This article was published in 2016, in Newsletter 128.
Dapper in his college get-up, but with faint, telltale smears of bicycle grease on his fingers, John Morley watches cyclists pedalling down Lady Margaret Road from his vantage point of the Porters’ Lodge. Six years on from becoming Senior Porter at Lucy Cavendish, he has helped establish the college as one of the most cycling-friendly in Cambridge.
In his first few weeks he discovered a shed full of old bikes, slowly rusting away. John realised it wasn’t just alumni who abandoned their bikes; when he asked one student why she was walking everywhere instead of getting a bike, she replied that she did have a bike, but it had a puncture. Having started building bikes at the age of 14, he offered to repair it whilst she was at lectures, and so began his mission to provide safe and sturdy bikes for the college’s members.
It is not unusual for John to repair five or six bikes in a week, time which the college is happy for him to spend supporting the students’ welfare. In his store, he usually has enough cable and pads for 50 sets of brakes, alongside sets of calliper and V-brakes (both shaft and screw), various tubes and a few tyres. If the bikes need anything else he goes to Colin at University Cycles who gives him trade price, the same price which John then charges the students.
It is not only cycling students that John rescues. When the bike of Christine Houghton, the college’s Domestic Bursar, caught the back of a taxi, she brought it to the Porters’ Lodge for some emergency care. It was clearly an old bike and so, when he took it home to repair, John did a bit of research in order to restore it as faithfully as possible. He discovered that her bike, affectionately known as Clementine, was in fact a ‘Kerry Green’ and was exactly the same age as the college, both created in 1965. He tracked down the original catalogue, which listed the bike at £15.14s.3d, and set about restoring the bike to the listed specs, including the green paint and the double-lined gold he used on the frame.
Lucy Cavendish is the only college to offer bikes for students to borrow, a modern, enlightened equivalent of other colleges’ punt schemes significantly more in tune with most students’ everyday needs.
For new students, being able to borrow a bike allows them some time to acclimatize to Cambridge’s cycling culture, and get used to needing one to travel around town easily. It also helps introduce them to the practicalities of having a bike in Cambridge: remembering lights and finding somewhere safe in town to lock up their bike.
There are 11 bikes available to borrow for up to two days. Three of them are reserved for fellows and college staff, and were funded by the proceeds from the sale of those original abandoned bikes, repaired and reconditioned by John before being sold for a token £20.
Alas, the first college bike available for student loan was stolen in the first few weeks when a student left it leaning up against a wall whilst she popped into a shop. To demonstrate the point about decent locks, John has a pair of bolt croppers which last year were, somewhat unfortunately, being sold for £10 up the road at Aldi.
With students from 61 different countries, many of whom are new to cycling or haven’t done so since childhood, John is keen to offer advice on safe cycling. He helps students choose an appropriate bike, often selling ex-students’ bikes on their behalf, and ensures that all student bikes that are brought to him are legal and safe with lights, reflectors and good brakes.
With a line of cheery blue college bikes lined up by the entrance and John standing at the desk inside, there is a real sense that the Porters’ Lodge is the heart of the college. John’s concern for the well-being of the students certainly involves saving them from the crisis of a puncture on the way to an exam, but it also encourages and enables them to enjoy the freedom of pedalling off to Grantchester for some time and space to relax. His efforts are not simply about practical safety, just as cycling is about far more than needing to get from A to B each day.