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We’re back from 9th Sept 2020 – as bike doctors!

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OK, so it’s been a weird time. But we’re pleased to say we are back on from Weds 9th September. It’s the usual time (7-9pm every Wednesday) and the usual place (The Hub Cycleworks, Shirley) but the format will be slightly different so take note.

Instead of huddling together around your interesting bicycle problem, scratching our heads a bit then getting the tools out, we’ll be running on a bike doctor only basis.

What we WILL be doing…

…providing free checks, servicing, adjustments including brakes, gears, headsets, bottom brackets, wheels and so on. We may also fit more involved parts – get in touch if you have any special requests.

What we WILL NOT be doing…

…the “have a go yourself” aspect of Bike Kitchen. This often involves handing tools back and forth and getting in close to see how things go together or come apart. We obviously need to observe social distancing and take measures to reduce contact between volunteers, participants and tools so this aspect of BK has to be put aside for now.

How it will work…

We’ll initially be offering bike doctor services only. This is part of the Big Bike Revival pop up Dr Bike service – it’s run by Cycling UK and funded by the Department of Transport. Turn up on the night and we’ll service your bike on a first come, first served basis while you wait. We’ll give you a report of the work we’ve done. We’ll ask you to provide your name and email address so so Cycling UK can follow up with a questionnaire about how the event helped you – this is important so we can show the value of what we’re doing.

Our volunteers will have gloves and face masks and we’ll sanitise your bike before we start and when we’ve finished with it. Please maintain social distance from our volunteers and other participants and wear a face mask if possible.

Find out more about the Big Bike Revival pop up Dr Bike service or if you’re new to cycling and want some advice check out the Pumped Up website by Cycling UK.

Wednesday is the new Monday

WEDNESDAY!

Newsflash – Bike Kitchen will now be on Wednesdays instead of Mondays. Good. I don’t like Mondays.

We’re based at The Hub Cycleworks. They are now on their winter schedule which means they don’t open on Mondays, hence our move to Wednesdays.

The Bike Kitchen has been on Monday nights ever since it started so this is a bit of a shift for our regulars so if you read this, please spread the message.

Iron Goat

The story of a cycling conversion from Gareth Giles. You can follow Giles (he doesn’t use the Gareth bit) on Twitter @gybees326 and find out more about the (on hold) Oink! business on facebook.

As with many decisions swapping out horsepower for pedal power came during a conflux of personal and professional choices. For the five years preceding saddling up I had owned a pop up food business serving New Forest Pork across the south coast of England. My kitchen was a lovingly converted 1970’s horse box which I towed with my 2.5 litre Mercede Benz Sprinter. Trundling up and down the highways and byways of Hampshire, Sussex and Kent I became used to the reliable can do attitude of the Sprinter (sure I anthropomorphised my van – we spent a lot of time together…), the slow pace of travel and having access to literally tons of storage space. Driving a vehicle with a combined length of 7m and total loaded weight of 4.5 tonnes I was about as far from being a cyclist as is possible without a HGV license. Then a number of things changed in quick succession, which caused me to reassess travel, what it is for and what it can do for you.

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The domino that fell first was the collision between my S2 spinal disc and S2 nerve root on a beautiful summer’s day wedding just outside of Lymington.

Twisting while lifting a 70kg pig into the hog roast machine had predictability enough caused severe strain to the muscles supporting my spine. I limped through the rest of the food service not knowing at the time that this would be the outing in the horsebox. In the days and weeks after this the pain grew and my mobility reduced as the chemical irritation between my disc fluid and nerve root took hold. My dissent into three months of prolonged pain can be summarised as great support by NHS staff, copious levels of painkillers and plenty of time to reflect.

As it became increasingly obvious that the ‘Pork Years’ had come to an end I began to consider what I should do next. The challenge of continuing to run the business in a hands off way didn’t appeal and I decided to divest the business assets (I have foggey memories of waving my walking stick and shouting ‘Sell it all’ – as I say, there were lots of painkillers). Hog roast machine, horsebox and finally Sprinter all went to new homes. Following a small operation, my recovery hastened and I began applying for jobs. In an incredibly serendipitous turn of events shortly after beginning to work at one of the two Universities in our city, I applied for a role managing the digital offer for the Public Policy institute. During the Pork Years I had been cash poor and content rich, so had built, maintained and monetarised a substantial social media audience who followed the production of their food from field to plate. Fortunately my line manager to be was sufficiently interested in food and impressed by the leveraging of social media to achieve business goals that she offered me the role.

