Retiree mends broken bikes for kids, homeless

Published: Friday, January 2, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 11:11 p.m.

PORT ST. JOHN - All the houses in Sam Lorino Jr.'s pleasant neighborhood along Fay Boulevard have neat lawns, swept driveways and nice cars.

The fact Lorino has a few cars and 40 bicycles - a variety clustered in groups of eight, 10 and 12 and in various levels of disrepair - at his house doesn't bother his neighbors. No, instead the neighbors on Port St. John's main east-west road often visit and help the 70-year-old fix a bicycle flat, change a gear cable or true a wheel.

"I know everybody around here," said the affable white-haired Miami native, who spent four decades in the Air Force. "When something goes wrong with someone's bike, they come over and ask, 'Sam, can you fix it?' "

Lorino is Brevard County's Santa Claus of bicycle repairs, taking broken-down two-wheelers and bringing them back to life for hundreds of county residents who range from elementary students on Merritt Island to homeless bicyclists in Melbourne.

"He's got a passion for bikes and compassion for children," said Carol Horner, owner of Adventure Cycles in Merritt Island and Cocoa Beach. "He's the Santa of our bicycle industry. He's quite a character."

Since he began tooling around with bike work in 1996, Lorino estimates he has spent $2,000 on tools and equipment such as special wrenches that remove pedals, detach crank arms that control the pedals and free wheel sets near the rear-wheel hub that provide different gear speeds.

By fixing discarded bikes that range from little-kid Huffys and Tiny Missy Gooses to 10-speed Raleighs and mountain bikes, Lorino has given away more than 200 two-wheelers and has repaired hundreds more.

Lorino tinkers on his inventory behind several cars in front of his house that serve as kind of a barrier for a bike workspace. The retired airman is happy to talk bicycles with anyone.

He helps the Brevard County Sheriff's Office by taking old or junked bikes out of its storage area and either rebuilding the bikes or cannibalizing them for parts so he can fix other two-wheelers, evidence supervisor Jenny Dunn said.

"He'll call us if he needs a part. Or, all we have to do is call him and tell him we have a load of bikes. And he'll just take them, whether it's junk or just a frame," Dunn said.

When Lorino read a recent newspaper story about the importance of bicycles to homeless people, he called the Daily Bread center in Melbourne and volunteered to fix up bikes for them.

"When I called and told the lady, 'Hell, I can help these people out,' she thought I was crazy. She asked, 'You would really do that?' "

So on a windy Wednesday morning with the temperatures dipping, there was Lorino, trying to fix a homeless guy's bicycle that had a problem with metal baskets hanging from above the rear wheel.

"He's a real find for us," said Sue Holaday, Daily Bread's executive director. "To have someone willing to patch a leak or put on baskets is fabulous. The baskets allow them to carry more of their stuff."

Lorino got involved in his bike-repair hobby while stationed at Homestead Air Force Base south of Miami.

"I saw so many discarded bikes and so many kids who would love to have bikes that I put two and two together," he said.

"Word got out that if you don't need a bike, drop it off at Sam's house, and he'll fix it up and give it to some needy kid," Lorino said. "There hasn't been a bike that has come along here that I don't know how to fix."

Brevard Sheriff's Deputy Jerry Patterson can attest to that. Not only does Lorino fix bikes for fourth-graders as part of a physical education program, he also gives away bikes to low-income kids in three elementary schools on Merritt Island.

"He doesn't ask for anything," said Patterson, a school resource officer. "If a kid had a bike stolen, he would put one together for him within a day . . . I give him a call, and he jumps right on it."

Patterson recalled a boy who needed a bike because his mother didn't have a car. The kid always was late to school.

But Lorino fashioned a two-wheeler for the young boy, who now shows up to school on time and has improved his grades, Patterson said. "All because someone gave him a bicycle."

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