This article was published in 2019, in Magazine 142.
Even in the UK’s cycling capital, it can be tough running a bike shop. Rosie Humphrey speaks to three men who make it work by offering their customers exceptional service, keeping up-to-date with the industry’s latest trends and having a genuine love for all things cycling.
Working together for the love of cycling
Nick and Colin (Kingsway Cycles and University Cycles)
As someone who cycles daily, I ought to know a lot more about bikes. Over the years, I’ve needed help with oiling chains, replacing inner tubes, and fixing brakes. Passers-by have been helpful and ‘bike maintenance skills’ was on my list when seeking a husband. When more serious problems have arisen, I’ve avoided going to bike shops, fearing that my obvious ignorance would result in ludicrous charges, upselling or even phantom problems to be fixed.
It was something of a surprise, therefore, when I met Nick and Colin. They are two local blokes who love cycling, want to work hard, and share a long history of helping each other out. Colin owns University Cycles on Victoria Avenue, and the teenage Nick used to go to him for bike repairs. Now, Nick co-runs Kingsway Cycles on City Road behind the Grafton Centre, which is five minutes from Colin’s shop across Midsummer Common.
Both men choose to work with bikes because they love it. Colin talks about getting a daily buzz from his ride into work, and Nick’s enjoying journeys with his young daughter, who’s just discovered the joy of cycling – something he wants others to experience. They talk about work as something they look forward to each day, a hobby which helps them get by. They enjoy the conversation and the customers, many of whom they describe as nice people who’ve been returning for years. They like working with the variety of bikes they see – some good, and some like mine. They say they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t enjoy it.
In my mind, something doesn’t fit. Aren’t these business people? Aren’t they focussed on competition and growth? It seems not. There isn’t a whiff of big company branding or streamlined processes about them. People don’t book in or take a ticket and wait in line to be served. Nick and Colin run small, independent shops and simply down tools when somebody arrives needing their help. The emphasis in each shop is different: Kingsway Cycles specialises in hybrid, off-road and racing bikes whereas University Cycles predominantly deals with the sit-up-and-beg, Dutch style. Neither has plans to expand because, between them, they serve the needs of many in the local community. Their friendship underpins an interdependent working relationship rather than a competitive one. Customers who arrive at Kingsway wanting a town bike with a big basket are directed to University Cycles and those who ask University Cycles for a racing bike are referred to Kingsway. If one needs parts which the other has, they share. And if Colin, who works alone, doesn’t have time to help a customer, he directs them to Nick. Colin even sourced his wife’s Christmas present at Kingsway Cycles. The joint focus of the shops is to meet customers’ needs. Sometimes, this extends well beyond their strict business: when
I met them, a number of parcels were left by postpeople unable to rouse those who live around the shops – a common occurrence, apparently!
The men’s motivation is simple: they want to keep people on their bikes, keep working themselves, keep serving the local community. Safe and enjoyable cycling is at the heart of their business here and collaboration is key.
Both shops offer discounts to Camcycle members – these vary depending on purchase so pop in to discuss in person.
Follow @KingswayCycles on social media – Instagram, Facebook and Twitter
List of discounts for Camcycle Members
Local bike shops
- Cambridge Electric Transport
- Chris’s Bikes
- D Tek
- Electric Bike Sales
- Kingsway Cycles
- Lensfield Road Cycles
- Life on a Bike
- Outspoken Cycles
- Rocco’s Bikes
- Rutland Cycling
- Townsends Light Blue Cycle Centre
- The Bike Man
- University Cycles
Tours and clothing
- Cambridge Bike Tours
- Cotswold Outdoor, Snow+Rock, Runners Need and Cycle Surgery
See full details and latest offers at camcycle.org.uk/membership/discounts
CYCLING UK ‘AFFILIATE MEMBERSHIP FOR MYSELF’
Enjoy membership of the national cycling charity for just £25 including cyclists’ insurance. Use the discount code 8001749 to qualify.
Find out more at tinyurl.com/cyclinguk-affiliatemembership
Providing expertise on the latest cycles
Rob Turner (Outspoken Cycles)
What’s the cycling industry’s current focus?
Cargo bikes are relatively new to Europe and we’re following on. In Cambridge, cars are often problematic so the cargo bike is a good thing to run as an alternative – especially for short, urban trips. I’ve been selling them for six or seven years in fairly small numbers. Thanks to Hugh at The School Run Centre, there is now great demand. He’s been a real pioneer, bringing bakfiets (or ‘box bikes’) to the city in large numbers. Over the last couple of years, there has been a feeling that they have become the norm.
Worldwide, the electric bike is the fastest growing section of the industry. At first, there was a macho element within cycling which was very resistant, considering them as somehow cheating. Now, they’re seen as completely separate vehicles. The advantage of thinking about the e-bike as a vehicle is that you will use it every day. It takes away that get-out when you feel a little tired and the weather’s foul.
Who’s buying these adapted bikes?
