Time for a meeting

These are exciting and busy times at Rat Race Cycles – we’re doing all we can to keep as many people rolling as possible, and it’s been great to see so many new cyclists as well as many familiar faces.

We’ve taken on a couple of new team members – hi Alex and Joe! – in the last month too, and as our team grows it’s getting all the more important to make sure we’re working well together and keeping the shop standards high.

Busy workshops get grubbier and more disorganised quicker, and we all need some time to learn and to make sure we keep improving. So we’re going to be changing our opening hours again: we’ll open at 10am on Wednesdays instead of the current 8, to give us time to have a team meeting, to do some training and also to have a bit of a deeper clean.

We’ll be in the shop, but we’ll be closed, so we won’t be running the walk-in service on Wednesday mornings. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this causes – we chose Wednesday because it’s been our quietest day on average for walk-ins so we hope this will affect the fewest people.

For people who have bikes booked in on Wednesdays we’ll be encouraging them to drop bikes off the night before or after 10am; we’ll try and notify everyone who’s already booked in over the next few weeks and make things work for them.

One of the things we’ve been discussing is extending our opening hours, now we have more staff to cover this, so watch this space for a further update! Thanks for your understanding.

Stocktaking

We’re going to be closed on Thursday 11th June, for a much-needed (and slightly overdue) stock take. This means we won’t be able to answer any enquiries at the door or on the phone, though you can still email us with enquiries or to book bikes in.

Sorry for any inconvenience this causes! Business will continue as normal from 8am on Friday 12th.

Consolidating

Our opening hours on weekdays for the last couple of years have been 7 til 7. 7am, bright and early so people can drop off bikes on their way to work and catch trains or buses; 7pm, late enough that people can finish work and pick up their bike on the way home. We had a flurry of visitors at the start and end of the day and we spent most of the middle of the day servicing those bikes.

At the moment, we’re experiencing very different traffic to the shop. Probably because so many people are staying at home and staying local, we’ve been busy with shop visitors throughout the middle of the day, but quiet at the start and end of the day.

So, for now, we’re reducing our hours to 8am to 6pm on weekdays. It means that there’ll be more of us in the shop during those times, so some of us can be working on bikes and someone else booking them in and out at the same time – basically so we can get more done!

To keep as many people as possible riding their bikes we’ll still be working on small jobs as walk-ins between 8 and 10am, and prioritising booked-in bikes after 10. As with all of our recent announcements, please watch this space for any further changes we’ll need to make!

Time out

What a weekend for a bank holiday. Especially one on lockdown. On any normal May Day bank holiday weekend with weather like this, we’d be planning rides, adventures, social events or visits to family. There’d be group rides, races, audaxes and sportives to join, and parks and pubs would be full of families and friends meeting up.

But not this year. We’re still in lockdown, still required to keep our distance from each other and still being asked to do whatever we can to minimise transmission of the coronavirus.

So many of us have been finding these last few weeks tough. And we’re no exception.

It’s been unbelievably busy at the shop. It’s a lovely problem to have – we’re proud of keeping so many returning, new and regular cyclists rolling – and first and foremost we want to thank you all for your continued support and understanding as we try to make things as safe as we can for ourselves and for you all. But, if we’re honest, it has been pretty full-on juggling the increased demand with the new ways of working.

So, this weekend, we’re closing the shop. The team have also been incredibly supportive of Rat Race these last few weeks, working hard and long hours, (and we’ve all managed most of it in brilliant good humour, amazingly!) and frankly we all need some time out.

So, we’ll be closed on Friday 08, and Saturday 09 May.

Thanks again to all of you. We’ll see you bright and early on Monday. With our brand new opening hours… (watch this space for details of those coming right up!)

And remember – even if you haven’t got a turbo, you are still allowed to ride. We’re going to be trying to get out into the real world, for sure – just look at this weather! Please remember, though, if you do decide to head out, make sure you go solo and follow British Cycling’s guidance for riding during lockdown: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/about/article/20200319-about-bc-news-Coronavirus-Covid-19-FAQs-0

Stay safe.

