The island bike mechanic keeping TV stars on the road

It has been a crazy time – absolutely crazy, with work. I’ve been running so many PR jobs lately that I’m like the proverbial plate spinner.

It’s an interesting thing, self-employment, particularly when it’s all deadline driven. Every so often, as has happened lately, everybody seems to have the same deadline. Put a couple of children into that mix and it can get very interesting indeed.

I still feel like I’m playing catch-up from the mayhem of the summer holidays.

What I don’t generally do, as a rule, is share anything on this blog that is connected to my ‘work’ work but I’m putting a piece on here today that I want to share far and wide for two reasons.

Firstly, I want to let everyone know that the Outer Hebrides will be starring in a really lovely programme on Channel 5 tonight at 8pm – it’s also available on catch-up at if you miss it.

Secondly, I want to let our friends elsewhere know that if you’re thinking of coming to visit us and considering cycling the Hebridean Way, then there is a chain (see what I did there) of bike mechanics and bike hire shops to give you full emergency service cover throughout the islands – in terms of repairs and pick-ups – should you grind to a halt.

So tonight (Friday, 21 September), the one to watch – if you’re not at the Hebrides International Film Festival, that is – is the final episode of the Britain By Bike series with Larry and George Lamb, where they cycle the Hebridean Way.

It is thanks to that entrepreneurial alliance of island bike hire and bike repair companies that they were able to complete their journey.

In this last episode in the series, the father and son undertake the 185-mile Hebridean Way, from Barra (Vatersay, strictly speaking) to the Butt of Lewis…. but run into trouble early on, when Larry’s gears stop working.

In the programme, viewers will hear Larry report some “trouble at mill” – but then say, “as luck would have it, some enterprising not-so-local locals have set up a bike shop en route!”

(By the way, I’m able to tell you what happens because I was given a preview link to it by the lovely people in Channel 5’s marketing department – thanks Bethan and Claire! Thanks also for the promotional stills for the episode.)

The broken-down Larry and George called in on Tony Flanagan of Barra Bike Hire, who hired them a replacement electric bike to get back on the road, while Larry’s own bike was sent up to Stornoway to be repaired by Alistair Glover of Bespoke Bicycles (Hebrides) Ltd.

Although they are both independent businesses, Tony and Alistair (pictured in the main image above) have been working in tandem to ensure there is breakdown cover for cyclists such as George and Larry (pictured below and all pictures of them are courtesy of Channel 5) on the Hebridean Way.

As well as carrying out bike repairs – Alistair repaired Larry’s bike for the next leg of their round-Britain journey – Alistair also does bike hire and bike ferrying. And there is a third link in the chain, Malcolm Gibson in Berneray, which means the whole route is covered.

Although viewers will see tonight’s episode as the last of the series, when the Lambs were in the Hebrides in August, they had not finished their marathon road trip and were heading to Ireland.

The whole programme is a treat for viewers, from start to finish.

The Lewis and Harris Pipe Band make an appearance, among others including weaver Rebecca Hutton, kilt maker Netty Sopata of Diggory Brown (I like George’s Harris Tweed hoodie, Netty), the North Uist waulking singers, the Eriskay footballers and Ian Gilbert from the Hebridean Cycle Club, to discuss how the Hebridean Way launch has impacted on cycling.

A famous marag makes an appearance too. George and Larry called in on Charley Barley’s when they arrived in Stornoway and described it as “black pudding nirvana”.

Larry and George Lamb

Larry Lamb also cuts peats. While George stands by, bemused by his father’s enthusiasm, Larry gets stuck in. “Harvesting the fruits of muddy marshes,” he declares. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do!”

But the place itself is the biggest star and the actor and his TV personality son were clearly bowled over by the Hebrides.

“That is so mellow, that was so cool,” said a rapturous George as their Twin Otter landed on the beach in Barra.

“This is just glorious,” said Larry.

“The beach is so beautiful. That sea is so clear… I’ve always wanted to come to the Hebrides and what a wonderful opportunity to bicycle it.”

Later, coming through Harris, he said it was “hard not to feel a bit envious” of those living there.

George added: “All of a sudden I totally get why everybody is raving about the Hebrides.”

But first they had to get to Harris – and that was in doubt when the bike broke down in Barra, although George had declared: “Nothing is going to stop our adventure. Even if I have to give him a backie all the way to Stornoway, so be it!”

But the replacement was hired from Tony at Barra Bike Hire and Alistair later carried out the complex repairs on the electric bike’s gear system.

Alistair – who was honoured by the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association earlier this month as ‘Mechanic of the Week’ – explained that the bikes had been supplied to the Lambs by Giant UK but Larry’s had actually been giving him trouble “from the off”.

He had heard from Tony that a bike was on its way and then Giant UK got in touch. “Their marketing person phoned me and said, ‘we have this bike coming up. Can you look at it and fix it?

“It hadn’t been set up properly, to be honest. I fixed it and dropped it back at the County Hotel where the production team were staying. They had finished filming here and were going off to Ireland to film the next episode, although they ended up showing that before the Hebrides one.

“I had met Larry in town, when they were filming that section with the pipe band. I said, ‘Hi Larry, I’m fixing your bike’ and he said, ‘Oh, how’s it going?!’”

For cyclists on the Hebridean Way, the network of Alistair and Tony’s businesses – plus Malcolm’s in Berneray – means there is joined-up breakdown cover throughout the whole island chain, as one of them can always be at the other side of an inter-island ferry.

Alistair said: “As far as cycling the Hebridean Way is concerned, that’s absolutely vital. Previously, there was no organised ‘rescue service’. Now at least it’s all joined up and coherent.”

Alistair, who set up in 2013, went full time in 2014 and opened up at The Hub in 2017, said their network “works really well” and had become essential with the rise in cycling in the islands.

He added: “I have a sense of happiness that biking is big enough to warrant me being here. Setting up happened at a time that was good as in cycling was just starting to kick off and the Hebridean Way became available. You have to suck it and see and hope that the demand is there but it seemed that the demand was there.

“The feedback has been brilliant – all positive – and in terms of business it’s been a very successful summer. Certainly it’s been maniacally busy.”

As for the roads themselves, with increased traffic on the Hebridean Way, he said: “You’re not going to get away from these occasional people who want to have a moan about cyclists but I think in general people are fairly accepting and happy to operate together on the roads. 

“It’s just a bit of grumbling that they have to wait a little longer to get to a passing place. There’s actually very, very few accidents – close calls without a doubt but I can’t think of any accidents.”


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.