Doing it yourself is more satisfying and rewarding than having it done for you – surely a statement wide open for a passionate discussion. When applied to motorcycle maintenance however I am confident that the vast majority of bikers would heartily agree with me.
DIY bike maintenance can be a tricky business though, especially for those of us living in cities where garages are as rare as stardust. Anyone who has been forced to fiddle with their bike in a driveway know what a limited a range of repairs is feasible without having to put the bike back together every time you need to pop to the shop, or simply when the daily allowance of reasonable weather runs out.
For Londoners and those thereabouts the sun has come out once more, since the first self-service motorcycle repair and maintenance centre opened south of the river. Wedged between Vauxhall and Clapham it has been christened The Oval Motorcycle Centre. It is the first DIY garage of its kind and it’s the brainchild of Simon Fraulo, a lifetime biker and motorcycle repair and restoration enthusiast. Born in Suffolk, Simon has been building bikes ever since he remembers, frequently placing his well-equipped garage at the disposal of his mates. Only after moving to London did Simon experience the notorious ‘city biker syndrome’ – the lack of facilities & tools. And that is when his desire to provide hospitality and create a community of like-minded people struck once more, this time on a much larger scale.
Oval Motorcycle Centre opened in March 2011 and welcomes bikes of any make or type including scooters, and all bikers regardless of their mechanical experience. Whether you miss the knowhow or your body mass doesn’t exceed the weight of your bones, this place won’t make you feel unwelcome or inadequate. The whole idea is to provide a place, tools and knowledge for anyone who lacks any or all of them. Matt manages OMC – a very friendly and approachable professional mechanic for whom, by his own words, there is no such thing as a stupid question. He is tirelessly at everyone’s disposal, supplying advice and spare hands to assist with any imaginable task. His work history as a cadet instructor combined with his encyclopaedic knowledge and years of mechanical experience, places him somewhere between a devil and a genius. All this is available Tuesdays to Fridays 10-6 and 10-7 Saturdays; usually there’s not any dead waiting time, you simply turn up and get banging.
When I first visited the workshop my OCD heart bounced with joy. The place is bright, spacious, dry and very clean. It is equipped with a wide range of tools and machinery that will allow you to do anything from basic repairs, through modifications to a complete restoration. The workstations are cleverly positioned in the main room to give people enough space to do their job, walk around, interact and exchange ideas. Each station is equipped with a hydraulic ramp, Teng Tools roller cabinets with pretty much all the basic maintenance tools and beyond. Close to hand are also paddock stands, tyre stripper, large parts washer, air pump and more.
And how does it all work? Simple rental basis – each ramp can be hired per hour and bulk package purchases are also available. Eye protection and rubber gloves are provided gratis, boiler suits and steel cap boots can be supplied, if you don’t bring your own. Anyone who strolls down to OMC can strip off their bike gear in the upstairs changing room leaving possessions in individual lockers, help themselves to free tea or coffee in the small kitchen, or even heat up their lunch in a microwave if the work on their machines stretches to longer hours. And if the work is unfinished? No problem, motorcycles can be stored overnight, just make sure you know how to get home by public transport!
If you would like to take advantage of this biker haven they recommend you call first and discuss the repairs or modifications you have in mind, to ensure you have the parts required and that your wishes can be facilitated. Mind you, there is no need to pack everything you will need because OMC stocks a great range of lubricants and fluids, plus larger parts can be delivered directly to the workshop. As well as storing parts till the work is completed, they will also dispose of old parts, tyres and fluids appropriately. Bringing a manual is always a good idea, even if you think you have done your homework.
For motorbike novices OMC recommend their basic motorcycle maintenance classes by way of an introduction. Run on two Tuesday evenings per month, this course is a must for every newbie to the biking world and includes bike owners as well as theory enthusiasts. Designed and conducted by Matt himself, these lessons, usually about 3.5 hours in duration, give attendees valuable information on how to check and maintain their machines. Starting with electrical systems, control cables and levers, tyres and brakes, through wheel bearings, headrace bearings, swinging-arm bearings, to checking and adjusting chain & sprockets, forks & rear shock absorbers. And since the work is performed on the motorcycles customers arrive on, everyone leaves not only with heaps on newly gained knowledge but also with maintained and safer bikes. Many customers return to the premises with their course notes to put their new skills into practice and master the tasks of basic maintenance themselves.
OMC is a two-year-old baby, a very unique one with a great potential for growth in all aspects of its services. While Simon has mentioned some exciting developments to his website as well as the potential introduction of class courses with computer programmes simulating motorcycle functions, he still has some aces up sleeve. One thing is certain, his business is becoming much sought after, and the steadily increasing customer return rate at OMC speaks for itself, and is backed up by the positive feedback on their website. Visit the website to read more or to simply register for membership and updates
OMC is based at:
15-17 Clyston Street
London, SW8 4TT
0207 720 3621