It's a marriage made in cycling heaven: East and South London coming together to create a cycling nirvana at Brixton Cycles. At the end of last year, Brixton Cycles - London's oldest workers' cooperative - faced extinction, but last weekend they emerged like a phoenix from the ashes when they launched their new improved shop, complete with a 'pop-up' café courtesy of Look Mum No Hands! Ride Velo went to check out the new premises and talk to BC's Lincoln Romain and LNMH!'s Sam Humpheson and Lewin Chalkley about their exciting union.
Brixton Cycles, established in 1983, and Look Mum No Hands! (a relatively new and trendy kid on the block) may, on the face of it, be unlikely bedfellows. What the two have in common, however, is that they were both forced from their premises by property developers looking to turn a profit. Which is why it was so serendipitous that BC have fought back with the help of their supporters and the local community to reopen in bigger, better premises with the addition of a LMNH! cycle cafe.
Lincoln, BC's longest serving worker, told Ride Velo: " For us it's created a new space which we needed. For me, the thought of closing down would've been devastating. It's what I know; it's what I love. This, for me, is a major part of my life - I've been here 26 years - I didn't want to feel we were letting people down by losing it. We had a responsibility to all the people who've been coming here over the years. It's bigger than all of us."
Being such a central part of the Brixton community, donations via crowdfunding and other money-raising campaigns helped save the cycle shop, along with regular people offering their labouring services for free and contractors giving reduced rates. Luckily BC were able to find new premises nearby on Brixton Road and retain their SW9 postcode. Just five weeks after closing the doors on Stockwell Road, the new shop opened tentatively on Saturday, in spite of flickering power and no phone lines.
"What a great start - it's just like the launch of Look Mum No Hands! Old Street," said founding LMNH! partner Lewin Chalkley. "We've opened the doors and people are just walking in. Lincoln's been super helpful and we've instantly felt part of the Brixton Cycles family." So how did the two London behemoths come together?
"When we moved to Stockwell Road 14 years ago we had an idea to do a coffee shop within the bike shop," Lincoln explained. "But we realised we'd need a food licence and asking the mechanics to make coffee...? I'd known Sam from Look Mum since he was racing as a junior. When we saw the new space, which is a third bigger than the old site, the idea came up again. Then by coincidence we had an email from LMNH! They knew we were looking for someone to run the coffee side of things. Initially it's just for six months to see how it goes. We've both existed in East and South London doing our own thing, but we complement each other. They've had similar troubles with the closure of their Mare Street branch so we both thought 'great!'"
Sam Humpheson, from LMNH! said: "I used to go to their shop on Coldharbour Lane 15/20 years ago. There's been a real evolution but I think they've jumped a couple of steps by coming into this place. I love the fact that there's kids test-riding bikes in the shop.
“I don't think there are many other shops that we'd consider collaborating with in this way but Brixton's such a nice group of people. I remember going mountain biking with Brixton Cycles when I was about 16 or 17 in the early 90s so they've been friends for a long time.” The two businesses don’t know how it’s going to work out so the partnership is initially for a trial six-month period. If it works out, and it makes financial sense, they’ll continue the collaboration.
Sam's girlfriend Charlotte, who’s been cycling and racing for years, said, "It was my idea, I suggested it because when I saw that Brixton were opening a new place, to me it just seemed quite an obvious partnership." Lewin and Sam are both from South London, just up the road in Herne Hill.
Well the results are plain for all to see - a wonderful 320 square metre space with plenty of room for the mechanics, merchandise and bikes. Lewin's two young children were doing circuits round the displays on their own bikes and there was still plenty of room for coffee, cakes and lots of seating. What's more, the shop is on a busy cycle route into the City and cyclists have to stop at the traffic lights directly outside. Displays of moist cakes and glistening bicycles tempting many to hop off and step inside. "Seeing how it is this morning, looking around, I love it!" said Lincoln.
Ride Velo loves it too - and having also moved to Brixton last week we'll be regulars at Brixton Road. See you there!