Jake’s Bikes is an independent
cycle workshop in Bristol
specialising in selling used
bikes, servicing & repairs,
and providing cycle
When did you start Jake’s Bikes?
Two years ago now. I was very naïve. I saw broken
or badly maintained bikes everywhere and I just
wanted to fix them and get more people cycling.
I didn’t really think about the practicalities,
and at the time I was a freelance web designer
and assumed that I could continue to earn my
living from that for a year or two and do bikes
a couple of days a week. I always imagined a
cosy little shed somewhere with a wood stove,
where I could do a lot of barter and trade and
swaps and charge people almost nothing. After
a bit of searching I found a small industrial unit
in Montpelier, Bristol, in which I could rent a
corner. Very quickly it got busy, and within a few
months I was doing it full-time.
And so you then decided to move to this larger
workshop space just around the corner?
Yeah, well it’s a bit more established now. I am in
a larger workshop and so can employ a couple of
other people (workshop assistant Jake & mecahnic
Pete). When I started out people told me it takes
three years to get a new business off the ground and
I didn’t believe them, but they were right. I reckon
by the end of our third year in business I should be
able to pay myself a living wage, but it turns out
that it really does take that long.
What sort of work do you do?
Mainly maintenance, servicing and repairs. It
helps keep old bikes on the road and helps keep
people cycling. We also sell reconditioned used
bikes and build a few special bikes to order. We
work almost entirely on fairly practical bikes for
commuters and utility users: hybrids, city bikes,
tourers and so on. To be honest, it’s cycling as a
form of transport that I’m really interested in.
Are there many bike workshops similar to yourselves
based in the UK?
As far as I know, there are very few bike recycling
operations in the UK that aren’t charities and/
or externally funded in some way. The Oxford
Cycle Workshop has been going for a number of
years now and I understand does pretty similar
work to us on a larger scale and South Coast
Bikes in Brighton also run an appointment-only
workshop but don’t sell used bikes or do any
tuition. I do think that ours is a model that I’d
like to see copied in other cities, and as cycling
becomes more popular I think it will be. People
sometimes talk to me about ‘the competition’
from other bike projects or bike shops but I
don’t really see it that way. We currently help
The Bristol Bike Project where we can, who are
based right nextdoor to us and I was pleased to
see a new independently-run bike shop open just
down the road in St. Werburghs.
As well as repairing and selling bikes, I also heard
that you were offering bike maintenance classes
too, is that right?
Yeah, just recently actually we’ve started running
tuition and evening classes. There are a series
of bike maintenance sessions for people who
want to learn how to fix their own brakes or
gears, and also a real beginners class for novices:
how to fix a puncture - that sort of thing. For
those who want to do more in-depth stuff like
a complete bearings service or wheel build, we
do one-to-one tuition. We’ve also just started a
weekly drop-in session on Thursday evenings
for people to come along and fix up their own
bike using our workshop and tools which is
ideal for customers who have some experience
but need a little guidance or want to use the
more specialist tools, and I hope it will make
bike servicing affordable even for those on a
very tight budget.
Your sign says you work by appointment only - why
Yes, this causes some confusion! Jake’s Bikes is
not a shop – it really is specifically a workshop
and when we’re busy working on customers’
bikes it’s difficult to handle retail sales. We’d have
to employ shop staff for that, and frankly I’m
just not interested in selling the latest widgets
and gizmos to punters on the high street. So we
have an appointments system like a car garage.
Customers book a time slot to drop their bike
off and discuss what work needs doing, and
then we can give a much more accurate estimate
of when the job will be done.
EDIT: Please note that since this article was
written we have been able to dispense with the
appointments system thanks to moving to new
premises and taking on another member of
staff. You're still welcome to make an
appointment for workshop work or tuition if
you like, but there's no longer any need to
arrange purchases or bike viewings in advance.
It’s funny that in Britain we see bikes as just
another consumer item that you buy from
a high street shop. Cars have proper service
centres and garages that work by good old fashioned
appointments systems. Why not for
bikes as well?
On that note, how do you think we can actually
change the way we look at bikes in Britain and
make them more appealing and acceptable as a
means of valid transportation and therefore get
more bums on seats?
Well, I think it’s all about normalising cycling
- we have to get society to recognise bikes
as a legitimate, normal form of transport for
the masses instead of just a sporting or leisure
activity for the few and there are a whole lot
of things on many levels that we can slowly
change to bring about this shift. For example,
we need better cycling facilities, a wider range
of sensible, practical city bikes and cycling gear
and properly integrated cycle planning - not
just a few hastily tacked-on cycle lanes. We
also need petrol to be more expensive – which
is lucky because that’s going to happen in any
case and we need social demand for localisation,
eco awareness and healthier and safer cities –
which, again, we are slowly but surely starting
to see. Ultimately we need a shift away from
car culture and towards cycle culture. Then, not
only will drivers and policy makers and town
planners start to see bikes as real road vehicles
which have to be respected and given space, but
also cyclists themselves will become normalised
as responsible road users.
