Cycling conversations – Ep. 4

All those who visit Stockholm end up passing through Gamla Stan, the Old Town, right in the center of everything. That’s where you’ll find Martin Fredberg and Lars Blume Jensen, at their Gamla Stans Cykel shop. This is not the kind of shop with endless rows of budget bikes (though I love all bike shops), it’s stylish and vintage, with some really good looking bikes on display: the supremely foldable Brompton (I am an owner & fan) and new challenger Vello, the classic Pilen and Pashley, the exotic Moulton and Pederson, and the Finnish Pelago, a young brand with a beautiful array of both classic and modern bikes and an impressive growth.

I talk to Martin (middle) while he repairs a bike, and Lars (right) assists us between clients coming in. 

How did you get into this business in the first place?
I used to compete with racing bikes when I was younger. I was about 10 or 12. And then I moved to Norway when I was 20 and started to ride mountain bikes there. My father has always been interested in old bikes and old cars and old things, and he used to help out the previous owner of this shop. And when the owner got sick, he needed extra help, so my father helped him out. After five years, I was home for a holiday and heard that the owner had his second stroke and he was thinking of selling. I was thinking “should I stay in in Norway, or should I move back?”. I felt like it was a fun thing to do, to both combine the history of the old shop from 1913 with the interest in old things for us and moving back to to Stockholm. That was in 2004. So, we bought the shop in 2004 and then we opened up on March 5th, 2005. The style we felt we want to keep, being in Gamla Stan, we wanted to have more traditional bikes, not racing bikes or mountain bikes, but standard bikes of higher quality. And then adding folding bikes, the Brompton. We always tried to have a high end approach, with Brooks saddles and Skeppshult bikes, some of the best bikes in Sweden, and Pashley. So, we’re a little bit a high-end shop.

And, of course, we have always been repairing bikes, that’s always been a big part of our business. Everybody is passing through Gamla Stan, people can come by easily. We have a lot of customers who work downtown, who need to fix a puncture and we can do it over lunchtime or when they come in. We’re close to everybody.
And then, in 2013, the owner of the building sold the house, so we wanted to move out and then we found another place further down the street. We built that up, similar style as the first one, but of course, a lot bigger. And after three years we starting to think that it was a little bit too big and the rent a little bit too expensive. And then we were approached by a company that had this location on Lilla Nygatan and they wanted a bigger one and we wanted a smaller one. It was about the time when my father was retiring. We decided that we’re gonna swap, but they were still renovating this whole building, so we shared the old space with them. And we had a mix of bicycle shop and candy store for six months… And then we moved here in April 2019. It’s been really good. This location is a little bit better for us spacewise and just a little more intimate.

What’s the hardest thing about working in this field? 
Right now? It’s to get parts, because of COVID and boats getting stuck in the Suez Canal. That’s the biggest challenge now, to get bicycles and to get parts. Shimano has a two year lead time on some parts and some brands have three year lead time on tires. Now they’re only focusing on producing new bikes and not selling tires to shops. And so it’s good to have built up a good network of distributors for tubes and parts. We buy from Finland, Germany, Denmark and England. 

And what’s the best part about having a bike shop? 
I think it’s to be able to work with what you’re interested in. Of course, many jobs have that, but there’s no day that is the same as the day before, because all bikes are different. Even though fixing a bike is quite standard, there are always some problems that may occur that you need to fix. We have a really good mechanic and he can solve most problems people have with their bikes. For me, it’s to work by myself and run my own business and having this for 17 years now, to show both myself and everybody else.
It’s said that bicycles are the future and it’s been growing every year since we started. It’s fun to be a part of that…not revolution, because bikes have been used for a long time, but it’s good to work with something you like and to run a business that you think is fun. And you meet customers with different personalities and different problems. No customer is the same. 

How’s the community around here? How do you feel it? Because you’re the central part of all this network of people coming to you for repairs or for advice or to buy things.
Well, the shop has been around for so long. A lot of people know about us, like the older generations that lived here in Gamla Stan, but there are many people who come in and are amazed that there’s a bike shop in Gamla Stan, which they think is just about tourist attractions or tourist shops. But there is also a community of working people: shoe repairs, some furniture, instruments, and it’s quite nice.

Also, as I have a Brompton, I know Brompton owners are very passionate about this bike and they form a special community, and I imagine you have this kind of crowd around here as well.
Yes, because all of us working here have their own Brompton and we were riding Bromptons for a long time and I was a distributor for Sweden. So I think a lot of people associate Brompton with our shop, even though there are other shops that sell them, but we have been the premium shop in Sweden.

What should the city do for the community and to increase the number of people on bikes in Stockholm?
If we would have politicians that ride bikes, then those politicians would be able to get the city to to develop in a favorable way for cyclists and pedestrians. They always consider the car, but if you look at other cities in Europe, the car has been squeezed out more and more. Of course, some people need to have a car and some businesses need deliveries. But if you try to regulate how big trucks and how many cars can come into an area, and if there are certain hours and so on… We need to adapt to the future and have more green areas and parks, and I think that will also decrease the number of accidents, because it’s always a battle between cars and pedestrians and cyclists. 

What is your favorite bike?
I have so many bikes.

How many?
I don’t know. 50, maybe. So it’s hard to say which one I like better.

Wow, where do you keep them? 
Well, I have a garage…that I don’t have a car in. I have it full with bikes. Then I have a summer house, where I have some bikes and I have this shop and I have a storage room, where I have a lot of bikes. The bike that I like most is the Brompton, because of how I can ride it and how I can use it and take it everywhere, on the trains, going to new cities and exploring. But then I have a Penny-farthing or a couple of them and I really like to ride them as well. Maybe in the city it’s not so good, but when there’s no traffic it’s a joy to ride. I also have some touring bikes, but I don’t really have the time to go touring, with two kids at home.
But to go back and forth to work every day and to go on some adventures I use the Brompton and I also have a Bullitt that I use a lot. I didn’t think I was going to use it that much, but having two kids to drop off at school and then going to work and then buying groceries and everything, the Bullit is maybe the bike that I use most. After that it’s the Brompton.

Now that you mentioned your kids, do they consider bikes cool, like all kids? Or is this that situation where whatever the parents do is not cool anymore?
My oldest, he likes to ride bikes and he likes to ride a Brompton and he wants to have his own Brompton, he’s only 10. And the youngest is seven, but he doesn’t want to learn how to ride a bike. That’s a struggle, every spring and summer, when we try practicing. When I get him to start riding, maybe I can do a little bit more riding with them.