The bike is my preferred way of getting around. In retirement I try to follow the discipline of pedalling 4–5 miles every day. Very occasionally these yield surprises comparable to the one Pither experiences in Monty Python’s The Cycling Tour. Desperate for a shorter bicycle pump that will lessen the risk of falls, he is told that the village where he finds himself has only one shop. And it’s the Short Bicycle Pump Centre!
One of my Short Bicycle Pump Centre moments was in Great Yarmouth in 2014. I had failed to pack shirts for a tour of the East Anglian coast, and worn a pyjama top instead for the first few evenings. In Yarmouth I found a shop selling shirts late into the night! I will let no one take this epiphany from me, though it would have shone less brightly had I known the town better.
Another epiphany was earlier this year in Arbury, the Cambridge suburb where we of the city’s Philharmonic Society choir rehearse. After one rehearsal, I could not find the key to my bike. Two car-owning choir members kindly gave me a lift for the four-mile journey home. The following morning I travelled by bus to Arbury to retrieve the bike. Found the key, somehow up against the perimeter wall. Found the front tyre was down.
I’m useless at mending punctures.
Was there a bike repair shop nearby? Yes, said Google Maps, about five minutes’ walk away, closing in ten. I hurried, got the bike there, handed it in.
A couple of restrictions
The bike was ready for collection the following day, but I arrived too late to collect it. That early closure had not been a one-off. The shop only opens mornings; the proprietor, John Lister, needs the afternoons for work on sourcing parts. I’ve taken the bike there again since then, and found that it doesn’t accept card payments. John asks cashless users to meet the situation by taking their cards to the post office across the precinct.
But bikes and customers queue up outside John’s Bikes. It was a discovery.
Aidan: How long has your bike shop been running?
John: I’ve been open about 15 years.
Aidan: When did the parts shortage begin?
John: Parts shortage for me began during lockdown. At the beginning, suppliers had stock. As the lockdown continued and suppliers couldn’t get stock shipped over, things began to run out. As lockdown eased, suppliers started to get stock in, and there was a huge rise in prices. Some items stayed on backorder for several months. Some suppliers said new bikes could be up to 18 months.
Aidan: How’s business been affected by your own restrictions – morning-only opening, cash or cheque only for payment?
John: Business has been affected by several things. Regular customers are aware I don’t take cards, so they’re happy to pay by cheque or cash. If someone wants to pay by card they are usually ok with going to get cash from the nearby cash machine. Card machines would be an extra cost to me. I’ve never taken card payments, and I can’t see this changing.
Aidan: The Google Maps entry for your shop has attracted a number of comments, mostly very complimentary. But you don’t appear to have any online presence. Do you have plans for one?
John: I may think about it at a later date, but not in the near future.
Aidan: Do you know if any of your customers are anti-car in the sense of taking part in flamboyant protests – deflating SUV tyres, nude bike rides, etc.?
(Reader, I was not asking for a data-protection impropriety here. I stressed that I sought no details of customers, but hoped John might ask them if they’d be up for being interviewed.)
John: A good percentage of my customers are anti-car, but I don’t know if any are into flamboyant protesting.
Aidan: What do you think of the Cambridge congestion charge?
John: I’m against it. The cost will put extra pressure on families who are already struggling. Small businesses will be impacted as delivery costs will go up to cover the charges. The small business has to either absorb the increase or put prices up and risk losing customers.
I’ve heard that bike repairers rejoice when books on DIY bike maintenance are published, because the bike owners’ failed experiments in this line will bring an increase in business. John wouldn’t be drawn on how far this was true in his experience. But it’s useful to know there’s a place like his, with bike hoops nearby, just a street away from where we sing on Tuesday evenings.