Winston Farquharson’s 30-year passion for cycling started with a rugby injury. “My doctor advised me to take up riding to help with my recovery, and I really got the bug for it”, he says as he tidies his cycle shop in Penge, south-east London, ready for the morning rush. “I joined a local cycling shop’s racing team, and travelled up and down the country to race. Sadly, though, I never quite made it.”
Retraining as a sports therapist, an accident caused Farquharson to have a career rethink. “I got involved with a charity which helps disabled people back into work, and realised what I really wanted to do was run my own business. The charity supported me as I wrote my business plan,” he says.
The result was SE20 Cycles, a repair and custom-build cycle shop on Penge High Street, which opened in September 2008. Since then, SE20 Cycles has become a hub for the local cycling community – so much so that last year Farquharson converted the shop’s waiting area into a coffee shop.
“I wanted to create a friendly place for new cyclists and enthusiasts alike,” Farquharson says. “A lot of novice cyclists don’t like to ask questions in case they’re being silly. We wanted to avoid that, and plenty of customers have told us we’re less intimidating than many cycle shops.”
When Covid-19 hit, Farquharson made the tough decision to close the repair shop to walk-in customers, putting his mechanic on furlough for six weeks, and prioritising local emergency and key workers.
“As we were suddenly deemed an essential service, it felt natural to prioritise key workers in a bid to help the national effort,” Farquharson says. “For the first two weeks of lockdown, key workers could jump the queue and receive repairs at a heavy discount, or for free, which they really appreciated,” he says.
“They could buy bicycles from us at trade price, too, which we started selling as a reaction to Covid-19. It meant the early weeks of lockdown saw us mostly used by NHS and other key workers.”