The Kindness of the Bicycling Community

Never underestimate the kindness of the bicycling community. Never underestimate the kindness of any community – that is, after all, the fundamental building block which brings together disparate individuals to reach a shared goal.

But when that shared goal is to get my track bike, um, back on the track, it’s more of an individual pursuit, and one that alone, I’m not very good at.

I had a so so Saturday morning track session down at le velo. The legs surprisingly said yes, the bike said no. Track cycling is the ultimate in precision performance between rider and machine. You need to have full confidence in your bike, knowing that the slightest increase or decrease in power, and the pedals will respond and you can power home in safety.

It’s a deceiving discipline; much of track cycling is played out in the mind. You need to clear your head of all thoughts around you, and have a truly clear path ahead, both on the track and where your mind is heading. The slightest mechanical worry and you might as well bonk on the banks.

Much like my mind, my track bike was ticking away as I rolled out of Herne Hill, early Saturday morning. There was a very slight catch on the pedals with each rotation. Something was slightly wrong, and my concern was that the bike was going to fall apart on me.

I persisted around the rotation race, not helped when I was stung by a bee underneath my helmet at the start of the fifty-lap sprint around the SE21 circuit. Each time I tried to put the pressure on, my right pedal omitted a slight click against my cleat, coupled with a banging head from the b****y bumblebee.

Not a good place to be for mind, body and bike.

The mechanics of a track bike are so pure and simple, that even the most simpleton of bicycling grease monkeys should be able to find their way around the chain set with a spanner.


Clueless and lycra clad, I approached Eric, the Chief Club Mechanic down at Herne Hill for Velo Club Londre. Eric is a stalwart of South London cycling. His non-paid role basically means servicing the fleet of club track bikes down at le velo each Saturday morning. He shouldn’t have to be dealing with cyclists like me, who struggle fitting a cleat to a new pair of track shoes.

The problem was immediately identified – my crank needed realigning, having loosened out of the bottom bracket with every rotation around the Herne Hill track. It was close to coming off, something that would have made the bumblebee sting look like a minor inconvenience, had I bought down the entire pelaton during my sprint (ish) finish.

Eric very kindly clamped my frame down and got to work with his tool set. It was a tricky, fiddly job, balancing the crank either side, and then locking it all back into place. Forty-five minutes later and the job was complete. I offered to pay, but my offer was immediately dismissed. Forty-five minutes of mechanical time at Evans will cost you something slightly more than the genuine kindness of the bicycling community.

It is the many unpaid volunteers, like Eric, who make up the genuine community found within cycling clubs. Their own racing days may have been ridden out many summers ago, but they remain around the track or circuit, attached to the love of the bicycle and the friendship they can find from like-minded people.

There’s a VCL mechanical club day coming up soon. All club members are encouraged to help out, fixing up the fixies at the tail end of the season, and generally keeping the track in order. I can’t see that I’m going to be much use, but a day on handlebar tape duties is the least I can do to honour the kindness of the bicycling community.


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