A journalist explores how “several thousand bikes…made an incredible journey” across the border between Mexico and the United States.
When Taylor (Drive Fast and Take Chances: Fair Warning from Surfers, 2013, etc.) discovered the “ownerless piles” of bikes that littered the Tijuana River Valley, he was as awed as he was curious. The bikes, which included mountain, racing, BMX, utility, clown, and children’s models, had been made all over the world and were in varying states of disrepair. Determined to uncover who had left the bicycles there and why, the author embarked on a multiyear private investigation. He met a motley assortment of individuals ranging from ranchers and environmentalists to ex-cons and a man who collected the bicycles to sell, no questions asked, to everyone from Mexican migrants to film studios. While it became clear that the bikes were used to help illegal immigrants negotiate the difficult, often dangerous terrain between Southern California and Mexico, Taylor became fascinated by the trajectory they had traveled, drawing “rude diagrams and flow charts” to help him better envision the journey. He discovered that, though pedaled over the border by illegal aliens, the bicycles had come from all over the U.S. and had also been ridden by farmers, convicts, actors, and soldiers. The author’s ultimate answers to the borderland bicycle riddle did not emerge until he stumbled into an unlikely friendship with an ex-con who had been gathering information from Tijuana smugglers about a mysterious young man named El Indio. Over the span of a few short years, he had built a multimillion-dollar business as a coyote who brought illegal immigrants into the U.S. on bicycles. As colorful and interesting as the characters and story are, the narrative is at times digressive and unevenly paced. But Taylor still manages to make the salubrious, if disturbing, point that no matter how divorced readers believe they are from border issues, they are still implicated in a system of human trafficking and exploitation.
Intriguing but occasionally rambling reading.