A few weeks ago bike buyers Mark Rose and Joel Natale visited Bobbin Bikes in New York to check out the new range. First they chatted about the brand and then headed out for a ride – here is the account of the day.
Q: What are you doing in New York, aren’t you based in London?
Its raining in London! We’re here to launch our brand, connect with other entrepreneurs and the media and check out the cycle market here. We’ve been selling city bikes for five years direct to the public in London, but we only just started selling to shops in the UK, Europe and North America. Its dead exciting for us as we will be putting many more people on bikes this year, from London to Liverpool, Porto, Toronto, Riga, New York and LA.
Surprisingly, lots of people in New York have already heard about Bobbin, so we feel a tiny bit famous here!
Q: How are you finding cycling here? Is it different from London?
Sian: I was a bit reticent to start with. The traffic seems heavier than in London, but the cars go much slower, in fact its usually gridlocked, so cycling makes perfect sense. There are two amazing closed-off cycle lanes running all around the island which people use for recreation and commuting. The western waterfront on the Hudson is beautifully landscaped and each pier has a different diversion: volleyball, minigolf, trapeze, dog runs. Cyclists seem to use it as a main artery and then cut off onto busier cross streets to get to their neighbourhoods.
Tom: Navigation is easier than London because of the grid layout and its impossible to contemplate the subway once you’ve had the wind in your hair and sun on your face on that cycle path.
We’ve been staying in Williamsburg, which is similar to our neighbourhood in London (Hackney) There are lots of vintage bikes and arty types who cycle because they’re skint and the subway is badly connected there. They all look very beautiful and nonchalant on their bikes! Overall we’ve seen a good mix of people cycling, from city boy triathletes getting in miles in their lunch break to regular commuters, uptown girls with pooches in their baskets, tourists on hire bikes and b-boys on fixies. There are a few eco-warriors too – they shout ‘go green’ when you pass them!
In terms of city cycling, New York is a little behind London. Its not mainstream yet, but there is the same brewing, trend-driven energy around urban cycling.
In 2007 we wrote an article in The Independent about fashion tribes in London and how they’re using cycling to reflect their identity. That article got spun and rehashed so many times and now everyone recognises a London commuter on his Brompton, a hipster on a track bike and retro kid on a vintage bike. We can see this happening in NYC, although there is a little twist here: you see distinct bike gangs riding together for kicks. My favourite so far are the Puerto Rican lowriders: grizzly old rockers with logos on their backs and fur tails hanging from their handlebars!
Q: What’s the Bobbin story? How did you start?
We had an idea in 2007 to import Dutch bikes to London. We had been living in Amsterdam and loved how cycling is totally integral to people’s lives there. You commute, shop, give your mate a backie to the pub. I even moved house on my bike!
At that point it was quite hard to find affordable traditional city bikes in London and things took off pretty quickly for us. We sold our own-brand Dutch bikes and other brands from our shop in Islington, London. It was very hard to get cool bikes and accessories so we made a lot of our products ourselves.
We wanted to sell bikes and cycling accessories in a way that would encourage non-sporty cyclists and novice riders to integrate bikes into their daily routine. We called our shop a bike boutique and merchandised all our wares like a sweet shop! This was a totally new concept and we started to get really busy with customers visiting from all over the UK and abroad to see what we were up to. We also got a lot of interest from the bike trade and bike shop owners would sneak in to get inspiration. That made us laugh because you could spot them a mile off: usually two skinny men with shaved legs pretending to be out shopping together on Tuesday morning!! We also had Commes des Garcons visit in a blacked-out limo. We started to realise we’d created something really special and decided to expand our concept into a global supply business and work with bike shops to get our product to market in the UK and abroad.
Its very exciting for us to see our products in Evans stores. We can now extend our reach so much further.
Q:What’s the Bobbin philosophy?
Transform a journey into magical adventure.
We want each bike we make to be much more than the sum of their parts. We encourage our riders to connect with their bikes and see them as companions. We very firmly believe that a bike can have a personality, a name, even a soul ( if that doesn’t sound too pretentious). Cycling is definitely a soulful activity that can improve your life and its definitely possible to fall in love with a bike. Before Bobbin came along it seemed cycling was only discussed in terms of how fit it makes you and how far and how fast you can go.
We talk about how it makes you look and feel; how it can help you interact with the landscape in a new way. It’s the romance of cycling that interests us.
Q: What makes your bikes different?
A lot of our products are based on classic designs, but we don’t want to just reproduce vintage bikes. They always come with a twist to make them contemporary – pop colours, different detailing. Our customers are always at the heart of our products and we try to give them everything they dream of, and need: gorgeous colours, a rack to carry stuff, mudguards and chainguards to keep their clothes clean etc. We try to make aesthetic products that are super-stylish, have personality, but are also comfortable and practical.
Because we started out selling direct to the public we put all that direct feedback from our customers into our products and that sets us apart from other brands. We have lots of fans and they do love to chat and give us feedback!
