Cycling conversations – Ep. 7

New year, new episodes in my series of talks with people involved in cycling. And this is the first episode that also has an audio version that you can listen to. Don’t mind my hoarse voice, the respiratory infections this season have impressively long lasting effects. 

Interview with Mambona from Cykel Mecken – Stockholm, 2023. (17 min)

So I’ve been wandering around Stockholm talking to the bike shop owners to get a sense of the local bike scene and today’s interview features Mambona from Cykel Mecken. This is one of the newest bike shops in Stockholm, right? 
Yeah. We opened, what was it? Spring 2021. So, soon it’s been open for two years. And before this, I worked as a chef for 25 years, but I always had a passion for bikes and motor bikes. 

Wow, quite a change of careers. How did that happen? How did you or why did you change from being a chef to working on bikes? 
I think it was now, during the pandemic, I saw the restaurant was crashing and also I’m getting old, I’m 41 now, and I thought “If it’s sometime in life that I should do something else, it’s now.” And I just had the feeling to leave the restaurant business. I was pretty fed up with it and tired and I wanted to try something new. 

And you decided to get into bikes right into the middle of the pandemic, when everything was quite hard to predict, everything was chaotic. How was that? How did that go? 
I believe if you are a small shrimp in a society when everything gets put on hold, then you can push forward, but when everything is fine in the society, rents are high and everything, it’s hard to get the foot in. So I saw the gap and said okay, if it’s any time you should push forward it’s now, when everybody backs. And so we started this, we were two persons from the beginning, me and another guy. But after I think six months he jumped off. It was a journey. We had the contract on the 1st of May and we rebuilt the whole place in one month. So, we opened on the 1st of June.
The main focus we had was to have a nice atmosphere, a vibe that we missed in some other bike shops. But I was also inspired by EttEttSex, on Asögatan. It is closed now. Because when I was there, I was like yeah, nice feeling and it had the atmosphere. Also, I was inspired by my mentor in Fruängen, Thomas from Custom Cyklar. So we wanted to do it a bit different and also have a nice meeting point, where you can meet other bike people. And also, we wanted to just work with used bikes. 

I wanted to ask you about that, because this is the most interesting part of your concept. You are working exclusively with used bikes. So you are taking old bikes and you are repairing them, you also make some custom paint schemes, so why this concept, how did you end up with this idea? 
Because when I was working in restaurants, I was pretty fed up with all this throwing food and all this waste and I was working pretty much against zero waste. And this idea followed me to the bikes. I think in Sweden, every year, there are about 600.000 bikes sold, both new and used ones, and 100.000 get stolen every year. But I don’t know why people buy new bikes all the time, because you have so many bikes in the society.

And most of the old bikes you can find in really good quality in the frame sets, wheels and other components, but people just throw them. And for me, if everybody gonna try to do something, you need to start somewhere, you know, and I think this is a good start, to recycle bikes and get people to understand that an old bike can be as good as a new bike. Or even better, if you have the right components, the right frame sets. And also I like the way you can personalize it more.
For me it’s a handcraft. I like to work with my hands. A monkey can order exclusive parts from internet and mount them on a bike. But to take the bikes apart, to sort the parts, to sandblast them, restart over, paint all this and get them as new again. It’s more work to do that than to order from China new. 

Mambona from Cykel Mecken in his shop in Stockholm

I think this is one of the strong points of your business model with used bikes, because you can make some custom modifications for people which they will not find from the big production companies. So that is definitely an advantage, something unique to your shop. And tell me if I’m correct and people react positively to this idea. How do they like this whole concept of second hand bikes? 
When you explain it to them, because today everybody wants to do good things for the world, you know, people go and recycle stuff because they realize we need to do something and we can’t rely on the governments. You as an individual need to do, you need to have some measurements in life that you follow. 
So, I think many people who come here are connected, so they want to make this statement, to get the used, cool, unique bike, instead of getting a shitty bike. Maybe it’s cheaper, the shitty new bike, but it’s gonna rust in two years and has no personality. And I think people are more and more tired of this. People want to show, especially people who like bikes, they want to express themselves through the bike. And often you can see on a person’s bike who this person is, you know, I can see on a person’s bike if he has dishes home, you know. When I see the bike, I can imagine his living room.

