Edinburgh Independent Bike Shops - Kinesis Bikes
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Edinburgh Independent Bike Shops




EDINBURGH INDEPENDENT BIKE SHOPS



By Markus Stitz

There is a lightness in the air while I cycle from my flat in Canonmills in the centre of Edinburgh towards Portobello. After a few days research I have created a map of independent bike shops, which are open to people during the lockdown restrictions in Scotland’s capital. Classed as essential businesses they have kept the country cycling in the crisis.







It’s a lovely day, with a slight breeze in the air. It’s been unusually warm and dry in lockdown in Scotland, so I use my tour around the city to test a Kinesis Range e-Bike while cycling in between shops.



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Above: Walter Hamilton, Velow Bikeworks

‘I wish I had more of me to keep up with demand’. There is an interesting theme going through my first conversation of the day with Walter Hamilton, owner of Velow Bikeworks, who proudly poses next to an old ‘Flying Scotsman’ from one of the many customers he serviced. Walter and I have become friends in the last year since he moved into his shop space at Tribe Porty, a busy co-working space and my office in ‘normal times’. But these are not normal times, so the steady stream of people in and out of Tribe has been replaced with an additional outdoor working space for William Griffiths, who helps Walter to cope with the demand.




Below: William Griffiths, Velow Bikeworks

‘I was at full capacity and William turned up with his own bike stand.’ William, 18 years young, had been looking for employment in bike shops, and sees this as a great opportunity to get the experience he needs. ‘Most places were full, so no one was really hiring at that time, but now…’



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Above: Javier de Zavala, The Bicycle Works

The now is different, which is apparent in all eight bike shops I visit on my cycle around Edinburgh. The first thing I can spot while I approachThe Bicycle Works is the big yellow barrier tape at the entrance. The door is open, and I keep my distance while patiently waiting on the left side of the entrance until Javier has served his customer, who puts a rear wheel back into his bike. ‘It’s been as busy as always. The only difference is that we have less people working.’ Different to Velow the Bicycle Works hasn’t seen a sharp increase in repairs and customers, but with limited space and personnel and slower deliveries times repairs take longer.

In the shop physical distancing is the key priority. The yellow barrier tape outside makes it clear not to enter the shop for customers, although some people walk straight into it, Javier explains to me with a smile on his face. Now with two mechanics in the shop they use masks whenever they need to talk to each other, and gloves are changed after each job. The safety of staff and customers has first priority. ‘Basically everyone wants to ride a bike, and everyone has had punctures by now.’ Javier is optimistic for the time after lockdown, and that all of those people who have recently dusted off their bikes will use them more often.



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It’s a lovely afternoon, and I am back on the bike myself. Morningside, one of Edinburgh’s most sought after locations for houses, is home to another small shop. When I approach the front door appears locked, with an orange piece of string strapped across it. I carefully knock on the window and hear a short ‘come in’ from the inside, where I find Andy Rutherford on his bike stand servicing a gravel bike. This is the third bike shop I visit, and there seems to be a recurring theme here so far - beards. As Andy’s beard, and mine, have significantly increased since lockdown came in place, he struggles to make the connection first.




Shop Above & Pictured Below: Andy Rutherford, Bike Morningside

I have been in Andy’s shop before for a chat, this time I stop with a good distance and touch nothing other than the door handle. His beard has increased proportionally to the volume of his work. There is a seasonality in here, Andy explains, but the surge in work due to the better weather came a few weeks early this year. His initial fears were that bike shops wouldn’t be classed as essential businesses, which would have been ruinous for his own business. ‘It’s slightly awkward. So many of my friends and people that I know are bored and are furloughed from work, or working from home in slightly different circumstances. I am exactly the opposite, almost too busy. There are not enough hours in the day to fix all the problems I have. It feels good to do something that’s genuinely useful.’ Amongst all the other key services he is really pleased to help people. I am interested in the most eccentric bike he has seen in the last weeks. While there hasn’t been anything too special, a lot of bikes that have been more than a decade old. ‘A good quality bike will always be there, even if it’s quite old.’



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I ask the question again at my last shop for today. Hart’s Cyclery in Corstorphine is located on the western end of the city, and sports a stag in a cog as its logo. With only one customer allowed in the shop, I enjoy the sunshine before stepping in. For the first time in the last ten weeks Graeme has taken a few days off over the bank holiday weekend to breathe. ‘We are booked two to three weeks out all the time. We always do punctures on the spot, and try to fit in smallish stuff. I have never sold bikes like this before’, Graeme tells me with a smile on his face. As long as it is the right size and roughly within the budget, customers are not too picky about their purchases. While he can still get bikes from mainland Europe, he sells Gazelle, a dutch brand, and Focus, a German brand, pretty much all stock from the UK distributors up to £600 - 700 is now sold out.




Shop Sign Above & Pictured Below: Graeme Hart, Hart’s Cyclery

‘People are generally quite happy that they can get a bike.’ And while e-Bikes are more readily available still, customers have to settle on what’s available, not the exactly the bike they are looking for, unless they are prepared to wait at least till August. I am still looking for an exotic bike that has been handed in for a service, but my hopes are again disappointed. For today I settle and leave Graeme for a well-deserved end to his busy day and cycle on.



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My search for the most interesting bike continues the next day. Gamma Transport Division, short Gamma, has been as hectic as any other bike shop so far. Gavin Brough has never seen service levels like this. The sharp rise in demand and the increased delivery times have proved a challenge for him and the team. The nice weather has also played a role, people simply want to ride their bikes.




