How Cycling UK's Dr Bike sessions are continuing under the shadow of coronavirus

Birmingham is a city known for its canals, and its can-do attitude, as Richard Wevill found out when he spoke to three Dr Bike delivery partners who are adapting and evolving their offering to keep old cycles on the road

Since the start of the Big Bike Revival's Dr Bike programme last autumn, more than 360 bicycles have been serviced or repaired across Birmingham through pop-up events in a range of venues.

Despite the challenges of delivering services in lockdown, staff and volunteers at delivery centres have been continuing to be there for cyclists in need, whether it is a safety-check or minor repair that is required.

Since the turn of the year, 35 bikes have been fixed in Birmingham already thanks to the Dr Bike sessions, allowing their owners to continue to ride safely through lockdown. 

Staff and volunteers at scheduled Dr Bike events have been finding a variety of ways to support their communities.

Finding a new venue

Trikes and Bikes in Sutton Coldfield have previously held Dr Bike events in a local shopping centre and outside a hospital, but since the New Year, they have relocated the fixing sessions to a new workshop area at the Four Oaks Baptist Church in the north of the town.

Founder Jim Everett said: “Since the onset of the pandemic, we put in new processes and purchased new equipment to keep our bike shop open, so it hasn’t really been a big adjustment to continue to offer Dr Bike services as planned. We have been working in the same way we already do in the bike shop.”

We are seeing lots of people who have got back into cycling since lockdown. They have looked in their sheds and dragged out a bike which hasn't been used for five years or maybe longer

Pete Kelsall, Trikes and Bikes 

The team have also moved to an online booking system, which has allowed them to better spread out the workload and stagger arrivals so people are not waiting around outdoors to have their bicycle checked, as Pete Kelsall, who also runs the business explains.

"The first time we ran one of these events back in September, it was a lovely sunny day and we had 20 to 30 people waiting to get their bikes fixed," he said. "It's not as busy at this time of year but there is plenty of space at the new venue. We are seeing lots of people who have got back into cycling since lockdown. They have looked in their sheds and dragged out a bike which hasn't been used for five years or maybe longer."

Both Jim and Pete say the transition to working at the church has been smooth, in fact the only disruption has been due to the snow in January which led to one of the sessions being cancelled.

A middle-aged man in an orange and yellow jacket carries out repairs on a bicycle

Reaching out to new sections of the community

Bryan Kirkup has been a volunteer with Cycle Chain for around a year, fixing bikes at their base in a converted narrow boat in central Birmingham: “Doing Dr Bikes under the shadow of coronavirus means there are quite a few extra safety measures in place,” he says.

Masks and bottles of sanitiser might not present the most friendly welcome, but people are keen to make a connection despite the need to remain physically distant, Bryan said: “I’ve noticed people have been lingering a bit longer and are keen to strike up a conversation because it can be quite isolating with the current lockdown. We maintain social distancing during their visit, but it’s nice for us and for them to be able to have a bit of a chat,” 

An outdoor cycle repair session, a blue barge with yellow lettering can be seen in the background

In more normal times, Brindleyplace, where the sessions have taken place would be one of the most bustling areas in Birmingham, busy with diners visiting the many bars and restaurants in the area.

“The footfall has been down because obviously all of the dining places are not open at present, but we have had a number of food delivery couriers who have been coming in to get their bicycles checked or repaired, so we’ve been able to support people to carry on working and earning a wage which is great,” Bryan added.

At the end of January, the group completed their 100th cycle check as part of the Dr Bike programme, so clearly identifying the appetite for repairs among food delivery couriers has paid dividends for Cycle Chain.

Teaming up with another bike business

Members of the Cycling UK-affiliated Cannon Hill Community Cycle Club (CCC) held their first Dr Bike event of 2021 on Saturday, February 6, after being given permission by Venture Bikes to set up next door to their shop in the Stirchley district of Birmingham.

Nikki Hancock-Nolan who ran the event with fellow club member Mick Stanford, said: “It was great. People were so grateful to come and get their bikes fixed. We had a range of people coming along from primary school age children to one person in their 60s. We had a number of people from other local cycling clubs and some new cyclists, so we had all abilities and types of bicycle.”

When Nikki and Mick began thinking about how to continue to deliver free bike checks and repairs during lockdown, they soon decided they would need to change their delivery model from what had worked only last year.

Nikki said: “We previously held Dr Bikes at the hospital last summer for the NHS, but we had to turn so many people away because we were just supporting key workers and so we knew that there was demand and we really wanted to do something in the community.”

A distant shot of a people under a gazebo on a wet looking day, two cyclists in yellow jackets appear to be heading to visit the stand

The large car park at the bike shop gives plenty of space to set up a workstation and stay socially distanced, and if a job requires more time or tools than the Dr Bike team have, they have been able to refer those people to the bike shop.

Nikki, who usually carries out bike-marking while Mick concentrates on repairs said they both enjoyed supporting people to continue enjoy cycling. “It's just so rewarding, not just for me and Mike, but for the people who come along, too. It helps give them an appreciation of the bike and what they can do to enjoy it safely and working as it should. Quite a lot of people say ‘oh, I didn’t know you had to clean a chain’ so they learn things as well as getting an issue fixed.” 

The duo will be holding further Dr Bike events on Saturday, 6 March and 20 March.

Although group riding and activities are not currently permitted because of lockdown restrictions, it is still possible to continue to carry out volunteering work in a coronavirus-safe environment. Providing voluntary or charitable services is one of the exemptions to the stay-at-home guidance laid out by the Government. Keep up to date with Cycling UK’s guide to coronavirus advice for Cycling UK member and affiliate groups.