So having convalesced, gained permanent employment and sold all my stuff I began to think about what vehicle to replace my beloved Sprinter. Suddenly I was struck by coalescence of ideas; buying vehicles is expensive, maintaining them even more so and, frankly, getting in and out of a car, let alone driving one, hurt like hell.  A sense of liberation began to take over me, owning cars is stupid.

More and more my thoughts congregated around one thought: cycling. Speaking to colleagues at the University I discovered the Cycle to Work scheme and in an usually swift bureaucratic transaction was soon the owner of ‘Bob – The Iron Goat’. We have been inseparable ever since (as you can tell from anthropomorphism). Bob was chosen entirely for aesthetic purposes and so is heavy, lacking suspension and without fancy brakes which make for interesting times in the rain. Having only seven gears I’m glad that the terrain is relatively flat. In short I’m confident that the amalgamation of things I didn’t consider before I bought Bob should mean it’s the wrong bike for me. And yet I love it.

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The sheer distance that one can cover on a bike still astounds me. There is a sense of satisfaction not only in the arriving but also in the journey that is unparalleled by driving. My 15 minute cycle to work gets my lungs and heart pumping, so that my brain is engaged by the time I get to my desk. While chewing up the miles, I feel much more part of the environment than in a vehicle. You can hear what’s going on around you, smell the tree blossom and feel the change of the season in your fingertips. Having driven a large slow moving vehicle I tend to ride in a similar way. I’m keen to see traffic ahead and for it to see me. I’m in no mind to dart between traffic and have no desire to cycle in the pot holed margins of the road. As with the Sprinter and the horsebox if other road users wish to overtake, more power to them, but don’t expect me and Bob to get out of the way. Obviously cycling in a city one of the greatest dangers is of overbearing moral superiority. I battle this by remembering that for years I was that diesel emitting van sitting interminably at the traffic lights. The difference is only a compressed disc.

Giles

Sloppy brakes and slippy gears? Forget bike the shops and fix it yourself

This is a piece by Rick Williams from The Guardian’s Green Living Blog, reproduced here under their Open Licence. It was published in 2009 which seems like an age away but the basic principle hasn’t changed. In fact, the desire to do-it-yourself, to get hands-on (not just bikes – any area of craft, making and mending) has probably become more widespread. Anyway, if this inspires you to get to grips with your bike’s bits then come on down to Bike Kitchen – Stephen

My brakes were getting sloppy. The gears were slipping. There was a bit of a wobble on my front wheel. There was no denying it: my bike needed a service. But having moved recently from London to Brighton, I had yet to use a bike shop in my new city. So I asked around for recommendations.

And I got the usual mixed responses. Someone would wax lyrical about a workshop; another person would say the same place had provided them with the most patronising experience of their life. Nowhere got the total thumbs up. As I had found in London all too often, the more you paid, the better the service, but the greater the likelihood of being sneered at for not keeping your bike in peak Tour-de-France condition.

In truth, after many years of cycling, I have never been totally happy with any service, not so much because of what the mechanic has done but because I feel I should be able to do it myself. Part of the joy of riding a bike is the self-sufficiency and independence it grants you. And that should extend to being able to fix the bloody thing. However, apart from repairing punctures, my attempts at doing the brakes and gears have usually resulted in them working even worse. Now was the time to do something about it.

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A Bike Kitchen attendee learning some satisfying maintenance tasks on his bike.

A quick search internet search led me to a Brighton-based cycling organisation that does training and also runs bike maintenance courses. I booked myself in for a three-hour, one-to-one session in which the trainer and I would service my bike and look at any other maintenance issues I wanted to learn about. At £55 (this was in 2009… may not reflect current rates – Stephen), that was the average cost of a service anyway so even if I learned nothing/forgot everything, at least I would end up with a fully tuned bike at the end of it. What did I have to lose?

Ronnie had a fantastic workshop in the basement of his house, crammed with tandems, three-seaters, vintage Roberts, old cranks and wheels. He was clearly a bike nut par excellence. I told him what I wanted to learn and we started off by going through what he said he would do on a basic service. We checked my head set. We fixed my disc brakes. We tweaked my gears. We corrected a wobble on my back wheel.

