During the initial spread of Covid-19, Training Academy Velotech closed its doors for three months in a bid to put candidate and staff health at the top of its agenda.
Velotech reopened in July after running various pilots for a month prior whilst also delivering on-site training on a one-to-one basis with UK OEMs as a test run to ensure the site and workshop could be used safely.
As the industry welcomed them back with open arms, they were hit face on with the storm that is the UK Bike boom.
“In common with the other training providers out there, we have been extremely busy. We are booked up completely from now through to March 2021. I’ve never known it to be this busy before and I am already scheduling Q2 2021 which is something I never expected to have to do and have never had to do before” said Freestone King
To comply with the relevant Covid-19 restrictions and safety measures, the training academy, once re-opened decided to work with a smaller capacity, meaning that double the amount of courses were needed to run to facilitate the same number of candidates. Although this presented many challenges, it also enabled Velotech to personalise the courses to the candidate’s specific requirements.
“As soon as we were in a position to reopen we did but with a smaller capacity which means that we have to run double the number of courses with the same number of candidates which obviously has its challenges but in a way I don’t mind that so much because it means that me plus three candidates rather than our normal six to one, we can personalise the courses a lot more and tune them to the candidates individual needs and requirements. It allows us to treat the candidates as actual people rather than candidate number X and you also get to know the guys and girls a bit better which is always fun”, he said.
“We might actually look again at our ratios in the future and say, ‘well okay, maybe it’s better if we operate at a four to one maximum rather than six to one maximum’. I think the candidates have found this better and I have certainly found this better.”
Level two and entry level course demand skyrocket after returning from the UK lockdown. To maintain relevant safety measures and also to ensure that candidates get the most from the course, Velotech recommend that candidates taking part in the level two course, which is typically 9 days, do this in three periods of three days.
Velotech’s entry-level course, otherwise known as its foundation or bronze level course has also seen a dramatic increase in demand. This course essentially takes candidates through from zero to being able to PDI a bike that’s been currently assembled at the factory and also informs the candidate of when they should grab someone else with more experience and knowledge.
“At the moment we have a big demand for Campagnolo as well because the new group appeals to a different market and new dealers want to find out as much as they can about it.” Freestone King adds.
Freestone King attributes such an astronomical growth in the demand of training courses to candidates from start-up companies wanting to enter the trade or people who have been in the biz a short while. The industry veteran talks of the misconception involved in bicycle mechanics and the importance of backing up skill with experience.
“I think there’s a perception out there unfortunately, often from other industries that you do the training course and you’re qualified and therefore you can dive in at a certain level and one of the things about being a bicycle mechanic is that all the training course does is give you a bunch of soft tools that can go in your tool box but experience has to fill in a lot of gaps. So what we try and do generally is encourage people to come on our courses but not do the full 10 day course in one hit but do three days of intense training to get you familiar with the tools and handling the bike and offer them advice of how they can go out and apply that training which we think works better,” he says.
In addition to start ups entering the trade, Velotech have also experienced interest from third sector as the lockdown and subsequently loss of jobs and a need to exercise, forced people to look at cheaper and often recycled bikes. This Freestone King believes is just what the doctor ordered to rev the second-hand market up.
“A lot of the third sectors we have been working with have been recycling bikes to put them back out into the community again and so there was a dramatic increase for their product and so they need to increase their staffing levels.”
“I think one of the benefits of Covid-19 is that it has crystalised peoples feelings about waste, it has crystalised a lot of peoples feelings about recycling and repurposing, and upcycling and I think hats having a great positive effect for a lot of charities who use recycled bicycles as a method of increasing their income.”
Whilst not only overviewing 41 other UK workshops throughout the UK and still currently working as a hands on bike mechanic, Freestone King and Velotech work with a number of charities who work to recycle bikes and give back to the community.
“We deal with a charity in Newcastle called Recyke Y’Bike that take bicycles that would otherwise go to a landfill or be used for material recycling. They have a team that recycle those bikes and those bikes are then sent out to Kenya where they are used predominantly by midwives so that they can cope with a much larger operating circle from where they are based.“
“We also work with a charity in the Shetland Islands wo look to help with the rehabilitation of ex oil tank workers who have been effected by drug and alcohol related problems.”
With such an increase in demand for bicycles and in particular, second-hand bikes, it is vital for local bike shops to take advantage of the knowledge provided by training providers such as Velotech. Offering specialised training courses will also create a USP for the business says Freestone King:
“I think if you can train your staff into a articular area or specialism then you can kind of market that specialism with ultimately helps the business and creates a USP. That ties into the work we do as technical trainers in the UK with Campagnolo. We’ve been working with them as technical trainers since 2004.”
There’s no such thing as a five-minute job
When it comes to maximising efficiency and profitably during a time of uncertainty and such a drastic change in demand, Freestone King discusses the need for bike shops to charge accordingly and to value the knowledge and experience they offer to customers.
Velotech charge a minimum £15 labour fee for every mechanic job to highlight the fact that there is no such thing as a five-minute job and to remind industry workers to ensure that their overhead is payed for.
“I think it should be written over the threshold of any bicycle workshop that there is no such thing as a five-minute job. And to value the knowledge and experience of your staff just as much in the workshop as you do out on the shop floor. Those two things actually go hand in hand” he says.
“There is the old story about a man who takes his engines to the mechanic because it wont work, the mechanic hits it with a hammer and the engine works. The customer says to the mechanic ‘how much is that?’ and the mechanic says £200. The customer says, ‘but you only hit it with a hammer’ to which the mechanic replies ‘yes but I’ve spent 20 years learning which hammer to use and where to hit it’. And that is pretty much where were at cycle mechanics, but that perception is not out there in the public.”
Coming out the other side
Historically, spikes in interest with regards to cycling have often been followed by declines in recent years. However, the Covid-19 bike boom might just be the turning point for the cycling industry, as long as we work to maintain the momentum.
“I’ve been in the industry nearly forty years and I’ve seen a lot of cycling change within the industry, I’ve seen surges of interest and a pulling back on interest before, but in forty years I have never seen a rise in demand in percentage terms as we have seen now. And I just have the feeling that we have perhaps turned a corner. The green agenda at long last has started to seep into popular consciousness, which is nice to see, and the realisation that part of your vulnerability to health complaints is linked to issues around fitness and exercise. I think this is positive for cycling’. Says Freestone King.
Optimistic for the future of the cycling industry, Velotech plan to launch several extra courses into the new year including a frame design and material course, and a course designed to address the common fears associated with riding a bike such as riding on bus roads and issues that might occur when faced with a puncture.
“In 2021, we are going to launch a few extra courses which we are working on at the moment. There has been a lot of interest in artisanal frame building. However, lots of new frame builders coming in learn how to build a frame but don’t learn about frame design and therefore make a lot of mistakes. Linked to that we have a frame design and material course which we’re working on in tandem with Columbus and Reynolds.”