Changing how we do things, again!

Hello from the workstand once again! I feel like I’ve written more blog posts in the last few weeks than I have in all the years of the shop being open.

We’re still here, still open, working as hard as we can to keep everyone riding. I have to be candid though, it hasn’t been easy; there are two big challenges and we’ve had to change the way we work to adapt to them. If you’re short on time, please scroll to the break for what it means for you. If not, here’s a longer explanation:

The first problem is, of course, COVID-19. We’re keeping the door locked most of the time so that we and you can keep our distance, and when dropping a bike off or picking it up we’ll be setting it in the stand outside the front door and disinfecting contact points like the saddle, grips and levers. We’re wearing gloves practically all the time and disinfecting those gloves, our tools, work surfaces, the phone, the card machine, the iPad… that’s all to protect both you and ourselves and minimise transmission as much as we can.

The second struggle, however, has been coping with how busy we’ve become! Obviously, it’s a great problem to have; we’re very glad to see so many people getting on their bikes (and we’re especially grateful for all the messages of support and encouragement we’ve been getting, thank you!). But this busy-ness, combined with the new ways of working we’ve had to adopt for COVID-19, means that at times we’ve been so busy answering enquiries at the door, answering the phone and trying to reply to emails and messages in a timely manner that we’ve had very little time to actually work on people’s bikes! It’s a perfect storm.

Although we’re all experienced and methodical mechanics, there’s a certain lag that comes from breaking off in the middle of a service to answer the door or the phone, and then coming back to the bike and getting back to whatever you were working on before. It’s not a lot, but it starts adding up when it happens many times over and a 20-minute job stays in the workstand for two hours because there have been so many interruptions. It also means the bikes that customers have booked in aren’t getting our undivided attention, which doesn’t seem very fair.

We’ve always had a policy of trying to fix people’s bikes on the spot if it’s a minor task – you’d usually only have to wait a few minutes if you have a puncture, for example, and we try and do most small jobs as quickly as possible to avoid booking bikes in and filling up the shop. But unfortunately, we have to change that, at least for now.


From Monday 20th April we’ll only work on walk-in jobs before 10am. If you’ve got a puncture, if your wheel needs truing, if your brake pads need replacing, that sort of thing, please get down to us as early as possible and we’ll try and fit you in that morning.

Otherwise, our workshop will be appointment only. From 10am onwards, to make sure we can give booked-in bikes our full attention, we won’t be taking in any un-booked jobs. Not even punctures – sorry! To minimise interruptions, we’ll also be letting the phone go to voicemail, and calling people back regularly throughout the day.

We’re very sorry for any hassle this might cause you, but we hope you understand that we’re trying to be fair to as many people as possible, and making sure we can focus on getting as many bikes properly serviced as we can.

A very Good Friday

In the past, we’ve always closed over bank holidays. Partly because Nunhead is often quiet on a bank holiday weekend, but mainly because everyone deserves a break, including our awesome staff.

This time, however, we want to give something back to our wonderful community, and in particular the people putting their lives at risk every day to protect ours.*

So, if you’re an NHS or emergency worker who relies on your bike, on Good Friday (10 April) we’ll service it free of charge. We’ll need to charge for any parts fitted, but we’ll discount these as much as we can. We won’t charge for labour.

We’ll be accepting walk-ups (although we’ll still have the door shut and be practicing safe social distancing) but if you want to book in, call us on 020 7732 1933.

And if you’re not a key worker but want to help, we’ll be taking donations to put towards parts for key workers’ services between now and then. Just call by the shop or give us a call to work out how to get money to us. Anything not used on Friday will be put towards key workers’ services in the coming weeks.

*I want to emphasise that this is a joint decision; my staff suggested working on Good Friday; we collectively came up with this idea, everyone volunteered and we’ve worked out the details together. I’m utterly proud of them all.

