Retail Network Roundup: Rat Race Cycles

Whether you’re a newcomer, commuter or a seasoned roadie, one thing every cyclist needs is a good LBS, or local bike shop. LCCs Retail Network brings together the best bike shops across London to give our members exclusive access to get great discounts on repairs, parts, accessories and more! With over 120 shops to choose from, we're kicking off our Retail Network Roundup series as a way to help you find your favourite LBS and get to know some of the faces behind the workstands. 

Local residents of Nunhead are sure to be familiar with the folks at Rat Race Cycles, a dedicated bike workshop that specialises in servicing, repairs and wheel building. We chatted with owner Peter Owen to learn more about the shop, how he feels London cycling culture has changed over the years and their upcoming birthday plans (psst, it’s this Friday, and there’s going to be a party!). 

How did Rat Race Cycles get started?

I learned my craft in the workshops of a few London bike shops and I set up on my own as a mobile mechanic in 2008. I gained a lot of customers in and around SE15, and in 2012 I took the chance to open a shop here.

You switched gears to strictly workshop territory back in January 2016. How are you guys finding the new(ish) business model? 

It's turned out to be a sound choice. People mainly buy off-the-peg bikes from either big shops or the Internet and we've always been workshop-centred, so it made sense to stop stocking bikes and make more space for the workshop. We still do plenty of bespoke builds, including working for expert framebuilders.

What's your best customer story or strangest repair question you’ve gotten in the shop? 

I'm pretty proud of the number of Transcontinental Race riders we've built wheels and prepared bikes for; conversely I'm often amazed by the creative ways customers find to damage, break or "modify" their bikes. For the real horror stories, you'll have to come in and chat to us!

How did you initially get your start in bikes/cycling?

I grew up riding my bike to school, then started taking it over the fields to the wood on a hill near home. It was only a couple of years later I discovered that people called that "mountain biking" and that there was a growing scene in the mid-90s. I moved to London for university and as well as getting around by bike I started racing at Beastway.

Peter and the Race Race Cycles team

What's your favourite thing about cycling in London?

It's the best way to travel! Not only is it practically the fastest, most efficient and cheapest way to get around London, it's the most independent and you see so much more of the city. 

What tips would you give to anyone thinking about getting into cycling in London?

If you're nervous, find your local LCC Group and you'll find help, guidance and friendly faces. If you want to race or train, join a cycling club. And if you want to see how weird and wonderful it can be, head down to Critical Mass. And, of course, make sure you find a good LBS! 

How do you feel cycling in London has changed over the last decade?

It's changed hugely. The number of people cycling on the streets has increased so much, and it's great to see the infrastructure changing (gradually) to support them;  segregated cycle lanes have made life much safer for those who use them. That said, I'm still shocked sometimes by the level of aggression that some drivers think is acceptable to display to cyclists. 

You wrote a piece last year on equality in cycling, where you emphasized the need for bike shops to actively take responsibility in creating and sustaining an equal environment from the workshop to the sales floor. How does Rat Race Cycles work to create an equal space for their customers, and do you feel like there has been any shift towards that goal in the London cycling community since writing that post?

My wife wrote that article in response to the "Strongher" campaign and, to be honest, before that I'd never really thought about it in those terms - we've honestly always just treated people the same regardless of gender, race or anything else. And regardless of how much they know (or don't know) about their bikes, we want to be accessible to them. Among our customers we've got school kids, professors, elite racers, grannies, couriers, leisure pootlers and daily grinders and we try hard to welcome them all without patronising or venerating anyone.

However, in the wider industry I'm not sure much has changed since that post (and I don't think the Strongher campaign has caught on in the UK). It is still an issue the industry needs to address, as it puts people off cycling, but I think the London cycling community is getting more balanced as it grows and it's great to see events like London Bike Kitchen's WAG (women and gender neutral) workshop nights making a positive difference.

Do you run any workshops or events that cyclists should know about?

Our space is a bit too small to run workshops in, but it's our 5th birthday on Friday 8th December and everyone's invited to our free Rollapaluza party at The Ivy House, SE15 3BE! 

Everyone loves their LBS, but why do people in Nunhead love Rat Race Cycles? What makes your shop different, special or better than the competition?

As I mentioned above, we welcome anyone and (almost) any bike, but we've worked hard to become (and remain) experts in the state-of-the-art bike tech so we have customers who trust us with their most cherished race bikes as well as those who rely on us to keep their commuter workhorses running smoothly.


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