"The capital of Uganda, central Africa’s landlocked nation, is a city like any other. Its citizens need affordable transport - that’s fun and stylish too. Kampala city is well-known for its Boda Boda - the colourful taxi bikes "
Bikes in the City Part Two: Bolt London – Biker History in the Making
Bolt London is a colourful, textured Aladdin’s cave of all things bike and all things good. We spent some time with a paragon of London’s creative bike scene.
Bolt London is nestled in an atmospheric stable yard just off Stoke Newington High Street. It is a temple of creative bike culture. From the cultural references on the shelves to the cobbles of its floors and its bricks and layered mortar – there’s a tangible sense of London bike history about the place.
You can pick up an original edition of Hunter S. Thompson’s seminal work of new journalism Hell’s Angels; you can peruse one of the finest collections of custom lids this side of the A13. And as well as picking up some of the finest rugged clobber you’ll find anywhere, you are sure to find a like mind. Because for Bolt proprietor Andrew Almond, Stokie’s favourite greaser hangout is all about creativity and community.
Influx: Tell us about this yard: it feels as if it’s got motorbikes in its very texture!
Andrew Almond: It sure has. The yard was built around the 1860s as a stables. There would have been a blacksmith here, and that would have all been the stables themselves. In around 1920 it became a car garage. You can see the remains of where a petrol pump would have been here. In the 1940s, a guy lived upstairs and would rent it for motorcycle parking.
There was a group called the Ally Pally Ton-Up Boys, all 16 or 17 years of age at the time – that used to hang out here. They had some amazing bikes and they would all come and hang out on a Saturday morning, tinker with the bikes and drink coffee. One of them still comes down. He is 85 now and still riding. He says the yard still feels exactly the same as when he was a kid, hanging around with bikes and drinking coffee. And nothing has changed, it is still the same paint on the walls for 50 years.
So I love that linear history in London, where everything is so transitional. I like to think we have been annoying our neighbours here for over 100 years now!
What’s the thing with you and motorbikes? Where did that begin?
My first bike culture experience was when I went to Israel when I was 18. I was working in a Kibbutz and I used to ride bikes there. Then a couple of years later I worked in Mozambique doing development work and I had a little Honda 50. I was right in the middle of the bush, and there are no roads out there or tarmac, so it was the only way to get around. So mobility and practically was kind of why I started using it.
But you don’t use a motorbike without enjoying it. There is a natural kind of pleasure in it. So when I came back to London, I decided that I didn’t want to go on public transport, so I bought a Vespa. I have always been into the design of motorbikes. It wasn’t because I wanted to be a Mod or was into Scooter culture, it is just because it is a beautiful design. And then gradually it grew from there.
So the city and bikes were synonymous for you straight away?
Yeah, I have always liked riding in London, whereas most people hate it. There is an aggressive attitude on the road and you learn to go with it. I like the fast city, cutting through traffic. There’s a unique kind of buzz about it.
Tell me about Bolt…
I started Bolt back in 2013 because there was a new revival of motorbike culture in a different way than in the past. No one was really representing it at the time. Motorcycling is so much about community and being sociable. So it was all about creating a hub where people can meet, and it grew from there.
The clothing, the record and the coffee all make sense because the people that tend to come down tend to be interested in where all these things meet.
You have got some amazing artifacts and beautiful pieces, how do you get your inspiration and where do you get your stuff from?
I try to get everything exclusive to me. So we find small brands around Europe, people who aren’t stocked here before. And we really look at the fabrics and the quality. I don’t see the point in selling or producing garments just for sake of it, they have got it be different to what is out there. And then as we have gone on, we have just been making more and more of our own stuff. We have struggled to find stuff out there that we want to sell, so we have just learnt to make it and go on like that.
A lot of the stuff you have got reminds me of the clothing in Mooneyes. It is that level of quality you have got?
I love Yokohama and Mooneyes. Japan has always been an inspiration, because they get the details. The fact that you might have gone around the world and back to get a button, but that button is just so, exactly correct.
We have gone to such lengths to get what we want. We have had buttons re-made in Italy, all these details. And Japan really understands that level of detail in things.
The bike culture you are talking about is an alternative bike culture. What is the character of that at the moment and what part do you play in it?
Scenes come and go. But motorbikes always stay constant. Whether it is custom or classic, I just like the culture of bikes. The motorbike is one of the most iconic references of subculture and counterculture out there. It is the outsiders who are drawn to them who are the interesting people.
The interesting people gather around these things. So really I like exploring the subcultures around the motorcycles and that aspect of it, and then the machines themselves. I like everything from scooters to Harley-Davidsons. I think it is as much about the design as the ride itself. There are lots of elements to each of them.
Yeah, and I guess the people are drawn together by their interest in it, and then a lot of fun things happen.
That is why we have got the record shop in here as well. We attract those outsider-types who are really passionate about music and record collecting as well as motorbikes. So many bikers are simply commuters or weekenders – but that’s not the community we cater for.
I’m interested in Bolt preserving the past but being relevant to now. We want to take the best from the history of bike culture and bring something to the present. That ingrained interest in things is where we are at really.
That is funny, because there is nothing more practical than that Lambretta for getting around town. There are ways to be a stylish commuter.
I can beat anyone on that scooter in town. It is 50 years old now, but it has never run better. We have tuned the engine. It’s super quick. For getting around London, it is the fastest thing.
It must have been a difficult time these last 12 months?
Through the lockdowns we focused on making new stuff. We really want to present motorcycle clothing in a different way than ever before. We did a collection, Bolt X Edie, which was presented at Paris Fashion Week. With the Bolt clothes, we just want to keep picking out the best fabrics, putting new designs together, and focusing on that side. That is where we feel our skill is – producing good quality clothing.
Do you think a place like this could have existed outside of a city like London?
There is one guy called Jack who has got a shop in Leicestershire, in the middle of nowhere. But people ride there. He has really built a community and made it a thing. I think, sometimes, being in a city is not the best place for riding bikes, so not the best place for bike shops.
It is difficult to find the perfect space really, we chose this because of the yard, because we are a social place first and foremost. We like to bring people together, and bring all our elements, from music to fashion to film or whatever, into the yard.
What’s the future for Bolt?
This year we are going to be launching our first major collection for Bolt. We have made a lot of things we haven’t done before, like boots and footwear. So this year we are going to see our first collection go big, hopefully.
We have started picking up retailers in Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan and so on. So we want to keep building up our retailers. I haven’t shown at Mooneyes, but I would love to show there one day.
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