Internet retail has been with us for over a decade and mail order retail has been with us even longer, yet still the local bike shop has survived and in many cases thrived. In fact, despite doom-laden visions of the future of the independent bicycle dealer, it’s actually very challenging to think of a retail sector that is so well served with independent shops, with circa 2,500-plus IBDs in the UK.
As you’d expect, those 2,500-ish IBDs are an incredibly varied bunch and judging them is, arguably, like comparing chalk with cheese. So why are we doing it here? Simply to name check some of the 20 that have impressed the market and celebrate the sector generally.
So how did we arrive at the final 20? We asked a number of distributors and brands to pick out the bike shops they thought were among the best operating in the UK at the moment. So was our panel just aiming to curry favour with their shops or with retailers they wanted to work with? No – the nominations were made in private with the understanding that those making nominations wouldn’t be named. They didn’t quite take place in a dark room at an undisclosed location, but you get the idea. Through this process it wasn’t long before we began to hear the same shop names cropping up time and again.
Not only that, but we also turned to our readers online for their views, though we did resist any shops that had suspiciously high numbers of votes, judging rather on the quality of the nominations.
And there you have it. In the spirit of celebrating the independent bicycle dealers of the UK, here’s the list of Top 20 IBDs – in association with Cycleguard – that we came up with, in alphabetical order…
Bad Ass Bikes
Is it the in-store wood burner, or the pictures of staffers draped in their undercrackers over bike boxes (via the Facebook feed) that scored Bad Ass Bike so much love from the trade? We can’t confirm or deny those points, but something has certainly made this dealer vastly popular. The aforementioned irreverent social media feed belies a deep-seated enthusiasm for the sector. Bad Ass is an Intense Cycles premier dealer that also carries the likes of Kona, Enve, Chris King, American Classic, Giant and Endura, among others.
Bad Ass recently completed a brand new shop layout which has put the workshop front and centre, so it’s no longer squirreled away behind the scenes. The shop, based a stone’s throw from Bristol, welcomed iconic down hill mountain biker Shaun Palmer for a special event and the retailer also ploughs cash into team sponsorship via the Bad Ass Bikes Intense team. Team rider Andrew Titley managed to win the coveted Masters UKGE title last September.
BaseCamp Bikes is located in Grantown-On-Spey, set near Aviemore in the heart of the Cairngorms. They are a Scottish specialist for Yeti and Banshee, also bringing Lapierre, Turner and Stanton to consumers. Rider owned and operated since 2004, the shop has a race team and also reaches out to local riders with a regular Ride Night on Wednesdays. The firm’s workshop and mechanics is a point of pride, offering suspension service (the only authorised Fox Centre in the north of Scotland) and providing technical support to the first round of the Scottish Enduro series at Tweed Valley. There’s even a baked tattie machine in the shop. Naturally largely focused on MTB, there’s a rumour that BaseCamp Bikes even have a customer gifts leader board, which is probably a fair sign that they keep their punters pleased.
Bike UK Bristol
“Approachable”, “helpful and informed” and “fantastic service” are all the kinds of comments you want to see written about your business in online reviews, something Bike UK of Clifton, Bristol should well know. Also very popular with our distributor pundits, Bike UK has been around a while having been set up in the 1950s, making it one of the more senior retailers on this list. Offering all manner of services designed to make it hard for customers to leave empty handed, including a fully qualified mechanic-staffed workshop, test rides that “you can’t do that over the internet” and a great life servicing offering, Bike UK expanded its physical presence just last year.
C&N Cycles, Redhill
Another shop very popular with the locals, C&N really goes for community engagement. That extends from working with the local YMCA-sponsored cycle challenges to raise money to work with disabled children (offering free advice and bike checks) and Dr Bike sessions with local schools and businesses. But aside from all that community malarkey, there’s a fine cycle retail business at its heart, as this heartwarming email reads: “I’m a veteran cyclist who still remembers the halcyon days of Reynolds 531 tubing and gear changes on the down tube. So modern kit and the plethora of manufacturers can seem foreign to me. All the guys at C&N are obviously keen cyclists and great at explaining the pros and cons.”
Certini is a family-owned business, first established in 2001. The retailer has two Certini branches, one in Plymouth in House of Fraser and one in Saltash, Cornwall. In addition, Certini operates one of the UK’s largest Specialized Concept stores in Saltash (next door) and as if that wasn’t enough, the growing retailer recently opened another Specialized Concept Store, this time in Bristol. From backing local events like the newly founded South West Cycle Sports Show to running clever social media promotions in the 12 days until Christmas, the retailer promises to offer something for anyone, whatever the age or discipline. Boasting over 25 years in the biz, Certini has a huge showroom with a whopping 700 bikes and it has a dedicated ladies section in the shop.
A word from our sponsor
Cycleguard is a specialist cycle insurance provider with over 15 years’ experience in providing cycle insurance cover for all types and level of cyclist.
