Cranking out the joy

IssueMarch 2011
News by Lauren Mateer

“It’s about getting people excited about their bikes.” That’s how Julian Wilmot describes Cranks, a do-it-yourself bike workshop in Brighton. The shop doesn’t just fix bikes; it also teaches people how to fix their own bikes. The all-volunteer staff give customers access to tools and teach them bicycle maintenance for all skill levels.

Cranks got its start three years ago. Its inspiration came from a similar bike workshop in Berlin. There are DIY bike workshops all over the world, particularly in the United States, and they are finding increasing popularity in England. The crew at Cranks recently helped to set up a shop in Bristol.

Wilmot said that cycling itself is becoming more popular as well. “It saves loads of money in transport and keeps you fit.”

Cranks offers cheap bicycles and bike parts thanks to secondhand items and donations from people in the community. More importantly, they offer access to tools and expertise.

“A lot of the tools are bloody expensive,” Wilmot said, “and people who don’t have the knowledge probably don’t own them.” At Cranks, customers can use the tools they need to fix their bikes under the watchful eyes of volunteers who are experienced at bicycle maintenance.

In addition to helping individual customers fix their bikes, Cranks offers workshops in the Brighton community at various events and locations. They have worked with the environmental centre and with youth projects. Wilmot says these workshops are good to help spread the word about their shop as well as helping people in the community with their bikes.

“We do what we do here, but out in the street.” Cranks hopes to offer weekly workshops in the future as well. Right now, Wilmot says, there isn’t much opportunity for one-to-one explanation when the shop gets busy, so he’d like a chance to be able to talk to people individually about their bikes. He also hopes to encourage more women to come in and learn to fix their bikes, noting that bicycle maintenance is very male-dominated.

The volunteers at Cranks are also involved in promoting cycling to the wider Brighton community. They just had a meeting with bus drivers to explain how cyclists feel on the road, in order to make driving and cycling more comfortable to both.

“I used to drive a bus,” Wilmot said. “I know exactly what it’s like, it can be quite intimidating.” However, with the large number of cyclists in Brighton, and with increasing numbers in London and elsewhere thanks to cheap bike rentals and cycling schemes, it is important for drivers and cyclists to co-exist.

Wilmot is happy with the progress of the customers who come in to learn about fixing their bikes. Cranks has a lot of repeat customers, and he said that each time they visit they get better and better.

“It’s great because people are excited about fitness and about doing things for the environment. And they’re turning their bike into a thing of joy”.

Topics: Transport