By Joseph Robertia
While some teens are content to mow lawns, bag groceries or flip burgers at a fast-food chain to make a couple of bucks, Daniel Boatright, a 14-year-old from Nikiski, is an entrepreneur in the business of bicycle repair and refurbishing other people’s two-wheeled rubbish.
“It started about two years ago when I got one from the dump,” he said.
Pulling in with his parents he saw a typical sight — items left off to the side of the trash bins that someone no longer wanted but thought someone else might. From appliances to furniture to, in this case, a bicycle, this is a common occurrence at the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s transfer stations.
“It’s very common to see a bike off to the side. People throw them away because a chain will break or they’ll bend a fender. It’s really wasteful,” he said.
That’s not how the boy was raised, according to his mother, Kirsten Boatright.
“It’s a throwaway society, but we’ve always recycled — newspaper, plastics, cardboard — and I’ve tried to teach all of my five children that through the years. When their sweatpants would get holes in the knees, I’d have them turn them around and keep wearing them, and even with our meals, we always make something out of the leftovers. There’s no wasting at our house,” she said.
That message wasn’t lost on Daniel. Others might have seen that first bike he took home as nothing more than junk, but he saw potential in the dilapidated 10-speed covered in rust.
“It looked like it had been left outside for a long time, but other than that it looked like it would still work,” he said. “So I took it home and took the steel wool to it to get the rust off, and it looked great.”
From this first piece of trash turned into treasure, an idea was born. Daniel thought he could do this with other models of bicycles. Over the next two years Boatright built his collection up to a whopping 46 bikes.
“I love finding them there. Pulling in and seeing them is my favorite part. It’s been a little bit of everything. I’ve gotten BMX bikes, road bikes, freestyle bikes, but it’s mostly mountain bikes,” he said.
Daniel has since tapered down his collection to 30 bikes, as a result of selling some of them.
“Some of my friends have bought some, and I did a 4-H presentation and after that some of the women in the club bought some, and they told some of their friends who also bought some,” he said. “I like doing the freestyle bikes the best, but the mountain bikes sell the best. A lot of adults want them.”
Not all the bikes he picks up can be refinished, so some he takes as salvage to be used for parts to fix other bicycles, something he has learned through trial and error.
“I had a friend give me some parts for a bike, that’s how he paid me. I didn’t know much at first, but I learned as I went. I’d take them apart and figure out how they worked. It was tough, especially understanding the cranks, but I’m home-schooled, so I was able to do it between my classes,” he said.
Daniel said he’s only gotten one bike so far this year, but July and August tend to be when most of the bikes get dumped. Last year he got 30, and between waiting for more bikes to show up at the transfer station he ran ads on Tradio and Craigslist looking for more.
“I got a lot from people that were taking them to the dump,” he said.
So many bikes were showing up at home that Daniel’s new hobby was initially a bit off-putting for his parents, but Daniel’s mother said that, once she realized his devotion and natural talents for restoring and repairing, she supported his endeavor.
“I’m proud he’s learned so much on his own without any kind of training,” she said. “It was making for a cluttered house, though, so my husband gave up the garage to the bikes. He wanted to be supportive, and he told him he didn’t want them in the yard, but he could keep as many as he wanted in the garage as long as he kept it clean and organized.”
Boatright said it is tough to say for certain where Daniel’s hobby might take him in the long term, but for now she said he’d like to continue growing his business.
“When I get older I’d like to open a shop,” Daniel said. “And until then, I’ll keep getting them so at least they don’t end up in the landfill.”