Future Cycles of Leicester has carved out a niche selling refurbed vintage cycles and parts. It started life as a mechanics’ training scheme, and also operates a seven-days-a-week cycle parking facility in Leicester’s Town Hall on behalf of the city council.
Based in the cafe-and-boutique St Martin’s Square in the city centre Future Cycles is a social enterprise founded in 2010. It employs eight people, most of whom were previously long-term unemployed.
It sells new bikes and modern accessories – there’s a huge wall of Muc-Off products, for instance – but it also thrives from selling refurbished bicycles from the 1950s through to the 1980s, when British-built bicycles were bombproof.
The directors of the business are Tim Hudson (above) and Mark Gannon. They have traded in the same premises since the beginning.
“We started here six years ago,” said Gannon, pointing to the floor. “We started in this half of the shop, and later expanded.
"We started as training only. To keep hold of the premises we were told to pretend to be a shop. So, we started pretending to sell things, and it turned out we sold things, and then more things. We ended up changing our training area to another location, and this shop became fully retail only.
“We did well and started renting the unit next door, which had been empty. We had the wall knocked through.
“About the same time we were asked by the city council to tender for taking on the Bike Park, a cycle parking facility.”
Both sides of the business are close to each other, with repair jobs wheeled across from St Martin’s Square to the imposing Town Hall. (Leicester also has a City Hall – the city council runs both.)
“We started out with me as the only full-time employee,” continued Gannon, pictured above. “Now we have eight employees. Most of them have come to us from schemes for the long-term unemployed.
“The niche we’re in is vintage refurbs, usually old three-speed bikes. We make them work, clean them and give them a bit of a polish.
“A lot of people would rather have a quality older bike than a new Bicycle Shaped Object from a supermarket.
“We get them from a variety of sources, but mostly private collectors. There’s one chap we know who’s got four barns full of thousands of bikes, including what must the country’s largest stockholding of Moultons.
“Sometimes we get bikes in part exchange, and we also advertise the fact we’ll rescue old bikes. We call these “zombikes”, bikes brought back from the dead. It might not be economical for customers to repair and refurbish these bikes themselves but we’ve got plenty of manpower thanks to the training schemes we run."
Unlike some other vintage refurbishment businesses which sell online, nationally and internationally, Future Cycles sells most of its vintage bikes in Leicester itself.
“We mostly sell local,” said Gannon. “When the fixie craze was at its height we did get people travelling from all over the place to get to us but we’re now mostly selling to people in Leicester. Occasionally we’ll eBay stuff if it’s of special interest or it’s something we’ve ended up with a lot of. So, if we’ve got five or six similar types of bicycles one or two may go on eBay.
“We’ve found a niche where we don’t have to compete with the big boys. We have lots of hard-to-find stuff, things that you don’t find for sale much any more."
Two glass cabinets either side of the shop are groaning with old parts, yet in surprisingly good condition, many of them still in original packaging. Price stickers on the parts demonstrate that this isn’t second-hand tat, it’s collectable P&A.
Placing his nose near the merchandise, Hudson said:
“We’ve got some still-in-the-box Chater-Lea cranksets, with chainrings that have never been mounted.
“We’ve got boxed Campy pedals and Alfredo Binda leather toe-clip straps still in original packaging. We’ve got square-tapered bottom brackets. We’ve got a nice vintage Chorus bottom bracket, all still wrapped up; Pifco electric horns; Lucas dynamo lamps.
“If people are doing their own vintage refurbs this is the kind of stuff they find very hard to get. On eBay you can’t see it properly, you can’t touch it. Here you can. We’re selling stuff you can’t buy on Wiggle or in Evans."
Gannon, a former semi-professional rugby player, added: “We also sell new bikes. We sell more Dawes ladies' bikes than we do gents'.”
However, the shop is best-known for its zombikes:
“The old three-speeds are relatively maintainance free, they’re built like tanks and they go for ever," said Gannon.
"If all you’re doing is pootling around town, or to and from university, they’re ideal. They were also made by people being paid a decent wage.
“How many bikes made today will still be serviceable in 50 years’ time?”