Interview: The Shed and NFTO Race’s John Wood

The workshop and online bike shop co-owner on retail and road racing

The Shed, based out of Hereford in the UK, is like no bike shop we’ve visited before. Then again, John Wood, who co-owns it with his business partner, is a former army man turned military hardware importer turned bicycle obsessive. He’s also a world away from your typical bike shop owner. 

Advertisement MPU article

Disabled out of the military in 2001 when an incident left him in and out of hospital for two and a half years, he spent over a decade in rehab before rediscovering a lost love for cycling. 

“I was told in 2011 that my rehab had gone as far as it was going to go,” Wood told BikeRadar in January. “At that point I weighed 18 stone but my brain was still that of an 18-year-old. After a badly pulled calf while running, my physio told me those days were over, which was when I got back on the back again.”

When Wood says ‘again’, he means the days as a teenager in the 1980s at home in Chesterfield, where he rode for a feeder club to Malcolm Elliott’s old Raleigh team. He took a huge break from the sport in the intervening years. 

Fast-forward three decades and Wood is keen to make up for lost time. He’s clearly become a wealthy man on the back of his other business interests so the shop is more about having fun and rising to a new challenge than spinning a fast buck. It’s about creating something different, Wood says. 

He’ll only stock what he believes to be the best brands – the Sidis, Castellis, Felts and Cipollinis of this world – not because of a snobbery but because of what he’s trying to create. “It’s a destination bike shop. People aren’t going to come here when they’re out of inner tubes. They’ll come here because they want something unique.”

The shed isn’t your typical, cluttered bike shop. the general rule seems to be that if there’s no space to bolt it to the wall, there’s no space for it :
John Whitney/Future Publishing

The Shed isn’t your typical, cluttered bike shop

So how is it different, exactly? Aside from its appearance (a nondescript, small industrial unit on the outskirts of Hereford that opens up into anything but), it ditches the traditional distributor model in favour of something that suits Wood’s style – a case of what the customer wants, the customer gets. If they want a Pinarello, he’ll go directly through Pinarello. 

“There’s nothing in the world of free trade that you can’t get. Buying bikes, buying wheels – it’s just like buying helmets for the army. The concept is the same. This closed-shop of a distributor saying ‘we have a bike shop close by and we don’t want to over-run’ – get a grip! That’s what frustrates me about the cycling business – the politics of it all.”

Returning to cycling after such a long time away, Wood is keen to challenge what he feels are ignorant and unhelpful attitudes found in other shops. 

“I’ve told the guys who work here that I don’t want that typical elitist mentality. If you work around bikes all the time, you tend to speak in jargon that most customers don’t understand. They’re not interested in that – they just want to know why their bike is making a noise. Service is number one for me. It’s corny but it’s true. I’m in this do to it right.”

Key to the service is the use of Retül bike fitting technology. Used by pro teams including Sky, the system employs 3D motion capture of a rider’s position as they pedal, creating biomechanical data that Retul say is accurate to within less than a millimetre. 

3D motion capture sensors gather data that’s represented on screen by an animated wireframe:
John Whitney/Future Publishing

3D motion capture sensors gather data represented by an animated wireframe

It’s a tool Wood feels strongly about: “If someone is spending £3,500 on a bike, they’re having a bike fit. We have so many people who come in and say, ‘I got this from bike shop A.’ They’re 6ft 3in and they’ve been sold a 54cm frame, and you wonder how they’ve ended up with it. If I ever sell a bike to someone that doesn’t fit, I’m closing the shop.”

NFTO road race team

As much as Wood is interested in the business of bikes – he was already a successful businessman before The Shed came along – the whole concept was built around working the shop into his very own race team. 

Asked what his favourite thing about the shop is, he didn’t hesitate to say NFTO (Not for the Ordinary), a racing team born at the back end of 2011 and just in time for the 2012 season. They competed primarily in 2/3/4 cat races to start with, with the plan being to build towards 2013 and step onto the Premier Calendar circuit. It’s very much a passion project for Wood.

“I wanted to invest in cyclists – guys who, for one reason or another, hadn’t been picked up. It’s an opportunity for young elite riders, as well as those further down in 3rd and 4th cat, to have a little bit more of something they wouldn’t have got otherwise.”

“A little bit more” doesn’t quite cover it. Here are a bunch of 17 to 24 year olds who race on £12,000 Cipollini RB1000 bikes, use SRMs, get paid salaries so they can train instead of working a day job, and have access to coaches, mechanics, masseurs and Mallorcan villas for winter camps. 

NFTO in action in mallorca this february:
NFTO/The Shed

NFTO in action in Mallorca this February

Wood wouldn’t confirm the team’s budget, only saying he believed it was more than that for most Premier Calendar squads. “If you’re going to invest £30,000 on kit, you might as well invest the same, if not more, on the bloke,” is how he explained his approach to team ownership.

The team isn’t just a team, either. It’s a cycling club – just not as you know it. Racing cyclists of all levels are welcome on the Sunday runs, whereas it’s usually a rare thing indeed for cat 4 riders to test themselves against elites. 

Wood calls them “proper cycling club team rides”, and having joined in on a cold January morning BikeRadar can back him up. Hard, unrelenting and utterly professional, they retain a commodity that’s all too often lost in amateur cycling: fun.

Advertisement MPU article

Watching Wood give a detailed debrief and team talk after the ride, it was clear he’s having a lot of fun with the opportunities the world of cycling has opened up to him. Leaving his other business in the hands of others has freed him up to indulge his rediscovered passion for cycling. It’s a passion that, should you ever visit The Shed, you can’t fail to notice.