‘Sharing economy’: mechanic repairs NHS workers’ bikes for free

After a gruelling shift in a Covid intensive care unit, the last thing Flavio Mendes needed when he clocked off was to find nothing but two cut-through locks where his bicycle used to be.

“I just lost it,” recalled the 38-year old nursing assistant at Barts hospital in London who described the conditions in the first wave of the pandemic as sweltering, “chaotic and crazy”.

On Wednesday, 15 months after the theft, Mendes joined a queue of NHS staff to get a new bike for free as part of an endeavour pioneered by a local mechanic, Lawrence Mohammed, after hundreds of NHS workers from Gloucester to Newcastle experienced bike theft as they struggled to save lives during the pandemic.

Thieves preyed on bike racks swollen by a sharp rise in the number of NHS workers cycling to work to avoid infection on public transport.

Police in Newcastle arrested 12 suspected thieves after they planted a bicycle in the grounds of the Royal Victoria Infirmary in response to thefts. In September, a consultant dermatologist at Whipps Cross hospital in London reported three bikes stolen.

Mohammed, whose parents worked in the NHS, has been donating his time to repairing scores of stolen bikes recovered by the police and giving them back to NHS victims. Wednesday saw his second giveaway after high demand for the first in the spring. He is asking other bike shops to help him carry out repairs pro bono and is crowdfunding £25,000 for parts to repair well over 100 bikes for whom police could trace no owners.

Alongside Mendes queueing for a replacement at a yard near the Olympic stadium in east London, were a consultant anaesthetist, several junior doctors and a paediatric neurologist.

“It was a common theme at the Royal London,” said Aoife Ryan, 26, a sonographer whose £500 bike was taken in October from outside the hospital. “There were so many bikes stolen. I feel that targeting something like the NHS is just unfair. We worked hard through the pandemic.”

Annie Hunningher, 46, a consultant anaesthetist who lost her bike from the same hospital and was delighted to pick up a lighter weight Cube road racer described the initiative as “absolutely incredible”. She told Mohammed, who was single-handedly distributing the bikes to their new owners, she would like to donate to pay for the works.

For Mohammed, who runs Pro Bike Service, the scheme is just another part of his attempt to build what he calls a “sharing economy”. At his shop he tells customers the cost of repairs and asks them to pay what they like. On average he estimates his customers meet 85% to 90% of the price.

“We had already gifted our entire bicycle stock to the NHS staff at Newham, Whipps Cross, Royal London and Homerton hospitals in 2020, so this seemed like an opportunity to do even more to help support those on the frontline who support us,” he said.

As Mohammed fixed Louise Hartley, a paediatric neurologist, with a smart orange and black replacement for her e-bike stolen in broad daylight, she reflected on his project.

“I lot of bike people are very altruistic,” she said. “They are not particularly money-grabbing.”

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