Cycling is a competitive sport for many, a means of transport for some and casual weekend activity for others. Regardless of which bike and journeys are part of your life, there is something which does not change: the numbers. Most statistics indicate how great cycling is for body and mind, but not all figures are smile-inducing... Did you know that on a leisurely one-hour ride, your legs will do as many as 4-5 thousand revolutions of the pedals? That’s a lot for your joints! Or that female cyclists make up only 26% of the London total? Not enough! And that, despite the fact that cyclists above 60 were found to be physically younger than most of their peers of the same age, very few cycle regularly?
Hackney Bike Workshop is made up of many great mechanics: our cumulative experience is well over 100 years! We are all volunteers who strongly believe in the cause: teaching people how to self-help with mechanical problems at three drop-in sessions each month, in two different locations. While new-fangled components and ancient bikes don’t phase us, we thought it was time to address other, often overlooked issues affecting commuters in this busy metropolis of ours. We asked ourselves: “What can we do to get the cycling community healthier and injury free, with more people of all genders riding longer into old age?” This is our two step approach.
The first goal of our project is to get people fully comfortable on the saddle and in the correct position, to avoid injuries, pains and strains, as these complaints too often force people off their bike for some time, and in the worst cases, forever. Similarly to running, cycling is meant to improve our health: we just need to do it properly so we can reap the benefits without encountering any of the potential problems. Back pain, hand numbness, pins and needles and saddle discomfort are issues most of us have experienced and are often a direct consequence of bad posture while riding: a good bike fit should prevent most problems and fitting services in bike shops are thankfully becoming more popular, but they can be incredibly expensive. Many cyclists are not keen to pay for them as there is nothing tangible coming out of it.
Making bike fitting advice sessions accessible has become our first goal: this will keep both people who may have a pre-existing medical condition, and those about to drop off cycling altogether because of discomfort, on their bikes. The average commuter will benefit as well: even if no aches or pains are present, future injuries can be prevented by riding in the right position. Right position = no pain = more years of cycling!
So, in February, we dragged to London a legend in the field: Tony Corke from Torke Cycling, who has carved an immense reputation for himself as a bike fitter and a bike fitting teacher. With some additional help from our friends at Bamboo Bike Club, who lent us their workshop, we trained with Tony and we learned so much! Bike fitting is almost magical: while it cannot cure all, it can make being on a bike much more pleasant, natural and enjoyable. We started delivering the project right after the training, and cyclists who have come to see us walk away very happy, more comfortable and knowledgeable, and feeling more in control. The feedback has been great so far!
This is how far we’ve got with the project, but even bigger things are in store. The second goal is to address gender disparity! What to do about the fact that women are drastically under-represented in London cycling? We are primarily a mechanics workshop, so we had a hard stare in the mirror to find ways to improve. Get into any bike shop or workshop and you will find them staffed mostly by men. We are no exception, so it is time to increase the number of trained female mechanics: two of our long term female volunteers will become qualified bike mechanics next year! We hope this move will demonstrate to the many women out there that cycling is for all in all aspects, including fixing one’s own bike, and that everything is achievable to those who dare to try.
As you can see, we are really excited about having the opportunity to work on this project and we are truly grateful to Transport for London and Groundwork London for believing in our team of volunteer mechanics and making this possible with their funding: cycling is our passion and we cannot wait to gain new skills and make them available to you!
Keen to learn something new? Come along: we would love to meet you. And we are looking for more volunteer mechanics too, if you feel like joining our gang. It will be an exciting ride, we can promise you that!