The Shop: A History
Legend has it that in the early 1980's our founders Tim, Tom, Paul and Nancy were on a ride with a few chums going from Land's End to John O'Groats. They had plenty of time to talk and think and moan about the quality of bike shops at that time, which either catered only to serious road racers or sold kids bikes as a side line from lawnmowers. So they decided in a fit of alcohol fuelled brilliance to set up their own bike shop to cater for the kind of people who wanted to ride a bike as a serious transport alternative or just for fun. Back then Britain was in the grips of recession, Thatcher had just been re-elected on the Falklands war ticket, the inner cities had seen rioting and things were looking grim.
Fortunately, London was run by Red Ken (the first time around) and grants were available for people starting co-ops. Brixton had seen the worst of the rioting of 1981 and was pretty run down, so it's fitting that it was here that our friends decided to open shop. And so in 1983 Brixton Cycles started up. These were lean times and Coldharbour Lane could sometimes be an "interesting" place. During those first years wages were low, but there were plenty of friends willing to lend a hand and an abundance of squats in Lambeth kept the workers housed and the shop in business. There was also a renewed interest in cycling brought about by a more "green" attitude to life (it was called ecology then but hey it's all good) and soon BC got a reputation for being an honest shop with an excellent workshop that would take on jobs that other bike shops wouldn't touch. Soon our friends were looking after the needs of some of London's more esoteric cyclists.
Similar things were happening at a number of other locations. York Cycleworks, The Bike doctor of Manchester, Mosquito Cycles in Islington and London Fields Cycles in Hackney also started as bike shop co-operatives around this time. Along with Brixton Cycles they formed an organisation known as the Bike Chain, inspired by a similar group in Germany. (As of late 2013, The Bike Doctor is the only other member of the Bike Chain surviving as a co-op). The arrival of the mountain bike from California in the mid 80's gave the English bicycle trade an almighty kick up the arse. The old school hated them but a few forward-thinking shops welcomed them with open arms realising that they made a fine urban vehicle or touring cycle. The new breed of cycle couriers in London adopted them. Suddenly it was trendy to wear cycling clothes.
The shop was ticking along very nicely, employing numerous local people to try and satisfy demand from an increasingly large London cycling population. The end of the 80's marked the transition to the second generation of long-term co-op members: Mog, Mel, Barnaby and Lincoln. The 90's were no less interesting a time for the shop. The upper floors of the shop building on Coldharbour Lane became a sort of community hub, hosting various political and campaigning groups, artists and small businesses, including the Green Party, Gay Pride, and courier bag maker Catherine Newell. The large ground floor shop space played host to various art shows and many a party. The shop observed the practice, unusual in the UK, of closing for a shared lunch. Long-term members joining during this period were Kath and Simon.
In 2001 Brixton Cycles relocated right next to Stockwell Skatepark (Brixton Beach to the locals). During the 2000's we expanded along with the continuously increasing London cycling population, and now there are 14 of us. Lincoln is the longest surviving member with well over 20 years of service under his belt. Next was Kath, and then we have John, Billy and Nigel who arrived around the turn of the millennium. Then Tapan and Maggie, followed by Sarah (with Ben Nevis, our quadripedal line manager) and Jim. By the time we celebrated our 30th anniversary we've been joined by Georgina and Terry, and then Beck and Emili?.
In 2016 the building occupied by Brixton Cycles was set for demolition to make room for luxury flats, a worrying trend spreading all over Brixton. Faced with uncertain future we turned to the amazing people across the world to crowdfund our move to the new home on Brixton Road (right opposite the Brixton Jamm). Over 1500 people (whose names are proudly displayed on the wall of our shop) made it possible to start yet another chapter in the history of Brixton Cycles.
As of summer, 2017 Brixton Cycles consist of thirteen members: Lincoln, John, Billy, Nigel, Maggie, Jim, Georgina, Terry, Becks, Emili, with the most recent additions being Laura and Mon.
What is a co-op?
There is no simple explanation of co-ops in general, as there are so many types. Typically they're worker owned and democratically run. Co-op members have a say in how the business is run.
OK, the nitty gritty. How do we run/roll? Every Tom, Dick and Harriet you see in our shop is an owner or a probationary member (one year of blood, sweat and tears and they're full members). Same pay, same say, equal rights, equal responsibilities. This freaks some folks out, especially coldcalling sales people asking for the owner.
So, don't ask for the boss: they're too expensive and not very efficient, fun or neccessary, and we don't have one.
Do expect impartial advice. Don't expect normal. Do enjoy weird.