Miguel Porter is fast becoming famous in Cayman Brac for ‘raising the bar’ when it comes to taking spare parts and rebuilding bikes that stand over six feet tall.
Porter, 47, said his creations “are great attention grabbers because of the height. It’s fun looking down on the top of the cars below when I’m on a ride.”
Parts such as handlebars, frames, tyres, rims, handlebars – some half, some whole – and other miscellaneous bits sit around Porter’s yard in Stake Bay waiting to be used to build other bikes.
When Porter finds an old bike, he says he picks it apart immediately or stores for later.
Living next to the Brac landfill comes in handy for collecting spare parts, he added.
“It’s just a matter of collecting it, taking them apart, cleaning them up and putting them back together, just in a different form,” Porter said. “There is no welding, or anything like that, to get the bikes together again.”
This isn’t a business – it’s a hobby, he explained. Porter said it doesn’t require any money to make his bikes, just a keen eye. He recalled he once sold a bike just because a guy was amazed by the design and wanted it.
Porter was born in Cayman Brac but moved to Willie Farrington Drive on Grand Cayman at age six to live with his grandmother after his mother died.
He grew up riding bicycles and said he loved that more than going to school – especially if he got to stay home a day to work on a bike to sell.
But he also recalled with a chuckle all the skinned knees and elbows he suffered while learning to ride at age 13. To develop his riding skills, Porter watched movies of people performing tricks and stunts on their bicycles.
All the practice clearly paid off. Riding backwards for 12 miles during a bikeathon on the Brac recently earned him kudos from other cyclists.
The real skill, though, comes in getting on and off his six-foot-tall creation. The easier bit is climbing on, which he does by leaning the bike against a wall. However, the dismount involves Porter “popping a wheelie” and jumping off the back of the bike.
“I’m a free-style rider – I can still do a 360 turn off the ground, bounce around, do the ‘bunny hop’, ride backways, free hand and stand on the handlebar,” Porter added.
He said his grandmother didn’t have a lot in those early days, but they “made do”. There was a dump across the road and that’s where he started collecting bike pieces and putting them together.
Porter was 20 when he got his first new bike from his grandfather for a birthday present.
“That was the longest thing I ever kept in my life, to this day I still have that bike, a 20-inch small Huffy Western Flyer,” he said.
Porter moved back to Cayman Brac about 14 years ago seeking a quieter, slower pace of life in Stake Bay. But he never stopped building bikes.
In addition to creating bicycles, he also uses his spare time to repair appliances, which means he is always collecting various parts. “Anytime I find a bike part, whether it’s at the dump or alongside the road I take it home for my next creation – I got tons of bicycle parts in my yard,” Porter added.
This time of year is his favourite for collecting spare parts, he said, as people put out their old bicycles for the annual Christmas roadside pickup by the Department of Environmental Health to clean house ahead of the holiday.
Porter is presently working on a bike that will use an engine. This is the new “in thing”, he said, though previously he actually created a bike with a built-in stereo boom box. His favourite bike, however, is the one he calls ‘High Tide’, which he rides on “special occasions” such as Pirates Week and Batabano.
Everyone knows him, and he knows everyone on the Brac, and some have even tried to ride his bike, which is not easy. “You got to have good balance,” Porter explained.
Young people are more interested in the tricks and stunts he performs, he added, though they also like the idea of building bikes from spare parts.
Porter does not have a driver’s licence but bicycling to work at the Brac Public Works Department is a “breeze”, with the added benefit of keeping him in shape, he said.
The idea of fixing something instead of throwing it away brings back fond memories for Porter who said nothing was thrown away when he was growing up. “Together, Caymanians restored everything,” he said.