Pedal and Spoke MTB Shop | Poetry in the Surrey Hills
By summer 2009 the warm, fuzzy feeling began to creep in, and for one very simple reason: a tiny, tumble–down shack of a bike shop called Pedal and Spoke...
Less than a decade before his death in 1953, the hard-drinking poet Dylan Thomas wrote ‘Fern Hill’, which begins:
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs,
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb,
Golden in the heydays of his eyes...
It’s about how all the normal stuff from childhood seems amazing when you remember it as an adult and about how as adults we tend not to look at the world with the same wide–eyed amazement that we used to.
From Dirt Issue 120 - February 2012
Words by Rod Fountain. Photos by Grant Robinson.
Dylan Thomas had his problems, as we all do. Unlike us he didn’t have an all–terrain bike to take his mind off things, which is a shame because he was Welsh and wasn’t too far from some lovely spots. Whenever I find myself living through what feels like good times I think of ‘Fern Hill’ and wonder: ‘is this really as good as I’m going to think it was in years to come?’ The memories of the summer 2011 ‘Surrey Hills Sessions’, the last of which was in late October, are still fresh, but they will never be as rad as the actual experience of them. I choked on dust, saw no rain, met new riding buddies and was introduced to hidden trails that meant for the first time in a decade of summers I didn’t need to visit Thomas’ homeland in search of the all–day epic.
With mercifully few exceptions the trails that cover the four Surrey Hills have been nudged into existence using only what’s in the forest and scooped into some interesting shapes here and there. But there was always something missing come banana time. By summer 2009 though, the warm, fuzzy feeling of a trail centre, a surf–spot or lunchtime in a ski–resort began to creep in and there is one very simple reason for this: a tiny, tumble–down shack of a bike shop called Pedal and Spoke, owned by Howard Wagstaff. A ride through the Surrey Hills takes you around, through or above lots of villages with their pretty village greens, local shop and smashing pubs. But only the village of Peaslake adds a Santa Cruz dealer, virtually limitless free parking and the entry/exit points to the best trails on Pitch, Holmbury and Winterfold Hills.>>
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[part title="Pedal and Spoke MTB Shop"]
Just like the surf scene Pedal and Spoke has its grommets; young lads that may or may not work there but seem to know everyone and everything. ‘The Rat’ (or Jack as his mum prefers) rolls in every Sunday, not really getting the fact his school work experience placement finished ages ago. His ‘job’ is to remind everyone just how possible it is to be into bikes. Guy is another breezy one who will plug you into the zeitgeist, giving you the feeling you’ve read every bike mag’ that month. Ferg’ (mechanic) and Lawrence (shop) are full time and like the groms have chain lube for blood, dishing out advice and experience whether you buy anything or not. One thing that drives Ferg’ mad though is people who don’t ever drop a few quid in the Friends of the Hurtwood collection box on the counter. He sounds rightly peeved when he tells me that ‘people come here to ride the trails but don’t really think about the cost involved in making them or how much the fire roads and fences cost to maintain. Of course we’ll lend tools but you’ve got to put something back, surely?’
A ramshackle shop, grommets, staff who take it in turns to ‘nip out for an hour’ to ride, a cool van and a massive car park at the foot of the trails all make the village a place to re–visit a few times during your ride rather than just at the beginning and end of it. It gives the day an unquantifiable feeling which any surfer from anywhere in the world would recognise. I ask Howard about the relationship he’s got with the pub and the local shop. Since he opened there are a lot more flat, wide bars around and a lot more moto–shorts. Bikes like yours with people like you on them I suppose. This development was watched pretty closely by the locals but with a glint in his eye Howard says ‘we’re one big, happy family.’ He means it and tells me the shop and pub owners like to mother the boys from Pedal and Spoke with ‘sandwiches, a full–English and a lemonade and lime depending on whether they’ve seen us come in from a shop ride or turn up late after a big night’.
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Dylan Thomas ignores the dullness of childhood in ‘Fern Hill’ painting a picture of long, hazy days that adulthood can’t ruin, but Howard’s all grown up and can’t ignore that he’s got bills to pay and that Pedal and Spoke is his job. Selling brake pads and tubes wasn’t ever going to pay his wage, let along Ferg’ and Lawrence’s. Three summers in and he’s proud to be an ‘official dealer’ for Fox, Troy Lee, 5:10, SRAM and Santa Cruz. There’s no denying that times have been tough, especially being a one room shop in the internet age, but the connection with Santa Cruz and the weekend long demo’ days have nailed down Pedal and Spoke’s reputation for spec’ing, building and maintaining custom Santa Cruz builds more securely than a North Shore skinny. Howard says ‘spec’ing a bike over a beer in the pub with a customer is easily the best part of the job because I get to build my dream bike with their money. Often I’ll know of a new bit that’s coming out or if Santa Cruz are about to announce something so I can make sure customers get the latest and best stuff if that’s what they’re after. When they ask me what I ride I nod to my 29lb carbon Nomad and offer them a ride: after they come back they usually call their bank and/or partner before spending the next three hours giggling in front of my computer’. The demo days, organised for Pedal and Spoke by Ben Waters of the Santa Cruz importers Jungle Products, have helped to make Santa Cruz one of the most popular brands in the Surrey Hills. I’m curious about why Howard chose to throw everything in with the So. Cal. brand and he tells me that like the decision to open the shop in the first place it came from ambushing people with a clip–board in the car park, local shop and pub and asking them what they wanted. This sums up Howard’s outlook on why he’s doing this. He tells me that a lot of his time is spent providing what people need, not what they want. ‘If we had a shop motto’ says Howard, ‘it’d be ‘keeping your ride alive’ because we do a roaring trade in stuff that can keep a five grand carbon rocket–ship sidelined: powerlinks, a seat–clamp bolt or riding shoes’. I choke on the remainder of my pint. ‘Seriously! I’ve got a box of old clipless shoes and beat–up 5.10s because every week someone will turn up with a perfect bike wearing their socks.’ No doubt forgotten in the haste to head for the hills, I add.