The end of an era… and the start of a new one.

Last Friday we said goodbye to Joel, who’s been with me almost from the start of Rat Race Cycles. He’s moving onto pastures new (sorry, we’re already racking up the clichés and I’ve only written the title and first two sentences!). His other passion has always been for music and he’s moved up North to start a Masters course in Music Technology at the Birmingham Conservatoire. His first album is incredible, and being released on 5th October, and his next ones promise to be even greater still.

But as excited as we are for him, Joel leaves some pretty big shoes to fill. For the last five years he’s been my right-hand man and customers tell me all the time how brilliant he is, and how great he’s been with their bikes. I know I’m not the only one who’s going to miss him.

In his place, though, we’re really excited to introduce two new members of staff. They are Dax, who coincidentally has left a career as a professional musician to work in the bike trade, and Nelsy, who’s joined us from Look Mum No Hands (we’re very grateful they let her leave!). They’re both ace people and great mechanics. As they don’t yet have Joel’s expertise, I’ll be spending more time in the workshop over the next few months to help them hone their craft. They’re already well on their way.

Marlowe and Andis are still with us of course, and still keeping bikes and their riders on the road and working superbly.

Finally, our last bit of news is that we’re changing our opening hours. Earlier in the year we conducted a highly scientific Twitter poll (!), and – coupled with anecdotal customer feedback – we’ve decided to try opening 7am to 7pm on weekdays, to help those who have found it difficult to get to us during our previous hours.

As autumn approaches, we tend to see more punctures, more cyclocross bikes and more of the hardy commuters who brave the weather. Good news for you guys – we’ve recently restocked on our autumn bestsellers, so if you’re in need of new lights, reflective stuff or mudguards to fight the dark and wet come on down.

We look forward to sharing this next stage of our grand tour with you all.

A kick in the lady parts for equality in cycling

Some months ago, Pete did a talk on bike safety and maintenance at our local WI. Now, before you start picturing a load of silver haired ladies staring blankly at the nice young man showing them how to change a tyre, let me point out that the demographic of the Nunhead WI isn’t quite that traditional. Much of the Nunhead branch, from what I understand, is made up of 25-40 year old professionals/mothers/creatives, or any combination thereof. Women like me.

It was after this talk that Pete received the shop feedback of which I am most proud. I paraphrase, but a member told him that she loved Rat Race because she never felt patronised or embarrassed there. That she was treated no differently to any other customer, and was never sneered at or assumed to be stupid.

The beauty of hand built

One important thing we do at Rat Race Cycles is hand-build wheels. In fact, we’re about to launch a specialised wheel building service – Owen Wheels – at this year’s BESPOKED – The UK Handmade Bicycle Show.

There’s no dark art to wheel building, but to consistently build strong, durable wheels requires knowledge, skill and practice. There are many reasons to choose hand-built wheels over branded wheels like Mavic, Shimano or Fulcrum. I’ll try and outline the key ones:

Changing gear at Rat Race Cycles

If you’ve been in the Nunhead area over the Christmas break, you’ll have noticed that we’ve been making a few changes to the shop. Sure, we’ve reorganised things a bit, added in some more lights and had a tidy up and given the walls a lick of paint, but none of those is the big change. The major change is that we have stopped selling bikes.

That’s right – we are now a bike shop that doesn’t sell bikes.

Sounds crazy, right? Well, yes and no.

Small Business Saturday

Think of a massive online retailer and chances are you think of a logo; a letter, a colour scheme, a design.

Think of a small shop on your high street and you probably think of a face. The owner. The person who took a deep breath, stepped out and turned their passion – their dream – into their life’s work.

Every year, more stories surface about huge multinationals exploiting yet another loophole to skip out on tax in the UK. And yet, every year, (often despite our best intentions) we throw our hard earned money at them as Christmas descends, resorting to the easiest, the cheapest, the most obvious, over-advertised option. And every year we wonder why shops are closing on the high street, why people are going out of business, why our towns and villages are becoming soulless miniature carbon copies of huge, out-of-town shopping malls.

Well, here’s a chance to shop a bit differently. This Saturday 5 December is Small Business Saturday, and a chance to get down to your local high street and support those people trying to make their dreams pay their bills.

Le Cure de France

So, I know we all get a bit of charity fatigue now and again, but if you haven’t reached an icy saturation point in the bucket of people doing good things, you really should check these guys out.

This is not just people doing something good, this is people doing something extraordinary, for a fantastic cause: 29 guys, 4 epic, iconic* climbs, 1 week, and the Royal Marsden Hospital.

We are thoroughly impressed, and if you can afford a couple of quid for this worthy cause, you might make their climbs just a tiny bit easier…

…but probably not.

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* in our opinion, iconic is an overused word.  However, in this case it’s utterly deserved.  I mean, come on: Galibier, Mt Ventoux, Col d’Izoard, Alpe d’Huez.  Fair?  Yes.