Brixton Cycles is more than just a bike shop, we’re a family! With a dedicated team of staff (or family members!) that are all passionate about bikes and come from all walks of life, there are plenty of unique stories to be shared.
Meet Ben: having been with us since 2019 after transitioning from his previous career in Data & Banking, he’s already an integral part of the BC crew! Of course, Ben is a keen cyclist, and though he may own a classic Colnago, a couple of gravel bikes and an assortment of Bromptons, his bike and discipline of choice far outshines the rest of his fleet. With that being said, we sat down for a chat with Ben to find out more about where his interest in all things two-wheels started!
How did you get into cycling?
I have been cycling since I could walk (according to my mom!). Growing up there was a particular pedal car which was a hand-me-down from my brother, but the bike that really sparked my interest was a bright blue 16" BMX, which just so happened to be my very first bike!
What kept you interested for this long, was there an aspect that really drew you in?
Growing up it was my ticket to freedom. I lived on the outskirts of Malacca (Malaysia) surrounded by paddy fields and orchards, so there were plenty of lanes and trails to bomb around! Being a small town, cycling was a pretty efficient way to get from A to B in Malacca: I cycled to school, tuition classes, water polo, swimming, basketball, and football – if I had somewhere to be, rest assured I’d get there on two wheels!
When I moved to the UK (Cardiff then London), cycling was the obvious mode of transport. The mild weather is a bonus (compared to the humidity in Malaysia), and I hate taking the tube and/or bus anyway!
Does the bike life help you to drop out of the rat race of London?
I was a banker for 5 years in the city and yes, being bike curious absolutely did help me in transitioning from finance to a wrench-wielding/bike sales role. Why did I quit you ask? Too many broken promises and I knew I was burning out, it was either my health or the money and I chose the former.
As BC’s resident polo expert – do you have any tips for people looking to start playing?
Interesting title – I wouldn’t label myself as an expert, but rather a part of the furniture and fittings in the polo scene, since I have been playing since 2009 (seriously since 2010). Gulp!
From my own experience, anyone can play the sport, and while having participated in any cycling discipline is an added advantage, it’s not a prerequisite. Teams are mixed gendered and there's no age limit for those participating – I recently met the youngest teammate/opponent I have ever shared a court with, she just turned 10!
Bike polo is a nascent sport still governed and organised by players, which is pretty rare these days. We play Sunday (from noonish), Tuesday (not so regularly, from 7) and Thursday at Newington. Wednesday (even more irregular, from 7) is up North at Baxter Road N1. There are beginners' sessions most Thursdays at Newington Gardens SE1 from 7ish but everyone is welcome to give it a go at any of our sessions! There are usually loaner bikes available at the taster/beginner sessions, we lend you a mallet and there’s always someone on hand to offer advice on ball and bike handling.
Does the team aspect of polo play a role in your connection with bike life?
Of course! Bike polo is where most of my time on two wheels is spent to be honest. Teams are usually made up of 3 players (though there are other formats), and my preferred position is typically at the back in a more defensive role. Playing from the back allows me to observe and figure out how the game will play out – I try my best to give out pointers and feedback where I can, as having run beginners sessions in the past, coaching is a big thing for me.
I also happen to be the quasi 'community officer' when it comes to the youngsters who share the courts with us, usually fixing their bikes for free (patching tubes, adjusting brakes, even offering 2nd hand tyres at times) when they stop by. It’s important for us to try and engage and encourage young people on bikes to stick with it, even if they aren’t playing polo, as it's their court as much as it is ours. Most of them have a bike in various stages of disrepair, and once fixed you can see the smiles on their faces. It’s my small way of giving back to the community where we play our games, with the hope that maybe one day they’ll give it a try for themselves!
How did you get into the bike trade?
Being a bit of a bike geek definitely helps when working in the trade. I have been tinkering and fixing bikes from a young age, and during my teens I spent a lot of my time in bike shops and building my own bikes!
Life moves on, but the interest never left – once I quit banking, transitioning into the bike trade was a no brainer. Prior to joining Brixton Cycles I bounced between a few different bike shops, and was even on the verge of setting up my own shop in Crossharbour! (Big shout to Ana @ BikeWorks Cambridge Heath for accommodating me in the interim period before joining the team at Brixton Cycles.)
What’s different about working for Brixton?
I’ve spent some time working at various other bike shops, some better than the others, but there’s something different about Brixton Cycles. Speaking to other mechanics over beers, we are the bike shop with attitude (no manners, no spanners!) and we get a lot of respect for that.
Compared to my previous career, there are actually more similarities than differences! I love solving problems, a skill which was the forefront of my role in banking, and still applies today. The way I look at it is: taking on a tough task is where you learn the most. Anything is doable to a certain extent, and if I face a brick wall, the team and the internet (not everything on the web is true!) is always on hand to help. Case in point – I am now known as the ‘Postmaster’ thanks to my impressive success rate in un-seizing seat posts, with only a single failed extraction in my time here. That's at least two dozen frames liberated with no paint damage!
Years of working with data has also transferred well into the workshop, as I’m able recall what prior work we did on a particular bike (though I am not that good with faces and names!). When a customer comes to collect or drop off their bike, knowing what has been done/needs to be done without looking at the work order is a useful skill!
Do you think cycling positively influences people’s lives, and does being in the Co-op allow you to spread that influence?
Definitely, just look at the faces of kids on bikes compared to those who are ferried around in cars. Why drive for the school run when a bike could do the same job just as well? Many of our customers are young parents, and we often see how much their kids look forward to picking up their bikes.
As the greenest mode of transport and a great way to keep fit, encouraging more people to ride bikes is super important. In London the difference in time between cycling and public transport is marginal, and cycling gives you the freedom to go where you want when you want, rather than being at the mercy of scheduling and unplanned disruptions (bar the occasional puncture!). Over the last couple of years we have seen an influx in first-time cyclists, and long may this continue!
Whether it’s in the workshop or on the shop floor, we always try to do what’s best for our customers. Unsure of which bike best suits your needs? We offer test rides on all of our bikes with no obligation to buy. Our repair quotes are always fair and we do our best to work with any budget, no job is too big or too small. Times are tough, so a bit of kindness goes a long way!
Having been around for almost 40 years, we’ve amassed a strong network of cycling friends, and we often find ourselves referring our customers to people like Cycle Confident for commuting and training advice (they're AMAZING!) or any other local cycling services that will encourage people to ride bikes!
What would you do if you weren’t in the bicycle trade?
Back to banking probably…!
In all seriousness, other than banking, I also used to be a chef so maybe I would have a Malaysian bicycle cafe somewhere central? That sounds pretty cool!
Giving back to the community is very important to me, and at the moment I am working towards establishing a community centre/youth hub somewhere in SE1. The aim is to have a safe place for everyone to hang out, make a quick sandwich and repair their bikes. I am speaking to a handful of parties to get it going, so fingers crossed something works out!
Any final words to the readers?
Maybe give bike polo a try?