Shop Sign Above & Pictured Below: Gavin Brough, Gamma

Various phone calls add to the time lost that could otherwise be used for repairs, but ‘if that’s all I am complaining about, that’s not much.’ We both agree, and I am trying my luck again, looking for the most unusual bike. ‘I would say something that was probably from World War II that a chap brought out. It was lovely, but it literally lay in a salty damp basement for most of its life.’ While it proved a challenging project, Gavin gave the bike new life, and made its owner happy. Wiping down the bike and using gloves he gives my Kinesis a short test ride around the cobbled streets of Stockbridge, and is genuinely impressed. It’s my second day on the bike, and I am not sure if I will ever return it.



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I take my time on my way to the next shop to reflect. Researching this story has been one of the happiest tasks for me in the weeks since lockdown started, and it reminded me of the fact that every crisis comes with opportunities. For me those come two-fold. Not only do I get to tell a positive story about local bike shops, I have also finally experienced the joy of riding an e-bike around Edinburgh. While there is a bit more wind today to cool me down, the weather has been warm for the last few days. And by now, cycling up the hills from Stockbridge in Edinburgh’s New Town to Haymarket, I would have been a sweaty mess.



When I arrive at The Bike Smith, I still haven’t shedded a single drop of sweat. I get my small bottle of hand sanitiser out before entering the shop. I am as careful as possible, but this time there is no chance of getting too close to Craig Aitken, as he seems to have barricaded himself behind loads of bike boxes, seemingly all recent deliveries.




Pictured Below: Craig Aitken, The Bike Smith

As every person I have spoken to so far, he is polite and happy to speak. Craig’s experiences are in line with the other shops I have visited: a huge surge in servicing and entry level purchases, difficulties in keeping up with the demand. Like some of the other shops he sells a mixture of new and second hand bikes. His most unusual bike has been a handbike, and he has seen a general rise in the sale of e-bikes, not just in the last few weeks. The value for money has significantly increased for e-bikes in his opinion. I agree with him and make my way to the last two shops on my journey through the capital.



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Above: Andrew Armour, East Side Bikes

Andrew Armor is not only a familiar face in the local bikepacking scene, he also runs Eastside Bikes and builds his own frames. Like every other shop owner, he sports a beard and welcomes me with a big smile. ‘Things are kind of normal, except I couldn’t go to the pub and had a million bikes to fix, so I worked flat out.’ Is that the new normal? Well, he at last managed to squeeze in a few bike rides himself. Demand has dramatically risen. He thinks that he has only seen a third of the customers that have visited recently before. Most of them have come to get their old bikes fixed, or to buy a second hand bike. Having less staff due to the limited floor space proves a challenge, but as in the other shops there is a genuine will to try to service as many customers as anyhow possible. We come back to speak about the amount of new customers, and Andrew thinks that if only a third of the new cyclists will keep cycling, this would be a huge success. He has seen a rise in the popularity of bikes after the financial crisis of 2008. So what about the current boom? ‘It’s an absolute crazy volcano.’ Before I leave I have a different question, as Andrew is a frame builder. What would be the Covid bike, if he would build one? ‘A cargo bike, possibly electric, possibly not. Extremely practical, extremely durable. A replacement for a car. It’s not a frame builder niche thing.’ Interesting thoughts, on which I mull over on my way to the last shop on my journey, the one closest to home.



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Above: Euan Macdonald, Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative

Euan Macdonald looks tired but happy when I step into the shop, while his staff close the doors and lock us in. He didn’t have time to speak to me during the opening hours, but is happy to spend a few more minutes after the shop is shut. I know Euan well, there have been many times he and his staff have helped me after small disasters before races. ‘Business has been good, but maybe not quite as good as people expected it to be.’ This is possibly not a surprising answer for a shop that relies much more on new bike sales than the other businesses I have visited.

At the same time everyone here has shares in the company, so a collective effort results in collective success. As everyone else the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative has been incredibly busy with servicing bikes, but running out of stock at the same time became a challenge. Waiting lists on turbo trainers and child seats are long, as demand ‘went from nothing to absolutely through the roof. A lot of patience is required from everyone involved.’ But even in challenging times, he and his team are still happy to deal with more complicated warranty issues. Budget 26inch bikes that were sold about ten years make their way back to the shop, and seemingly out of nowhere the demand for spare parts like 26inch tubes and tires has created shortages. The business has seen a ballooning in bike sales, replaced now by long waiting times of up to 20 weeks, for example for Brompton bikes. And selling bikes has become more time-consuming due to the measures put in places. But the challenges are outnumbered by the opportunities: ‘If even a fraction of people who are either taking up cycling or coming back to cycling now stick with it, and realise the benefits of it, and the potential of it, we could find ourselves in a very different country in a year’s time.’ There’s no better quote to end my mission, so I wave goodbye and leave Euan to a much deserved rest.



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The words from him conclude two positive days and leave me with a lot of hope. The only hope that has been crushed on my 60 kilometres around town is to shed a single drop of sweat on the Kinesis Range. I try again while cycling up the steepest incline I can find up Calton Hill, to see my home town in a different, much more positive light after weeks of gloomy news. And while I succeed in enjoying the views, I conclude that the sweat has to wait until the next race I enter on a singlespeed bike.

Markus Stitz



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Markus Stitz has cycled around the world on a singlespeed bike in 2015/2016, and has since written, photographed and filmed cycling in many shapes. He is the founder of Bikepacking Scotland, runs Dirt Dash events and enjoys adventures around the globe.



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