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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with Bobbin Bicycles.

Tom Morris, co-founder of Bobbin Bicycles, talks to me about Pashleys, the Tweed Run, their new bespoke repair shop, designer collaborations and why you shouldn't give up cycling for winter.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Natasha-Thompson-Bobbins-Bicycles-Girl-Cape-Illustration
Bobbin Bicycles by Natasha Thompson.

I first heard of Bobbin Bicycles just over three years ago, when as a nascent bespoke bike company they contacted me to suggest featuring some of their imported upright Dutch bicycles in my Amelia’s Magazine fashion spreads. This was a canny move from husband and wife team Tom Morris and Sian Emmison because I am a big fan of cycling and we shot Bobbin Bicycles several times for the final print issues of the magazine.

Bobbin Bicycles tom and sian
Tom and Sian in Bobbin Bicycles. All photography by Amelia Gregory.

Today Bobbin Bicycles has grown into a well known business that employs six people and is set to open a bespoke and vintage bike repair workshop. They’re launching their own brand of upright Bobbin Bicycles in Australia, to be followed shortly thereafter in the USA and are set to produce their own brand of Bobbin Bicycles branded panniers and capes. They’ve quickly become the go to people for the kind of upright bicycle that is increasingly favoured by townie types looking for sturdiness and style, and indeed they’re so busy that Sian barely has time to say hello as she poses for a photo before returning to the phones in her subterranean office below their lovely shop in St John Street, Islington in North London. Instead I catch up with the lovely Tom in the basement of their bulging store to find out a little bit more about Bobbin Bicycles.

Alexis-West-Bobbin-Bicycles-tom morris
Tom Morris by Alexis West.

The love affair with bikes (and with each other) began long ago in Amsterdam.
Both Tom and Sian were fine artists living abroad who fell in love with riding Dutch bikes. It was about a whole lifestyle that was old fashioned, elegant, relaxed and most of all sociable, for in Amsterdam it is not uncommon to ride in groups and chit chat along the way. They were commissioned to film a bike race for the Dutch Arts Council, and the rest, as they like to say, is history.

Fast forward to 2001. London. The daily grind.
On their return home to the big smoke Tom found work in advertising, and Sian worked for cult furniture company SGP, which is based on Curtain Road. But they dreamed of something more… and so in-between freelance work they started to import bikes from Holland. At first this meant touring around Holland in a van to pick up bikes which they shipped back to the UK to sell from a storage unit. Within weeks they had moved onto Eyre Street Hill in Farringdon, where they shared a space with watchmakers and jewellers.

Bobbin Bicycles bells

Their glamourous “atelier showroom” was a bit like a Turkish gambling den.
No one else had thought to specialise in Dutch bikes and soon their appointment only showroom was so popular they were selling ten bikes a day. Being well schooled in the ways of branding they targeted their customers with great care: Tom draped a curtain over the grottier bits of the workshop and played nice music. Customers got the “wow” factor when coming in off the street and soon the national newspapers started to call when they wanted a story about upright bikes.

Pashley began to stalk them.
Bobbin Bicycles had moved to Arlington Way by the time that Pashley paid them a secret visit. Thinking that not everyone wants a Dutch bike Tom had already approached the well known British brand, but he was unaware of the mutual interest. Pashleys are smaller in size and offer more gears, plus they offer the added bonus of all British manufacture UK. Fast forward to 2010: Bobbin Bicycles now operates from a lovely little shop in Angel and is one of over 100 UK stockists of Pashleys, but who else can boast their very own exclusive colour range? At Bobbin Bicycles you can now pick up the Pashley Provence in a special mint or mustard colourway.

Bobbin Bicycles
It doesn’t really look like your average bike shop does it?

Upright bikes have become a lot more fashionable of late.
As more cyclists take to the roads many are choosing to ride sit-up-and-beg bikes of the type that Bobbin Bicycles sell, and lots more bike manufacturers are “having a pop” at simple upright bikes. Downstairs Tom shows me some new Globe bikes made by the huge company Specialised. People are now making appointments to visit Bobbin Bicycles from as far away as LA and Russia. *NB: I do not condone travelling across the world to purchase a bike. But definitely buy a bike. Everyone should have one.

Bobbin Bicycles baskets
Piles of baskets in the basement of the shop. Did you spot my book?

Steel or aluminium? Why, what’s the difference?
Pashleys are made with a beautiful thin lugged steel frame, but most modern bikes are made from lightweight aluminium that makes for a more juddery ride, though they are definitely not as heavy when lifting up steps. Bobbin Bicycles can cater to all your upright wishes and stock a huge range of brands including the wonderfully named Swedish Skeppshult.

London has way more cycling tribes than other cities.
In other cities the cyclists tend to look quite homogeneous, but here in London we have many different identifiable types. Tom was amongst the first to label the big three cycling tribes for an article in the Independent. The Traditional, Fold-up and Fixie tribes can now be broken into multiple subsets and mash ups, including the Fixed Tweed tribe.

Tweed Run by Emma Raby
Tweed Run by Emma Raby.

Bobbin Bicycles ran a tea stop for this year’s Tweed Run.
The Tweed Run is perfectly Bobbin: an annual celebration of all things upright and traditional about cycling. This year they presented a prize for the best decorated bike to a lady from Holland, who arrived with an old 70s shopper decorated with a multicoloured knitted saddle cover and matching dress guards on the back wheels.

