Chaos and Bikes! A 56abikespace History

Apologies for taking ages for posting, but we had been doing a bit of renovation in the Bikespace during the autumn. So for this post we’re focusing on the history of the 56abikespace. Here’s a bit of narrative as told by XC:

The History of the Bike Workshop at 56a from a dodgy memory…

1995 to Today: CHAOS and BIKE LENDING

In 1995, Emily and XC returned from Sacramento in California where they had been greatly impressed by the Bike Library that was operated by the punks at gig and record space The Loft. After finding and collecting old half-working bikes, various 56a folk began to assemble about a dozen bikes for a 56a Bike Library. As we had also been involved in Critical Mass in London since the second ride in May 1994, we were also keen to have bikes around the 56a for people to borrow for the monthly mass. We were also keen for the Crit Mass not to be the boring cycle-a-thon it currently is. Despite circulating numerous zines, leaflets, suggestions for themed rides, organising a bike sex-orgy outside No.10 on one of the rides, a ride around inside the McDonalds on Oxford St and so on, the Mass never really became the orgasmic challenge to capitalism it could have been.

Anyhow, back at 56a, we now had a load of very-punk rock bikes, brought back into re-use by the punk bike mending techniques of us all. This it has to be said is the direct opposite of the highly-skilled bikey folks at the workshop in the present period. I remember on one of the Crit Mass rides, someone heading downhill with the throng with no brakes whatsoever, as we hadn’t managed to finish that bike, or someone who, on circling around Buckingham Palace, had their saddle fall off. Anyhow, fun will always out at 56a, so we all took it in good steed and kept the punk bikes presence going.

By the time, the bikes were actually a Library with a real deposit scheme of a mere 5 pounds, we also began to see how fucking flaky people are. All the bikes went out and about 2 or 3 came back. People were just so lazy that they would get a puncture and just leave the bike in their garden and blow off the deposit. So you could say that the South London attempt at a Bike Library was a bit of a disaster despite working really well in Sacramento. Live and learn, folks. Live and fucking learn…


Probably due to us lot hanging out and moaning at Crit Mass we met Viktor VJ-er, a very bikey dude from California. He became the first real bike mechanic at 56a and encouraged, with another very bikey English person, Patrick, us to move the mass of bikes and bike parts out of the tiny 56a yard and into the massive ground floor space at the rear of 56a Infoshop (which doesn’t exist anymore! We have a picture somewhere…). People won’t know but we used to have access to the double storey building behind 56a which we would enter through a secret door (where the Book Exchnage is now). That space was an old b

akery and had at the rear a massive and beautiful but totally fucked bakers oven. It was the first building of our series of free spaces to be squatted way back in the late 80’s. Some artists wanted studio space and so opened it up. Eventually in 1988, Martin Oddsocks who set up Fareshares and others no doubt, opened up the 56 Crampton Space by coming through the wall at the back. Anyhow, we moved all the old crap out and moved all our new bike frames, wheels, parts, racks etc in. It was a great big space with lots of height and exposed rafters to hang stuff from. We got given a super dooper bike stand to work bikes on and then a whole raft of donations.

It must be said that the whole time the bike workshop was in that space, it was always total chaos without any real sense of fixed shifts or people to be there regularly. Both Vicktor and Patrick moved on and so for a while it continued in a very punk rock fashion of total ramshackle and makeshift mending and fixing up stuff. It was always a mess despite the efforts of a few to constantly spend hours coming in and tidying it all. Even though we had workshop tables and loads of space and loads of tools all able to sit in the allocated spaces, it always looked like the Apocalypse after a few days of use. BUT it was still very beautiful and crazy and once the kids of the area discovered the space it got even more bonkers.

As revolutionary anarchists used constant negotiation over power and who has it (ha ha), letting a bunch of rowdy local kids in to roam freely was never going to be a good idea especially when we thought that telling them off was uncool. Anyway after about a year of unruly and messy behaviour, some rules began to be established – the same kind of rules that operate now. Basically just a way to cut down on boys wanting to smoke weed and bring girls into your bike space or just rip everything off or just want to beat you up. Some of the young men who come to the bike workshop now and are very polite and nice are the same ones who less than 10 years ago were using the space and being very young, annoying and stupid. Nice to see that, it really is. One other factoid is that we cleared up the bike space to host the rocking 2001 Ten Years anniversay party of 56a complete with X-Chris’s Funk Shack! Way to go. There are pictures…somewhere, if you ask nicely.

Oh, by the way, in 2002 or something like that, the rear building was evicted finally by The Council to re-let it out as a film studio or something. I was in the 56a toilet once and heard a right load of moaning and groaning. I hope they aren’t making those kind of films behind their now blacked out windows…


So we had to get rid of assloads of bikes and wheels and frames and parts and rationalise the bike space into one side of the yard again, where the whole thing had begun. Here, things actually got more organised with some doors made to keep theiving bastards out of the tool cupboards and so on. I don’t remember who was involved in it now. I just remember it being totally stressful doing a 56a shift and running the bike workshop space at the same time as well as a period of

youngsters being super aggressive, super thieving from the places and also trying to break in now and again. Anyone who worked at 56a in these years will tell you the same story of how it became a total nightmare of having no-one to actually be a dedicated bike fixing person and how we were just running around, doing the best we could with no real decent tools.

Us 56a krew had always wanted a regular and commited Bike Workshop collective that would keep this great space open and functioning but it never seemed to happen. One guy got super excited to be involved, did about three shifts before setting up a 56a Bike Worskhop MySpace page then we never saw him again. It was a frustrating time indeed.

But then (hurrah) I guess at this point Tim came along and began the slow slow process of working very patiently with local kids and others who came to use the space and the resources. Without him, the space would probably be long dead and buried. The rest is the Bike Workshops own history to write up…! I hope they do…

56a Infoshop

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