Hackney Peddler

  • Words: Charlie Wood

Just a few miles from the financial capital of Europe in the heart of Central London, a community of skilled creatives and thriving independent businesses occupy the Hackney Downs Studios. In this series of conversations with HDS residents we plot the personalities and sharp entrepreneurial minds which are inspiring London to drop what they’re doing and do what they love.

Hackney Peddler have been repairing and customising bikes at the HDS since April 2013 and in the process have built an impeccable reputation for transforming your rusty two-wheeled nightmare into a one-of-a-kind gem. We spoke to the shop’s owner and founder Alex and its Workshop Manager Kevin about Hackney Peddler’s origins and the rising popularity of biking in Britain.

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So what’s your history of working with bikes?

Kevin: Mine is very minimal. As a kid, fixing punctures and things like that. Mine’s more on the management background. But I’ve really been getting into the cycling. Working in a bike shop you gradually start picking up things.

Alex: I taught myself to fix bikes over the past four or five years. I parted ways with my old job and decided not to go back to work for anyone else, and I slowly started buying bikes, fixing and selling. It all started from there. Many, many nights sat up watching YouTube with a couple of beers figuring out what was wrong with various bikes that I’d bought. I still know relatively little in comparison to some of the mechanics we work with. It’s quite nice because there’s always something new to learn. But it’s also quite intuitive and you can figure things out if you’ve got the brain for it. It’s nice that we have the mix of fixing and then also buying and selling, so the business side of it, but also get your hands dirty. It’s a really good way of relaxing and getting your mind out of the stresses of day to day.

Kevin: It’s cathartic actually isn’t it, taking something that’s broken and making something usable again. Also the idea that this started with fixing a bike in a shed, and now it’s grown into a business, it’s kind of a really nice little idea. We also have a mechanic who bought an old steel bike four years ago and he started working out how to fix that. And then and then he decided he wasn’t going to use his degree he was going to go into bike mechanics, and he went and did his qualifications in that. He’s now a top notch mechanic, and it’s that same kind of thing – people starting with one bike, getting a bit of a bug for it and then growing a career or a company out of it.

 

There’s definitely something special in receiving something hand-crafted which only exists because of a person’s hard work.

Alex: That’s the very rewarding part of it, seeing people happy, and again that feeds into having the same customers coming in and repeat business. We don’t do a huge amount of advertisement or promotions as it’s usually through word of mouth, just doing our work and doing things well. Sometimes we fuck up and we get it wrong, but we try to iron that out the best we can I guess, and it has had the effect that we have – word of mouth referrals and people coming back in, people who were in two years ago coming in for a service or coming in for an upgrade which is quite nice.

 

Have you always operated under the Hackney Peddler name?

Alex: Yes, and it’s kind of expanded and grown.

 

So is it still quite a new business?

Alex: Yeah, relatively new I guess. First two and a half years seems quite a long time but in the grand scheme of things its very new isn’t it?

Kevin: We’re established now though, we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve got over the first few hurdles. Setting up a business, managing to get through the first couple of winters is always tough in the bike industry.

 

Do you see a difference in people’s biking habits between summer and winter?

Alex: Yes, there’s a lot of seasonal variation. You get a lot of cyclists who don’t want to cycle during the winter when it’s miserable and cold outside.
Kevin: Saying that though, we did quite well this winter just gone didn’t we?

Alex: Surprisingly so. Fortunately we are in Hackney as well and there’s lots of cyclists. Apart from a few weeks in December when it was completely dead it was okay. Certainly very different from this time of year, sun’s out and there’s lots of bicycles. But slows down a bit it’s quite nice to have a bit of quiet time at that time of year.

 

It seems like cycling is getting more popular now, why do you think that is?

Alex: The infrastructure in London for cycling is improving on an ongoing basis. Over time we are going to see a lot less cars on the roads, because it’s congested. I think that’s the way things are going, places will become more pedestrianised, certainly in central London. And with rising rents and things, cycling’s a necessary thing to get around and be able to survive in London. If you’re paying 7-800 quid a month on rent, nearly double anywhere else in the country, then a bike is a necessary tool to get around and save on travel costs in the city. Also it’s a lot of fun. Public transport is not that great in Hackney, we don’t have many tube stations.

Kevin: Getting around Hackney as well, the time it takes you to travel on a bike from one part of Hackney to another compared to public transport is like one third to half of the time. I live in Hackney Central – there is a bus route that goes up here, but you’re waiting around for 10-15 minutes for the bus and then 10-15 minutes on that bus, so it takes like half an hour. It takes like 4 minutes at most to ride. Kind of the time thing as well.

 

It’s a health thing as well it seems– people are more aware of their health and how much exercise they get.

Kevin: Things like Bradley Wiggins as well, winning the Olympics. It’s made people think we are a nation of cyclists and we should get into it, winning the tour as well have had a bit of an impact. Last year I was in Harrogate for the tour starting off and there were just so many people who have never been interested in cycling before out in force, and I think it made people think that they should buy bikes. You get a lot of people going to Halfords and spending 250-300 quid and realising 6 months later that it’s pretty shit, and coming back and w