Richard and I sat down in the tea room at Re~Cycle’s warehouse in Wormingford, surrounded by maps showing their partners in Africa and posters of what they’re upto. The charity have sent over 114,000 bikes to their partners over the years and they’re not slowing up any time soon! Richard has been volunteering at Re~Cycle for just over a year and told me about what got him into cycling, how he ended up volunteering and why he’s never leaving…
How did you first start cycling?
As a kid I had a bike, just the normal thing cycling around for fun like you do as a child. I must have been 4 or 5, It was a blue mid-1950s trike with rod brakes – pretty horrendous! When I was a bit older my first two wheeler was green with swept back handlebars and rod brakes again, I loved that bike. I remember my neighbour buying a Moulton when they first came out and thinking “what is that???” We then had bikes as a family for social riding and holidays, but it wasn’t until I was in my 40s and 50s that I really rediscovered the bike. I had a health issue and I used cycling as a way of getting back into exercise. I was a solicitor and the firm had keen cyclists who “persuaded” me more and more to ride with them, it got quite competitive! In fact, it sort of snowballed into more than just a hobby, it was a bit of an obsession. I even did all sorts of challenges like the coast to coast. When I retired cycling was all I had, I suppose some people play golf and I rode my bike! I realised though that cycling alone all the time was getting a bit unhealthy. When I was at work I was riding with other people and I missed the social side of things more than anything else. I now ride with a club and try to get out with others a bit more, but I do still enjoy cycling alone sometimes just to clear my head.
How did you come to volunteer at Re~Cycle?
I put myself on a Cytech level 2 course just for myself really and as something to do. I wanted to learn to fix my own bikes, and it escalated from there! I bought my own tools and kitted out a workshop in my garage, now I run a hobby business from there. It’s small – I only did 35 jobs in a year. It’s been good though, at least I’m now spending more time in the garage than the pub! Last April a friend recommended I go and have a look at Re~Cycle and offer my time. The warehouse manager Mark was really welcoming and gave me a tour of the place – I was absolutely blown away. It’s such a fantastic space and everyone is so friendly. Unfortunately Mark told me they were oversubscribed with volunteers at the time but he would let me know if a spot opened up. That all changed as soon as I mentioned I had a Cytech qualification – he practically bit my arm off! I’ve been volunteering there ever since, refurbishing bikes to sell in the UK to fund their work overseas.
Volunteering there has been a real godsend and I love their entire philosophy both abroad and in the UK. Everything that comes into the warehouse is useful, from complete bikes that either get sold here or are sent to Africa, to “scrappers” that are stripped for parts and the frames are recycled. It all finds a home and there’s no waste to landfill. It’s such a fantastic place to be too, the full time team are the best group of people I’ve come across. They’re all so friendly and passionate about what they do. The volunteers are a really good group too, and you know Re~Cycle is a great place to work because they keep coming back over and again! It doesn’t matter who you are or your background, everyone is ‘one of the crew’.
What kind of riding do you do now?
I’ve got two road bikes (a winter and a summer bike) and an off road muck about bike. It’s an old Raleigh Pioneer that I’ve restored and replaced everything on – I must have spent about 10x its value just on parts! I was commuting to Re~Cycle before Christmas and I’ll get back into it when it’s a bit lighter and warmer. A 45 mile round trip in the dead of winter isn’t much fun and it isn’t very safe either. I had a bit of a health blip in February but I’ve got an operation coming up so I hope to be back on the bike and commuting again very soon.
I don’t like to sound over dramatic so I won’t say cycling saved my life, but it’s certainly made my life better. I enjoy the social side of riding in a group, but riding alone is the perfect relaxation. I stop thinking about everything and just concentrate on turning the pedals. Normally I can’t help thinking about the next project or what I’ve got coming up, but when I’m riding that all goes out of my mind and I’m relaxed.
I’m going to the London Cycle Show at the end of March looking for inspiration to build a gravel bike. I know I’ll be tempted by something I can trek across the Himalayas on but if I’m honest with myself I’ll never take it out of Essex…
A huge thanks to Richard for taking the time to chat with me and share his stories, and thank you to the team at Re~Cycle for letting me interrupt his work to have a chat.
You can donate your unwanted or unused bicycles at their warehouse in Wormingford, and maybe even buy yourself a fully refurbished bike while you’re there!
You can find them at the address below:
Re~Cycle, Unit 8 The Grove Estate