Most of the responses have been positive. Then of course we have some people that don’t understand how a used bike can be more expensive than a new bike straight from China. A shitty brand or something. But then when you explain: so this bike, first we went and picked it up, then we spent time to pick it apart, then we sandblasted it and then we painted it, we grind it between the layers of paint, and then we assembled it, for you to get a kickass bike. Then most of the people understand. 

So do they come with crazy ideas for designs and paint schemes? 
Yeah, myself, I love pink, pink is my color. And I think I painted bikes in all of the rainbow’s colors and we had many custom paint works, both old bikes and new bikes. Everything from brake calipers that we painted in fluorescent yellow or something, or whole bike frames. Some people don’t want to paint the whole bike. Maybe just want the steering or the the seat post or the the crank set. So this is also an idea I try to present to people: if you just change a bit of the bike, it will be unique and cool. You don’t need to redo the whole bike.
But then of course, we have the ordinary workshop, mechanic workshop, where we do punctures and all these ordinary service works. So, it’s like, three legs this Cykel Mecken has. So the biggest leg for the moment is the mechanic workshop. Then, we sell many bikes, this is the second leg. And then it’s the paint shop, the third leg. It’s the paint that I want to develop even more and get even more crazy, to get this vinyl that you can put on and different patterns and stuff. 

This was one of the things that really got my interest when looking at your shop because, following other frame builders online, I see that frame painting is an actual profession in itself, so it’s something that can be separate. And you do everything here in the shop mechanical stuff, paint stuff. Also, I noticed you managed to have a 4.9 rating of Google Maps. What’s the secret? 
I think the secret is that I came from the restaurant business. And the restaurant business is service business. In all the restaurants I have been working in, good and bad, service is number one. So we treat all the customers who come here with open arms. And this is what I felt many times, when I came to a bike shop and I didn’t know exactly which part I needed, then I was the stupid guy. But hey, I come to your shop, I want to spend money, so why can’t you behave and be nice? Why should you be like “Ah, you don’t know that?” Just help me, man. 
So this, I think, is the big difference we made here, everybody is welcome. Most of the people is your mom and dad and kids, and everybody, and then you have the professionals, some bike messengers. But I think the social part is a big thing, to treat everybody the same, you know? 

How do you see the evolution of cycling here in Stockholm and in Sweden in recent years and especially since you opened the shop. What kind of people do you see coming? Do they change from year to year and is it growing or not? How do you feel everything looks like?
I think the bike community in Sweden increased every year, because more people see it’s the fastest way to get around in Stockholm, with all the traffic jams and everything. And also you get the exercise of biking. This is what I like. You don’t think that you exercise, but you do it. I think that in just 10 years it increased really much. Before I opened the shop, I counted in Stockholm there were around 40, 48 workshops that worked on bikes. But I read there were 120.000 people that bike every year. And then, I counted that the total was 48 workshops, and you see, it’s going to increase, so of course, there’s a market for it. 

But also the city could do much more than they have done to get even more people to bike. Especially because most people start to bike in March and then 90% of the people, 80% quit maybe in September, October, when it gets cold. So the city could do more for the bikers to commute all year around. Especially this winter was a good example, when everything crashed. We had the first snow, 30 centimeters, you couldn’t bike, it was impossible. But if you look at countries that have a bigger cycling culture like Denmark and the Netherlands, of course, the bikes lanes are exactly the same priority as the car streets, you know? 

And even in Finland they keep biking in winter and they have a lot more snow than here. It has to be said that in Stockholm, okay, we had a few days of heavy snow, but it was just for a few days and most of the winter is pretty dry.
Exactly, but still, when the snow comes everything crashes. And this is what makes me a bit confused, especially when we are a Northern country like this and half of the year is dark and cold and icy. 

