By Matt Walthour
Leave it to the residents of Marco Island to see a neighbor in need and immediately respond! When Steve Zandy’s bike was stolen, Karen Nettles reached out to Steve Stefanides from Christmas Island Style and Tiffany Homuth of Mutual of Omaha Bank. They’ve set up a fund to replace his stolen bike. The group has pledges for half the replacement cost at deadline for this paper. Once the replacement parts are found, the bike can be built and Steve will have a bit of freedom again.
If you wish to donate, cash or checks can be left with the receptionist at Mutual Bank of Omaha. Checks should be made payable to Christmas Island Style. “Christmas Island Style is donating so Steve can have Christmas in July and believe me, we won’t let a “Grinch” hit the island early,” said Steve Stefanides, Chairman of Christmas Island Style. Matt is already checking his suppliers for the necessary parts.
Hopefully Steve will be cruising on his original custom bicycle, but if not please keep an eye out for his bike. It was stolen sometime between Sunday evening, June 17 and early Monday, June 18. Steve usually locks his bike up at night, right in front of his mother’s car, hidden from view. Steve thought to himself, “it’s Sunday, it’s late, who is going to bother seeking out my bike to steal?”
Someone did and it’s a real shame! It’s shameful that someone would steal any bike, but for Islanders who know Steve, we all pretty much realize he lives on his bicycle. He has told me numerous times, it’s his freedom. We can all see how unique his bicycle is and how important it is to him. Believe me it is, there isn’t another bike in the world like Steve’s.
A few months ago, Steve’s bike was starting to break down, a common occurrence with him. A group from the Lutheran Church, the Women of Marco, was kind enough to come forward to purchase Steve a new bicycle. Finding an appropriate bike for Steve is a long process and not always practical due to his special requirements. Instead of ordering a stock bike as in the past and retro fitting it, I searched out all the right parts and built him a bike which would be strong with the right features to address Steve’s needs. I approached the project as a mission: who would win? Steve wearing out the custom bike or the bike resisting breakdown?
Steve is a fairly big, strong guy and, along with his ataxia condition, his riding position can be pretty rough on his bikes. It’s probably why he goes through them every couple of years. He has cracked numerous frames, bent wheels, snapped chains, broken off derailleurs and worn out countless tires and tubes. Determined to build the ultimate “super” bike, I started to compile a list of all the bikes he has had over the years and what worked best for him and what he liked, specifically. My supplier for parts for Steve’s bikes is Sun Bicycles. The company was helpful searching out the parts I needed from warehouses across the country.
Steve has a balance issue and he likes his rear wheels to be cambered because it helps him when he turns corners. This was the first specific unit required for the build. Next, I had Sun build him double walled wheels, with heavy duty spokes; now I was onto something! The next and biggest challenge was the frame. How will we keep him from always cracking frames? I ordered a heavy-duty steel frame and had a welder add support pieces in every area of the bike that Steve had cracked on his previous bikes. Once I had all the main parts together, I painted the frame Steve’s favorite color, black. We had a sticker made that said “Lou Dog,” Steve’s Dad’s nickname. He always had a plate on the front of his car that said the same thing. In honor of Steve’s Dad, we applied this sticker to each side of Steve’s bike.
We put on Steve’s old seat, which is a seat Sun Bicycles introduced on a bike to aid people with back issues. That specific bike and seat are no longer made so we had to use his old one. The final, essential task was to install brakes that Steve could operate safely. Steve has limited use of his left arm and I found a brake lever that would stop both the front and rear brakes simultaneously using only his right hand, the rear being a disc and the front brake, a traditional mountain style. It worked great! I wasn’t going to have him skidding into curbs and bushes anymore.
Now onto the drive train; let’s move this tank. Steve no longer needed gears to shift. They’d just get broken, so let’s go single speed, one gear, fast. I figured out a gear ratio for him making it hard for him to pedal, which he loves. It’s his leg workout, he says. I ordered the strongest heavy-duty chain available and I needed two for his bike. The two chains on his bike are one for the rear cambered section, which drives the wheels and that connects to the main frame, and the second, from the rear of the main frame to the front chain ring. That chain is about six feet in total length. The pedals themselves also have pedal extenders. These have a two-fold purpose; so he can get a good amount of torque on the pedals and keep his ankles further away from the chain ring and pedal arms. The extra features save scrapes and reduce grease tattoos making Steve and Ma happy!
The bike was complete. It was working well and over the next month there’d have been some fine tuning to keep the chains in line, adjustments to his seat and handlebars. Steve was comfortable and happy. We just had to add his custom straw holder and large rear basket to hold his wares and I can’t forget his Penn State flag. This I know will really make him happy and keep him pedaling.
The bike is gone. Steve’s freedom to travel about Marco is gone. He is no longer free to do everyday activities like us. His bike fulfilled his physical and mental health needs, freedom to socialize and visit with friends. This bike was custom made for Steve. It’s more than a means of transportation. It’s his lifeline on his island home which he shares with all of us. Please, as your civic duty, keep your eyes and ears open and CALL the Marco Island Police Department at 239-389-5050 if you learn anything about the bike’s whereabouts.
Matt Walthour, a Marco Island resident since 1985 is a graduate from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and is the owner of Island Bike Shop and Scootertown on Marco Island and Naples. He is also a member of the Marco Island bike path ad-hoc committee.