View related sites
Pete Owen is the owner of Rat Race Cycles, a bike workshop in South East London offering bicycle servicing and repairs, parts and accessories, hand-built quality wheels and custom bike builds.
How would you characterise your current work?
50% mechanical/technical, 50% running the business.
How do you feel about maths?
I'm not sure how to answer that – it's a bit like asking ‘how do you feel about air?’ – it’s vital! I guess how I feel about my interactions with maths is that I love engaging with maths on a practical level, I love working with numbers and I feel great about understanding the core calculations or physics at the heart of something I'm working with... but equally I feel slow-witted when I'm puzzled by something I know I should be able to understand!
What is it about your work that is mathematical?
There are the simple arithmetics of the financial side of the business, making the numbers add up to ensure we charge enough to pay everybody and keep the shop open. Then there's the physics-based side of the technical engineering, which is much more 3D and concerned with trigonometry or forces and dynamic stuff.
How do you use maths, calculation or numeracy in your work? What tools do you use to help you?
Most of our accounting is either done on spreadsheets or using online accounting software – we use Freeagent but we're considering switching to Xero. Our EPOS does most of the calculations for margin on things that we buy (from trade suppliers) and sell, and keeps track of which customers spend the most, which products are slowest-moving or least profitable, that sort of thing.
And on the mechanical side, a lot of the maths is physics – torque forces in Newton metres; spoke tensions in Newtons; gauges that measure them for us. Spoke lengths are calculated with a fairly complex formula, however there are several online calculators that we can plug measurements into and get the result, but it's good to know the formula(e) behind it to be able to have an idea whether it's in the right range. Gear calculations, wheel rollouts and metres of development – again we use various online tools but it's important to know the arithmetic behind it.
Image source: https://www.parktool.com/wta
Do you think maths is creative? If so, how?
Interesting question – I've always thought of maths as essential, concrete, a tool like physics and logic. So in that way I'd perceive it as being used to create, rather than being creative itself. However, I've not had a lot of interaction with theoretical maths so I think my mind may be fairly closed as yet to the creative possibilities of maths itself!
Do you use or rely on any maths that you learnt in school?
Yes, although it's fairly basic stuff. Some statistical data analysis, simple trigonometric and physical calculations. There's a lot I learned in school that I wish I could still remember and employ effortlessly.
How would you change the school curriculum, if you had the chance? Why?
I'd love to break the perception that ‘maths is hard’, or that it's an intellectual pursuit. As with science education, I'd like to introduce children to ‘complicated’ concepts early on, while also saying it's fine if you don't understand this, here's how we can break it down and explain. I'm by no means an advanced mathematician but I have a Physiology degree and I know there's no real reason why primary school children can't be introduced to A-level level biochemical concepts – just make it interesting enough for them and don't give the impression that it's ‘difficult’ or ‘complicated’!
You can find Rat Race Cycles:
Join the conversation: You can tweet us @CambridgeMaths or comment below.