Brick Lane, in the heart of London’s East End and formerly known as Whitechapel Lane has always been a vibrant melting pot of a place and the earliest known record of its existence was on a woodcut map that was printed sometime during the 16th Century. It has been home to many communities of immigrants throughout its colourful history. Always a staging post to upward mobility. That mobility sometimes being slow, sometimes quite rapid. It has been home to French Huguenots, Ashkenazi Jews, and then Eastern European and Russian Jews in the early 20th century. It has been an epicentre of changing small scale industries centred around the clothing industry. Weaving, Leather making, Exquisite tailoring and the sweatshops of the rag trade. Home to Fagin and Jack The Ripper. It still retains its flavour of an amalgam of the new and tentative amidst wide boy small entrepreneurs. Shops momentarily flourishing displaying “vintage” clothing….aka, overpriced elegantly displayed jumble sales. The earnest Guardian reading fashionistas leaving their tatty chic boutiques to browse scratched vinyl records and other vendors tatty chic furniture. 35mm cameras that will never be used and they buy their fabulous Indian sub continent, Eastern European and Far Eastern street food lunches in cheap and plentiful non eco friendly styrofoam boxes.
The Truman Brewery’s disused premises opened above a now drained well in 1863 are themselves a tatty chic exhibition space in keeping with the area and ideal therefore to house the show “SPIN” devoted to the urban cycling revolution taking place in London, with a nod here and there to the sporting and serious leisure cycling side of things enabling the hipsters their radical touch of the esoteric work of cycling.
Spin was a show for Hipsters. No doubt whatsoever about that. There was the very deliberate wearing of 20,30,50 year old continental race team kit. I saw one guy. Beard long enough to plait and use as a climbing rope in his Gan team kit, hanging on Chris Boardman’s every word and nodding sagely as he munched on his tofu burger before clattering away in an ancient pair of wooden soled track shoes, converted to take the cleats of a set of middle ‘80s Look Classic pedals. Yes, it really was that sort of occasion. The exhibition was a truly enjoyable reflection of Brick lane’s very nature on to the world of cycling. There was a plentiful amount of beautifully crafted clothing, hand built bespoke bicycles (in steel of course) and the feeling that rather like the place 100 yards down Brick Lane that has now ceased attempting to trade in contemporary Vietnamese Folding food, many of them, for all of their skill and genuine innovation would struggle to stay in business much beyond two years or so. That is a great pity, because in the reviews that will follow shortly, I am going to take you on a wander through the best of SPIN and introduce you to some of the start up businesses that are attempting to take root.
If you’d not seen Rollapaluzza before, you might have been forgiven for turning away before you entered the place. They’d set up their usually thriving space and were attracting their usually lengthy queues accompanied by music so loud and a commentary so unintelligible that you have to walk away or give in. We walked away and that was the point at which we recognised the advantage of this very solid old building, step into the next room and the sound that filled the entrance hall was all but eliminated by the purposeful 19th century walls. A moment to reflect on some art work, depicting some of the greats of our sport….up to the 1990s (yes that was the first indicator) Bartolli, Coppi, Simpson, Merckx, Rijs, Anquetil, LeMond, Hinault, Boardman, Obree, Yndurain, Abdujaporov, and my hero (shut up… its my article) the finest climber of all time Marco(Il Pirate) Pantani. None of them were particularly flattering, but at Brick Lane prices I wasn’t going to be hanging one in my shed anyway.
The whole feel of the show was not so much a display of products to do with the world of cycling, but products that were designed to fit lifestyle choices of which cycling is but a part. Cycling fits very nicely into the choices made by the eco friendly….correction, obsessively eco friendly and thats not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a pedantic quirkiness about almost every exhibitor that makes sense to some. Indeed, with the exception of one or two of cycling better known brands. Boardman Elite and Bianchi, most were at the end of the cycling spectrum that says commuter or courier rider that seek form over function. Indeed the more conventional the product on offer the more out of place it looked.
A number of the products quirky or not, really did impress and I shall review them and in some cases road test them too. There was the stuff that did interest me. The bespoke frame builders, some of whom were brazing but joint and brazed steel frames that are becoming popular again amongst some sections of the regular cycling community. Sadly when we were there these craftsmen were not drawing anywhere near as much attention as the stand selling those bloody ridiculous Dura Ace equipped Bamboo framed bikes…… yes, exactly what I thought!
As I say, there was a kind of studied pedantry to the wares on offer. Quill stems, rat trap pedals with old style toe clips barely a modern pedal on view. I fell in love with a gorgeous titanium framed bike… The frame was brand spanking new, but everything on it was a (admittedly beautifully done) restored and refurbished ‘80s item. The entire group and finishing kit was old style 5 speed friction shift Campagnolo record. It gleamed. It stunned….. its price tag made me wince……. no, trust me you don’t want to know.
When it comes to anything approaching regular bike choices these folk are cautious. Yes I want something that says serious cyclist, but I don’t feel comfortable going into my LBS, so I’ll stick my nose in the trough with names I recognise Boardman, Bianchi and Cinelli… We can’t be seen to be going into Halfords or Evans and buying something cheaper and far more appropriate to our needs, it has to say chic. It has to say, “at weekends my other bike is a Porsche and my winters are spent at Cortina or Chamonix”.
Yes it was a Hipsters show and if thats your thing, good on yer. You’re riding a bike and anyone who has read my drivel before, knows that this will always get my vote. I half begged to be given this assignment and I’m glad I went for the few products that were in my jaded opinion worthy of attention and for the wonderful (and well attended) interview and Q&A with my hero of the entire show, Martyn Ashton. Will I go again next year? No. But I love Brick Lane, the street food etc, the tiny record stalls and the markets. I even like the quirky nature of SPIN….it’s just that very little of it was for me.