Part 1: Mobile bike mechanics and the quest for the holy grail
As a bike mechanic I often get to see new cycling trends and repair tools come and go, yet the good old workstand never seems to change.
After all, why should it? It’s as reliable now as it was 30 years ago, and the world hasn’t changed much in the meantime to warrant an update. Right?
Speaking of trends, mobile bike mechanics are considered somewhat of a cycling’s holy grail at the moment. The promise of an instant, on-demand bike service that comes to you instead of the other way round - where do I sign up?
But despite thousands of companies the world over trying to master the practice, no-one seems to have found the answer to one simple question:
How do you carry the entire workshop, on your bike, to a customer’s house?
Not easily dissuaded (and quite a bit behind on our Arthurian literature to be honest), Josh and I were ready to begin our own quest for the grail.
My background as a bike mechanic and an industrial designer, along with Josh’s entrepreneurial mind felt like the perfect toolset to try and crack the mobile mechanic problem...and accidentally create the world's first bike/workstand hybrid in the process.
Armed with only our love for bikes and a vague sense of optimism, we founded a different kind of bike service in London, one that we felt the capital deserved, but was sorely lacking. We called it Honor Cycles.
(you know it’s real when you have a business card)
Part 2: The hardship I experienced carrying everything
It was immediately clear I had to come up with a way to alleviate the load of all the parts and tools I was carrying on each visit. Otherwise we weren't going to last long, both professionally and - much more pressingly - physically.
Before committing ourselves to any ‘obvious’ solutions, we did what any hot, savvy startup would do - we tested and iterated. The term “throwing sh*t at a wall to see what sticks” comes to mind when describing our initial iterations.
(some…’prototypes’ didn’t make the cut)
We were lucky enough to get quite a few business clients within the first couple of months. Each time we went out to serve them, we tried a different combinations of tools, parts and workstands.
Bit by bit we learned which tools were crucial for 80% of repairs, and which could be left behind. Same thing for parts - not only which parts to make sure we have, but what size & fitment types were most common.
Pretty quickly we had it dialed down to being able to serve over 80% of repair cases with just 2 briefcases of tools and parts. Now that still might sound like a lot, but compared to where we started, it was like switching to an iPod nano after carrying a gramophone every time you left the house.
The workstand, on the other hand, was proving less cooperative. Pretty early on I realised that carrying a full-on Park Tools workstand such as this one on my back every day was eventually going to break me. That sounded less than ideal, and it wasn’t something I wanted our future employees to have to deal with either.
So we tried different workstand types from various manufacturers, but soon found there was a universal constant with all workstands: the lighter you go, the ‘flexier’ it becomes.
This was a problem. You can’t simply do away with the workstand and be able to do good work fast (or be taken seriously). Yet the lightest workable stand cost about £200 and weighed 6kg. “There must be a better way”, I said to myself, channeling every cheesy infomercial I knew.
Interlude: The Limitation of Cargo Bikes
“But Simon, why not just get a cargo bike?” I hear you say.
Some more words:
Many companies rent their offices in big buildings, paying a premium for floors higher up. If you can’t fit your kit in a lift, chances are you’ll be losing a ton of clients along the way.
(pictured above: mobile mechanic’s arch-nemesis)
Also, I like being able to go fast and filter through traffic when riding between jobs. Being able to have fun is part of the reason I quit the office life in the first place!
Alas, it seems the holy grail was out of reach after all.
Part 3: The big breakthrough I had while drinking my sorrows away
So I was stuck.
All the other puzzle pieces were falling into place except for the one in the middle. I wanted a 1Kg workstand that was compact, cost £50, and had the performance characteristics of a Park Tools team race stand.
One evening after weeks of design soul searching, I was down at my local pub (big shout-out to Howling Hops in Hackney Wick - your beer is amazing!) when it struck me quite suddenly:
Workstands are basically a triangular structure designed to carry weight.
Bicycles are basically a triangular structure designed to carry weight.
Surely, I can convert my bike into a workstand.
(My 'Eureka' moment)
Seems so simple now but at the time, I felt like Indiana Jones at the end of The Last Crusade.
And so, my design brain kicked in (hard) and the sketching and engineering began.
Part 4: Workstand 2.0: The Super-Stand
All good ideas are simple to understand but difficult to execute. Like with tools and parts before, we iterated, testing it on client jobs to see what worked, what failed, and what was missing.
In its current iteration, the stand comprises of 2 Aluminium & Fiberglass adjustable legs that mount to the seatpost giving the workstand a very stable wide 4 contact stance. As you can see on the graphic above, the saddle is replaced with a BB shell rest, and a dummy front wheel axle is mounted to the handlebars. In essence, the bike now functions like a race-stand, holding the fork and BB rather than the more traditional single clamp holding the frame / seat tube.
Here’s what our mobile workshop currently looks like:
(All packed and ready to go help some people!)
(remove saddle, fit stabilisers, extend legs…)
(front wheel mount, fits all axle types thanks to a couple of adaptors)
Add a couple of customised tool boxes to the mix and we have ourselves a veritable workshop-on-a-bike.
(keepin’ it compact!)
(...and that’s only half of it)
And for the grand finale - bike on a bike!
(a true work-horse)
So far, there have been 4 versions of our very own bike/workstand, each one a significant improvement on the last. Getting stronger, lighter, more compatible. In many ways the hardest part was creating a system that was able to fit to any bike with a normal seatpost and non-aero bars. With so many frame types, sizes and geometries out there, it took a while to find the right balance of size & weight vs compatibility.
What I’ve come up with is a stand that is very stable, weighs in at 1.4Kg and is ultra compact. It costs more than £50 for now as most parts are 3D printed, but as soon as it is dialed we’ll be able to get parts cast at a much lower cost. It takes 5 minutes to set up, and is one of the most stable workstands I've ever used.
All in all, it is a near-perfect solution to the workstand problem.
I say 'near-perfect' because even as i’m typing this I’m not totally convinced that it is complete, as it is not fully Brompton compatible...and it could always be lighter...
So the design process continues!