Thank you, NHS and key workers

NHS and emergency service workers are currently having an even tougher time than normal.

We’re honoured to keep so many of their bikes running reliably for them; for most, this means they’re not dependent on public transport. For some it also means a safe ride home and some vital decompression time after long difficult shifts.

We’ve always given a blue light discount, but for now we’re increasing that to at least 20% off, plus discounting labour wherever possible. And we’re giving NHS and emergency workers priority booking space in our (currently busy!) workshop diary, to get them up and running as soon as possible.

Please tell us if we can this do for you, but please don’t be offended if we ask for ID as confirmation.

A change of opening times, for a time

It’s been amazing seeing how many people rely on us to keep their bikes rolling, and the messages of support have been truly heartening – thank you.

We’re trying to keep up with demand as best we can, and we’ve made some changes to the way we work to keep everyone safe.

We’re doing lots inside the shop to disinfect bikes, our gloves and our tools and work surfaces, and you may have noticed the shop door is staying locked so that we can help everyone keep distanced. Sorry if it’s meant waiting outside the shop for a while.

The main difference from today – and we’re sorry for the inconvenience this will cause – is that on Tuesdays and Thursdays we’ll be in the workshop from only 9am to 6pm and we’ll just be servicing booked-in bikes. So we won’t be open for walk-ins and we won’t be answering the phone on those days, but we will check our answerphone messages and get back to you, so please do leave a message!

This is to make sure we have enough mechanics in the shop at busier times during the day, and to deal with the extra time needed to serve one customer at a time at the door. Basically, to make sure there are enough of us to go round! Thanks for your patience.

An essential service

In the absence of any more specific restrictions, we are self-identifying as an “essential service” and continuing to service bikes.

We’ve kept many NHS workers’ bikes on the road and enabled them to avoid buses, trains and tubes; we’ve serviced many bikes that people rely on for basic transport, their well-being and good mental health.

Like Germany’s government and the governor of New York, we view cycling as an essential part of public transport. And although less of the public will need transport in the coming weeks, those that do will really need their transport to work properly, and that’s where we come in.

We’re making this decision because at the moment the guidance isn’t clear about our status; we are in no way cavalier about the risks of COVID-19.

We’ll continue to make sure we do everything we can to minimise infection and transfer. Our shop door stays locked and we’ll only allow customers in one at a time (there’s our awning to wait under if it’s raining). We’ll continue to disinfect our surfaces and our tools frequently; we wear gloves and we disinfect the contact points of every bike we touch and disinfect our gloves between bikes. And, if there’s anything else we can reasonably do to lessen the risk of infection, we’ll do it.

So, although our door will mostly be closed, we’re going to keep working on your bikes until someone tells us we can’t, because we know how essential a working bicycle is to those who rely on it.

UPDATE: as of 23h30, we’re on the UK government list of specific exceptions to closures – http://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/874732/230320_-_Revised_guidance_note_-_finalVF.pdf – twice!

Riding while not going anywhere, part 1

Got a few minutes? Read the whole thing, for explanations and tips.

TL;DR – just read the lists coming next. 🙂

The basics you’ll need for riding your bike indoors are:

  • a bike
  • a trainer (rollers or turbo)
  • lots of determination, or a high boredom threshold.

However, you’re going to sweat. More than you’d expect. And also that boredom will suck your determination. So the “bearable” list also includes:

  • a good fan
  • a towel
  • water bottles
  • something to listen to, preferably with sweatproof earphones – music, podcasts, etc.

After a while, you may well find this training useful and even enjoyable. And want to make your bike work well with the turbo. So on the “good” list is:

  • sweat mat
  • turbo trainer tyre
  • heart rate monitor
  • screen / tablet / laptop – something to watch, iPlayer, Netflix, etc.

And if you want to do some targeted training, or virtual riding, or for longer periods, a “great” setup will have:

  • smart trainer
  • bike thong
  • cycle training videos or software – Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, Zwift, etc.
  • dedicated clothing

Wait, what? You think I’m going to ride a bike in a thong?!

