PhD student finds new mechanical challenge with the Big Bike Revival

Sylvia Barnett works on a bike at the Plattfields Bike Hub
Sylvia works on a bike at the Plattfields Bike Hub
Sylvia Barnett is studying for her PhD in Philosophy, using her bike to get to lectures. It’s a crucial mode of transport for her, and she used to take it to the local bike shop for repairs and services, but being a student, it was a real strain on her finances. With the help of Big Bike Revival, Sylvia found there was another way for her to fix her bike and save money

Sylvia attended a Big Bike Revival event in June at Plattfields Bike Hub, going along initially to work on her own bike and save some cash, as she had access to all the tools and the full support of the Hub’s trained mechanics.

Yet it was enough to spark Sylvia’s interest further and she was soon enquiring after a volunteer position. Pete Thomsen, the workshops lead volunteer, was only too pleased to have a female mechanic involved, breaking the stereotype.

“I just found the people there so patient with me and supportive,” says Sylvia. “They wanted to see my CV so I showed them, but that was more so they could see what my background was like and ensure I was committed to the role.”

Six months later and Sylvia appears very content in her voluntary role. She can be found at the Plattfields Bike Hub every Thursday and Saturday and is full of praise for the team, especially when it comes to imparting knowledge. One of the hub’s longstanding bike mechanics, for example, is an expert on the history of wheels!

Sylvia with the team at Plattfields Bike Hub

Plattfields Bike Hub is such a valuable source for the local community. As well as repairing customer bikes, they fix donated ones and are mindful of selling them on to people in need and those who don’t have much money.

Within her role, Sylvia is involved in two kinds of tasks: fixing customer bikes and working on refurbishment projects. It doesn't matter now which bike Sylvia has in her stand, she’ll get on with the task of fixing it with confidence. Since starting she has become competent at mending brakes, punctures, gears and headsets.

It’s thanks to the other mechanics at the hub, who have taught her these skills and who are always around if she needs help. It’s quickly become about much more than fixing her own bike; there are many highlights to the role, but dissembling a donated bike as a refurbishment project is something Sylvia finds particularly fulfilling.

It’s just very different and refreshing from what I normally do every day at university

Sylvia Barnett, volunteer mechanic

Project manager for Big Bike Revival in England Susan Keywood met up with Sylvia, when she was deep in concentration on a refurbishment project and about to tackle a rusty chain. As expected from a bike recycling centre, the aim is to save as much as possible and so the chain was about to undergo a de-rusting process.

Sylvia had a bucket filled with what appeared to be murky brown water and stated: “I’ll immerse the chain in this solution first and then give it a good brushing. If I can uncover some movement and it’s not too far gone, it’ll be saved.”

Sylvia is clearly satisfied with this side project from her studies. She adds happily: “It’s just very different and refreshing from what I normally do every day at university, it’s a physical activity as opposed to a mental one and I get to work with members of the public.”