Michael, right, and Kim Starchild prepare to take their new tandem bike out for a test ride. The bike will allow Michael to continue to ride despite a recent stay in the hospital. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Local News

Benefit set to help local bike legend

By From page A1 | April 17, 2014

You can help

What: Bicycle auction to benefit Mike Starchild’s recovery

When: Noon-5 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Bike People, 425 L St., Suite E or online at www.gofundme.com/thebikepeople

Million-Mile Mike is selling his bike.

Everything is for sale from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at The Bike People, a bike repair shop at 425 L St. founded by partners Kim and Mike Starchild in 2011. The benefit auction even includes Mike Starchild’s personal Gary Fisher mountain bike, with all proceeds going toward his recovery from interstitial lung disease.

Starchild, 73, a veteran cyclist, was the physically fit mechanic at The Bike People until he was rushed to the hospital two weeks ago and diagnosed with pneumonia, bronchitis and interstitial lung disease that has caused irreversible scarring to his lungs.

The man known for rejecting cars and biking more than 1 million miles across 71 countries now cannot leave his apartment without an oxygen tank.

“Mentally, it’s a hard pill to swallow,” he said while at home last Thursday, sitting next to a blue oxygen machine linked to his nose by clear plastic tubes. But the lifelong mechanic, musician, jeweler and bike lover is not a pessimist.

“I’m gonna get way beyond what I am now; I’m hell-bent on that,” he said. He has already outfitted his oxygen tank with bicycle wheels.

Saturday’s benefit will help pay for the antibiotics, steroids, nasal sprays, inhalers, medical equipment and other items Starchild needs to improve his health.

The bike enthusiast is told he needs a wheelchair, which is not the kind of two-wheel transportation he is used to.

“If it was a racing wheelchair, maybe I could get behind that,” he said as his friend, caretaker and partner Kim listened.

The two had just moved in to a new, sterile apartment that meets his medical needs. A sign on the front door reads “No smoking, oxygen in use.” Their bed has to be leaned against the wall during the day to avoid collecting lung-clogging particles.

“Our whole lifestyle has changed,” Kim Starchild said.

Two days earlier, Mike Starchild was spending his 73rd birthday in Room 213 at Sutter Davis Hospital. He had plans to celebrate with a long-distance ride.

“We had thought of riding our bike to Tahoe,” Kim said as her partner lay in his hospital bed, coughing sporadically.

Decades of working as a mechanic, “building bikes, welding, the chemicals, compounds that you use are accumulative,” Starchild said, and are what he believes caused his lung condition. “It stays in your lungs.

“The damage is done, it’s not like a cold that’ll go away,” he said. “I’m gonna have difficulties with this for the rest of my life.”

He also attributed his lung problems to biking countless miles, all across the world, behind cars, “inhaling fumes.”

Thirty-eight separate bikes have taken him on long-distance rides around the globe, including 1,100 miles in the Australian Outback, 16,000 miles from Patagonia to Oregon, eight cross-country U.S. trips, plus journeys in India, China, Greenland and even Antarctica, where his uncle was stationed with the U.S. Air Force.

Starchild grew up in Marquette, Mich., and started biking long distances in 1958.

“That was before interstate highways,” he recalled. “Long before people had five cars in the driveway.”

His first bike was a candy apple-colored Western Flyer cruiser. When he left an abusive home at 15 years old, he rode away on a blue Schwinn Continental road bike.

“It’s a great feeling of self-sufficiency,” he said about cycling. “It’s a challenge both mental, physical and spiritual. … You get there on your own power.”

Not too long after meeting his partner seven years ago while she sold newspaper subscriptions outside the Davis Food Co-op, the two started The Bike People, a bike repair and sales shop with an emphasis on recycling old bikes.

“Our shop was basically dedicated to taking dead and dying bikes” and refurbishing them, he said. The shop deconstructed old bikes, cleaned each part, and reassembled them, breathing new life into them.

Now that he is forbidden from working at the shop for health reasons, a former apprentice and close family friend, Will Pfanner, has volunteered to run the bike shop, at least temporarily.

“Mike’s overcome every single problem he’s ever had,” said Pfanner, 20, as he replaced the shifters on a customer’s black Cannondale road bike at The Bike People last week.

Pfanner is not the only community member who has stepped up to support Starchild in the wake of his hospitalization.

Kathleen White, 32, bought a 1967 Schwinn from The Bike People two years ago and soon struck up a friendship.

A recent graduate of Sacramento State’s nursing school, she has given the Starchilds medical advice and set up an online donation site.

“It’s an important time to be there as an encouragement,” White said in a phone interview as she prepared to visit the couple at the hospital.

An SPCA employee and friend went to Costco and stocked the Starchilds’ refrigerator with a month’s supply of healthy food; The Pizza Guys and Chipotle are donating burritos and pizzas for Saturday’s benefit auction and local musicians will be playing free of charge; two locals are assembling a photo collage of Michael Starchild’s cycling accomplishments; the Police Department is putting up fliers at the station; still others have donated furniture and helped the Starchilds with rent on their new apartment.

In the middle of this generous outpouring, Michael Starchild received an answer to the question: Would he ever bike again?

The answer: Yes, thanks to a blue Raleigh 21-speed tandem bike, donated this week by Ken’s Bike & Ski.

Riding in front, Kim Starchild will do 90 percent of the pedaling while her partner, sporting an oxygen tank, does the rest.

“If he doesn’t have activity, he can atrophy,” she said Monday. “Physically, his legs need to move.”

Just two weeks earlier, at the hospital, the prospect of Million-Mile Mike biking again was slim.

At the time, he talked of the joys of conquering mountains by bike.

“Whenever you do it on a bike — the mountains — they’re a challenge to anybody,” he said, his voice slowed down by difficult breathing. “But it gives you a sense of spirit, I guess, just to allow the challenge and overcome it. It’s a great feeling.”

He coughed.

“You feel great when you reach a peak.”

Donations toward Mike Starchild’s recovery can be made at the benefit auction Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. at The Bike People, 425 L St. Suite E, or online at www.gofundme.com/thebikepeople.

Adrian Glass-Moore

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