No, the bike wears the thong – read the long stuff below and in the following posts to find out what I’m on about. And, at the end, to find out about the full pro-level bells-and-whistles setups if you’re really serious and / or have plenty of money to spend.

So, on to the long waffly article I started writing before realising I need a “just give me the facts” at the top…

As the pandemic continues and the shadow of lockdown approaches, a lot of us cyclists are really hoping that the UK government doesn’t follow Spain and France’s lead and ban leisure cycling. The logic behind that, apparently, is that cyclists injuring themselves while riding will put an extra strain on the emergency and health services. I totally understand that, but so many more people injure themselves falling out of chairs and slipping in the shower each each year, not to mention those injured and killed in and around cars, that banning an activity that generally maintains mental and physical health seems counterproductive.

Anyway, this entry’s about indoor training and should provide some basic information about how to get started and buy a trainer if you still want to ride your bike but you can’t leave your house. It can be a great way to train as you don’t have to worry about traffic but, if you’ve never done it before, here are a few pointers.

The bare minimum you’ll need is a bike and a trainer. And probably quite a high boredom threshold. You find space, fit the bike to the trainer, climb on and get pedalling.

Until a few years ago, there were only two types of trainer, and both involved keeping your bike fully assembled.

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Rollers are literally a set of rollers on a frame and you adjust them so your rear wheel sits between the two close rollers and your front wheel sits on the other one, then basically ride your bike on top of them. You might have seen experienced riders using them to warm up at the velodrome or before races. The gyroscopic effect of your wheels spinning helps keep you upright, but they take a bit of practice to get right, and you need to stay focussed to stop you falling off. However, they engage your core muscles much more and because you are basically riding a bike without going anywhere, have a very natural feel.

smart-1

The other kind was a turbo trainer, an A-frame that you clamp your rear axle into, that lifts your rear wheel slightly off the ground and usually has a roller that you push against the rear tyre. As you pedal faster, the resistance increases. And some have variable resistance with a cable- or electronically-operated remote. You’d usually need to lift your front wheel slightly off the ground so the bike feels level, and there are various devices for this, but a good old thick phone book has served well for thousands of riders.

Turbo trainers and rollers are great but can be noisy – all the moving parts on the bike channeling your pedal power, and all the moving parts on the trainer also rolling away and dissipating that power can make quite a hum, especially if you’ve got the setup sitting on bare floorboards in a flat. Your downstairs neighbours might not appreciate your new-found souplesse.

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Wheel-off, or direct drive turbo trainers became commercially available a few years ago and have made a big difference to enjoyable and / or serious indoor riding. You literally remove your bike’s rear wheel and clamp the bike to the trainer, or the trainer into the bike in place of the back wheel. The advantages are that the trainers are usually quieter and because your chain is directly driving the cassette on the trainer they can offer significantly more resistance, more quickly-variable resistance and some can even provide a virtual road feel, simulating cobblestones for example. The disadvantages are that they’re usually heavier and can be significantly more expensive.

If you’re looking to get started and you don’t have the patience or the space to learn how to fall off a bike inside your own home, I’d recommend an A-frame classic turbo trainer. There are a huge number available and often many second-hand bargains that have been purchased with good intentions and then left in a dusty corner. Although I’d guess that may have turned into a bit of a seller’s market at the moment.

If you’re after classic track training, Nelsy swears by rollers. They teach good technique, smooth pedalling, they’re fixed-wheel compatible and they’ll train all the muscles you’ll actually use to ride a bike. And, after quite a lot of practice, you can balance no-handed and pedal and juggle at the same time like her!

But if you want to get into tekkers stuff later on like Zwift or TrainerRoad, you’ll be best off with a direct drive trainer. They can offer much more resistance and silence, but be prepared to pay a fair bit more. In the next post I’ll cover some simple set-up tips but I’ll leave it at this for now!