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Shimano Neutral Service: sharing the people’s passion

Connect with consumers, stay in touch with the market, and most of all help people get the most enjoyment out of their bike ride, whether they’re racing as pros or fulfilling a lifelong dream of finishing a classic tour.

That’s the idea behind Shimano Neutral Support. We caught up with Carola Groeneveld, Event Coordinator at Shimano Europe, who for 5 years coordinated technical support for Shimano Benelux, and Bart Boom, who as technical service promoter at Shimano has dealt hands-on with people like you and me prior to races like the Tour of Flanders and the Amstel Gold Race.

What makes riders tick?

‘We set up our Neutral Service to make sure that people get as much pleasure out of cycling as possible,’ Carola says. In fact, that’s one of the main drivers behind Shimano’s cycling products: promote a healthy outdoor lifestyle.

Shimano Neutral Service goes to all the main races in the Benelux, where cycling runs through everyone’s veins. ‘Recreational riders are always really happy when we can help them. They’re often there to ride in pretty intense, heavy tours, like the Tour of Flanders and the Amstel Gold Race. They’ve been working hard towards the event and are super determined to finish the race. So there’s nothing worse than breaking a spoke or cable halfway through the event. We’re there to help people get back on their bikes so they can chase their dream again.’

A 100% non-profit service

The service is available in several stands and tents set up at fixed places along the tour where there are also food and drink stands. The service is 100% non-profit. ‘We do ask recreational riders for a small voluntary contribution, though,’ Carola says. ‘They make a small contribution as they see fit for things that have been replaced, like tires or cables. The money goes into a big pot and at the end of the year we donate it all to a charity.’

Good explanation = good maintenance

Bicycle components are getting more and more technical by the year, so it’s important that people get a good explanation of the ins and outs of the technology. A better maintenance plan will save people huge headaches in the future. Of course, the more time riders have to invest in Shimano’s service the better. That’s why Shimano often goes to events a day earlier than in the past. ‘During a tour,’ Carola says, ‘all people want is for us to fix their bikes as quickly as possible so they can hit the road again. But that leaves us little time to explain things in any detail. So now we’ll often show up on registration day, for example, because then people have more time to visit our stands and talk to us.’

"I’ve seen the craziest bikes you can imagine ride by in the Tour of Flanders. Bikes that might have been literally plucked out of a canal in Amsterdam. Something you look at and think, There’s no way you can ride the tour on that!"

The passion is the charm

The charm of tour events is that they bring out the passion and dedication of regular people for cycling. ‘I’ve seen the craziest bikes you can imagine ride by in the Tour of Flanders,’ Carola says. ‘Bikes that might have been literally plucked out of a canal in Amsterdam. Something you look at and think “There’s no way you can ride the tour on that!”’

For many people finishing a tour is a goal in life. ‘You can’t imagine the bikes we’ve seen come our way,’ says Bart. ‘In 2015 I was working at the Amstel Gold Race before the start of the race, and this guy showed up with an old piece of scrap metal that must have been 25 or 30 years old. “The gears aren’t shifting right,” he told me. As soon as I had the bike in the repair stand, he said “last year everything worked perfectly.” So I asked him, “what have you done with the bike in the meantime?” He had left it hanging in his shed all year!’

‘This guy used his bike once a year, to ride in the tour version of the Amstel Gold Race. The rest of the year his bike was gathering moss or spider webs. We’ll do everything we can to get these guys back on the road, which means being pretty inventive sometimes. That was the case with this guy. We made sure he could hit the road shifting normally, which was nothing short of a miracle.’

"What’s really striking is how emotionally attached people are to their bicycles. It may have been their father’s bike, for example, or there may be other memories attached to it."

Bikes are emotional objects. ‘I’ve seen people ride the race on bikes that were so old only one gear worked,’ Carola says. ‘What’s really striking is how emotionally attached people are to their bicycles. It may have been their father’s bike, for example, or there may be other memories attached to it. And that may be why they insist on riding the tour on that specific bike, even though they probably could have chosen a better one.’ That’s why people sometimes bring 25 or 30-year old bikes for Shimano Neutral Service to fix. But to them, of course, it’s not just a bike. It’s so much more.

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