Dr Bike

By Kathryn McNicoll

We ran the Bikes for Key Workers project throughout 2020, starting in April and reaching a peak during the first lockdown and the summer when many people were furloughed and volunteer mechanics had time on their hands.  At one time we had 22 mechanics servicing bikes and, over the year, in Oxford alone over 350 bikes were handed out to very grateful key workers.

Since the New Year, we have accepted a few more donated bikes for key workers and handed out perhaps 20 more altogether. However, our attention has turned to Dr Bike sessions as a way of reaching out to cyclists and potential cyclists in different parts of Oxford.

Our first three Dr Bike sessions, carried out in conjunction with Active Oxfordshire, took place in April 2021 (Rose Hill) and May (Blackbird Leys and then back at Rose Hill again). The Rose Hill sessions were well attended and almost fully booked out. Fewer people signed up for Blackbird Leys session partly perhaps due to the site chosen – that was a lesson learned. However, we did have an older woman who rode and then pushed her bike all the way from Botley and then sat exhausted while her bike was fixed. She cycled home very happily. 

On the strength of these sessions, we applied to Cycling UK again and received a grant to run five more sessions, mainly to coincide with the Celebration of Cycling in September. As a taster, the first session was held at St Ebbes Primary School in July, a school keen to encourage cycling and promote its School Street: not only were we able to fix a lot of bikes for children as well as adults, but we were also able to suggest to some nervous mums that they might enjoy Joyriders as a way to get back on their bikes which was a good link.

The other four Dr Bike sessions were a key part of the Celebration of Cycling: two of them took place in Broad Street (aided on one occasion by the wonderful Emma Boor, also known as ‘The Puppet Pedlar’); the third one was part of the Barton Bash and the last one back at Rose Hill. The first two events caught the attention of people passing by who could see all the bike activity: the last two really reached out into areas of Oxford where cycling is not necessarily a part of everyone’s lives.

Overall, significantly more women signed up than men, which was interesting but perhaps not surprising: one of the main worries for women is having to go into a cycle shop and feeling silly about asking questions. To quote one very happy customer whose bike was fixed: ‘I went for the chat, the honest talk — something you don’t get at stores. In the best stores you might get price and parts… but they are always in a hurry and don’t want to listen to you. They don’t give you time to explain. They don’t get on your bike to test it as you did. It’s your word (“it is making a noise”!) against theirs (“it was silent at the shop”)’. This sentiment was repeated to us in various forms several times.  

In all, 12 mechanics worked at these different workshops, sometimes in appalling weather, but I think they found the gratitude of the cyclists rewarding. These sessions were totally dependent, not only on their expertise, but also the kind and generous way they give their time to the people who bring along their bikes and we are hugely grateful to them. We plan to run more Dr Bike sessions next year.

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