Its also very important to us that our bikes are accessible. Its easy to make a beautiful expensive bike. Its much more challenging making a beautiful, affordable bike.
Q: Who rides a Bobbin? Who’s your favourite customer?
We have riders from 12 to 70 years old. 80% of our customers are female, which is pretty unusual in the trade. We do sell bikes to guys though and they range from young commuters to retired leisure cyclists. Young arty professional women are our core customers and they are often so enthusiastic about Bobbin they get all their mates and their boyfriend on one too!
Favourite customers – honestly – if you ride a Bobbin we love you unconditionally.
Although we have to admit that Florence Welsh is a bit of a fave. She keeps her lyrics in a basket on the back of her Bobbin.
Q: What inspires you?
Sian: Cycling at dusk
Tom: Landscape paintings. And http://ridesabike.tumblr.com/
The Bobbin account of our ride:
Today we formed a Bobbin Bicycle Gang. We picked up the Evans boys from King & Grove Hotel in Williamsburg, who have just taken stock of a fleet of Birdies for guest use.
Although we generally sell the Birdie as a ladies ride, there are no rules in Bobbin Land and Joel and Mark quickly man-up to their bikes. The riding position and gearing are really different to a sporty bike: upright so you can see around and drivers can see you. Hub gears for simple and graceful shifting.
Joel was very careful to match his outfit with his bike (sky blue), making good use of the trouser-saving covered chain and mudguards. Top marks.
We show off the Bobbin Straw Pannier and carry the lights and locks.
Off we go, heading south down the Wythe, Kent and Flushing cyclepaths, alongside the impressive old Brooklyn Naval Yard and taking in a funny lo-fi street vending machine selling inner tubes and bike lights (Broadway).
We then break off to Fort Greene passing vintage bikes and clothes at the Brooklyn Flea and onto Boerum Hill and our fave hangout Building on Bond: actress Emily Mortimer’s local. This area of Brooklyn is very beautiful and leafy causing Mark to slip into a Bobbin trance (it happens).
Next up, the Brooklyn Bridge. Although there is a cycle lane its always super-busy with dopey pedestrians, so not generally used for cycle commuting. But today is playtime for the gang so we weave around tourists and stop for a photo of the stunning Downtown and Statue of Liberty views.
The roll off the bridge is such a joy and always makes us think ‘how boring and slow is walking?’ Startling people with your bike bell is fun too.
We twist around City Hall and down one of the classic crosstown streets. It’s all steaming road grates, yellow cabs and city delis. Cutting up Reade, we drop in to see our friends at Adeline Adeline, the Bobbin stockist in Tribeca. We chat a bit about the beautiful clean lines of Julie’s displays and her carefully curated offering. Even the locks look tasty in that shop.
Off we trot up Hudson to West Village. The traffic is very quiet in this part of the city on a Saturday so we merrily chat as we cycle two abreast. It’s very sunny
Next up is Hudson Urban Bikes, or HUB station as it’s sometimes called. Another very New York bike shop but totally different: it’s like a grotto with loads of stock, some museum pieces, lots of people and bikes all over the street. Sort-of organised chaos. Jim Carey bought bikes there last month. We pat the shop dogs and hear that our Bobbin Shoppers are doing well. Like Adeline, it was noted that HUB has rather attractive staff and customers, as well as bikes. Always a bonus.
This is all very stimulating, so we stop for fresh lemonade and a round of mini-golf on the nearby pier.
Of course, we let Joel win.
After our sporting interlude we pick up the pace and steam up the cyclepath to the upper 70′s and cut across to Central Park. It’s impossibly dreamy and we all have a bit of a moment when we stop for a posh drink at the Boathouse bar.
The next bit is a little unclear but I think it involves a sort of high speed chase through the hilly section of the woods.
We laugh a lot then we all realise we’re starving and stop to eat pretzels.
Tranquil Central Park suddenly ejects us into heavy traffic, which is a bit of a shock. Fortunately Broadway has recently been converted into a separate bike line so we decide to cut a diagonal line through Midtown. It’s such a joy and so safe, allowing you to glide cinematically through the impossibly high canyons of skyscapers and into Blade Runner-esque Times Square.
For the umpteenth-time someone shouts ‘nice bikes!’ This time it’s some girls in a stretch limo, so Joel pops a Bobbin flier through the window and there’s a deafening scream. We hot-foot it before he gets pulled in!
The sun is setting, the sky is deep blue and as we reach Flatiron all the buildings on the crosstown street start to glow. Another moment.
Next up a bit of faffing on sidewalks and one-way streets to get to Nolita where we create an urban bicycle fortress with our locks and then stuff our faces with tacos and make a toast with some very camp cocktails.
We then head into the darkness over Williamsburg bridge, with another spectacular view down into Brooklyn and home.
We often talk about city cycling as a cinematic experience, with the scenes rolling along beside you, surround-a-sound and the addition of smell too! In New York this is heightened further, as every street scene seems to be straight out of a movie.