“We've seen new bike shops open in Waltham Forest in the last couple of years and they seem to be prospering,” Paul Gasson of Walthamstow Cycling Campaign told BikeBiz. “I know many people who have recently started to use bicycles for some journeys, and it's clear bike demand has been hugely stimulated by the wide-ranging infrastructure changes taking place.”
One of these infrastructure changes is taking place right outside Mamachari Cycles: a protected cycle lane is being installed where before there were parking spaces. Mamachari co-owner Noah Fisher isn’t complaining. “We’re losing the ability for cars and vans to stop right outside the shop. There will be new provision for loading and waiting on the side roads ten metres away. Delivery drivers are complaining. They like to open their doors exactly on to the entrance of a shop.”
Could the delivery driver’s loss be Fisher’s gain? What impact does hard cycle infrastructure have on a bike shop’s bottom line?
Waltham Forest is famous around the UK for the installation of its mini-Holland scheme, part of a programme to improve Walthamstow for residents. Not all have been in favour of the remodeling – when, in September 2015, the mini-Holland scheme was opened protestors carried a mock coffin along Orford Road, much to be bemusement of the Dutch ambassador for whom this was his first official engagement. Protestors claimed the traffic calming on the road would lead to the “death” of Walthamstow village. As it has turned out, the road is now a haven of tranquility.
The "filtering" of Walthamstow Village accounted for a small proportion of the £27m mini-Holland spend in Waltham Forest, which also includes £18m on the Lea Bridge Road cycle superhighway, plus four town-centre schemes, and many cycle parking hubs, with over 100 on-street bike hangers.
“Not everyone’s happy about the changes,” said Tony Wade of the one-year-old Walthamstow Cycles. “But you can’t please everybody. Those in cars ought to realise that not everybody drives. Neither of my neighbours drive. It’s now becoming normal to see bikes parked outside houses [in Walthamstow].”
He doesn’t believe the street remodeling has led to the traffic meltdown predicted by protestors. “I take a van out once a week to collect broken bikes and, if I leave after 7.30pm, I have no problem getting around the whole of the borough. It’s just the rush hour where there’s a squeeze. It seems like lot of motorists from outside of the area were using the borough to get through at rush hour, and they still do, but now it’s not so easy for them to use some roads as cut-throughs.”
Wade opened retail and workshop premises in Walthamstow after having traded as a mobile mechanic for the previous three years.
“A few bike shops have sprung up [in the local area] over the last couple of years; before that it was a desert. Business is really good. And we see growth going forward.”
He added: “Bikes are becoming lifestyle accessories around here. There’s a younger generation moving in; they’re in their 30s, they’ve got kids, they want to be able to cycle around. People have been moving out here from Stoke Newington and Hackney way. The demographics are changing, and the [Waltham Forest] council is now providing for what a lot of people want.”
Fisher agreed: “There are more and more young families moving in, people with two or three kids – including myself. Young professionals who want to be homemakers, and coming from places like Hackney. These people had bikes, now they want them to carry kids. They can see the investment in cycling going on, not just cycle lanes but also cycle parking. Walthamstow Central [station] is now packed with bikes.”
Fisher welcomed the infrastructure changes – which are by no means finished. “Having lived here for seven years there is a noticeable increase in the visible provision for cyclists on roads and in the number of people using bikes in Waltham Forest to go to work, to get to the station, to get around. Whether that is wholly attributable to the investment in mini-Holland or other investments such as other cycle provision in other parts of the borough is hard to pin down. But there are definitely more people using bicycles.”
Mamachari Cycles specialises in refurbished, economical and practical Dutch-style bikes (“Mamachari” is Japanese for the “mum’s chariot” bicycles popular with both sexes in Japan) and opened first in Dalston, in 2013. The Walthamstow shop opened in 2015, and is now a Brompton stockist too.
“We sell a lot of new bikes in Walthamstow. The council is very much on trend because cycling is growing in the borough. Those here who are anti-mini-Holland won’t ever cycle themselves, they are wedded to their cars, and that’s because the borough isn’t as dense as others, and there has always been lots more space here to drive around, and there has been a heavy reliance on getting everywhere by car and being able to park a car wherever you wanted to stop. People got used to that; shops got used to that; customers got used to that.
“For the new wave of residents, motoring isn’t so important. I’ve found the investments have improved the quality of life in the area. I use the new cycle infrastructure every single day, taking my kids to school.
"It’s not just the headline mini-Holland scheme, a lot of rat-runs have also been closed off. The segregated cycle track outside my shop has only just started, and is due for completion within a couple of months. Will it lead to more business for our bike shop? It will be many years before the full impact is felt. There’s so much of it still to build across the borough. But I’m very optimistic. Business has been strong so far, and cycling [in Walthamstow] is absolutely on the up.
“I don’t necessarily support everything the council does for cycling. I don’t give them a carte blanche just because I own a bike shop – I look at each development on a scheme by scheme basis – but there’s a huge amount of potential in Walthamstow which I think we’re only just starting to capitalise on.”
Fisher doesn’t believe the mini-Holland scheme will lead to lots of extra bike sales, but it’ll generate steady demand for workshop services.
“Selling clothes and bikes relies on the weather, but the workshop is pretty steady all year round,” he said. “It’s our one constant. If more people cycle, and there’s better provision for cycling, then people are more likely to continue cycling even through winter. It’ll take time before we see whether the infra is pulling new people into cycling, but it’s encouraging those already with bikes to cycle more, and they’re buying more parts and accessories and getting us to maintain their bikes more.”