This is a story of boy meets bike, but you should know upfront, it’s not a love story.
I think I was about 9 or 10 when our neighbour bought a bike for their son. I’d take it up to the front door and coast down the slanted porch with my legs hanging away from the frame. I was too scared to ask my dad for a bike so I urged my mum to do it on my behalf. He rejected the idea, which was somewhat anticipated. Not to worry though, because I had a master plan, which I was very sure of. I did what any spoilt child would do. Hunger strike! Thinking about it today makes me sick. Truly, I was spoilt.
On his day-off, we went to the local bike shop. Nothing caught my attention like the red Raleigh. It was like a Ferrari on two wheels. We took it out and my dad orders me to ride it home. Okay um… How do I tell him I don’t know how to ride yet?
“I’ll ride it when we get back home, dad.”
He must have known that I couldn’t. And I genuinely couldn’t. Not even to save my life! We went to the market place, but it wasn’t a market day so there was plenty of room for error. Looking back at it now, I must say, it’s one of the better memories I have with him… My father taught me how to ride a bicycle… God bless him.
By 2005 I had already moved on to adult bikes, including a hybrid, which was passed down from my older brother. I used it to explore different areas in London. East London Mosque in Whitechapel was amongst my favourite places to visit for being a hub for enormous gatherings; for prayer.
Two years later I bought my first road bike. The intention was to save money on travelling to campus. It was a second hand Trek aluminium frame in white US Postal colours. It was awesome man! Some nights I wouldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t even if I tried. I used to spend most parts of the night trying to understand how everything worked. There is a science behind it, the bike that is. And it’s beautiful. My travels to places in London were becoming more frequent now. Even at night and early hours of the morning, for example, I used to cycle 5 miles to East London Mosque to catch the dawn prayer because it attracted the biggest gathering of worshippers I knew of in London and after the sun had risen, I’d continue my excursion, taking breaks by the river when I could. London was different at dawn in a nice way.
The following year was difficult for me. Left home, went to university and took the bike with me, which sort of kept me sane. It was tough.
Three years later, 2012, my Trek was stolen from outside of East London Mosque were I went to pray zuhr. I only went in for fifteen minutes. After doing some legwork and investigation, Alhamdulillah, I managed to find the thief 2 days later. The police officer that arrested him took me to the station where others congratulated me. They said that I did more investigation than they would have done and I managed to catch the thief faster than they could have. They asked if I could pick up the CCTV footage from the mosque. So I went.
The staff were fascinated as to how I caught the thief. One of them took my number and offered me voluntary roles at the mosque. The thief was sentenced to 18 months! I couldn’t believe it, though I was really happy. But I had to ask the police why so long? Their response was that they’d been after him (the thief) for several months and he was part of a bike stealing gang that operated in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. It didn’t finish there.
I found several of my bicycle parts online and the seller lived in Hackney where the thief was from. I’d never been to Hackney. And why would I? I had neither family nor friends there and people always scare you about gang crimes that involved guns and knives. But someone in that area had items that belonged to me and I know where they live. So I wrote a letter to my mum that said, “If you don’t hear from me tonight, then send the police to this address…” I was prepared to die and it would have been an honourable way to go too.
Anyway, long story short, the police raided the seller’s house and the bike-stealing gang was shaken to the core because they stole from the wrong person. I never got the bike back, but the compensation was okay. I do miss it though.
One year on, and remember that mosque staff who took my number back in 2012? He organised a half marathon for the mosque and the community. I was called to volunteer and shortly afterwards, offered a job and I’ve been there since. Alhamdulillah.
Now and then I think and look back into my life and how it’s been so far, working my way backwards and connecting the dots. It’s amazing. Allah takes away a thing and gives something better. Except that in my case, He has given me so much more. So many blessings and to name a few: a job where I’m surrounded by an amazing group of brothers who are also my colleagues, and mustn’t forget to mention all the people who use the facilities there. Everything within the vicinity of the mosque and the surroundings sort of help me feel at home. A home away from home, and a family I was so desperately in need of. SubhanAllah I can never be grateful enough. SubhanAllah indeed.
Oh and by the way, one of those blessing was that I managed to buy a new bike. It’s another second hand Trek, which I found online. This time it was a full-carbon frame, painted in a striking metallic blue. So beautiful! Masha Allah.
In 2015, the local borough installed bike racks in the mosque car park. We also received a grant to purchase a pool-bike and some accessories. With a sheltered place and some tools at hand I was able to set up a makeshift bicycle workshop. Word spread about a mechanic in the mosque and I soon began servicing bicycles, including a couple that belonged to two of the most kind-hearted brothers I know, both of whom applied for the imminent London to Paris sportive organised by Al-Ikhwaan Cycle Club.
A few months before the event, another cycling club organised a charity ride from Cambridge to London. I thought it would be a decent training-ride so I tagged along. Sadly crashed out and the Trek went under the knife because the derailleur hanger was beyond repairable. It was really bad. So bent that if I tried to straighten it, it would have certainly snapped. The place where it was getting fixed, an independent bicycle workshop in East London, was referred to me by one of the worshippers at the mosque, another keen bicycle enthusiast. Such a nice brother, I’ve learnt a lot from him in mechanicals and even buying and selling. God bless him.
He also helped me look for a replacement bike because we knew the chances of getting the blue Trek back on the road in time for London to Paris were awfully slim. We found another carbon Trek for sale; it’s the white US Postal. The one I always wanted. An artefact, said one mechanic. I wanted this even before the aluminium bike back in 2007. Alhamdulillah. Everything happens for a reason. I was meant to crash out of the Cambridge ride.
It needed servicing and by now you know I’ve got the tools at hand so I did it myself and the old relic of a bike held up well. Masha Allah.
After returning from Paris, more and more local riders brought their bikes to the mosque for servicing. I didn’t accept payment, so they gave me gifts instead. Started off with Chocolates and wet lube, then tools, and really good ones too.
I applied for another sportive organised by AICC that was planned for January, a simple route within London. One of the participants crashed out of a training ride and was referred to me for servicing. He suffered a similar problem to that of mine during the Cambridge ride, rear derailleur hanger snapped. Thankfully I was able to fix it and he completed the ride with no issues. Two more rides followed, including one for the mosque and more and more brothers came to us for servicing.
Now and then, Shaykh Abdul Qayum who is the Chief Imam and Khateeb at the mosque, would drive down to the car park and notice my work. He’d get out of his car and shout out, “Cycle-man.” And other times, “Cycle-doctor!” Once he drove down, and instead of shouting out pleasant nicknames, he walked up to me to take a closer look at what I was doing. “Every time I see you here, you have new tools and more bikes to fix.” He suggested that I start a workshop of my own. Others told me that it’s Sunnah to earn one’s own living.
At the time I was reading about the sahaba, Abu Bakr. It was interesting how he got the name: father of camels. And what sort of camels? Well, the type to go on long journeys of course. I imagined that he was the go-to-guy for servicing camels. So I thought of Abu Bicycles. The logo is pretty cool. Inspired by that moment in the market with my father back in 97.
Thank you for reading. Jazakumullahu khairan.
Abu Bicycles 🙂