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Bitten by the bug for bygone bikes

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Stephen DeCosta has been collecting vintage bikes for the past 20 years (Photograph supplied)

As a teenager in the 1970s, Stephen DeCosta thought there was nothing cooler than cruising on his moped.

Some might say he never grew up.

The 51-year-old is still passionate about mopeds and has been collecting vintage bikes for the past 20 years. A Francis Burnett autocycle, a Velo Solex and a Kreidler are among those he has stockpiled. They will be on show with many others as part of the Bermuda Classic Bike Club display at Ferry Reach on Sunday.

According to Mr DeCosta, the thrill he gets from bikes has nothing to do with speed. Most of his do not travel much faster than his 1952 Mobylette. It was built in France to do a whizzing 15 miles per hour coming off a hill.

“They were about reliability and taking you from A to B,” the carpenter said. “If you could get the bike to break 50mph, that was really something.”

Because the bikes were not powerful, getting over hills was problematic.

“If you had a girlfriend on the back, she would have to get off halfway up the hill and meet you at the top,” Mr DeCosta laughed.

Motorists usually give him a thumbs-up when he rides one of his bikes. The vintage cycles bring back a lot of memories for some people.

“I’ve shown them with the Bermuda Classic Bike Club at Harbour Nights,” he said. “Sometimes tourists who have been coming here for years will remember the moped they rode during College Weeks.”

He rode his first moped when he was 12.

“We used to get them from the airport dump,” he said. “The hotels used to dump piles of them there. We would bring them home, fix them up and use them as scramblers for motocross.”

His first legal motorbike was a Mobylette AV88, bought second-hand from a friend.

“At that time, everyone wanted a Mobylette, a Peugeot or a Cirrus,” Mr DeCosta said. “We used to customise them. We liked to make them our own with chrome parts and special paint jobs. Our bikes were an expression of our individuality.

“We did it as something to do. Back then, guys had a lot more time on their hands. If someone had a fast bike and they took the engine apart, we’d all watch to see what they did to get it running faster.”

He bought another Mobylette AV88 years later. It was his first vintage bike. Mr DeCosta got it from a man who worked in a cycle rental shop.

“It belonged to his mother, and she hadn’t been using it in awhile,” he said. “It was exactly like the first one I’d had all those years ago.”

It took him weeks of work to get it back into shape.

“I took it all apart,” he said. “I customised it with chrome parts.”

The original price of these bikes in the 1970s was about $500. One in mint condition today might bring you $3,000 or more. But finding them like that, in Bermuda, is really challenging.

“Bermuda’s climate is really hard on these bikes,” he said. “They don’t do very well just left in a basement. Usually, when you pull them out they are in really bad shape.”

Most of his treasures have been purchased online for that reason.

“They come from as far away as France and Germany,” he said. “The internet has made it easier to buy bikes and parts.”

Bragging rights are the pay-off.

“I like standing around talking about bikes with my friends,” he said. “I think it’s a guy thing. It’s also great to be restoring a part of Bermuda’s transportation history. It’s like going back in time.”

• See Mr DeCosta’s bikes at Ferry Reach on Sunday from 11am to 6pm. All bikes are welcome and the event is free.

Stephen DeCosta with his first vintage bike, a Mobylette AV88 (Photograph supplied)
Stephen DeCosta holding a 1952 Mobylette. A Mobylette AV88, popular in the 1970s, is on the right (Photograph supplied)