I don’t think it’s really the weather, because people here are used to this kind of weather. They have the proper clothes, you see them outside all the time, no matter if it’s raining or snowing. So, it’s not the weather per se. It’s just the lack of proper infrastructure maintenance. 
Yeah, exactly. It’s the infrastructure for biking. And now we see small electrical vehicles, cake bikes, electric bikes, that’s just going to increase. In five years time, we’re gonna see a lot more small small, electrical vehicles.

This was my next question: how do you see the evolution of the e-bikes now? How do you think they will change the landscape? 
I hope it’s gonna get more politicians’ eyes on this. Like, okay, we need to have a supplement for the car roads or should we make some car roads just for these vehicles? Because in the end, I think micro transportation is the best way for nature and for the society. Most of the time when you look in a traffic queue today with many cars, you see maybe one person in each car. And you see this big queue. The car is not the best [means of] transportation, especially in a big city.

It’s not efficient. That is a known fact. 
No, exactly. And if you compare all the energy you put in the car to drive one person, it’s crazy much energy you spend on this. Especially today, when everything is about saving energy and all this. politicians should see the connection much more. But also, I understand that Stockholm makes much money of all the cars, you know. So it’s a bit hypocritical, you say one thing, but in the end you don’t live like you want to learn. 

And I think it matters if politicians can look long-term because, yes, from from cars you make a lot of money right now, but on the long term you have many things to lose. 
Yes, and this is also with electrical vehicles. The thing I like with the electrical bikes and small electrical vehicles is maybe you steal some car people to do this instead. In the end this is better, but also the electrical vehicles are not totally eco-friendly. So the best way is a regular bike, if you want to contribute to the climate and everything. Of course, I understand some people want to be comfortable and I also use an electrical bike, I can’t lie about that. So it’s a smart way to have a small vehicle. I think we should start to think about what are we going to do with all these batteries and all this electrical vehicles when we can’t use them? So, before we invent all this stuff, we should also invent a way to recycle it. So we don’t just stand there in 20 years time and we have Mount Everest of batteries, but ok, what to do now, because then we are already in the problem. And this I think it’s always in the back, you know? 

And this is something that can be said about many industries and our general way of life.
I think the bike industry could take much more responsibility there also. You remember when the first the mobile phones came out, you had different chargers for all the phones. Now, 20 years later they realized and, ok, we have two charges. And this should also be adapted on e-bikes. It would be so cool if you could find a battery standard: you have one standard 20 Volts, you have one standard 36, 48, 72 Volts and then the bike brand has to build around this, because this is the case you can use and then you create the bike around it.

I hope we’re gonna get to that point because it’s a new industry and like every new industry, it has to find the best ways to do something, and then the standards will appear. 
Yeah, because this can develop much. Because now it’s a jungle for e-bikes and you already see a big waste. Also it takes much more energy to create the e-bike. So, for this zero waste policy and all this visions you need to set it, but then the industry has to take a bigger responsibility than they are today, because today they just spit out things, no question asked. 

I have a one final question for you. So, what’s your favorite type of bike that you use and why? 
For the moment I drive my fixie and this is my favorite bike for the moment. The geared bike has its charm, but I like the gears in the legs, you know, if you want to go faster, you push harder. And also I want to challenge my mind with the fixie. For me, it is the ultimate bike experience, because you need to be connected 100% with the bike, connected with the surrounding areas. You can’t just jump on it and think about what you’re going to eat to dinner, you need to be focused and this I like. So for me it’s also good training, but also mindful training and connection. 
Before I tried all types of bikes. And I’m 40, so this is my thing to, like, “yeah, I can still do it”. 

It’s a personal challenge somehow. 
Yeah, exactly. 

Thank you so much for this interview and because you touched upon mindfulness I think this is going to be one of the next episodes, to talk about the connection between bikes and mindfulness. Thank you once again! 
You’re welcome!