14 February 2009

Scheming advice

We had a Cycle to Work scheme evangeliser pop in to work this week. The scheme lets you buy a bike through work for virtually half price, and a chap called Michael from Halford's brought a bike and some kit along to our staff room (right) to tell tempted employees what was involved in cycling to work.

In fact, as you might imagine, the British Library has a fairly strong contingent of pedalling employees; the generous covered staff bike parking is three-quarters full on an average day. And it's not just the student interns or gnarly IT boys who wheel in: many suits-and-meetings managers cycle in too, which is clearly a good thing. A convenient staff shower helps. Well, it helps them. I don't cycle fast enough to break sweat.

Anyway, I went along to chat to Michael, posing as a normal person, to see what he said. He was a dead ringer for former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan, so I expected him to start well and then throw it all away just as he got going. I'm very wary of 'advice on cycling' I've had from chain store employees, which feels as reliable as legal advice from that bloke in the pub, or financial advice from a investment banker.

But guess what: Michael said all the right things. First thing you'll need is rack and panniers and mudguards, he said. Biking to work is fun, fast and makes you feel good, he said. He didn't scaremonger about the risks but he gave the right sort of cautions. He said pretty much what I'd say, with some minor differences of emphasis (he's a bit keener on neoprene overshoes than me, for instance, and a bit less keen on football-stadium illumination, but there you go). He was enthusiastic, pitched things at the right level for the thinking-about-it waverer, was good on the details and benefits of the scheme itself, and was generally a very good evangeliser for biking to work.

Michael, who cycles everywhere every day and clearly loves it, knows what commuter cycling is. And yet (as I moaned in a previous post) go into Halfords, or any other chain store, and try to find a commuting bike: you're struggling. Stock instore and online caters for what people think they want - mountain bikes and road racers - and marketing reinforces that. An ounce of good personal advice is worth a ton of marketing. I like the sound of that phrase: I should set myself up as a business guru. All I need is some advice on how to market myself.


  1. Not just the bikes - the spares too. I had the misfortune to break down yesterday (Friday the 13th, naturally) with a puncture which turned out to be unrepairable as it had ruptured around the value and I didn't have a spare tube (well, I did, but it was for my Brompton, and I was on the other bike).

    Being closest to Halfords and the neighbouring shops being my destination anywhere, I headed there, something I wouldn't normally do. Tube, no problem. Bust mini-pump, also no problem. But new tyre? No 700x32Cs (a pretty standard size for tourers, surely), only knobbly 38s for mountain bikes or really slick 25 and 28s for racers. The assistants helpful advice was "shop elsewhere". Oh well, they got me back on the road again so I was able to get to Ben Haywards, a real bike shop, who, of course had what I wanted.

  2. I've always heard good things about Ben Haywards... but then that's probably from all my Cambridge connections, such as yourself!

  3. I would disagree about commuting bikes in Halfords - when my Specialized got nicked last March I picked up a Carrera from Halfords, and its a cracking ride, good for long and short trips. They still don't have the array that other bike shops have, but they are getting better.

  4. That's promising. Michael was certainly a good advert for them, anyway!