Honor Cycles; a conversation

I’ve just been having a kind of conversation with Simon, of Honor Cycles.  It went like this…..

So you’ve started a new bike servicing business.  Tell me the basics – what’s it called and where do you operate?

Honor Cycles is (and I like to call it) a social enterprise. We provide on-demand bicycle repair services for both individuals and companies. As a mobile bike service, we go and collect bicycles for the repairs, and deliver the bikes back after our job is done.

Since we don’t actually have a high-street bike shop, we have significantly lower operating costs. That allows us to, among other things, pay our bicycle mechanics more than the living wage standard and support various local, bike-related social causes. We’re based in London, currently covering areas in Islington, Camden and Hackney Boroughs.

What services do you offer?

In terms of actual ‘mechanicing’ services, we offer everything a standard bike shop does, although we can also go the extra mile and do professional bike cleaning.

The main thing we offer our cyclists, though, is time saved. By picking-up and re-delivering the bikes, people don’t have to take time out of their days or weekends to go to a bike shop and wait in the darn queue.

Now, this may seem like a small thing at first, but you’d be surprised by how many people stop cycling altogether simply because their bike has broken down and they didn’t have the time to get it down to a bike shop. Life’s a busy place, and bikes are not high priority for most people.

There must be loads of places where people can have their bikes serviced.  What makes Honor Cycles stand out?

For cyclists, it’s rarely a great experience to visit a traditional bike shop. First of all, the quality of the bike shops varies wildly. These days, you’re lucky to find a bike shop you can really trust. For many reasons (low wages included) many bike shops don’t pay full attention to their service, or might not be completely transparent about their fees.

Secondly, cyclists usually go to bike shops before or after work. If you’re there during peak time, you need to wait to get served or even just to get a booking. As I mentioned, life’s what happens while you’re making cycling plans. If your bike breaks down and you don’t have half a day to take it to and from the shop, you’re that much more likely not to get it fixed in the first place. And that sucks.

We’re a group of young guys. Bike mechanics, techies, entrepreneurs. We’ve seen how technology changed nearly every service industry over the last 10 years or so. There’s on-demand laundry services now, delivery services, quasi-taxi services and so on. We want to apply that same basic model to bicycle repair services. Why should we be stuck with a 20th-century business model?

What a minute, why doesn’t Honor have a letter ‘u’ in the spelling?

Ah. I wish there was a really clever answer to this. Something about wanting to grow the business and eventually taking it overseas, transforming the entire US cycling industry. The truth is, we really just preferred how the logo looked without the ‘u’. But I’ll definitely try to come up with a better story for future use.

What’s this about being ethical?

I think that in terms of social responsibility, cyclists tend to think pretty highly of themselves. Some of that has merit, of course, (bikes > cars), but the truth is that our industry is still ripe with unethical (or otherwise irresponsible) practices.

Josh, my co-founder and I started Honor Cycles to support bicycle mechanics. In a nutshell, we think they’re the unsung heroes of the bicycle world. Most of them are so passionate about cycling, but only the very few get treated fairly. Most of the bike shops in our service area actually pay them less than the London living wage. Needless to say, that’s not nearly enough to get by.

So our mission is to pay all of our mechanics fairly. One of the reasons we’re able to do that is that our ‘unconventional’ business setup allows us to avoid high rent. In return, we can use that excess money to pay our workers what they actually deserve.

Also, for an industry priding themselves on eco-friendliness, we sure use lots of unsanitary tools. So we make sure all of our oils, de-greasers and service vehicles are environmentally sound. I like this planet, so I’m trying my best to keep it healthy.

We also want to give back to the community at large, so we pledged to donate 5% of our labor time on bicycle-related causes for the communities in need. There are lots of great cycling causes in London – we’re getting in touch with some of them as well as trying to do our part alone. I’ve seen firsthand how transformative to one’s life cycling can be, so I want to try and help as many people as possible discover their passion for cycling.

What’s the most unusual or exotic bike you’ve worked on so far?

I’ve worked on so many bikes that it’s hard to pick the strangest. Out of all of the custom one-off designs and bike shed projects, I have to go with a low-pro style bamboo & hemp single-speed bike that had 80mm deep section carbon wheels.

I wish I’d taken a photo of it at the time because you really have to see it to understand just how off this thing looked. It was like some sort of aesthetic mash-up of Tron and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It had quite a good back story too – the owner had been an expat in China for a while and built the frame himself, using bamboo and hemp local to where he was staying. The frame he was riding around in London was one of many iterative prototypes, and he was mighty proud of it.

How do people get in touch with you?

Most people get in touch via our website (www.honorcycles.com) that has all the services we offer (and pricing) clearly outlined. A few people call in when they’re not entirely sure what might be wrong with their bike, and need some help choosing the right service.

Is there anything else which you were wanting to tell me about?

Bikes are the most intimate vehicles, I really cannot think of any other vehicle that compares. People say that what car you drive says a lot about you, but the bike you ride says so much more. The time you spend in the saddle wearing down components and adjusting things to your liking makes even the most mass-produced bike unique to you, your body’s geometry, your riding style and where you ride.

As a mechanic you can really see the rider’s character when working on their bike, so it’s important to respect that and treat it as you would your own bike, putting things back exactly where they were. In a way it can feel a bit strange when handing a bike back to the customer because you feel like you know them a little, you almost can’t help but want to have a little chat. For me that is the sign of a true mechanic: skills are good, but caring is king.

Thanks to Simon in Honour Cycles for the conversation.  I wish him all the best with this interesting and very worthwhile enterprise.

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