Death of the Local Bike Shop

Death of the Local Bike Shop

Last week I walked by the branch of Evans Cycles, just around the corner from where I work. It had a sign in the window indicating that it would be closing down in May 2024.

The LBS – or Local Bike Shop – is in trouble. Indeed, the entire bike industry is going through something of a “moment”, as the reality of a pandemic-boom leads to a post-pandemic bust. (The Escape Collective had a great podcast series recently explaining what happened.)

Like other forms of retail outlets, the bike industry has not been immune from the pressures of online retail. Consumables that you might have traditionally bought from your local bike shop like inner tubes, chains and cassettes, can be founder cheaper online where reduced margins can be made up for by volume. Those things which had decent margins, and sold in reasonable volumes, were the kind of thing that kept local bike shops ticking over. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

All of this becomes very noticeable when I consider the locality to where I work in the heart of London’s West End.

In 2017, I was spoilt for choice. There were five different bike shops in the immediate vicinity:

But one by one they closed down.

Fitzrovia Bicycles (136-138 New Cavendish Street) was a typical “Local Bike Shop.” Independently run, they did servicing and had a wide array of cycle caps hanging inside the store. They helped me out when I built my own bike back in 2016. They closed towards the end of 2017. I believe that some of the staff may have moved over to Velorution. The premises became a branch of Harris + Hoole which is still operating there.

Cycle Surgery (42-48 Great Portland Street) was a chain that often shared premises with sister brand Runner’s Need. Their Great Portland Street branch was quite small, but had a decent selection of bikes in their basement and they probably sold a few Bromptons as they were an official dealer. Part of the A S Adventure Group who also owns Cotswold Outdoor and Snow and Rock, the branch near me closed in 2018. But in May 2020, the entire chain was closed down. The premises are being converted to the KEF Music Gallery – a showroom demonstrating the high-end audio brand’s products.

Cycle Republic (43 Margaret Street) was a branch of the Halfords owned chain. Their Margaret Street branch was a large basement store with plentiful bikes for sale alongside a range of useful commuter accessories like lights and locks. They were also very helpful for chains, cassettes, lubricants and other consumables. Cycle Republic closed all its stores in May 2020 near the start of the pandemic – ironically, just as the cycle boom started. The premises are still vacant.

Velorution (75-77 Great Portland Street) was a branch of a small chain selling bespoke bicycles. They stocked niche brands including Dutch-style bikes, and cycles with belt drives. They were also early in selling e-bikes – indeed at various points, they opened up a second Great Portland Street location specialising in e-bikes until they seemed to pivot almost entirely towards them. The store also sold stylish cycle clothing and accessories – usually a cut above the other clothing available in high street shops. And I know a number of non-cyclists locally liked to buy coffee from the vendor who was positioned just outside the shop on their front “deck” selling coffee from a cart. Velorution shuttered all its branches in 2023, although a website promises something coming soon. The premises are currently vacant.

Evans Cycles (62 Mortimer Street) is a branch of the chain that has been through a few changes of ownership. FW Evans first opened in Waterloo in 1921, but has changed beyond all recognition (and moved out of Waterloo in 2019). Now part of Mike Ashley’s Fraser Group, where it’s a sister brand to Sports Direct, the offering seems to have dipped a little. As with other Ashley outlets, it does still sell branded products, but it heavily favours in-house brands. While you could still buy consumables and parts for bikes there, including from good brands, useful services like online ordering for in-store pickup ceased. And where once I might have done some lunchtime browsing to see what they had for sale, of late I’d hardly been in there. The Evans chain isn’t closing down – just this branch with its large basement area that included a really decent workshop for servicing. The Fraser Group has just bought the remnants of Wiggle/Chain Reaction Cycles, although this appears to be a branding deal only. But the website is back up and running, and there have been reports about Wiggle brands like dhb appearing in Evans’ stores. A notice in the Mortimer Street branch’s window says it’s closing in May 2024.

From feast to famine

In general terms, it has to be said that the West End of London is now something of a cycling desert for shops. Yes, back in 2017 it did feel as though this little bit of central London was probably over-stocked with cycling shops. But then these were less than 100m from Oxford Street, one of the busiest retail locations in the country. And London has been experiencing a massive cycling boom as serious investment in cycling infrastructure was made. That means an awful lot of people are riding bikes, and most of those will need some kind of support infrastructure for bike servicing.

You only have to look at the large numbers of cyclists using the key Cycleways throughout the city. And the popularity of both TFL’s Santander Cycles and the fully-electric Lime bikes seems to hold no bounds.

Fortunately there are still a few cycle shops to be found in and around the West End.

Cyclefit is over in Store Street, occupying the same location that Cloud 9 Cycles had previously occupied. They seem to be aimed at a more bespoke bike buyer, but do offer servicing. I have yet to visit.

Rapha in Soho sells their own clothing, but you won’t get any parts or accessories there. Similarly Assos on Regent Street sells their pricey cycle clothing, while Pinarello has a store a few doors down that sells their pricey bikes. But none of these are general bike shops who can service your bike.

The next closest bike shop is perhaps the wonderful Condor Cycles over on the Gray’s Inn Road, a brand that has been around since 1948. Today, the shop still offers its own bikes, but also has a wide range of parts and accessories. And they tend to keep most things in stock! If you need that annoying little adapter to allow a Shimano hydraulic bleed kit to work with their road bike hydraulic brakes, Condor will have it. They also have a large workshop for servicing.

There is also the London Bicycle Workshop also over towards Farringdon, while in Covent Garden, there’s Brompton Junction for all your Brompton needs. And as far as I know, the Evans near King’s Cross and St Pancras stations is still open. But now you’re well outside the West End.

London is a big city and there are great bike shops all over the place – from Sigma Sports to the London Bike Kitchen. But the death of the Local Bike Shop – even if they’re chains – means that there are fewer places to get bikes serviced. And yet, with everything from electronic gear shifting to a multitude of bottom bracket “standards” we need to the expertise of the Local Bike Shop more than ever.

Incidentally, the photo at the top of this page comes from another branch of Cycle Surgery that closed down with the rest of the chain in 2020. This is how the Smithfield Market branch still looks today. Needless to say, the premises have not been leased to anyone else in the intervening four years.





One response to “Death of the Local Bike Shop”

  1. Kevin Spencer avatar

    That’s a real shame. Phoenix has a lot of bike shops as it’s a popular hobby here with both mountain bikers and road racers – at least in the winter/spring months when the weather is nice. Side note, when I was back in England a couple months back I noticed my childhood local bike shop had closed.