This article was taken from our archives. It first appeared in the April 1992 issue of The Bermudian. It appears here exactly as it did originally.
Leslie W. Wilson’s Cycle Shop is one of the rare success stories in local, black family-owned businesses.
In the 1950’s, there were few moped repair shops. Most were one-brand outfits and only stocked the parts for and repaired their own. Wilson’s may not have been the first to repair any and all makes, but they were the cleanest, most reliable and most reasonable.
I went to work for Leslie Wilson as a teenager. I was already good at tinkering. At Wilson’s I learned a lot and got paid for it.
In some ways, working at Wilson’s was kind of embarrassing. Every member of the Wilson family worked in the shop. To work there was to work in the middle of their family life.
Mr. Wilson himself was a soft-spoken man but he was pure patriarch. He ran his family the way he ran his shop. He was the daddy, the boss, the authority, the chief. With his large frame and the security that comes from running your own show, he cracked his whip.
Mrs. Wilson was a tiny lady with a high-pitched voice that rose higher when she was anxious or upset. She was one or the other a lot.
Sometimes I felt sorry for her. She had to know what the customers wanted when they asked for a “left-handed diddiewaddle” but she wasn’t supposed to know too much. If she didn’t ask Mr. Wilson when she was doubtful, he got on her case when she did ask him, he would subtly remind her how much she didn’t know. At least that’s how it looked to me.
The eldest daughter was saucy. I didn’t think she liked anybody so it wasn’t surprising that I thought she didn’t like me. She would spit fire at me if I just looked at her.
The second daughter was very quiet. I thought she was beautiful but whenever I spoke to her she withdrew like a turtle. I think she was afraid of me.
The youngest daughter at the time, Mary, was my favourite. We got along well. She was sort of Shirley Temple-cute and had a pleasant and outgoing personality.
Leslie Jr. was a little scamp. He was given to testing the line of his mother’s patience and his dad’s wrath. Not a bad fellow as I recall but I think he had privileges as the only boy.
There’s another daughter now, Wendy. She was ‘in the oven’ during my term at Wilson’s.
I guess it must have been tough for the whole family, having to be business-like all the time they spent together at the shop. I wonder if they got to hug each other at home.
One of the reasons Wilson’s flourished was that they catered to the cycling fads. Mr. Wilson didn’t necessarily approve of most fads but had his finger on the pulse of young cyclists’ desires. Goose-necked handlebars, fancy chrome add-ons, small sprockets and any legal modification you could think of, Wilson’s had it or would get it.
And Wilson’s did the fastest and cheapest crash repairs. Anywhere else, if you mashed up a wheel rim you’d have to buy a whole new wheel – if they had one. Mr. Wilson was good at respoking wheels and he kept a stock of rims.
Another key to his success was inventory. He never seemed to run out of stuff. It seems to me, though, it was Mrs. Wilson who did all the ordering.
Goose-necked handlebars were the rage when I was working for Mr. Wilson. Nearly every boy who had a bike wanted the bars high and curvy. (Funny thing, there weren’t any girls with bikes…)
Would-be, do-it-yourself, goose-neckers soon found out that the stock brake clutch and gas cables weren’t long enough any more. When they turned one way, the engine would speed up; when they turned the other way, the clutch would slip. One guy tried to pretend that a clutch that slipped on right turns was cool; some fool.
A few moved the brake or clutch lever along the handlebar closer to the forks. They’d try to get away with having the gas cable span straight across the gap between the handlebar end and the frame. This was what we called a suicide throttle. Anybody or thing could catch the cable and rev the engine unmercifully. Watching these guys ride was watching an accident waiting to happen.
For a few extra shillings they could buy cables in lengths to fit each particular gooseneck bar. Or, Mr. Wilson would custom-make cable to look, and act, factory made.
Besides running a first class repair shop, Mr. Wilson helped the boys assess their individuality. I’d say he saved a lot of pride and a few lives too.