Running summary for w/c 14th May
Cross training: 32 miles cycling
I’ve never really really written about bicycles before on this blog. I’ve tried to keep it quite strictly about running, but I’ve decided to slip in a brief mention for two reasons. Firstly because I want to plug an amazing bicycle related initiative and secondly because I am taking part in a ridiculous cycling challenge* that definitely deserves to be written about.
I own two beautiful bikes: a racing green town bike with 3 speed internal hub gears and a resprayed purple Raleigh road bike (as yet undated). The town bike, though beautiful, is totally unsuitable for my South London to West End commute. It’s not particularly manouverable at speed and its gears are in desperate need of retuning. My road bike however broke only a few months after buying it off Gumtree from a chap who built bikes out of second hand parts. The threads had worn on the spindle, and so the chainring and crank arm fell off after a ride to Brighton last summer…
As I had no bike tools and didn’t know any bike mechanics in London I took it to a shop near my flat where the mechanic gave me the bad news: scrap the frame. I was gutted. But as I looked over the bike myself I began to distrust the mechanic. I compared my bike to numerous pictures and thought about the tools I saw him use and what parts of the bike he had been poking.I didn’t think that my bike was beyond repair and neither did my flatmate, Rosa, who had recently been building a bike with help from the London Bike Kitchen.
The London Bike Kitchen is an open bike workshop where cyclists can work on their own bikes rather than relying on shops and mechanics. As so many bike tools are specific to different bike parts it is often lack of suitable equipment that stops us from fixing our own bikes, as well as developing the expertise with which to use them. LBK tackles this by providing a workshop packed with clearly labelled tools for you to use. There is also a volunteer mechanic on hand to give you as much advice as you need. LBK’s focus is on self-reliance though, so while the mechanic will be with you teaching you what to do, it is you that has to do all the hard work!
When I arrived at the Kitchen on Sunday there were already 5 or 6 people and a bicycle in the small workshop. But the workshop uses its limited space brilliantly – all of the tools are mounted on the walls and kept tidy, and there is room for 4 bike stands to be used at any one time. I was greeted by Jenni Gwiazdowski, founder of the Kitchen and LBK director (“I look after the admin shit” she said) who introduced us to Mr. Jones the volunteer mechanic for the day. Mr. Jones looked over my bike and agreed that it was fixable and so we put on our aprons and set to work.
Mr. Jones explained everything to me – the names of the tools, how they worked and what we would be doing – before starting me off on each step and supervising me. It was so much fun! I greased things and washed things and removed things and unscrewed things, and within 90 minutes I had fixed the unfixable and my road bike is back on the road!
I reckon that every cyclist longs to be able to fix their bikes themselves – after all, you put so much of your energy into these contraptions you start to feel that if anyone can fix it, it should be you! The more regularly you cycle the more likely you are to have technical problems, and as with most things in life, the sooner you deal with them the better. Learning how to do your own maintenance means that you can do the small fixes to prevent the big ones.
The London Bike Kitchen is currently open for drop-ins on Saturdays and Sundays 11am – 7pm, but note that there will occasionally be courses on Sundays and the drop-in workshop won’t start until 2pm. The Kitchen is also open on Monday evenings for its WAG night for Women And Gender variants (i.e. anyone who identifies as a woman, or anybody who has a non-normative gender identity). The WAG night aims to help people who don’t normally feel welcome or comfortable learning in male-dominated bicycle workshops and to make cycling more accessible.
The workshop costs £12 per hour to use. Alternatively you can pay £10 to become a member and then the hourly rate drops to £10. Members also get invited to loads of fun events and unlimited tea and coffee while you’re fixing your bike/hanging out. And as well as the drop-in workshop LBK also hosts lots of training courses, such as wheel truing and bike touring.
* Oh, and if you’re wondering what the ridiculous bike challenge is that I’m doing, it’s the Dunwich Dynamo. My plans to ride it have been scuppered the last few years, but this summer I am fully committed – and terrified! But I’ll write more about that another time.