Then on to the harder stuff. We looked at removing the chain, the crank, the rear cassette. This involved some special tools but Ronnie told me I could get a decent workshop toolkit containing most of them for surprisingly little money. We looked at truing a wheel. We even went back to basics, Ronnie showing me the very best way to fix a puncture. It was a bit like having a how-to-cook pasta demo from Jamie Oliver. You’ve done it a million times but there are those little expert tricks to make the patch al dente.

I left feeling empowered. My relationship with my bike has changed. I understand how it works; its needs. I’ve bought myself a tool kit – it even came with a free chain-cleaning kit (chains should be silver, not black, apparently).

I’m pretty sure now that I could give my machine a good basic service. And that feels great. Bike-riding friends have even asked, half-jokingly, if I fancy servicing theirs. For a fee, I say. And I’ll try not to patronise you.

Hybrid or just a bike?

What do you call a bike that’s just a bike? You know, normal upright handlebars, medium sized tyres, maybe a rack and mudguards. Just a normal, middle-of-the-road, straightforward bike? Most in the bicycle trade would call this a hybrid.

Why “hybrid”? Well the idea is that this category of bike combines features of road (i.e. racing-style) and mountain bikes and sits somewhere in the middle. So here we have a standard, normal bike being define by how alike (or not) it is to various extremes of bicycle. Seems a bit backward, right?

Back in the days before mountain bikes and before road bikes became extreme racer-copycats, what was the standard bicycle called? I don’t think it had a name. It was just a bike. Think of the good old-fashioned Raleigh 3 speed. The original hybrid? No, just a bike.

So what happened? How did we go from this style of bike being accepted as the standard to it being called a “hybrid”, a somewhat demeaning term, neither one thing nor another, somehow compromised in all areas?

As cars became more affordable, cycling dropped off. In the seventies Raleigh came up with the Chopper. A child’s plaything, a novelty. The bicycle was no longer a serious form of transport. At best it was a leisure or lifestyle thing. The road bike persisted due to racing associations, mostly in the form of the “ten-speed” style of drop-bar bike. In the eighties the mountain bike took off, re-energising the bicycle industry and opening up cycling to a new market. Now there was no middle ground – bicycle design was (and still is) heading towards the extremes of on- and off-road.

Raleigh could see that the mountain bike wasn’t really ideal for most people’s needs. They were selling because they were fashionable. After these new owners had ridden them for a while, they’d realise the limitations of the heavy build and the off-road tyres. They’d want something a bit more like a road bike – lighter with tyres that work better on roads but retaining the upright riding position, versatility and robustness of the mountain bike. Enter the Raleigh Pioneer series, among the first of the new category of hybrids – a bike defined by its relationship to the extremes.

pioneer

Essentially the hybrid is fulfilling the same design brief as those fifties bikes but it’s no longer judged on its own merits. Bike industry marketing says if you want to ride off-road you need carbon fibre, full suspension, disc brakes. If you want to ride on the road you need a Tour de France wannabe race bike. If you are a novice and you don’t know what you really want yet then you need… a hybrid.

Well it’s time to reclaim the middle ground, time to invert the idea that the hybrid is an in-betweener that doesn’t really do anything well. Instead we should see the hybrid for what it is – the blueprint of what a bike should be. The bike for most people on most occasions.

Stephen

The Joys of Slow Cycling

Coco Chanel once said, “There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony”. As this is only our second blog post I hope we haven’t reached that stage yet but to guard against such a prospect I intend to sprinkle the blog with guest posts. First up we have Tom Hodgkinson, founder of The Idler, author and publisher of books on the good (i.e. idle) life and long-time Guardian contributor. If you are keen on the idea that there is more to life than work then I suggest you head over to The Idler to check out their books, magazines, courses and events. This post is taken from a 2016 newsletter/comment piece (see the original plus readers’ comments here) and is reproduced here with Tom’s permission. All rights remain with the author. Happy reading, Stephen.

This week started joyfully for the simple reason that I bought a bicycle.

It was mainly an economy thing. Last week Victoria made a study of our outgoings. The striking discovery was how much we were spending on tube fares and petrol. It was thirty or forty quid a week.

