A Day in the Life of a Mobile Mechanic

This article was published in 1998, in Newsletter 17.

I recently caught up with Chris Lloyd, who runs a mobile bike service in Cambridge, and asked him about the business.

What does a typical working day consist of?

Well, it usually covers all aspects of the business. I start by collecting bikes. Most repairs I can do on the spot, but occasionally I pick up bikes and return them to the workshop. On four afternoons a week, I have regular slots at various locations in Cambridge. I return bikes in the evening – at around 6 or 7 pm. This means I’m usually travelling to homes, rather than workplaces. I often get morning calls for hire bikes, so I’ll deliver those along the way, too.

That sounds like more than a one-person job.

No, not really. I’ll occasionally hire someone for specific tasks, but I can usually manage alone.

What would you say is the most important skill or trait for a mobile mechanic?

I think trustworthiness is really important as you’re going to people’s houses. Obviously, being skilled at repairing bikes, and good at diagnosing problems and finding cost-effective remedies is important as well.

How have you publicised the business?

I’ve been running the business for over 5 years now, and I’ve always had regular customers who heard of the company through word of mouth and recommendations. I haven’t really needed to advertise because I’m always busy. But I’ve been expanding the business over last 18 months, so publicising it a bit more.

How did you get into the cycle repair business?

I’ve always owned and repaired bikes, ever since I was at Loughborough University. When I first came to Cambridge I was a teacher, and a sold second-hand bikes after work! About 5 years ago, I decided to start the cycle business, and I’ve never looked back really – I’ve enjoyed the move.

So do you cycle yourself?

Yes I do, when I get time, and anyway, I always have to try out every bike I work on, to make sure it’s OK. Sometimes I think about the distances I drive for work, but then I think about the hundreds of bikes I’m keeping on the road, and it all seems worthwhile.

What are the most common things you repair?

It’s odd. One week you get loads of chains and blocks to repair – and the next week there’ll be a run of punctures. It depends on the time of year and what children are doing – you always get more punctures in half term! Tyres, tubes, brake cables etc. are a staple all year round. There are usually lots of buckled wheels to be fixed – particularly on a Monday morning after people have left bikes at the train and bus stations over a weekend. I carry lots of spares in the van. It’s easy to figure out what things are worth carrying. Just occasionally parts have to be ordered, but not too often.

How far from Cambridge are you willing to travel?

My patch is really Girton, Histon, Newnham, through City Centre, Chesterton – basically north of the river. I go out to Milton quite a bit, and to Longstanton and Swavesey. I try very hard to avoid rush hour. You can’t help noticing how more traffic there is now than 5 years ago.

What are the hardest aspects of being mobile?

Well, I think it’s hard to get over the various services I offer. People who rent bikes from me don’t know that I do repairs, and people whose bikes I repair don’t know that I do rental, for example. But in fact I offer a complete cycle service – sales, hire and repair.

How do you think your prices and service compare with traditional bike shops?

Well, supplying and fitting a new inner tube would be about £6. A new chain would vary, depending on the quality, but usually between £9 and £11, and a brake cable or gear cable would be £5. But the service is the most important point. I go to my customers. They don’t have to put bikes in cars, and waste time wheeling bikes to shops.

You offer a discount to Campaign members – has there been much uptake?

No – none!

Interviewed by Clare Macrae