In London, commuting is often quickest on two wheels. Getting from my flat – just east of central London – to Midori House just west of it, can take up to 45 minutes in a taxi during rush hour or 35 minutes on the tube. Taking things into my own hands, on a bicycle, cuts the trip down to just 25.
And though London’s streets are full of perils, be it cobblestones or careening double-decker buses, my biggest stress as a cyclist isn’t anything so obvious. That honour goes to the city’s bicycle repairmen.
Few others in London’s service industry can be as disdainful and pretentious as the 30-something cycle-shop attendant – which says quite a lot in a city not known for being cheerful. From the moment you awkwardly negotiate your bike through the shop’s front door – unassisted – your presence is quite regularly treated as an imposition rather than that which keeps their business afloat. Who is it they were expecting to walk in?
So, as Spring has finally shown its face in the city, it is also time for me to fix a flat tyre after months of easy weather-related excuses that had me opting for the underground.
But instead of facing the ranks of holier-than-though part-time chain-tweakers, I wheeled my sick cycle to The London Bike Kitchen: a small shop just off Regent’s Canal near the top of Hoxton Street.
Founded by Jenni Gwiazdowski over a year ago, The London Bike Kitchen encourages a do-it-yourself approach. Turn up with a problem and they’ll instruct you on how to fix it, and give you the tools to do it.
Jenni hails from California, where the DIY culture has already taken root but she fell in love with cycling while living in Japan – having been given a bike by her work as a means to commute. Now in London, she was surprised how quickly this city’s cyclists were opting to hand off their repairs and pay hefty fees for what could be done simply for almost no cost.
More importantly, she says that being DIY-shy has hindered London’s cycle culture from becoming as quality-of-life enhancing as it has in Japan.
Admitting that you can’t change an inner tube after commuting to and from university or work for over a decade would incite deep sighs and eye rolls at most bike shops here. But Jenni’s attitude is collegial and congenial.
Why? Her interest isn’t commercial, it’s in building a better cycle culture. However easy it is to romanticise a leisurely weekend of park and pub-crawling on a Dutch bike, the realities of daily commuting can be stressful. And the last thing a person needs is to be scoffed at in a time of need.
What a DIY attitude and the London Bike Kitchen offer helps make cycling more enjoyable: so ditch the inevitable sub-par service and make your two-wheeled treks around town that much more liberating.
David Michon is managing editor for Monocle.