that the bike wouldn’t be as useful as I had hoped. The obvious thing to do was to sell it, hopefully for a profit.
For the rest of the summer, we brought all of our bikes back and forth to the shore, while the folding bike stayed in its carry bag at home. I’ve finally decided to try to sell it on eBay, and maybe the profit will be enough to buy a secondhand bike for our daughter and a vintage mixte frame bike for me at one of this year’s yard sales. Who knows what folly I will find next time? (My husband is groaning right about now.)