handmade in scotland

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by Alec Farmer

The shop front of Isambard's Cycles in London, Brick Street.

On the corner of Brick Lane in London rests Isambard’s Cycles - an emporium of lightweight British frames and one-off custom builds dating from the 1930s to the 1990s. They build their bikes with a keen eye for quality vintage items; preferring their aesthetics, durability and reliability over cheaper, newly made alternatives.

So what do bicycles mean to you? 

To quote Angela Carter; "Geometry at the service of man!  Give me two spheres and a straight line and I will see how far I can take them".

You must see some interesting repairs.

One example is a Bob Jackson tourer we purchased a few years ago. When we got it back to the shop we found that the previous owner had gone to great lengths to increase the lifespan of some of the components as much as possible; they had wound wax-soaked twine around the wheel axles, headset seals, and bottom bracket axle, to  protect them from the ingress of water, dust or grit.

"charming and a testament to people's love for their bicycle"

It was done very neatly, and it had worked! Despite being much used, the bearings were in fantastic condition. Those sorts of things are really charming and are a testament to people's love for their bicycle.

On the other hand, we had a bike come into us which had had a plastic pump bracket fitted into the stem as a shim for the handlebars, having been ‘repaired’ at a well known high-street bike and car accessory shop. Terrifying...and potentially really dangerous.

A bicycle frame sits inside Isambard Cycle's Shop

What's the most common repair you do?

We do wholesale renovations all the time. Repairs, new frame tubes, paint, component upgrades. Bicycles are such simple machines that a full rebuild or reimagining of a particular machine is an option for many people in a way that simply isn’t the case with a car.

"we can wile away hours goofing over the gnurling on a 1930s brass bolt head" 

Not to mention some of the older components - pre-war stuff in particular - is so wonderfully made, we can wile away hours goofing over the gnurling on a 1930s brass bolt head. Or the still perfect nickle-plating on a hub.

Bringing  60 or 80 year old classic, lightweight bicycles back from the brink and turning them back into beautiful looking, perfectly working machines is often payment enough in itself.

Owner of Isambard's Cycles Tim wears a Wee Lug messenger bag by Trakke

What's the future for cycling as transport?

Well people are cottoning on to the physical, mental and financial benefits in a way they never have before. Coinciding with that (or possibly consequent to it), a lot of money has been spent by the government and local authorities on the infrastructure to support the increase in numbers.

That’s certainly not to say the work is done - our infrastructure is still laughable by the standards of many European cities - but at least by showing willing it encourages a more optimistic view of what the future might look like.

When did Isambard’s Cycles begin?

The shop originated in a bedroom around the corner on the Bethnal Green Road, where Tim was living about 8 years ago while studying for a Masters.  

He started building and selling bikes and components as a way of funding his various habits (coffee, cheese, crossword puzzles) he needed to keep up!

The business grew organically from there. Sarah moved to London and came on board, and as the business grew with the shop first opening in early 2013 a few doors down the road, and then relocating in 2016 to the premises we now occupy in Brick Lane.

The inside of Isambard's Cycles showing a variety of bike frames hanging from the ceiling, cycling memorabilia on the wall and a Trakke waxed canvas bag

Opening up a bike shop in London must have been tough.

The initial bit was the easy bit.  We got a tenancy, bought some extra stock, moved in, opened the doors, and cracked on.  We weren’t sure we’d be there more than a couple of months to start with, so there was no pressure in that sense.  From then the learning curve was pretty steep.

°"it's hard when all you want to do is fix bikes"

The hardest part is probably identifying which hoops you are required to jump through, and then figuring out how to jump through them. It’s the hard part because it’s the most boring. It’s tough to motivate yourself to get a handle on the second-hand goods VAT scheme when all you want to do is fix bikes!

a woman and her waxed canvas Trakke bag sits on top of a bicycle and looks at the camera

Any bike in the world, what do you choose?

That’s a really difficult question. There are so many! Admittedly these are types of bicycles rather than makes or models, but British lightweights - Bates, Ephgraves, Coopers - French randonneurs - Herse - dur, Singer, Routens et al - and 80s MTBs float our boats more than anything else.

What do you look for in cycling equipment?

Well when you’re cycling your focus needs to be on the road and the enjoyment of the ride. Cheap accessories, and components - be that a bag, your tyres, your saddle - mean that a segment of what should be enjoyed is taken up with an awareness of straps digging into your shoulders, or an uncomfortable bottom.  

Tim of Isambard's Cycles wearing his Wee Lug waxed canvas messenger bag cycles into the distance

Tim of Isambard's Cycles wearing his Wee Lug waxed canvas messenger bag cycles into the distance

Why did you choose to stock Trakke?

Aside from their obvious quality, attention to details and durability, the thing that really attracted us to Trakke is their ethos as a company: handmade in the UK and built to last.

We only stock and sell items in our shop that we would be happy to use and ride ourselves. So we don’t stock cheaply made bicycles, components or accessories. When we found Trakke we knew their bags were something we wanted.

And we’ve actually just had a large delivery of Trakke Bags. So please drop in or get in touch via phone or email to find out what we’ve got!

www.isambards.co.uk

240 Brick Lane, London, E2 7EB. Instagram: @IsambardsCycles - [email protected]/ 0207 729 2469

Alec Farmer
Alec Farmer



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