Howes Cycles – the end of an era

This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 112.

In my garage I’ve a classic Carlton Corsair cycle bought from Howes Cycles in the 1960s (531 tubes and a Brooks saddle). I didn’t get that bike new, but my first ever new bike, bought when I moved to Cambridge in the 1980s, was a Dawes from that same shop.

I knew that Michael’s father had run the shop, and that there was a collection of very old bikes in the family. At that time little did I realise that Howes was the oldest cycle shop in the UK, if not the world, and it is sad that it has now closed.

Not only is it sad that such a long-established shop has closed, but also that we have lost a family establishment where repairs and sales were dispensed in a helpful and friendly manner. I’ve bought accessories, spares and parts to rebuild wheels, even with a dynamo, where the advice and experience of Michael were invaluable. I’ve been in the shop when someone has brought in a bike with a minor defect that has been fixed without even being moved to the workshop. When offered payment, Michael has just waved them away, surely a good advertisement?

So how long has Howes been selling cycles?

Longer than cycles have existed, it seems. Apparently John Howes was a wheelwright who had become a coachbuilder at 13 Regent St at least by 1846. There are reports of an incident with velocipedes owned by Howes but ‘driven furiously’ by students in 1857. By about 1867 Howes was reported to be making copies of French bicycles with cranks and pedals.

By 1874, Howes was supplying and repairing ‘machines’ for the newly-formed Cambridge University Bicycle Club. They also made and sold a range of bicycles under the ‘Granta’ name until the 1930s. Since then they’ve sold and repaired many major brands of cycles and accessories. Life is now difficult for such specialist shops. You can buy a cheap, throw-away bike for little more than fifty pounds, but it is not only those of us who cycle several thousand miles a year, and keep a regularly serviced bike for ten years or so, who will seriously suffer from the loss of such shops. The internet may be cheaper, but many people spending real money on bikes need not only a test ride, but also advice as to what bike is really fit for purpose.

Image as described adjacent

Thanks to Michael Howes and John Green for some of these details. We wish Michael and Pat well in their retirement.

Jim Chisholm