Cycling conversations – Ep. 3

In the third episode I talk to Tobias Adolfsson (left), from ATR (And The Revolution). I met Tobias and Mikael in Södermalm, Stockholm. The shop on Åsögatan 122 designs and sells ATR bicycles and also Omnium cargo bikes and Woom children’s bikes.

How did you get in this field?
When I was 19 I started my first company and it was a bike messenger company, up in Umeå, in the north, the world’s most northern messenger company at that point. So that’s how I started and then I opened the bike shop and I became an agent for different brands. I was working for Kona as an agent for Scandinavia for five years and did distribution, all kinds of stuff, and then I ended up back in the shop environment.

What’s the hardest part about working as a bike shop owner?
The field is so big and we’re quite specifically an urban bike shop, but we don’t have much leverage to do a lot of advertising to reach customers. We have to do that only by mouth to mouth. So the hardest part, I think, is just to get our brand out to our customers, because the competition is quite big. But we have a very unique setup, because we build all the bikes here and no one else does that. So we have a unique offer, but still the challenge is to reach the customers. 

And what’s the most beautiful part?
Well, I came back to the shop environment, doing direct business with customers, instead of doing that with shops, on the B2B level, because of the connection with the bike owner. People choose how they build a bike and then we build the bike and then we have a relationship, and I think that relationship with our customers, that’s the thing that makes me the happiest. Because it’s very direct and it’s very positive and it’s very solution oriented. If they have a problem, we can help them and most of the time they’re super happy. So, it’s super rewarding, in the sense that you come home every day and you feel like you had a good day. 
You know, I never have any really bad days here. It’s just amazing.

I also noticed that there are small communities growing near bike shops. That’s part of the beauty of this work. How do you feel about the community here in Stockholm and the cycling culture?
There are subgroups, we used to have a pretty big group with single speed. That kind of died out a little bit. It goes up and down. And then there is a messenger group and they do competitions and they have the bike culture. That group is really strong. And they hang out and that’s their thing. Then there are subgroups in mountain bike and road biking and gravel and BMX. So there are a lot of subgroups, they’re just like different sports. It’s bikes, but it’s a huge difference if you are a runner for 100 meters or 10,000 meters, so they don’t really interact.

Has it been growing in the last few years?
Well no, I don’t really think it’s growing. The community side of it has, in my opinion, actually gone down on this really hardcore fixed gear culture “hang out, drink beer”, that kind of stuff. Actually, it’s been going down. BUT… since biking has been growing in total, I think that the other subgroups, like gravel and road and mountain, I think they’re growing. And more people go on trips abroad and they bring their bike, activity-based holidays are growing, and people are getting more into bike touring, going out in the woods with their tent and the bike, you know, stuff like that. So it’s growing in many small places.

What should the authorities in Stockholm do to support the cycling culture and get more people on bikes?
So, the culture… they cannot do anything to increase it, because that has to come from people. Any time the authorities tried to create that, it usually doesn’t hold up very long, but they can just spend more time and focus on getting more cars out of the city and more bikes instead. Right now, even in Stockholm there are way too many cars that take up too much space, so if they want to get people to ride more bikes, they need to make the switch. They need to make more space available for bikes and less for cars. So that’s pretty straightforward. But at the same time, it’s a huge, huge challenge. It’s the car structure and the culture and the lobby and so much marketing. It’s so strong. We’re really fighting an enemy a hundred times our weight. So we have to be patient and just let them fight themselves in a way, because it’s not gonna hold up. The queues with cars… people are gonna get sick of it. More people are turning to bikes just because it doesn’t work out for them to have a car anymore. It’s too expensive, it’s too many problems.

And maybe a few of them already started switching to trains, for some trips closer to home.
There is an ideological level to this too, but it’s a very practical level when you’re living a city and you have a car and you might need it sometimes, but most of the times it’s just sitting there… and you have parking and everything. I think they should make it even more complicated for people to have a car. Make it more complicated and more expensive. And it will solve itself.

What’s your favorite type of bike? 
Oh, I would say the mountain bike. Because I’ve been mountain biking since I was 13-15. I mean, I’m almost 50 now, so it’s been a part of my life for so long and I’ve been a part of the mountain bike history. So it’s very ingrained in me. But at the same time I don’t ride often, I ride maybe a couple of times a month, when I’m working hard. Fixies I can ride a little bit more, but overall I ride very little, I’m not that much of rider right now. But I use my my everyday bike.

How many bikes do you have? 
I only have three, I think. I have that everyday bike, I have one sitting on the shelf up there, a fixie, and then I have my mountain bike. So, I’m not a collector and I don’t really enjoy stuff so much. I’d rather have as little as possible.