As well as the individual cyclist, Cycleguard also works hand in hand with hundreds of Independent Bike Dealers, via the Cycleguard Partnership scheme and consequently are pleased to team up with BikeBiz in the search for the UK’s Top 20 IBDs.
Head of Cycleguard, Adrian Scott, said: “Our relationship with IBDs and our years of experience in the market mean we understand the challenges IBDs face and appreciate the added value they can provide to customers. We therefore are delighted to team up with BikeBiz to commend the great service IBDs provide for their customers.”
To find out more about Cycleguard’s Insurance Partnership Scheme, email
firstname.lastname@example.org. Dealers can also visit www.cycleguard.co.uk to receive an instant quote for your cycle insurance cover.
Chevin Cycles is no slouch. Last year it opened no less than two new stores – in Skipton in April and Harrogate in May. The Skipton brand is a Trek Flagship location with 3,500 sq ft, while the Harrogate outlet keeps up the Trek connection with 4,500 sq ft of space. The Otley store came before both. Chevin has been in the business for decades and was among those on this list that received a particularly large amount of praise from distributors.
But it’s not just the cycle industry that are fans of the shop, customers are keen to inundate us with comments about Chevin too. One punter said: “They are completely reliable when I order something. If what you want is not in the store at the weekend you can guarantee a call or text on Tuesday saying your item has arrived. I would not buy a bike from anyone else.”
Selling bikes and kit to keen cyclists is one thing, but selling them to a novice? That’s an altogether trickier prospect, which made this comment all the more encouraging: “Being a very inexperienced rider I found other shops quite daunting, I didn’t understand the jargon and didn’t feel overly comfortable if I am perfectly honest, had it not been for the guys at Criterium I don’t think I would have a bike now.” Mind you, it’s also helps a bike shop’s reputation if it can attract the likes of Jens Voigt to turn up for a Q&A evening in front of 250 people inside the store itself. It’s not the biggest bike shop in Edinburgh, but the retailer, also offering fit services, Trek Project One and plenty more, has its fans inside and outside the trade.
Cycleology (Armagh, NI)
Lauded by a few of our pundits as one of Northern Ireland’s very best independent bike dealers, Cycleology staffers have well over 25 years experience in the trade while the shop itself opened 15 years ago. Not only providing a top notch retail environment, including starting to offer finance (with Ride It Away) and extending its opening hours to accommodate its customers, Cycleology is also a keen cycle community lynchpin, whether sponsoring local festivals or linking to local MTB guides, cycle tourism partners or the Armagh city cyclists group.
Glasgow’s Dales Cycles closely supports the local Glasgow Green Cycle Club which, after only four years, has a whopping 150 active members. The retailer, itself 103 years old, provides support and services for club activities and racing. One pundit said: “The team at Dales are very approachable and will bend over backwards to provide an excellent service, even accommodating emergency repairs in their busy workshop. In the days where online retailers must put an immense pressure on bricks and mortar local bike shops, Dales still excels after many years of business by providing a personal service.”
Dave Mellor Cycles
The Frankwell, Shrewsbury shop has been stocking high-end road, MTB and BMX bikes since 1985. Sporting a product line-up including the likes of Giant, Specialized, Cannondale and more, DMC is another bike shop aiming to provide a vast range for all customers, not least a sizeable shoe and clothing line-up.
DMC has an impressive web presence with a big range of five star glowing reviews on Facebook, Yell and Google, including quotes like “best bike shop I’ve ever used” and too compliments too numerous to list here. Aside from core retail, Dave Mellor Cycles is integral to the local cycle community, involved with the CycleShrewsbury facilities project, Mid Shropshire Wheelers, West Midlands Cyclo Cross, Shrewsbury Sports Village Kids Club and many others.
Hargroves is a six-store retailer operating in the South. Hargroves won the Retail Event award at last year’s BikeBiz Awards for the QE Cycle Fest, a huge MTB demo day at Queen Elizabeth Country Park, which is now in itself six years old. But if you’re tired of reading us banging on, then you’re in luck, as we’re handing the rest of this entry over to one of our pundits: “Hargroves Cycles in Winchester is amazing. They are helpful and always go the extra mile. Great team of staff who are knowledgeable. They can’t always beat Wiggle and Chain Reaction on price but the service goes far beyond what can be offered by the big online companies.”
Leisure Lakes has eight shops in its portfolio and is still a family business, over 30 years since it was established by the four Noy brothers. The expanding retailer is growing its VIP club, luring in customers, and opened its largest outlet yet in Daventry, Northamptonshire in 2013, including the Melo Velo cafe. Reporting a recent increase in MTB sales the firm sees increasing competition as a reason to keep raising the bar in terms of service and product selection. Amongst all the growth and new developments, the firm is pitched around maintaining high levels of customer service. The Bury branch came in for particular praise from one of our secret pundits.