And there is the fact that since moving back to London I have done no physical exercise whatsoever, apart from three hours of tennis. Joining a gym, as I have said before, is not an option. Why would I spend money to torture myself? So a bicycle seemed to be the answer.

What I did not do is buy one of those absurd thousand pound bikes that you see the competitive slaves in lycra riding to work and back. It’s a shame that cycling in London has been ruined by these extreme commuters, who spend fortunes on gear and punish themselves so they can shave a few minutes off the journey to the office of their slave-masters, and terrorise the rest of us.

No. It’s a pottering bike for me. I was advised by the bike shop on All Saints Road to look for an old Raleigh Chiltern on ebay. I found a nice green men’s Chiltern for £99 (see above). It was made in 1996. I also bid on an eighties ladies one, which we eventually won for fifty quid.

The bikes arrived. They are gorgeous and ride beautifully.

I have decided to cycle slowly as a protest against the speed monsters. I enjoy this hugely. I wait obediently at lights, taking the opportunity to study the architecture around me. I freewheel down hills and when ascending, change into the lowest of the three Sturmey Archer gears. I imagine myself to be a Cambridge student circa 1926 rather than some kind of Tour-de-France wannabe. On my route to our studio in the morning I cycle past the giant Westfield shopping centre, under the Westway where gypsies’ ponies live, past the mansions of Holland Park, down Portobello Road and along the canal, past all the narrowboats with their smoking chimneys and bicycles strapped to the roof.

To know that such health-giving, money-saving bliss is available so cheaply is a wonder indeed. Thank you Raleigh.

Tom

What is Southampton Bike Kitchen?

Here’s where I give a proper idea of what this is all about.

It started in February 2016 when Andy Dimarco of Sustrans worked with Southampton City Council to establish a community bicycle workshop. Andy had spent time in Bristol and Reading. He was impressed by their vibrant community-led bicycle support groups and thought a similar effort could give Southampton a bicycle-boost so he set up the Bike Kitchen.

Anyway, one year later and the Southampton Bike Kitchen is well-established, Andy has moved to Canada and I am in charge looking to move things along, hence this website and Twitter activity.

Why “Bike Kitchen”?

This isn’t just a funky name we came up with – there are bike kitchens across the world. Ok, across the English-speaking world e.g. UK, USA, Australia. What’s the equivalent in other languages? Leave a comment if you know of “bike kitchens” in exotic locations. Anyway it generally means a volunteer-run community bicycle workshop. I’ve already said Reading was an inspiration so I’ll let the Reading Bicycle Kitchen define it for us:

“A bicycle kitchen is a community bike project that provides a space where cyclists can get access to workstands and good quality tools, along with experienced mechanics to help them do everything on their bike from simple maintenance to a complete rebuild.”

So hopefully you’ve grasped the concept. Why might you come to see us?

  • If your bike needs any kind of check-up – e.g. to make sure it’s safe, it’s been stored a while or because you just bought it and you want to ensure no hidden nasties.
  • If your bike needs general maintenance/running repairs/tidying – maybe you want help fixing a puncture, adjusting brakes/gears, oiling the chain, etc.
  • If your bike needs major surgery – we can help you replace gears, chain, brakes, wheels, service the bearings, advise on what parts to order, etc.

Or maybe you don’t have a bike yet and you want to get advice, for example…

  • What kind of bike will suit your purposes.
  • Buying secondhand.
  • Getting started with commuting.

Motivation

Why are we doing this? We believe the bicycle is a force for good. Not in a cult-ish, trying-to-brainwash-everyone kind of way but in a genuine way. There’s plenty of evidence showing that bicycle use brings improvements to health, wellbeing, community cohesion, the environment, the economy and so on and so on… Figures from 2016 show that in the UK 21% of journeys under 1 mile were made by car. Bicycles accounted for 2% of journeys under 1 mile… Does that make sense? Yes, it’s easy to argue that cars are useful when carrying people or shopping, for those with reduced mobility and I’m sure you can think of many other examples but… cars for 21% of journeys under 1 mile – really?!

Anyway, there are plenty of others who can do cycle advocacy better than me. I am just a normal person who has commuted by bicycle for 5 years and I love it. I can’t imagine having it any other way. I want to help others experience the joy and convenience of bicycle use and together we can reap the benefits!

Stephen