Tuesday 29 January 2013

Blue Door Bicycles

Transport has been the central theme in the career of David Hibbs. Long before opening a bicycle shop in Crystal Palace, David worked for many years in the bus industry, followed by a period on the railways, where he was part of the management team running Birmingham New Street and London Euston. Then at Railtrack, after privatisation in the 90s, he was involved in franchising, and was responsible for setting up the National Passengers Survey. His final role was with Community Railways which sought to help local people breathe life back into their local stations.

Already highly qualified, David had a degree in Philosophy, Politics & Economics from Oxford, he later studied for an MBA at Warwick, and had long considered setting up in business. He considered 2 other business ideas before deciding on bicycles. The first possibility, which would have been a popular choice around here, was to open a cinema. The second, was to run a campsite, which, unusually for a London suburb, we already have in the area. As for a bicycle shop, the Triangle already had a couple. The Dutch cycle specialist, Popiel, which I've already written about, and a curious little shop on Central Hill, which had been there as long as anyone could remember. The owners were a very elderly brother and sister, Jeff and Margaret, who latterly were only opening on an occasional basis. They had taken over the business from their parents who had started it back in the 40s. Their father, H J Talbot had been a chauffeur and mechanic at a big house in Sydenham, where their mother had also been in service. As well as selling bikes, they were also a radio repair shop and photographic processors. They finally closed in 2010, when Jeff died shortly after a fall.

On taking over the premises, David had to turn his hand to archaeology, excavating and clearing mountains of junk. Amongst the junk however, were a few gems, such as the assorted vintage advertising signs, some of which are now on display in the cafe at the back of the shop. Other items, including old televisions and radios, were sent to a museum in Dulwich. Rather than completely stripping out and streamlining the shop into a slick modern showroom, David has consciously set out to retain as much of the building's past as possible, from the Victorian exterior tiling, to a random fireplace and stained glass window. Added to this are colourful new murals, eye catching signwriting on the shopfront, and a skylight made from old bicycle wheels. So much so, that the place still has the feel of a long established family business.

As well as sales of bikes and accessories, mechanics are on hand in the big workshop at the back, servicing, mending, and indeed building bespoke bikes. Some evenings you can even go along for lessons in bike maintenance. Outside the confines of the shop, Blue Door Bicycles likes to get involved with local events such as the Overground Festival, and Crystal Palace's annual triathlon in the park, where one of their mechanics is on standby.

The cafe is a welcome addition where you can pedal your own smoothie while you wait for your puncture to be fixed!

Part of the collection of old advertising signs
With efforts being made nationally, both to get people cycling, and to rebalance the economy in favour of manufacturing, it's good to see that BDB stocks various British made products such as Brooks saddles, Pashley cycles, and Carradice saddle bags. Most intriguing of all however is the bamboo bike. Yes really!

So to get some balance in your life, and the economy, go and speak to David about buying a bicycle.

David Hibbs

5-7 Central Hill
020 8670 9767

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