SBC Cycles is a truly independent bike shop in the heart of East London. No big financial backing, no corporate sponsors, just two mechanics with near debilitating bicycle addictions. They love all types of bikes from Carbon Road to Vintage Choppers to Full Sus MTB's and have a special passion for the rare and interesting parts of bicycle history. We spoke with Jamie, co-owner of SBC Cycles, to find out just what it's like to open a bike shop from scratch!
How did the partnership begin?
We met about 5 years ago when we worked as mechanics at Tokyo Fixed Soho (R.I.P.) and then Kinoko (R.I.P.) We have a mutual love of bikes, bike modification, music and beer, which as far as we're concerned is a good basis for a solid partnership. When Kinoko closed we both realised we should start our own shop, so we bought all the workshop tools and a few bits of stock and started looking for a space. We found the Cropley Street address in Hoxton, East London and opened July 27th, 2015.
How does running your own shop differ from working in previous stores? Were you overwhelmed by the amount of things you had to learn? Or were you quite prepared and ready for the adventure?
We've learnt a hell of a lot over the past 10 years in the bike trade about how (and how not) to run a successful bike shop. There are obviously a few things we learnt on the business side of things whilst opening the shop but otherwise we we're pretty prepared. We fitted out the shop ourselves over 6 weeks so everything is designed exactly as we want it. An ergonomic workspace with everything we need to work efficiently within arms reach. It’s great being able to play records everyday and just hang out whilst getting paid for working on bikes! Feels like we get to work in our living rooms everyday which removes the mundane side of workshop life.
I think the downside is the pressure and anxieties that come with making sure we earn enough to pay ourselves and get in the stock that we'd like to specialize in! but that obviously takes time, we've only been open 3 months so I think we're doing pretty well. If we have quiet days it can bum you out a bit, but generally it always levels out through the month. I can say that I'm not looking forward to the first winter in here... No central heating!
Do you remember your first customer?
Yup, Our first customer was a father getting the brakes fixed on his sons 12" wheel BMX. Our second customer was a good friend of ours who had a new custom bike built here. We get great feedback from the customers we have in which is the most important things we could wish for. Generally, I think everyone who steps through the door seems really happy with the shop and the service and even after being open 3 months we have a really solid group of regulars with new customers appearing every day.
What are new visitors first thoughts or comments when they discover the shop?
We haven't done any advertising as such, so we rely on word of mouth and social media. We have a fair few customers that know us from the shops we used to work in that have followed us here. I guess most people comment on how unique the shop aesthetic and design is. We get a lot of comments on the skull tool board.
"Cycling can be seen to be quite elitist" What would you say to this comment?
There are so many different social groups and disciplines when it comes to cycling, it's not something you can generalise and call elitist. We are of the mindset that cycling is about having fun and hanging out with friends and keeping fit at the same time. We try to keep the vibe very friendly and non-competitive...
After years of experience in the industry, how would you say the cycling industry has changed in recent years? Is there one particular thing that sticks out?
Running a bike shop is definitely harder than it was in the years before the online retail giants took control of the parts and accessories market. It makes it increasingly difficult to compete with online pricing for components. But on the upside people still need professional workshops for servicing and repairs. This is where we come in!
Could you tell us briefly how your passion for cycling came about?
We both grew up mountain biking as kids and fell into mechanics almost by accident just through the love of keeping our own bikes running smoothly. Our creative backgrounds in graphic design and guitar making couldn't make us the living we wanted nor did we want to turn them into jobs. It's much nicer doing those things in our free time for the love of it. Being a mechanic is something we love doing, so I guess as the saying goes "we'll never work a day in our lives"
Tough question, but if you could only have one bike, what would it be and why?
One bike is never enough... There are too many different types of terrain we want to conquer and not one bike is suitable for everything. But I guess if we had no choice but to keep only one ride it would be some kind of adventure bike for travelling distance on and off-road with enough ways to carry as much gear as you could possibly need to adventure self-supported in the wild.
You also provide a bike building service! What would you say has been your favourite build so far?
We've built mainly Surly Bicycles for our customers. They've all been fun to build and everyone has slightly different needs but the end goal is to build super practical, sturdy fun bikes to ride! We also built an amazing Santa Cruz Bronson Carbon Enduro bike for our friend bobby. No expense spared on that one. Literally everything was top shelf... No room for upgrades! We also recently managed to sort ourselves as a custom Nagasawa dealer. He's a well renowned NJS track frame builder from Japan. One of only a few people in the world certified to build NJS bikes.
At NEOS, we believe Independent Bike Shops have a passion and knowledge which just can't be found elsewhere. In your opinion, what makes an independent bike shop worth visiting?
Independents thrive because of knowledgeable owners and staff that give honest advice based on experience, rather than the low paid sales staff that have targets to hit that end up working in chain stores. We go the extra mile to make sure the customer gets the best suited bike or component for their money. Independent stores have unique character and soul that you won't get from a generic chain store. The main thing with SBC is that it's owned and run by just the two of us. The workshop is an open space where people can hang out and speak to us directly, rather than the majority of shops where you can't speak to the mechanics and the workshop is hidden. We also have the skull tool board.
You organise your own rides, how often do you do these and what would you recommend to someone who is interested in joining you?
We close the shop on Sundays to go riding. Currently, it's MTB rides in whichever forest we travel to, but we will eventually branch out into track and road rides when we have more time to organise stuff. We always post ride info on the blog section of sbccycles.com about where we'll be going and what to bring or what to expect from the ride. Most of the time it's pretty casual, definitely not competitive and always with plenty of pub stops. We're a friendly pair and we don't bite! The only way to know exactly what its like is to come along...
BIKE ADVENTURES FOREVER!
Photos provided by SBCCycles.com