And that’s a wrap.
I remember seeing the sunrise over Point Walter on 1 Jan 2020 and thinking how great this year would be. All the clichés about 2020 being the year of focus and clear vision were buzzing around in my head. 2019 had been a fantastic year for me in which I’d made a few big changes in my life. It’s nice to dream big. The year kicked off with a wheel building course in early January. I’ve been running this course every year since 2014 and gain a lot from the practice of teaching. I’d hope to run a lot more courses this year, but it wasn’t to be. January and February marked the peak of the summer cycling season as enthusiasm of the Tour Down Under spilled over into the local bunches. There were plenty of wheels to be built and repaired. The year was tracking along well.
And then there was March. COVID19. A global pandemic that disrupted everything in its path and will no doubt will be talked about for many years to come. For the first time in my life I saw shops running out of tinned food, pasta, flour, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. Panic had erupted. Within a few weeks we went from having closed borders to closed schools. ‘Unprecedented’ was the word. As a small business I really didn’t know how things would play out. I put in all the protection measures to allow me to continue trading. I was extremely fortunate to have a lot of space in the workshop and I was able to manage customer interactions at a distance. On the custom wheel building side of things there was a noticeable downturn, however my repair work seemed to be just enough to keep me afloat.
As we came to winter I kept busy focusing on the work that was still coming in. I changed my hours so I could get home earlier to be with the kids. This was a positive change and I’ve kept these hours. During the lockdown, there were a lot of changes in habits and behaviours. Consumer products from kids’ bikes to home trainers were suddenly sold out, as people worked out how best to stay sane and healthy during this time. I kept riding my bike (solo) on weekends and came to really enjoy this, taking some more adventurous rides in the Perth Hills. In mid-winter I was interviewed on a Canadian cycling podcast about my work and my thoughts on the bike industry. Lockdown was connecting people from disparate parts of the world.
By June, many of the lockdown restrictions had been rolled back in Western Australia. By a miracle, luck or good planning, we seemed to have escaped the virus (for now) however the wider social and economic contagion had spread. It was around this time that I noticed consumer confidence had come back. It wasn’t just kids bikes and home trainers. People were buying new bikes again and even custom bicycle wheels. By July, I was booked in advance for a couple of weeks and this continued to be the story of the second half of the year. It was a great problem to have, but even in this unprecedented ‘bike boom’ I was still having a lot of problems. For one thing, my business was never really designed to scale up, and my focus on precision workmanship was never about taking short cuts. I could only really work longer hours as a way of managing demand. I developed a (bad) habit of running a double shift, working a regular day then going back to work for a second shift after the kids were in bed for another 3-4 hours. I did this sometimes 5 nights a week. Another challenge was managing so many inquires. Do you have this? can you fix this,? how much? If I had 20 phone calls and 10 emails a day, it could be guaranteed that I’d only spend half my day on the tools doing ‘the work’. It felt like I was stuck in a negative growth spiral.
The benefits…. Having been fortunate enough to have had a positive turn around in my industry, I was able to target some big ticket items that had been on the agenda for some long time but un-budgeted. In September I received my second Morizumi Spoke Cutting and Threading machine which now allows me to cover all gauges of bicycle spokes, including 12g and 13g spokes that are commonly used on electric bicycles wheels. In Spring my partner Pia also came to help on two days week. I was struggling as a one-man-band and I am massively grateful for all her help and support.
The final few months of 2020 disappeared in a flash. What became apparent quickly was that the flip-side of the new bike boom was that demand had outstripped capacity. Product shortages had become the norm across a wide range of product categories. The time spent chasing stock was exhausting. A number of products that had been successful for me over many years were no longer available. We were all drinking from the same well. In a game of musical chairs many suppliers and retailers were going to be left out. The Covid bike boom was a global phenomena.
Coming into Christmas I am exhausted. The entire bike industry is exhausted. Adrenal fatigue. I’ve taken a break from social media because it feels like a bit of an unhealthy addiction and a poor substitute for ‘living’. I feel very fortunate to be living in Australia and to be working in an industry that has boomed during this time of hardship. If there was one lesson from 2020 it was that when shit hits the fan, people still cared about cycling, as an incredible way to feel alive and connected with so many people and places. I hope that this lesson is remembered for years to come.
I am hugely grateful to all the customers and industry partners who’ve supported Melody Wheels in 2020. It’s been a bitter-sweet kind of year. We’ll see what 2021 brings.