I first discovered the charmingly illustrated website of Bobbin Bicycles through a twitter post last fall, and since then, I’d been craving a visit. Thus, it was a special treat to meet the owners, husband and wife team Tom Morris and Sian Emmison, on my recent trip to London.
What’s so special about this trim little storefront on St. John Street in London’s Borough of Islington? In a word: Romance. A love affair with beautiful bicycles paired with stylish, well-crafted accessories. Bobbin’s customers, says Morris, tend to prefer upright city bicycles; often come from art or design backgrounds; share interests in aesthetics and ecology; and “quite like tweed.”
The owners’ business philosophy combines their fondness of bicycling’s sociability and carefree spirit with a touch of inspiration from the Golden Age of the late 19th century, and an appreciation of the entirely contemporary ease, utility and economy that increasingly attracts Londoners to everyday cycling.
The Need for Tweed
The two were ahead of the curve when they launched their first shop in 2007 as enthusiasm for cycling accelerated, urged on by London’s transit strikes, rising transportation costs and traffic congestion.
“At the time, no one was specializing in Dutch bicycles,” observes Tom. “You’d see a few Pashleys or German-made bikes mixed in with road or mountain bikes.”
Adds Sian, “It was difficult for people to get good service in bike shops, especially women.” Today, she says, 80 percent of Bobbin Bicycles’ customers are female.
It’s an exciting time for the couple, as their accumulated insight into the stylish and practical sides of city cycling is leading to new ventures. They will introduce a line of bicycles under the Bobbin brand at the annual U.S. bicycle industry trade show in Las Vegas in September. In addition, they’ve recently opened a second shop nearby on Arlington Way selling the Globe line of city bicycles. Globe cycles are made by Specialized, the Big-Three company best known for mountain and road bikes.
“For the big companies to be putting resources into this means that something is happening,” Sian observes of recent industry trends.
Service Comes First
If beauty and utility are the soul of Bobbin Bicycles, then customer service forms its heart.
“Although this is a lifestyle product, it’s not like a handbag or a pair of shoes,” says Sian. “The challenge is to match promoting the lifestyle with technical knowledge and service.”
The Bobbin Bikes staff, cyclists all, help customers choose a bicycle, attain the proper fit and equip it for safety on the road and security when parked. The shop services the bicycles it sells, but directs general repairs and maintenance to bike shops nearby. Myddelton Square, a neighboring slip of green, provides a suitably pretty loop for test rides. In addition, the shop is situated along a thoroughfare heavily trafficked by cyclists riding into Central London.
The shop’s product mix, carefully calibrated over the years, includes Bicycles from Pashley, Gazelle, Glorie and more, as well as gear not only from familiar brands such as Brooks, but also private-label items like rain capes made by a Scottish company that sews foul-weather gear for bagpipers. “So you know they’re water-proof,” says Tom with a smile.
Not surprisingly, it was from the cycling-smitten Dutch that the couple drew their earliest inspiration for the shop. The two Brits, both with backgrounds in the arts, met while working on a cycling-related film commissioned by the Dutch Art Board. And the romance continues.