What are you up to this weekend? The Bike Shed…

Probably one of the best compliments you can pay a hub of cool like The Bike Shed is that it gives you instant hunger to ride a motorcycle. Or to rush out and buy a Triumph or a Norton. Submerged in the railway arches in the trendy central London district of Shoreditch you not only wish you’d been able to ride something into the parking bays (that see fanciful custom jobs parked next to the most mundane Japanese commuters) but then also remain quite affected by this unique locale as you stroll by the many bars, bistros and cafés that crave your attention in the zone around Old Street afterwards.

Beginning life as a popular Blog, expanding to annual shows and ‘meets’ in London as the custom/vintage/retro interest in motorcycling boomed and went more mainstream in the last half decade, The Bike Shed as a literal site has been in existence for just over a year and was the gestation of Anthony ‘Dutch’ and Vikki Van Someren; the couple now in charge of a behemoth that mixes lounge, event space, restaurant, retail and barbershop.

Prominence on social media and a growing presence and profile in the motorcycle industry – particularly in the UK – means ‘TBS’ was a place or an idea that beggared more investigation. Having had numerous coffees and bought some of the apparel at Deus Ex Machina on Los Angeles Venice Boulevard, marvelled at some of the gear at Roland Sands’ HQ in Los Alamitos, sampled a couple of plates at Rome’s Ducati Café we wondered if The Bike Shed was a place or concept that would capture something of the same vibe of motorcycling. Outside of a forward-thinking dealership where would you find a location like this?

It seemed only natural to acquire some time with Dutch – the main string-puller behind this burgeoning empire but we were thrown somewhat by the interiors of TBS on arrival. The décor, shop, machinery on display and the general atmosphere was quite overwhelming. The Bike Shed seems to subvert your expectations of what a ‘motorcycling hangout’ should be. It is a Members club but also a welcoming place with high values on service. We were taken aback by the possibility to sit, have a drink and peruse the internet in this biker haven and assumed the coffee would be poor or the food not up to scratch and had our cynicism rebuked by the quality of both the cappuccino and the chicken burger after deciding to stick around for lunch.

Our wallet twitched in our pocket while looking around the store (some premium brands on display) and the only unappealing aspect of the site was the redundant need to engage the barbershop. For a weekday lunchtime on the build-up to Christmas it was also pretty busy.

Google ‘Dutch’ and ‘The Bike Shed’ and you’ll see the Founder and CEO has done more than his fair share of media work. And it is no exaggeration to state his has done his part in promotion of motorcycles and riding as something increasingly more acceptable by the mainstream. Like all good ideas it seems mad that nobody thought to expand on a concept in a way Van Someren has done with The Bike Shed Motorcycle Club. “Deus should be in London, there should be a store because there are enough bikers and enough people. Who wants to go to one place all the time?” he modestly admits. “There used to be Bolt up the road in Hackney but they’ve closed, there is Rebels Alliance around the corner which is quite cool but it’s really tiny.”

Nestling into one of his armchairs armed with coffee and water there is a sense that Dutch will try to tackle a different slant on the beast that he has created and has spawned a wave of interest that perhaps not even he could have envisaged…it was also fascinating to hear how he believes that the trend in motorcycling has swung towards a new wave of custom and creation…


Here is the conversation then…

This set-up: it seems that The Bike Shed has became a symbol about how biking can become more mainstream…

As social media became a way of instantly sharing everything it’s almost like the ‘creatives’ overtook the engineers. Manufacturers build bikes and they look at things from a very engineering-based perspective and a lot of motorcycle development in the last few years has centred on technology, MotoGP and the idea of making bikes go faster and faster. That’s not what is happening in the rest of the automotive industry. People build cars for lifestyle, use and function and the only version of that in motorcycles was this Harley Davidson-type subculture that a lot of people could not relate to. I think when Ewan and Charley [McGregor and Boorman in TV show ‘Long Way Round’] came along and rode a [BMW] GS around the world and showed that you can look cool on another type of bike it created interest and many people bought adventure bikes to commute up and down the A40. The landscape shifted into becoming something other than just outright speed and considering how dangerous motorcycles are it just made them more accessible again and not about just being faster than your mates and risking your life every weekend. I used to do that as sports rider. I’d go up the B184 and the 1056 and I’d get home at lunchtime to eat with the kids and think ‘wow, I’m still here…’ and nobody ended up in a hedge. You’d be up the 1056 and you’d see an air ambulance and police everywhere. There would always be a crash. So, suddenly there was a whole new world for bikes that said ‘you don’t need to do that’. It was more about the journey. With brands like Deus on social media it was like ‘look at this cool shot…’ It became a ‘given’ that a new type of custom bike would be able to go around a corner and have good brakes: there was a new perspective. All the people I knew in media were bikers, cameramen, photographers, focus-pullers, designers and creative directors so there was this creative biking subculture again and they were riding all sorts of things. They were following these online blogs where aesthetics and engineering were equally important. It wasn’t all about outright speed. The industry didn’t really notice this rise of interest and kept building 180bhp bikes with engine management systems that won’t give you 180bhp. It’s mental: it’s like dating Angelina Jolie and then at bed time putting a bag on her head. I think a lot of people just thought ‘we’re being fed something that’s shite…we’re not Jeremy McWilliams on a road bike, we’re Jim Smith and we’re going to work, why do we need 180bhp?’

So the industry has then been trying to catch up: if you look at how Triumph have expanded their range and things like Yamaha’s Yard Build scheme, Ducati’s Scrambler and even Norton appearing again…

Now they are all over it, but they are the last ones to the party. They are making it mainstream though and this movement is becoming acceptable and normal. It was always like that in Europe. We’re just late.

Do you think you have helped push that along?

It is very hard to say. I’d love to claim we’ve played a part and people say we did and we tried. I’ve been a biker all my life and I don’t want to see it die. I don’t want biking to be something I tell my grandkids about because it has been legislated out of existence or homologated beyond the point of joy. I like burning fossil fuels and making a lot of noise! I want that to carry on so I will do anything I can to perpetuate biking but I also want it to be more fun, more accessible and safer. I want it easier for someone who is twenty to get into.

You must be encouraged by some of the crowd numbers you have seen here and at events. It must seem like there is a thirst for biking and this type of motorcycling…

It does feel like that. We do our show at Tobacco Dock and 12,000 show up and we go ‘wow, look at this’ but then you go to EICMA and 650,000 turn up. So we are growing but we are at the tip of the iceberg. I think we are as big as we can be bearing in mind the size of the niche in the UK. It is an interesting time and I am trying to get my head around the scalability of The Bike Shed and the scene. Clearly the manufacturers are now on board…and if they are then so are the press. We haven’t been a ‘popular’ scene with the mainstream magazine industry and many people just thought it was about hipster media wankers in London with beards and tattoos. And they weren’t wrong…but it is just that they underestimated the people and if they marginalised them then they were ignoring a whole crowd that spend money on bikes. It has taken ages for those died-in-the-wool journos on junkets to go ‘actually these bikes are cool, they work, they’re fun’…but I think they have only done that because the manufacturers are now building these types of bikes. It is stupid to ignore it because in a way it is the future for biking.

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Photos by IR

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