If you ever have the displeasure of hearing me when I’m at my most animated one thing will become abundantly clear. I grew up in Liverpool! It’s well suppressed, but get me going and it soon rears it’s head (or should that be ‘voice’).
Growing up in north Liverpool in the mid 80’s often felt tough; but I was lucky. I had parents and friends who believed in me and offered me a few of life’s basic tools for survival. Once every couple of year’s I’d go with my dad to see a man he knew down Anfield Lane. The man in question was a shop keeper (newsagents if I remember rightly) and behind his shop was a garage crammed with bikes, piles upon piles of bikes. My dad would haggle with the shopkeeper, they’d agree a price my dad always considered to be extortionate, we’d fold down the seats of our Vauxhall Cavalier squeeze in the bike and leave for home. Once we got home the bike became my means of escape.
As an adolescent I’d unknowingly inherited my Dad’s utilitarian values so while my friends chose the style of a Raleigh Grifter or the stunt mad functionality of a BMX Mongoose I chose an oversized hand painted touring frame with flat bar and bright orange hand grips running a Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub on 26 x 1 3/8 rims.
Every day began with a sprint to school (record time 2min 11secs), was broken by a blast home for lunch (3 min 4secs), back to school and then head down and home at 3:30pm (always home by 3:33pm). The substance of winning every time didn’t just beat the style of others it redefined it. It wasn’t long before my whole class wanted a crap bike!
We lived not far from the Leeds/Liverpool canal so I would spend countless evenings cycling down it’s banks towards the rural beauty of Ormskirk and Magull. I’d pinch a few potatoes from the farmers field, stash then in my panniers and then return home for mums chips.
The bike was not only a means of escape but also a means of survival. I didn’t know it then, but the more I reflect on it the more I come to understand how the bike offered me everything I needed. It was the tool for surviving which blessed you with a good dose of enjoyment and invited you to do more than survive.
In truth I was never a great cyclist, I’ve never competed and subsequently never won a race but I’ve always loved the raw simplicity of my bike and all it enables me to be.
As the cycling world became obsessed with carbon frames, shaved legs and componentry worth more than my folks mortgage I recall having moments of utter disillusionment in which I would wonder why oh why the human condition has a propensity to make the simple pleasures of life so very, very complicated. Why oh why do people who love cycling become the sure fire guarantee that it will become an increasingly marginalized activity?
The years past and yet the simple joy of cycling remained a stable part of my life. I’ve remained both a cyclist and an urban resident and in doing so I’ve began to notice that this simple love of cycling and its multiple benefits has put me in what too frequently feels like an ever decreasing minority. This sense of a diminishing activity increasingly began to strike me as more than sad nostalgia for my childhood. The more I thought on it the more I observed a number of conflicting realities, ever increasing levels of childhood obesity, some of the most economically disadvantaged workers spending a ridiculous amount of their weekly salary on traveling to and from work, increasing levels of congestion and rising levels of damaging air pollution and a decreasing number of people reporting a positive state of happiness and general well being. There seemed an overwhelming need for change and a nagging voice within me suggesting cycling had a role to play.
In 2012 I met with my mentor and tried to chew over this reflection with a little more substance. As I left that conversation and the weeks progressed I had three words ringing in my ears, ‘just do something’. And so with the help of a few friends we formed Urban Cycles with one simple compelling conviction, ‘Inspire change'. Since then we’ve repaired thousands of bikes, trained hundreds of individuals, shared in endless hours of conversation and advice, ridden more than our fare share of everything from high end road bikes to beautiful Dutch commuters and supported other parts of the transport sector to reduce the threat they pose to cyclists.
What we didn't realise when we first started Urban Cycles was how much the change in others would continue to inspire us. It's been an amazing journey for which we are deeply grateful.
We’ve tried hard to keep a grip on our motivation and I’ve learnt a lot about the struggle to run a business which has both purpose and sustainability.
In 2013 we began working with the University of Birmingham and haven't looked back since.
We open early and close late because we want to be as accesible as possible, making it as easy as possible for people to cycle.
We don't align ourselves to retail because we're moreinterested in people than in product.
We work hard to deliver a service we can be proud of and you can rely on.
I still love my bike and it’s still not flash. I ride every day and am pretty sure I would have lost the plot a long time ago if I didn’t.
It is my hope that as the blog grows and develops it, like the whole business, will provide a source of support, inspiration and valued insight for the urban dweller who loves to cycle.
That’s more than enough about us; now tell us your cycling story?