The trouble is that these things take time and
it’s easy to get despondent or burnt-out when
plugging away at cycle campaigning. Here and
now, one of the most effective actions is simply
to directly get more people cycling. The CTC’s
Safety in Numbers campaign (www.ctc.org.uk/
safetyinnumbers) shows that the more people
cycle, the safer it is for each individual cyclist,
and the more political and social will exists to
improve cycling conditions. Then all the rest will
follow. The more people cycle, the more cycling
will be seen as being normal, so it becomes
This really is the ethos behind Jake’s Bikes -
one by one, we work on getting more ‘normal’
people cycling; and it seems that if certain
individuals become customers, they can act as a
gateway to other members of their peer groups.
For example, we’ve built up a few nice touring
bikes in the past, and customers have headed off
to France and Spain and had the time of their
life. They then become something of a cycling
evangelist and before you know it a couple of
their friends turn up here in search of second hand
Most are enthusiastic young male students, but
we have had several older ladies, each of whom
referred the next one to us, rediscovering the
joys of cycling just as soon as we had supplied
them with suitably high handlebars or low gear
ratios or a step-through frame. Even with girls
in their late teens or early twenties, amongst
whom cycling rates are notoriously low, as soon
as one in their social group gets a stylish bike the
barriers start to break down and cycling begins
to become acceptable or even normal. You can
really see it when a customer, who six months
ago was a complete novice, turns up on a well used
bike talking knowledgeably about the best
cycle route to work!
I guess it’s also about showing people who rely on
having a car as a means of transporting stuff that it
can also be done within reason on a bike, right?
Yeah, absolutely – it’s about leading by example.
When we use a bike trailer to collect and pick
up bikes, it always attracts a lot of looks and
comments, mostly positive, and in a small
way it helps to show that it’s possible to carry
cargo without a car or van and makes people
think “maybe I could do that”. And lastly, it’s
also about being positive, that’s so important.
I’ve learnt that negative messages almost always
don’t work. Making someone feel bad about
their carbon footprint or lack of exercise doesn’t
help; supplying them with a bike and enabling
and empowering them to use it does.
It seems obvious from reading on your website
about your environmental policies that the ethics
of Jake’s Bikes is extremely important to you – how
difficult is it running a business whilst still staying
true to these ideals – do you have to make a lot of
Yes and no. It’s not as if I was already running a bike
shop which I decided to try and make a bit ‘greener’,
so in a way it’s not difficult at all. The whole point
of Jake’s Bikes is the social and the environmental.
I used to work at CAT, the eco-centre in Wales,
and then for a couple of other environment and
climate-change related organisations, so by now I
guess it’s pretty ingrained in me, but I’d become
a bit jaded and cynical about environmental
campaigning, and working on bikes is a great
way of doing something positive and tangible
both environmentally and socially, instead of just
banging on about how screwed the planet is.
The really gratifying thing is that the ethical stance
of Jake’s Bikes is paying off, so I feel that kind of
justifies my idealism. Customers definitely like
the ethical stance, and some became customers
as a result of reading our policies on the website.
I think that in an age when everything is
disposable and fast-paced and technology-heavy,
it’s really important to show that repair and reuse
of old stuff is still possible and socially acceptable.
The very existence of Jake’s Bikes in itself
demonstrates the viability of running a recycling based,
environmentally-friendly business. But I’m
not pretending it’s all easy. Buying stock ethically is
difficult. Unfortunately there's just no such thing as
local, organic, fair-trade bike components. All we can
do is re-use or recycle as much as possible and buy
much of our new stock from a family-run supplier. New
components which wear out quickly are also tricky.
Wherever possible I try and persuade people to go
for the long-lived option rather than the lightest or
the cheapest, and there are plenty of things which
I simply refuse to stock on the grounds that they’re
just not designed to last. But the truth is that
modern bikes simply don’t last as long as thirty or
forty-year-old ones, and it pains me to have to
sell stuff which I know will end up in landfill in
five years time, but what else can we do? I comfort
myself with the thought that it’s for the greater
good: at least it’s helping people to cycle, and even
a bike which wears out quickly is still a whole lot
better than driving a car!
Lastly, what does 2010 hold in store for Jake’s Bikes?
Well lots of things I hope! I would
ideally like to be running more in-depth
bike repair classes; having courtesy bikes for
customers to borrow whilst their own is being
serviced; having a fleet of affordable long-term
hire bikes so that people can try cycling for a few
weeks or months without committing to
anything; hiring out cargo bikes, work bikes
and bike trailers of the sort that people wouldn’t
want to own themselves but would want to use
from time to time; having a community pool of
quality kids bikes that could simply be traded
in for the next size up as your child grows...
the list of possibilities is endless, and I would
be delighted if other businesses or organisations
joined in. What’s important is not that Jake’s
Bikes grows to do all these things, but just that
it all happens somehow.
Article appears courtesy of boneshaker, Bristol's new quarterly bike journal. See boneshakermag.wordpress.com
Photographs by Adam Faraday