John Hamlen spent 5 months walking along London’s Cycle Superhighways to find the perfect location for his cycle cafe. One day, peering through the window of what was then another cafe, Eat Play Love, he knew he’d found the perfect spot.
As fortunes would have it, a few days after the discovery, Eat Play Love closed down. John started toiling away on his dream. With this being his first ever foray in to retail, and certain the first ever foray in to cycling retail, there was much to learn. Indeed, one of the first big errors was ordering too many high end road bikes. This wasn’t the market he was primarily aimed at. The everyday commuters coming in didn’t want to spend £2000+ on a road bike and the high end roadies were more likely to shop online.
However, lessons have been learnt and each day the cafe is growing in popularity, with the workshop doing especially well. Unsurprisingly, considering the prime location along Cycle Superhighway 8.
Located at 324 Battersea Park Road, Flag Bikes is hard to miss. The store front is enormous. Step inside and you’ll be warmly greeted by John, who’s there 7 days a week, the cafe manager or the resident mechanic.
The cafe is very inviting and after ordering a cappuccino, it was my first destination. It immediately felt like somewhere I wanted to spend more time. John joined me and I started to quiz him on his decision to open a cycling cafe in London.
Born in Essex, John had two passions growing up. Astronomy and cycling. On weekends he would ride to Cambridge and back with his best friend just for the fun of it. Since then, he’s rarely missed an opportunity for a ride, though admittedly since the shop has opened, he’s barely had a chance to get out on his bike.
He admitted that opening a cycle cafe has been with plenty of ups and downs. The ups are meeting interesting customers and fellow bike shop owners of the area, the downs are the difficulties in dealing with suppliers, who won’t return calls. It’s a familiar tale I’ve heard from many of London’s bike business owners.
John gave me a tour of the shop starting at the Top Gear Leaderboard, where he plans on having a monthly challenge on a turbo trainer, to see which cyclists will get the fastest time.
What really caught my attention was a lifetime servicing offer on the bikes on sale. Madness! Other bike shop owners would shout. You buy a bike and aside from the classic 6 week adjustment service widely offered, you can bring your bike back whenever for repairs. The only cost to the customer is any parts that need replacing. John believes its a huge draw for customers and when combined with a free bike fitting for any new bike purchases, it’s a compelling offer.
Continuing the tour and seeing the toilet and the dressing room I was shocked. All I can say is this will probably be the only time I recommend visiting a bike shop just for these two facilities! Easily the nicest I’ve ever seen.
All the elements are here for a successful cycle shop. A great location, a free coffee while you wait for your bike to be repaired, friendly staff and a caring owner – you can see why they’ve quickly gathered plenty of 5 star reviews on Google Maps.
If you’d like to visit, the cycle cafe and shop is located at 324 Battersea Park Road, in a lovely part of London along Cycle Superhighway 8. Tell John that Andreas sent you!
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.