I used to think that cycling was a pastime for poor people. You probably remember him – the cyclist would be that unfortunate chap who couldn’t afford a car. Because he needed some independent form of transport, he bought a bike, which he would ride with the pride and pretend that it was a lifestyle choice, rather than a necessity. He would pootle around to afternoon tea or a dinner party, arriving unfashionably late, trousers tucked into socks and always a bit hot and sweaty, even in the wind and the rain.
The beauty of bicycling was its economy – as youngsters, the object of saving our pocket money was to buy a bike. Once that was achieved, no more money was spent on the bike, not even a bit of lube for the chain. The only thing I remember spending money on was the occasional tube, and then only when the old one no longer had space to patch it between all the other patches.
But all that has changed. Last week I bought a couple of cycling magazines while waiting to catch a train and received almost no change from £15. I can almost hear you choke on your creamcheese bagel as you read this, but yes, £15 for two magazines. Admittedly, they were not magazines that concentrated on bicycle clips and mudguards. Instead, they featured trips over the famous cols of the Pyrenees, sportives in Sicily and lots of high-end carbon confectionary. One advertisement was for a carbon groupset costing well over £2,000. Yes, I know, that’s not even a whole bike – not even a frame or wheels – and you could buy a second-hand car, yes, a WHOLE second-hand car with four wheels, for less than that.
Since the beginning of the year, when a local paper ran a small article about us, we have been given about 80 old bikes that would otherwise have landed up on the tip. Some of these bikes are old and rusted, but all, once stripped down, have some useable parts. A few of the bikes have very little wrong with them and, with a bit of cleaning, lubrication and tlc are quickly returned to a rideable condition. Most need replacement cables, brake blocks, bearings and, most expensively, tyres, but the joy of eBay gives us the ability to source these things relatively cheaply. (If you know of a ready supply of cheap tyres and tubes, please let me know.)
We call our enterprise Born-Again Bikes (we are, after all, based in an old monastery) and I think we offer a service that doesn’t harm the local economy by competing with local bikes shops (apart from the puncture-repair service). Our biggest outlay was £500 for a bike mechanics course, plus about another £500 for tools and equipment, which was funded by grants.
So, with a bit of goodwill and a lot of elbow grease, and for less than half the price of a carbon groupset, we have managed to get a good number of people back on their bikes, and at no great cost to them. George Osborne, are you listening?