I started putting bicycles together in a tiny Finsbury Park bedsit in the summer of 2010. I awoke every morning to the smell of decades old machine grease, clambered over oily frames and removed a couple of drying wheels from the shower before climbing in.
My love affair with these two wheeled machines had started just a year before, when I’d finally had enough of the underground commute and thrown what cash I had available at a completely impractical bike. A Schwinn Panther 7005 beach cruiser with MTB geometry and track fork ends. Man, that machine was beautiful. I took the stock option and reconfigured it after a trip to the Netherlands where I acquired a coaster brake hub and some swept back cow horn handlebars.
It wasn’t long before I learned a valuable lesson and that unique machine was swept away in the dead of night by some heartless thief. But I learned something else in my hunt for a replacement – there was a whole community of people interested in bicycles and what’s more, this community was flourishing.
I spent the next few years putting bicycles together on a seasonal basis, picking up vintage gems and refurbishing them or throwing together cheap and cheerful fixies from bargain parts I found online. I literally lived among and breathed bicycles for much of that time and found a kind of Zen satisfaction that sometimes you can only achieve with a spanner, oily hands and a creation that just came together.
Part way through that period my girlfriend, who I’d got into cycling, was run over by an armoured truck whilst biking round Marble Arch. She lost a leg above the knee and spent five months in hospital. That’s a story for another day but I learned another lesson at that point. Cycling is about more than the bike, it’s about the people too. Whether they’re commuters, racers, fixie skidders or just parents looking to take their kids to school, we’re all part of a machine that can make a difference to our lives (and the planet) through our choice of transport. But to do that we need to ensure that the infrastructure we travel on is safe. That was the point I became passionate about cycling on a completely different level and decided that I wanted to help this community flourish as much as I could.
At that point 8ballbikes evolved from a bedsit brand to something just a little bigger. I’ve got my first container of frames on the way and I’m surrounded by boxes of wheels right now. I’m starting this up slowly at first, there’s a lot to sort out in terms of supply chain and commercial strategy, so please bear with me during the early weeks while I’m getting the business off the ground. The first models will be making an appearance soon. And in time and with a bit of luck, hopefully 8ballbikes can become a brand and I can introduce people to the same kind of joy that I’ve experienced rolling down a hill with the wind in my hair.
It’s difficult to put into words what emotions cycling evokes, but I asked anyway. At the recent Prudential Ride London Freecycle I got people to tell me why they love cycling.
This is my story; these are theirs. What’s yours?
Photography: Saara Kunnas / Video help: Gianna Kunnas