One Planet Adventure
Based in North Wales, One Planet Adventure offers bike hire and café facilities along with retail bikes, a wise move with the Coed Llandegla Forest and its 44km of trails nearby. The shop, 15 minutes from Wrexham, hosts rider courses and even has a classroom for the purpose. A sign that One Planet Adventure means business could well be that the café is producing grub that has been entered into local gourmet challenges – not just a fry up here. With a ten-point support package listing reasons why you really should buy your bike from them, finance options, custom build MTBs and plenty more, it’s no surprise to see One Planet Adventure nominated by the trade again for this list.
Located close to the Wyre Forest, Overspoke started out in wheel building and it’s still a cornerstone of the business on which its foundation rests. Overspoke does of course also offer a wide range of bikes in its showroom, including the likes of Marin, Pyga, Storck and Canfield Brothers and quality kids bikes from Frog. Overspoke Bikes hosts regular MTB and road rides, with both groups joining up at the end of the ride for a drink, likely at the nearby Brewery Bar. Rider owned, the shop has a mantra of only stocking brands it believes in and can provide a high level of support for. It should be no surprise that Overspoke is at the centre of a local cycle initiative by the name of the Bewdley Bike Week, including a full programme of activities including riders, sportive race, Bikeability training for kids and plenty more.
Peddlers, Redcar, Teeside
A self proclaimed “shop for bikers run by bikers”, peddlers offers high quality bikes, parts and accessories and service. Since being set up in June 2008 the shop has seen a number of expansions and renovations with the result that it now has a whopping five cycle show rooms. Rooms are split into different styles of riding, as well as a clothing room with changing facilities. Recent developments include a newly expanded workshop for serving and repairs.
With finance, cycle to work and other options making life easier for its customers, the shop was picked out again by a number of our secret judges while Google reviewers labelled it “a little gem”.
Sigma has probably put in the most appearances on this list in the years since we’ve been running it. But don’t blame us, blame the trade for nominating them. Or better still, blame Sigma Sport for being so consistent. And it’s not just the trade that are behind the Hampton Wick retailer, which has been retailing cycling since the heady days of 1992. One of their own customers put it bluntly why they have nominated the retailer: “For stock range, friendly, knowledgeable staff and velo-porn!” Despite that high-end reputation, Sigma’s self stated aim is to offer a warm welcome and service to beginners and elite athletes alike.
It seems fitting that this list has a combination of newer and older retailers, and few can boast a history quite like Swinnerton Cycles, which was founded during World War One – 2015 being its 100th anniversary. Perhaps more incredibly, it hasn’t moved, instead expanding by buying up numbers 61,67 and finally 73 on Victoria Road (it started in number 69). The family has a proud racing history, but achievements of the past alone do not earn a retailer a place on this list, that comes from offering things like bike fit and excellent service. One customer said he put the staff through an endurance test of a 30minute chat, but they still remained friendly and helpful and he walked out with a bike ordered.
Oxford’s Ubyk is no stranger to our top IBDs list and we profiled the shop in our last mag. Missed it? Then you might not know how Ubyk is blending the online and physical retail experience pretty uniquely in the trade. Singletrack named it showroom of the year and a review pooling platform used by Google Analytics has it as the highest rated bike shop in the whole of the UK with a 4.9/5 rating. Online is where Ubyk started (as ProBuild), based around a self-developed custom bike builder. The business is still focused around the high-end custom market, but also with an ecommerce side that led to the need for a showroom and a motion capture clad bike fitting room. It is one of Santa Cruz’s biggest dealers, a top dealer for Nukeproof and Lapierre and increasingly big in road too.
Stokesley North Yorkshire is where Westbrook Cycles has been plying its trade for the last couple of decades. With a landslide of positive reviews online, we were hit by a deluge of emails and comments praising the store, including this one: “Fantastic service and endless amount of advice from the staff. Nothing is too much hassle for them.” Other readers were quick to point out Westbrook sponsors local events and teams for charity raising activities. While they have a strong online offering, it’s their in-store friendly service and product offering that really marks Westbrook out.
Wheelbase is one retailer that was particularly popular with our undercover pundits. Probably the biggest bike shop on this list if not the biggest in the country (it boasts a 16,000 square footage and hundreds of bikes on the shop floor) it’s located handily at the foot of the Kentmere Valley for MTB, ideal for leisure and road riding Wheelbase’s Big Demo Weekends are also a growing phenomenon. This year’s Demo drew in 300 people for pre-booked rides boasting 120 mountain bikes from a decent cross section of the trade. The Staveley, Cumbria shop offers free bike wash, free hot showers and changing rooms, making a good case to be a hub for riders too. It doesn’t hurt that it is close to Wilf’s Café and a Brewery.
This list was first published in BikeBiz April 2015, which can be downloaded or read online for free.