Mechanical sympathy

Published: 04:37PM May 20th, 2011
By: Melanie Falconer

Working on your bike just got a whole lot easier...

Mechanical sympathy

Tucked away down a quiet side street off the busy Wandsworth Road you’ll find London’s first motorcycle self-service and repair centre.

This fully equipped, DIY professional workshop is fast turning into a haven for the capital’s bikers, providing them with a safe, clean and friendly working environment, regardless of what they ride and their level of mechanical know-how.

Having lived in London for a long time myself, I’m all too familiar with having nowhere suitable to do even basic maintenance tasks such as adjusting the chain or changing brake pads. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a garage, chances are it’s a shared lock-up with no power away from your house (like I had), or a rented unit you can’t really customise to suit your needs.

Enter the new Oval Motorcycle Centre (OMC)...

What’s the OMC all about?

The first thing that struck me when I walked into the spacious downstairs workshop area was how ideal the layout was. Spaced out around the walls are 12 Teng Tools roller cabinets stuffed full of pretty much every tool you could need, with an accompanying individual workstation. These are complemented by 10 hydraulic bike benches arranged in the middle of the workshop, leaving plenty of room to walk about and around the bikes being worked on.

Other essential equipment includes a parts washer, tyre changing rig, air compressor, fluid disposal area and paddock stands, along with handy tools such as pinion and bearing pullers, chain breakers and an AF kit.

It’s clear to see 47-year-old owner Simon Fraulo is passionate about the OMC, but how did it all start?

“I grew up in Suffolk and started on mopeds, as there was no public transport. My first actual ‘proper’ bike was a 175 BSA Bantam that came in four cardboard boxes. I had to dig the frame out of a compost heap!” he explains.

“During my first 12 years in London I could only work on my bikes at the side of the road. I then got a place with a garden and a workshop, and all my friends came round to use it to learn how to work on their bikes. This got me thinking, so I worked out the kit I would need, tried to balance the figures and initially thought about opening up a DIY Ducati service centre, as I was into Ducatis” (Simon currently owns a 748 as well as a 1975 Triumph Trident).

“I then realised the concept would work for any rider, so in May 2009 I carried out market research and sent out a survey via a popular London- based bikers’ website and got a massive response. Two years on, here it is, although the biggest issue was getting the right liability insurance in place,” said Simon.

Finding the right premises wasn’t all plain sailing either. “I had seen a few units in industrial areas but they didn’t fit in with what I was after. Then I viewed this place. A youth car project had been using it and it had been left in a complete state, with rubbish everywhere and holes in the wall and floor, but the space, layout and location were right. It took two months to clear it all, but we did it,” explains Simon.

Looking around at the gleaming floor and airy, well-lit workspace, it is hard to imagine what it was like beforehand. Simon and his team have done a fantastic job, but they’re not stopping there.

Future plans

The OMC has a simple ethos: if customers want it, it will happen. The centre should appeal to any motorcyclist who wants to learn about bike maintenance and for more experienced mechanics to have a safe place to work on their bikes. At the moment, the customer base is split 50/50 male and female, with members of each sex wanting to learn about how to maintain their machines competently without having to pay dealer premium prices.

“It’s all about empowering people to do the work themselves. We provide a free of charge, full-time mechanic who’s always ready to help and provide guidance on everything from changing fork oil to rebuilding an engine,” says Simon. “Leading on from this, we are hoping to run basic maintenance evening courses over four to six weeks to further help riders.”

Other plans include offering winter bike and track day tyres, storage, plus converting the floor above the workshop into different areas for classroom teaching, a customer internet computer room plus an engine rebuild and dry build workshop for long-term restoration projects and classic rebuilds. Also on the agenda is hosting guest speaker evenings, where interesting and/or famous riders and people from the biking community will be invited to attend and spill the beans to OMC customers.

“We want the OMC to offer as many useful services and facilities as possible, and hopefully as it continues to grow and word gets around, it will be able to do just that.”

How does it work?

OMC has a supply of overalls, goggles, latex gloves and steel toe-capped boots, and stocks Goodridge braided brake hoses and fittings, oils, lubricants as well as a comprehensive selection of nuts, bolts and fasteners.

The disposal of old oils, fluids and parts for recycling can be arranged, with a small charge levied for oil and fluids (£6 engine oil and filters, £3 brake and clutch fluid).

Pricing is very simple: £20 per hour, and for longer jobs, there are discounted blocks of hours available to buy, offering more flexibility. To start with, 10-14 hours costs £200, 14-18 hours £240 and 18-24 hours £280.

OMC recommends that you take your bike workshop manual with you, and order any spares you need prior to arriving or take them with you, so you’re not eating into your workshop time. You can get any large items sent directly to the OMC and they will be stored for you at no extra cost.

There is also no charge for keeping your bike on the bench securely overnight if your job requires it.

OMC’s opening times are Mon-Fri 9am-9pm, Sat 9am-7pm and Sun 10am-5pm.
Bench time can be booked over the phone (020 7720 3621) or online at www.ovalmotorcyclecentre.co.uk

Words: Melanie Falconer Pics: Melanie Falconer and Oval

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