Tweed run by Maria del carmensmith
The winning bike by Maria del Carmen Smith.

Boris bikes. Good news for Bobbin Bicycles.
Tom loves the idea of cycling into town on Boris bike and then getting a cab back. Or simply having the option to avoid the horrors of the night bus. Even though the amount of money spent on cycling in the UK is a fraction of what is spent in countries such as Denmark, Holland and Germany the new London bike scheme will undoubtedly encourage more people to cycle. Here’s how it goes: people will try them out instead of investing in a cheap bike from Halfords. Once they get into the idea of cycling they will realise how heavy and unwieldy the Boris bikes are and will decide to graduate onto something nicer. Hopefully a Bobbin Bicycle, for instance.

boris bike by vicky yates
Boris Bike by Vicky Yates.

Collaborations are good fun.
In the cabinet behind me are wonderful bowler and deerstalker hats designed to fit over helmets. They were made by the historically influenced milliner Eloise Moody, who has also created a sexy reflective nurses cape. Bobbin Bicycles will launch their own range of panniers and capes for spring 2011, and the shop stocks lots of small boutique brands you would not find elsewhere. They’ve provided bikes for a Mark Ronson video and the newspapers always come knocking when they want to borrow a pretty upright.

Abi Daker - Eloise Moody - bikes
Eloise Moody by Abigail Daker.

They are moving back to Arlington Way.
Well, in a manner of speaking. The shop in Angel is bursting at the seams and they’ve decided to open a new workshop on Arlington Way in October, just three doors down from their previous location. Dedicated Bobbin mechanics will specialise in the servicing of vintage bikes and hard to get components such as hub gears. But all cyclists will be welcome.

Bobbin Bicycles jewellery
Bobbin Bicycles jewellery.

Vintage Goodwood here we come.
Bobbin Bicycles have provided Vintage at Goodwood with a fleet of promotional bikes so that they can flyer all over town. They have a pitch at the festival alongside the Old Bicycle Company from Essex – which specialises in Penny Farthings. Sadly, here we don’t come. Amelia’s Magazine has not been made welcome at Vintage at Goodwood. (read more here)

Bobbin Bicycles wall
Zoë Barker did this. She also draws for us. What a gal. Lovely stuff.

The independent bike shops all get along.
And why not? They all specialise in their own thing, and quite often a boyfriend and girlfriend will come into Bobbin Bicycles with different ideas of what they want to ride. The girl wants an upright, the boy wants a fixie. So they send him down the road to Condor Cycles or up the road to Mosquito. Yes, 80% of their customers are female, possibly down to the attitude and service of Bobbin staff, which is deliberately very accessible and non technology based.

Winter Cycling by Joana Faria
Winter Cycling by Joana Faria.

Top tips for autumn and winter cycling.
Many people are merely fair weather cyclists (not me!) but cycling through the British winter will keep you warm. You’ll arrive at work with a good feeling inside, blood pumping, ready to get down to business: you don’t get that from sitting on an overheated bus. But make sure you have decent lights because they’ll make you feel really smug when it gets dark early. Get a good cape to whack over the top of your clothes if it’s raining. Waterproof trousers are not a good look but leather jackets are. They keep the wind out and they look good too. Stay on your bikes! Honestly, it’s by the far the best way to travel at all times of the year. And I speak from experience.

You can visit the friendly staff of Bobbin Bicycles at 397 St John Street, London, EC1V 4LD or you can drool over their website here. And do say hello at Vintage at Goodwood.

Bobbin Bicycles SHOP

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8 Responses to “An interview with Bobbin Bicycles.”

  1. What a fantastic post Amelia, you’ve captured the essence of Bobbin Bicycles perfectly. It’s one of my favourite shops in London and it’s great to see them getting the attention they deserve.

    Your team of illustrators are a talented bunch and really added a smile and some beauty to my lunch break: thank you!

    See you out on the roads on your bike sometime, or perhaps even on next year’s Tweed Run? (for my review of that fabulous sartorial affair see here.

    Happy cycling!

  2. Amelia says:

    Aw thanks, that’s so nice to hear, and I am sure the illustrators appreciate it as well. Please do keep in touch with your events too x

  3. Lady Vélo says:

    This is such a gorgeous blog post – from the interview to the illustrations… love it.

    I’ve yet to visit Bobbin Bicycles on my Pashley yet, but reading and seeing this is making me want to go as soon as possible!

    Lady Vélo.

  4. [...] illustration was created for an article on Amelia’s Magazine about Bobbin Bicycles. I drew Eloise Moody, who creates rather charming [...]

  5. [...] 11, 2010 in art & girly stuff by Joana Faria ♥ My latest contribution to Amelia’s Magazine. This time for an article on the lovely Bobbin Bicycle boutique, a London-based company that [...]

  6. Oakman says:

    Lovely article & wonderful illustartions. A smile to start the day
    Thank you

  7. James says:

    One can scarcely imagine a lovelier page on the internet. Thanks to absolutely everybody involved.

  8. [...] illustration was created for an article on Amelia’s Magazine about Bobbin Bicycles. I drew Eloise Moody, who creates rather charming [...]

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