Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

Bike shops need to cycle into the 21st century

Time was, all bike shops were more or less the same - dim places, floors crammed with drop-handlebar bikes, ceilings festooned with wheels and tyres, walls impregnated with a fug of tobacco, ageing rubber and WD40. The more commercially minded might have a couple of ladies' models tucked away in a corner, maybe a kid's bike or two.

They were run by scrotal-faced men who spoke an impenetrable argot, and whose moods swung between boredom and active contempt. Customers would emerge, blinking in the sunlight, with a sense of bruised puzzlement, and occasionally a bike they wanted.

The Darwinian rules of retail have inevitably pushed this species to the brink of extinction. But - physically and psychologically - these shops are recognisably the descendants of the old breed; even now, you get served by somebody whose principal aim is to let you know how much more they know about bikes than you do.

Velorution, in the West End of London, is different. As you walk in, you immediately notice how uncluttered it feels - the walls, instead of displaying panniers, brake-shoes and locks, have an exhibition of photographs of people cycling: nuns, skinheads, schoolgirls, people walking dogs and, in one case, carrying a kitchen table.

They were taken by Laura Domela in Amsterdam, and are part of a series of events taking place at Velorution under the rubric "A, B or C?" The question is, which great European cycling city is the best model for London - Amsterdam, Berlin or Copenhagen?

The next thing that strikes you is how different the bikes are from the usual racing bikes and hybrids. There is a preponderance of Dutch-style bikes, with hefty frames, sit-up-and-beg handlebars, and wide, generously sprung saddles.

This is a shop for the urban cyclist, and according to Andrea Casalotti, who runs it, "The philosophy is basically that the three main things that urban cyclists are looking for are comfort, reliability, and style."

These bikes are designed to be ridden in everyday clothes, and to keep going for months or years with minimal service. They are bikes to do a job: to get you to work, to get your children to school, to move goods.

Some of the machines - mostly imported from northern Europe - are eccentric: the Dutch Bakfiets, with its front wheel three feet in front of the handlebars, moved by an arrangement of rods; or the Danish Pedersen, with its saddle slung, hammock-style, between handlebars and seatpost.

But Casalotti is optimistic: "London has the potential to become a great cycling city... We are convinced that London will have 20 per cent trips made by bike in the next 10 years. There's no reason why it shouldn't happen." Hope he's right: roll on the velorution.

Velorution, 18 Great Titchfield Street, London W1 (020- 7870 9800)

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