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Wilf Sinclair is more than Pearson’s lead mechanic. He’s also our longest-serving employee and practically one of the family. (And he only popped in to spend his pocket money).How did you first get involved with Pearson?
I used to visit the original shop, in Sutton, to spend my pocket money on anything I could afford to upgrade my race bike. I was local to the area so it was nice to just roll up and ogle the amazing kit they had. When I was 14, I had a few bits lying about that I was planning on building into a cyclocross bike. I spoke to Guy (Pearson), who explained the parts were all a bit random and incompatible. He suggested I buy a new bike which, at that age, was the worst thing I could hear – I had about £20 to my name, from my paper round. Guy just said, “Do you want a job, then?” And I’m still here.
There must be something special for you to have stayed so long.
It’s never really felt like work. I’ve always been interested in all things cycling, from the competitive side to the simple joy you get from a short pootle on a nice day. I love how much variation there is, in terms of the design and mechanics of bikes and I was lucky enough to get to work in the best shop around. It’s a really chilled environment with great people, so I never felt the need to move on. I’ve made lifelong friends here.
Tell us what your job involves.
My core role is managing the daily workload and doing services and repairs, anything from a puncture to building new wheels.
What does the working day look like?
Each mechanic – we have two in the workshop at any one time – has least four scheduled repairs every day, varying from a standard service to our newer, fully integrated service (a strip-down and rebuild of bikes whose brake hoses and gear cables are completely encased.) I’m also lucky enough to work on some pretty swish custom builds. These can be quite full-on because it can be a complex process. I usually allocate at least half a day to these bikes, to ensure they come out exactly how the customer imagined. We still try and squeeze in the smaller jobs, however, like fitting new tyres or walk-in repairs, anything to get people back on their way.
Customer service is clearly central to the Pearson experience.
One of the main reasons we have so many regular customers is because of the excellent service we provide. I enjoy the fact I meet so many people in this job and we serve people on a very personal level, getting to know not only the bike but also the customer. Being familiar with both makes the process a lot smoother and more enjoyable. We have plenty of customers who roll by just for a chat and a coffee.
What is it you love about bikes?
I’d say the variation, how the different machines work and just how much you can do on them. From keeping fit to seeing familiar places in different ways, I enjoy all of it. I can’t ever see myself not being involved in some form of cycling.
So fixing them must be quite satisfying.
I get genuine satisfaction from the fact someone has trusted me to help them. Over the years I’ve built some great relationships with customers. To me, that’s really important. It feels great when I see posts online or get feedback from customers who have gone on to achieve their cycling goals after I’ve helped in some way. Whether that’s a race win, or a ride they’ve wanted to do for a long time.What are the key bits of maintenance you’d recommend people do regularly?
The most important thing is keeping the bike clean. This ensures everything works at its best for longer (although getting the bike dirty in the first place is often the best bit). Just ensure you clean the bike well after each ride. It’s also worth bringing your bike to us annually to get it serviced.
Is prevention better than cure?
Definitely. The most important thing is maintaining the brakes, making sure they work correctly, not keeping pads going for ‘one last ride’. That way, you won’t damage yourself or others. Secondly, I’d say tyres and wheels. They’re the main moving parts and worn tyres increase your risk of getting a puncture, which isn’t ideal. If you have a rim-brake, ensuring the wheel is in good condition and the rims aren’t wearing will prevent the braking surface failing.
Do some riders assume maintenance is more difficult than it is?
Yes, and a lot of parts are easy to adjust, clean or replace. For example, removing the chain and cassette for a deep-clean with some degreaser is easier than you’d think. Learning about your own bike is a good idea, in case you have a problem at home or out on a ride. Even just to make a quick fix, to help you limp into our shop.
Are modern bikes harder to repair than old ones?
Not particularly, they just require more specialist knowledge. While many areas remain the same, others have changed a great deal. Internal cable-routing on the newest bikes is one of the more obvious developments, although it makes the bike look great.
And you race for Pearson Works, the company team.
Yes, I race for the shop. I’ve had a few ups and downs but I’ve achieved some decent results. I’ve raced since I started cycling, both on and off-road as I like the variety, as well as racing year-round. As a youth, I picked up plenty of podiums in summer criteriums, a couple of wins as well. One season, as a junior, I racked up enough points to finish the highest-ranked in the Surrey league. I didn’t even know until a trophy turned up in the post one day. More recently, I came second overall in the London and South East Cyclo Cross League (senior category). In the 2018/19 season I finished 25th of the elite men at the National Championships, ending the season 28th in the national rankings. I was pretty chuffed with that.
Have you raced with Will and Guy?
I’ve raced a lot with Guy, on and off-road. He was always encouraging me to go to this or that event, to keep racing as much as I could. I can’t say I’ve ever raced with William, though I’ve been on a few easy rides with him over the years (so he felt included). Will and I commute home together most days, if I can drag him away from the shop in time.
You recently had to step away for a while, from both work and racing.
Yes, I did. Originally, I put it down to overdoing things, both at work and in my riding. Then, in January last year I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma, which is a blood cancer. I had 12 weeks of pretty intense chemotherapy, which I’m still on the mend from. I’m on track so far, however, currently in remission and with one year clear. It was a rough time but I was helped through it with the support of my friends and family, as well as everyone at the shop. Whenever I needed time off for racing I was always encouraged to take it; and when I needed their support most, Guy and Will were there for me. That means a lot. I’m slowly getting back to working full-time and racing when I can. The aim is to reach the level I was riding at before. Hopefully higher.
We hear you occasionally make repairs of a non-cycling nature.
I do get weird requests from time to time. I had a chap once ask me to fit a new chain to his chainsaw. I’ve also mended people’s cars when they’ve taken a knock to the bumper and touched up the paint as well. We’ve also adapted fittings for roof racks and bike boxes from old parts we’ve had lying around. We generally always give things a go, to try and help people out.
To book your bike into the workshop please visit our Workshop webpage
It’s always a pleasure to come in and see Wilf at work. He’s always friendly and genuinely interested to make the time to ask what I’ve been up to, how my son Louis’ riding/racing is going and so on. He’s helped me out on many occasions, whether it be a simple puncture repair, running repairs on wheel hubs/headsets/bottom brackets or a full blown service. Whether it’s one of my bikes or Louis’, it always comes back without issue and feeling like someone has given it some (often much needed) TLC. So thanks for the excellent customer service over the last few years Wilf, and long may it continue!!
Delighted that Wilf gets the spotlight. He’s the epitome of great customer service: the friendly expert. Great to read that the health worries are receding. Hope to revisit the shop soon. The risk is to go for coffee and accidentally order a bike to go with it.
Great interview and lovely to understand more about Wilf. He’s always been such a great mechanic and advisor on all of my bikes. There should be a Pearson T-shirt dedicated to his talents regards Alex
Big up Wilf 👊🏻
Great read, thanks Jack.
Wilf it was fab to learn a bit more about you. You are always so unassuming, making us feel like the centre of the universe, we had no idea how blooming quick you are on a bike. Thank you for looking after us and our bikes. I will always remember your absolute perseverance to fix my pedal creak when the cause was stubbornly illusive. You won in the end. Much to both of our relief I think.
We hope you continue to get stronger and that the cancer is assigned to ancient history.