Light rain falls from the London sky, tingling off the corrugated fiberglass roof above like mini chocolate chips. Sam Skinner sits on a stool next to the vintage Dawes bicycle propped up on its stand. Wheels and frames, parts and tools hang from the ceiling of this little riverboat, circling its head like birds after a cartoon character takes a good hit on the head. And that suits Skinner, a good-natured bike mechanic living and working full-time on his three-boat flotilla called Floating Bike Repairs.
Since floating, Skinner has changed location every two weeks around the UK canal network. On sunnier days, he sets up his workstation on the deck or on the promenade next to his moored boats. Many of his clients come across him while he is working, by chance. The rest of them just ask – his regulars know to text him, call him, or check his Instagram for his most recent location.
Skinner is a maestro of a mechanic, charming the grittier hubs to work and restoring the most battered old bikes back to their former glory. More than once on a clear day, he spotted an abandoned bike at the bottom of the canal and fished it out with the gaff. It cleans up the grime and salvages what it can from those wrecks, even if it’s just the handlebars, to bring it back to life. As he tends to each bike, he seems to sense their adventurous soul, drawing it out of them as he gently polishes the frame.
For Skinner, bicycles have always been synonymous with beauty and wonder. He fell in love with them as a young boy, walking through his backyard enchanted forest, full of paths, tunnels and magic.
As an adult, he found work with the Magic Machines in bike shops in London and Valencia. While working in Spain, Skinner found himself drawn to marina superyachts the same way he felt drawn to beautiful vintage bicycles. “The builders of these boats have really defined the lines – where they sit in the water, the way the water breaks over the bow,” he says, as sleek as the sleek curves of a Peugeot.
It was the beloved look that charmed Skinner, however, who found himself equally impressed by cheaper boats with old sails and worn masts with stories to tell, like the tarnished badge of a bike that was just begging to be polished.
He spent six years sailing as a crew member on holiday flotillas and superyachts and kept a folding bike stowed on board on his days off, but his riding plans were often canceled by a spontaneous owner. planning a last minute cruise. “I just got sick of missing bikes,” Skinner says, after a while.
Four years ago, he therefore opened his own bicycle shop on his own boat. Today it is moored outside the Princess of Wales pub, where it has been for a few weeks. Beneath the rain-spotted fiberglass roof, he gently scrubs the dingy Dawes pedalboard with a frayed toothbrush.
Captain of his own destiny and cruise director for a group of one, Skinner spends his days dancing and tinkering, restoring beauty one bike at a time on the River Lea.
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