While I can’t claim to personally know every cycle nut, living and working in London, there’s a strong sense of community among us bike minded folk.
Consequently, when someone is doing something interesting, new or worthwhile, it doesn’t take long for word to filter through, and this is how I heard about Alice Marsh.
As she’s a woman working in the industry, I immediately wanted to meet her and find out more, after all, us ladies are still massively outnumbered in the bike world so I’m all for sticking together and helping each other out.
On leaving her jobs at the Design Museum and the Tate Modern, Alice launched her excellent Bike V Design events, after being left feeling dismayed at the way large bike brands had somehow claimed ownership of cycling events, removing any sense of creativity or artistry.
Over tea and much hilarity, Alice tells Juliet Elliott all about the idea behind the series, and her role as Marketing Manager with Bikeworks.
“The irritation for me about cycling events was that they were very industry heavy," she explains.
It was all about the big brands and the big distributors. The designers themselves never got a chance to speak about what they were doing and the events became quite disconnected from the public, and from cycling enthusiasts.
“I’d also noticed that a lot of people are interested in more than one kind of cycling and one kind of bike, and there was scope to do something which would bring all those people together to talk about cycling. It had to be non-corporate, done without trying to sell you anything as well. Shunning all sponsorship and being impartial has made it tough financially though," adds Alice.
So far, the events have taken place at the Design Museum, SPIN London and the Victoria and Albert Museum, covering everything from circus cycling, through to BMX, fixed gear and more. They’ve clearly reached a wide audience too; “After our talk about bike theft at SPIN London, I was invited on to The One Show to advise Sir Alan Sugar on how to lock up his £9000 Pinarello" laughs Alice.
Be it £9,000 carbon machines or other people’s rusty cast offs, Alice has a love of all bicycles and all kinds of rider. Bringing people together and democratising cycling is a thread which runs though all of her work. Alongside creating and curating her Bike V Design events, she’s marketing manager at Bikeworks, a multifaceted not-for-profit working with everyone from bankers and young offenders to charities, lapsed cyclists and people with disabilities.
“It’s important that we are inclusive," emphasises Alice. “There are plenty of initiatives who concentrate on working with only one kind of cyclist, but at Bikeworks we prefer not to discriminate against anyone, and when I say that, I mean people with money as well. Anyone who is interested in cycling, who wants assistance or wants to delve further into the bike world should be able to come to Bikeworks."
Though I know a little about Bikeworks, I’m sure I don’t know the full story, and I ask Alice to tell me more about the company and the many strands of the operation.
Argh, where to even begin! We do so many different things, but the overall aim is to provide a multitude of ways for people to experience cycling, to find out more, to access assistance.
“We have two shops, one in Bethnal Green and one in Shepherd’s Bush. As well as being places you can buy bikes and accessories and get a repair, these serve as the face of our whole operation," says Alice. “Customers can also take maintenance classes, join our open access workshops so they can use our tools, take a mechanical course such as our City and Guilds qualification or sign up for cycle training."
“The all ability cycle training is pretty amazing - you can sign up to Bikeability courses but we also offer fully bespoke training for everyone. For instance, we can help you with confidence and get you geared up for cycling in the city, we can offer full on training programmes for those interested in sportives, or we can send you out with a BMXer who’ll teach you how to bunnyhop! The whole idea is to offer a fully tailored experience for our customers."
It sounds like a great scheme, setting people up with the right kind of bike, instructor and environment to enjoy cycling. But “that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as Bikeworks is concerned," Alice tells me.
“We also have the reuse centres where people drop off bikes and they’re fixed up so they can be used again. It goes hand in hand with a scheme we operate with Evans – people get 10% off their new bike if they donate their old one, and those all go through our reuse centres. We probably refurbish about 1,000 bikes a year, and these go to schools and community projects and are also sold on in our shops."
“We work with London Boroughs to offer free schemes aimed at getting residents cycling. Residents of Kensington and Chelsea can sign up for a course where they learn how to fix at bike, and at the end of it they get to keep it too," adds Alice.
Preventing bikes from becoming landfill and providing affordable cycles is fantastic, but it’s not just about rebuilding machines;
The mechanics who work on the bikes often come to us via charities such as Crisis and Shelter, the Job Centre and Probation Services. We offer apprenticeship schemes, which combine work experience; customer services skills and a City And Guild Qualification in mechanics. As a lot of the people we work with have been out of work for a long time, we also offer a pre-apprenticeship aimed at equipping people for the actual course itself.
“The trainees get a lot of hands on experience – they might work with our Dr Bike pop-up workshops, which might be brought in by local councils to offer roadside assistance, or we might set up a Dr Bike clinic in one of the big banks in the City to offer advice on cycling to work and service employees’ bikes."
As we continue to chat, my list of notes grows longer and longer as Alice tells me all about Bikeworks fully rounded approach. What’s interesting about Bikeworks is it’s a mix of community projects, corporate projects and one on one tailored programs for people which enormously differing needs and interests; it’s quite unusual to be so inclusive and to offer such a wide reaching integrated service.
Alice agrees, “It’s really important that we offer something for everyone. Just as I wanted to bring everyone together with Bike V Design, Bikeworks is a resource for everyone, promoting cycling for all, she concludes;
We want to demystify the world of cycling and open it up to everyone, helping people get involved.