Like many people working in large cities, one of the worst parts of Aaron Fleming-Saheed's job as an electrician in south-west London was the commute. He lived across the city and was struggling to make it to work on time thanks to repeated delays on public transport.
A friend recommended he invest in a bike to get to work. Aaron was 36 at the time and hadn't ridden a bike since he was a child. ‘I don't have a long history or love affair with bikes,’ he says. ‘I wasn't tinkering in sheds with bikes. And the roads were deemed quite dangerous.’ Still, he was convinced and bought his first bike for £350. ‘I started cycling to site with my tools on my back,’ he says.
Aaron enjoyed the freedom that the bike gave him and didn't want to work for other people any more. He felt the bike could help him set up his own business acting as a traveling electrician, visiting homes across London. ‘I'd got used to carrying the tools in my bag,’ he says. ‘It wasn't too much to ask to stick some materials into pannier bags and go out and start the business from that.’
In 2017, he launched Cycling Sparks. He kept the business low-tech, with low overheads. Every morning, Aaron would take on his jobs for the day and cycle to them, the equipment strapped to his bike and his back.
Wheels in motion
By 2019, Aaron wanted to expand. The strain of cycling with all that equipment meant he had a relatively tight radius around his home for potential customers. That desire to grow happened to coincide with the announcement of new UK government grants to buy electric cargo bikes. Aaron applied for one of the grants and was accepted. ‘That took all the strain out of it,’ he says. ‘I could go further and carry more gear, which meant I could extend my range of services to customers.’
Cycling Sparks continued to grow as a one-man band for another two years until Aaron became too busy to meet demand. ‘I thought: well, OK, I've been out here on my own, pushing this idea. Why not take it to the next level?’ he says. Aaron bought a fleet of e-cargo bikes and hired other electricians. Now, the company has one full-time rider alongside Aaron and two part-time electricians, fixing problems, wiring sockets and installing equipment around London.
‘From a business perspective, what I've enjoyed the most is growing and developing my own business,’ he says. It's a far cry from the days of cycling miles in the pouring rain – moments that Aaron calls some of the toughest in building his business. Now, his daily routine involves making sure that his staff know which jobs they're carrying out and that they have all the materials needed, fielding new inquiries for business and providing quotes, and making site visits to check that the standard of work remains high.
Aaron's business has been comparatively insulated from some of the economic headwinds and challenges that have blighted and buckled other companies. ‘Bicycles are these incredibly robust tools,’ he says. The rising cost of fuel, alongside material shortages that hit the UK in 2021 and 2022, haven't affected Cycling Sparks. ‘All my other trade friends had to queue up for hours just to fill up to get to work,’ he says. ‘I just didn't think about it at all.’
Likewise, the encroachment of London's ultra-low emission zones hasn't impacted Aaron's ability to travel around the capital in the same way those tradespeople operating in vehicles have been.
‘The hardest bit was the beginning – just starting, figuring it all out and seeing if this [would] work,’ he says. He can remember thinking about whether it was viable as a business. ‘That was the biggest challenge, when it was just me on my own with the backpack full of tools and materials thinking: is this going to work? That was probably the hardest bit, but that didn't last that long.’