Established as a workers cooperative in 1983, Brixton Cycles has had multiple premises and has seen the faces of the co-operative change in many ways over the years, but Brixton Cycles’ community ethos and core values have always remained the same. People before profit.
It’s 1981 at the first Great British Bike Ride where Brixton Cycles founders, Tim Clifford and Tom Wells, first met. The Great British Bike Ride was organised by John Potter and Phil Shepherd of Bath-based Bike Events, the people behind the annual London to Brighton bike ride, a 1000 mile sponsored ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End for Friends of The Earth. For Tim, Tom and the 200 participants this was a life changing experience, a three-week long party suggesting that there were better ways of living than the ones on offer from Margret Thatcher’s government.
It was another Bike Events ride that Tim and Tom came up with the idea of setting up a bike shop. Whilst cycling from London to Vienna for European Nuclear Disarmament, the guys shared stories and unified opinions of disillusionment with their work. Tom was a teacher whilst Tim was working a dead end job in a market research call centre. Job satisfaction = zero, the idea for a bike shop was born!
The fact that neither had worked in a bike shop before didn’t seem to be a problem. The decision to become a co-op was an easy one, it reflected both the founders' politics, dislike of hierarchies and a strong belief in the power of community! It helped that other bike co-ops, particularly the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op, were already up and running and thriving, giving Tim and Tom a solid precedent for something special.
Advice on structure and finance came from the London Co-operative Development Agency who helped the guys write a business plan, secure a bank loan and get the idea off the ground. A big shout out has to go to Ninon Laurtiz of the Bicycle Workshop in Portobello who was amazingly helpful with providing details on the nuts and bolts of the bike business. Providing them with lists of tools, staple components and everything the guys would need, Tim and Tom were able to reach out to key suppliers and get the ball rolling.
‘Tom and I devoted a considerable amount of time debating what to call the business, drawing up list after list of potential names before settling on Brixton Cycles. Clever puns are all very well, we reasoned, but the joke would wear thin after a year of answering the phone and saying, “Hello, Cycledelic.' Tim Clifford, founder
It wasn’t easy to find a spot. A lot of time was spent hanging around potential shop fronts, counting and counting passing cyclists before it was decided that central Brixton was the best option, with Coldharbour Lane being prime with its slow moving traffic and a wide pavement. Despite owning vacant shops on the street Lambeth council refused, forcing Brixton Cycles to go private and rent out what was an import-export business at 433 Coldharbour Lane.
A big floorspace with enough room out front and for two workstands at the back, Coldharbour Lane was the perfect spot… but it was a tip! Living up to the community ethos of Brixton Cycles, friends and family mucked in to paint the new premises. Everything was done on a shoestring, with things like proper shelving and counters taking a backseat.
‘The three of us learnt on the job – initially, if someone required a new brake cable, it would be ready within the hour; if their Sturmey-Archer hub needed fixing, though, we’d tell them to come back in a week to give us time to figure out how to repair it.’ Tim Clifford, founder
With the shop up and running the founders quickly realised they needed a third member. Between completing repairs, serving customers and running the store there was barely time for a lunch break let alone a day off… and voila, Paul Hobbs the mega salesman was recruited.
Despite the founders no longer being involved, the Brixton Cycles Co-op remains very much alive and well with the new custodians carrying and passing the torch over the years. The team is now made up of 5 directors with the longest standing member being Lincoln who has served the coop for over 31 years. From representing Brixton Cycles in their shop race team through the 90s, Lincoln’s face, community drive and dedication to Brixton cycles continues to represent the shop to this day.
After rising rent prices, in 2001 Brixton Cycles moved to Stockwell Road. After spending 15 years at Stockwell Road, Brixton Cycles was to up sticks and move again. In 2015, Brixton cycles became the newest victim to the gentrification of Brixton and faced the threat of their premises being demolished for luxury flats.
Facing toppling moving costs, Brixton Cycles put their everything into saving their community shop and launched a crowdfunding campaign. Funded successfully thanks to their amazing community, Brixton cycles has found a new home on Brixton Road where they continue to serve the cyclists of London.
The pride the founders felt in serving the local community continues to be a huge part of the shop’s ethos today with clientele becoming friends as well as customers. The store’s community has continued to be an eclectic mix, reflective of Brixton’s population. The recent gentrification of the area has brought in younger, more affluent consumers, but this has also driven up the costs of living in Brixton.
Despite this, the team tries not to turn anyone away. With tools and pumps to use for clients who may not be able to afford a professional fix, the team at Brixton Cycles has some amazing stories of veggies being swapped for a repair, proving that Brixton Cycles’ clients continue to become friends, family and part of their community.
With a busy shop, dedicated team, new website and passionate community, Brixton Cycles continue to survive and will continue to keep wheels turning for a long time to come.
Got any good stories from your time with the Brixton crew? Drop us an email to email@example.com, we'd love to hear from you!