"Welcome to My Shed": Bike Love in Scotland
The centre of Glasgow, Scotland, looks a little bit like New York and San Francisco upped sticks, ran 1,400 miles inland, and settled down together somewhere in Nebraska. Grand old high-rise buildings line wide, hilly streets. Glasgow’s suburbs lose some of that old character. Once you pass under the ring road that carries traffic into and out of the city, great stone buildings give way to 1970s apartment blocks and industrial parks. And it’s on one of these industrial parks a 5-minute drive out of the city centre that Carl Lottering-Geeson has set up shop.
“If I didn’t do this I don’t know what I’d do,” he explains to me over a cup of coffee in his store, Bike Love. Lottering-Geeson builds and fixes bicycles.
These aren’t your regular catalog-ordered bikes, though. Bike Love works with customers to find out their needs and meticulously crafts them a cycle they can use that’s fit to their purpose — whether that’s cycling to and from work or going on cross-country trails at weekends. This is the Savile Row of cycles, from a small brick workshop directly off a main road in one of the poorest cities in Scotland. While we talk, Lottering-Geeson takes a phone call from a potential customer. “She’s typical of the customer that’s been missold a product because she likes the look of it,” he explains. “For what she’s doing, cycling nine miles a day, it won’t suit someone who’s done that amount of mileage.” Lottering-Geeson has “an idea of what she’s after,” and a bike that would be more suitable for her than her current one bought off the peg at another retailer.
Glasgow’s inhabitants are some of the sickest in the United Kingdom, dying earlier than their counterparts elsewhere from a variety of maladies. Cycling for fitness could help allay that.
But few people in Glasgow cycle. Those that do come to this uniquely quirky man-cave. The front desk sits within a large workshop filled with spokes and wheels — and a computer to maintain the Tumblr. “I suppose this is like my shed at the bottom of the garden where I get to come and hide,” Lottering-Geeson explains. “It just all puts a smile on your face, really. There’s not much else to say about it. I’m very lucky in that I have a job I genuinely do enjoy. I did an office job for nine months and I’d never go back to an office job again, not a proper office.”
Lottering-Geeson had previously worked in telesales for cycle firms, and had at one point been a bike courier in his native London. Recent accidents involving cyclists, including Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, have changed his mind. “I never used to cycle with a helmet as a courier,” he explains. “For two and a half years I never had an accident. Now, I never cycle without a helmet. If I go from here down to the post office, I wear one. You can’t take the risk anymore.”
That was proven in mid-December, when Lottering-Geeson fell off his bike in slippery conditions. He views the shop’s online presence as a way to engage with the cycling community, warning them of dangers and advising them on best practices. He hopes to begin creating how-to videos for customers who wanted to learn how to change a wheel’s inner tubing, for example.
“I will happily replace broken tubes or fix punctures all day long,” he says. “If we can repair a product or a part, we try and repair it first.” Lottering-Geeson is careful, though: “If a bike is that badly in need of fixing, and a customer only wants half a bike doing, I won’t do it. Either it gets done properly, or we don’t touch it. I don’t like putting out unsafe bikes.”
That demand for safety is a by-product of his other job. Lottering-Geeson’s customization and repair skills have been honed by years working in the professional downhill cycling world. He is a mechanic for CRC/Nukeproof, one of the major teams, and juggles his work at Bike Love with time on the road in Europe and the United States. “Our season is very short — for 2013 our main races are from the beginning of June to the end of August,” he begins. “It’s a very condensed thing,” noting that stress and happiness come in almost equal measure.
“The joy of knowing that you’ve made a bike work, that it’s going to be thrown down a hill at speed … and not fall apart, that it’s going to be able to perform to its best … it’s stressful to do that but the enjoyment when they come across the line is good.”
The professional tour work informs his skills for customers in Glasgow, too. “I bring ideas I would use on a team and apply them to the workshop here at Bike Love. You end up helping customers. It ends up all intermingling together.”
Some challenges are more exciting — and more rewarding — than others. Lottering-Geeson tweaks customers’ bikes for speed and better running, yes, but other changes are more fundamental. When asked what the best job he’s done for a customer was, he pauses to think.
“Building a bike for a one-armed child was probably the most enjoyable one,” he says “Building a bicycle for a child with one arm so he could go and cycle with his parents. It’s stuff like that that makes the difference. You can build £6,000 bikes — fancy bikes with carbon, lovely titanium, but as nice as they are to build, building something like that for a kid who’s only got one arm so he can go and cycle … that puts more of a smile on my face than anything else.
“It’s projects like that — we have another couple of customers with cerebral palsy, so we helped modify bikes for them so they can get out and ride. Bits and bobs like that make my job worth doing.”
It is inspiring people to ride that fires Lottering-Geeson. “I had a bike at the age of 4,” he says, “stabilisers off, and my dad just said ‘off you go.’ I stopped cycling when I got to 16 and discovered girls and beer, but I came back. I needed a job out of college. I bought myself a cheap bike, and within a month bought myself another bike because that first one failed.”
He continues, “Everyone should learn to ride a bike. I was taught by my dad, the same as his father had taught him, and a joy of fixing stuff and playing around. My dad had a shed in the garden and there were tools, and wood, and metal, and I was allowed to develop and play with a saw and wood. For me, that’s part of growing up.”
There are those who weren’t privy to that when growing up, and who need to rely on repair shops such as Bike Love for their cycle’s upkeep. For that, Lottering-Geeson is glad.
“We’ve been going seven years now,” he explains. “The first couple of years we tried advertising in newspapers and bike magazines, but we stopped four years ago and have survived on word of mouth.” So far it seems to be working. Lottering-Geeson is sanguine, if understated in his shop’s success. “If they’re happy with what we’re doing, customers will come back.”
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