All ages and stages. At first, the uptake for e-bikes was with older people who simply wanted a bit of help. The industry was slow to adapt: most early electric bikes had cross bars though what we needed was a very low, step-through frame which people could use if their hips and knees weren’t working well. Now, a lot of these are available. And we’re also finding that longer-distance commuters are taking up e-bikes so a more sporty design is relevant. Cargo bikes are, of course, popular with young families. However, cargo biking can be quite hard work if you’ve got a heavy load, hilly conditions or a strong headwind so again, electric assist is gaining popularity with this group of riders.
So, bikes are changing. How is the way they’re used shifting as a result?
Cargo bikes have radically changed cycling for families with young children. No longer is there a gap between the age at which a child can sit on a rear-mounted seat and when they learn to cycle themselves. Increasingly, these big bikes are electrically-assisted making them much more usable, turning them into proper vehicles which really can replace a car. And they’re fun!
Adapted bikes are being used more by disabled people. Cycling on the whole is being seen as a mobility aid and it’s easy to underestimate how useful they are to the people who have difficulty walking.
Commercially, Outspoken’s sister company Zedify’s model of using adapted bikes to deliver goods in the city is gaining momentum. Large TNT and APC lorries come to our depot, unload onto the floor and their goods are divided into bike-sized lumps. Zedify use big bikes with large boxes on the back to deliver these goods for the final mile or so of their journey into the city. This is great because it eases congestion and lowers pollution. Outspoken has been outstanding in leading the way with this: for the last thirteen years we’ve been delivering locally and the model is now being wheeled out across the country. Zedify is active in Glasgow, Norwich, London, Brighton – all over the place. It’s expanding and other companies doing similar things are growing, too. Following strong lobbying by us and other cycling groups, even the government seems to be seeing the sense of this model. It’s put aside £2 million to help finance and promote this with businesses, promising more if it goes well.
To what extent could this be the model of the future?
According to a recent survey in London, 51% of the final five miles made by all deliveries into an urban environment would be better done by cargo bike than by van. This is to do with the type and size of items being delivered and the access where they are delivering being easier on a bike. Cambridge is suffering and could be further supported by this system: small businesses are increasingly reluctant to service the city because of access problems. We’ve heard from plumbers, electricians, landscape gardeners and other workers relying on their vans who find they can’t park in many of our domestic and shop environments. The feeling is that it isn’t worth them doing jobs in the city because they know they’ll pick up fines or be highlighted on social media as someone who’s parked on pavements.
A solution is cargo bikes. Many of these tradesmen work within ten miles locally and can put much of what they need for a day’s work on a bike, avoid congestion delays and park easily on premises. It’s a way of keeping fit, being greener, and not having the hassle of having to park a vehicle.
Is Cambridge ready?
At the moment, this is my greatest single concern. The use of cargo bikes is growing dramatically and it seems sensible that this should be so; yet the parking of these machines is becoming an issue. As a company, we’ve been talking with the council about how provision for these bikes needs to be facilitated. We’ll simply have to start using car parking spaces. The car has had too high a level of priority for too long. We must redistribute the facilities for other modes of transport – pedestrians, buses, bikes and so on. But it must be done quickly because it would be a great shame if parking provision stifled the growth of something which could be so helpful in our congested city.
- Talk to us at Outspoken Cycles.
We want to know what you think could improve your bikes so that we can feed back to the manufacturers.
- Come and try some different bikes. We are always happy to demo and can help you with riding cargos confidently.
- As a Camcycle member, enjoy 10% discount on all servicing and further discounts on cycle maintenance courses.
Cargo bikes: where do you park yours?
Cargo bikes are larger and heavier than standard bikes so need appropriate parking provision. We asked local users about parking in the city and here’s what came back:
Your parking tips:
- Sheffield stands which offer something to lock to.
- Two dedicated cargo bike spaces with ground anchor points at the Queen Anne car park next to Kelsey Kerridge sports hall (above).
- Undercover parking at the Grand Arcade and Park Street (for more information, visit cambridge.gov.uk/cycle-parks)
- Station Cycles offers paid cycle parking or you can leave your bike as deposit for a pram to use while you’re shopping.
- Railings around the city centre.
Your parking issues
- ‘Sheffield stands are too close together and often blocked by other bikes. You can only use an end one and there aren’t many of these.’
- ‘Sheffield stands are always taken up with other bikes. We need ground anchors: standard bikes need something to lean against so are unlikely to use them.’
- ‘There are no adapted attachment points in the main undercover car parks so you have to lock your bike to itself unless you have a more standard-sized bike. If bikes are insured under contents insurance then they are often only covered if they are locked to a secure stand.
- It isn’t easy to manoeuvre cargo bikes in the designated bike parking areas.
- ‘Locking to railings usually means we block the path for pedestrians as our trike is wide.’
- There simply aren’t enough spaces: ‘Often we end up locking the cargo bike and our “normal” bike together as it would be difficult to steal.’
- ‘There is nowhere secure enough to leave the cargo bike parked publicly overnight.’
- ‘We sometimes resort to lying our bike on the ground while it’s locked because it doesn’t have a kickstand and there is nowhere to lean it. The trailer sits behind it but takes up a lot of pavement.’
- ‘Although there isn’t anything to attach to, we park on the pavement outside shop windows so that the bikes are in view of people.’