It’s hot in Rye, and the sun reflecting off two acres piled high with old bicycles, scooters, motorcycles and cars makes it even hotter. The air is still, and the bikes take the heat stoically. They are, after all, inorganic. That doesn’t mean they are immune to the effects. Most of the bikes are rusty and dusty and look as if they’ve seen better days.
But they carry memories.
“I get old-timers in here and show them their first bike, and they’re just in tears,” said All Bikes owner Ron Adler.
One mom entered the shop with her kids, and it so happened her first bike was hanging above her head. “What was missing?” Adler wondered. He finally figured the missing piece — a woven basket in front to carry dolls.
The mother’s kids didn’t understand the attraction, but for a few minutes, the mom was a kid
Adler bought his first bike, a Sears Spyder, for $53.90. He was 8 years old and collected Coca-Cola cans to pay for it. Now he’s 55 and has lost count of how many bikes he has.
When asked, he said he had over 9,000 motorcycles the last time he counted, but that was five years ago.
And in the meantime, he’s built his bike shop into a museum of quite possibly every bike that ever existed. Motorized, non-motorized, electric. Various old cars stand amongst the tangled metal, too — a couple of Volkswagens, two BMW Isettas.
Rows of bikes are jauntily piled high, and Adler is boyishly proud of his accomplishment. He may possibly have more bikes than anyone else on the planet — at least in the Southwest. To hear him talk proudly of the Monarch bike worth $3,000 that sits dusty in one of his many workshops, you can almost imagine that it’s sparkling and impeccable.
That Adler loves his bikes is undeniable. “Being a kid, it was your first sense of freedom,” he says.
And now he’s still free. “I’m already retired. I kind of play in my front yard,” he says.
As a boy, Adler dreamt of owning a bike shop one day, a corner store with mostly new, maybe some used, but nothing like the growing conversation piece visible from the highway that has become his life work.
He arrived in Rye in 1988 from Spanaway, Wash., with eight semi-trucks loaded with bikes. He’s bought the contents of 22 stores, and has found bikes at flat track racing swap meets, where competitors race around at 100 miles per hour with no brakes. “You just roll until you stop,” Adler said.
Outside All Bikes, the air is as quiet as a summer afternoon lemonade stand, and Adler loves the 7,300-foot peaks visible from across the way.
He fixes bikes, sells them and collects them, and serves as a conduit for information and parts. He has no Web site, and says people hear of his business through word of mouth.
Others pull in through sight — some out-of-towners and others live nearby but have just never stopped.
“Everyday somebody stops in here and they’ve never seen anything like this,” Adler said.
Shop mechanic Teresa Barnes said some remark, “It’s better than the Grand Canyon.”
Barnes sits with neighbor Collene Stover at a shaded table in the back of All Bikes. Stover talks about how Adler reproduced Arizona Highways host Robin Sewell’s first bike when she visited. “Oh yes he did,” Stover said. “Oh yes he did.”
The All Bikes crew is especially fond of banana seats — those elongated relics which have for some reason filtered out over the years.
The older, cool-kid bikes were loaded. Adler shows one that had a horn, a headlight and two mirrors for looking behind. “This kid then, he was the cool kid on the block,” Adler said.
Now, the cool-kid bikes are less loaded but have tires more primed for speed. One thinks helmets and dirt instead of hair gel and collared shirt.
When people have old bikes or motorcycles that need fixing, All Bikes offers hard-to-find parts and expertise.
One customer from Gallup, N.M. hired Adler to fix a carburetor on a discontinued Suzuki quad. Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles recently called with a serial number question on a Czech bike.
When Adler comes across an unidentifiable bike, he sorts through magazines until he can determine its identity. One of his old bikes even decorates a Scottsdale bar — a 1953 Indian motorcycle.
In Adler’s bathroom hang pictures circa 1800s with bikes, men and women. His living room features an old Victorian couch — and lots of other trinkets. The pictures are for the wives that stop in Rye with their husbands, Adler said.
“A lot of times the wife will be here. She doesn’t want to be here.” Presumably, every person can be touched by some piece of history.
Stover’s adorable blonde 8-year-old daughter hands out business cards and admonishes visitors — “Don’t touch anything, don’t move anything and don’t pick anything up because Uncle Ron doesn’t like when you touch his toys.”
Stover’s daughter is now the same age Adler was when he bought his first bike. Perhaps she too will be struck by that same indelible wisp of freedom that all touch but some forget. Fortunately, the memories are all around.