KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – There are no web ads, gorilla-suit wearers flipping arrows or even a simple “Open for Business” sign; there is just a makeshift, plywood plaque that describes exactly what it is – “Tan Box Bike Repair.”
For service members at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, with bicycle issues, Tan Box Bike Repair is probably the only, and definitely most-affordable, way to get necessary repairs for bikes that face some extreme riding conditions. The parts and repairs are absolutely free.
Two California natives, Tech. Sgt. Juan Sanchezduarte and Senior Airman Mark Zorich, both assigned to the 451st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, started the free bicycle repair shop when they saw their fellow airmen had needs, and they had the means to help.
“I have a lot of personal experience working on bikes at home,” said Sanchezduarte, who is deployed from March Air Reserve Base, Calif. “I asked my wife to send me my tools. I was only fixing bikes at the terminal where I work, and I ran out of bikes to fix. That’s when I contacted the first sergeant for more work.”
And that’s when Tan Box Bike Repair was born.
Sanchezduarte and Zorich formed a business venture that isn’t really a business at all. Both airmen work long hours with little down time. Still, they wanted to volunteer to use their bicycle expertise to help others. The distances between quarters, work locations and dining facilities at KAF can be fairly far, and not necessarily walkable in a reasonable timeframe. Many service members ride bikes to make the commutes a little less cumbersome.
“The conditions here aren’t conducive for grease and mechanical parts,” said Zorich, who is deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. “There is also neglect, and the mechanical parts must be maintained properly in this environment.”
Zorich, who said he is a rider, not a mechanic, has been able to gather donated parts from Stateside. Prior to his military career, Zorich raced on the downhill mountain bike circuit. He still has connections with the mountain bike community and even friends who race professionally.
“Ray’s Cycle in Fairfield, Calif., and the [Mountain Bike Review community] have donated $1,200 to $1,300 worth of parts,” said Zorich. “We have $600 to $700 worth of tires alone.”
Tires wear out faster here than most places, according to Sanchezduarte. He said the rubber dry rots and cracks based on the hard conditions of the desert. Tires are the most-common repair needed, but he has seen much worse.
“There’s a bicycle here with missing spokes,” said Sanchezduarte. “I’m not sure how the spokes went missing or how [he] is still riding it. It had loose brackets and a lot of other issues too.”
Based on his mission requirements, Sanchezduarte tries to open Tan Box Bike Repair Sundays from 1-4 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8-9 a.m. Service members at KAF can contact Sanchezduarte or Zorich to work out a time outside of those hours.
It’s an unlikely venture, in an unlikely place, but at a minimum, Tan Box Bike Repair will be saving a lot of service members’ boot soles at KAF.