Heritage, authenticity, history – what most bike brands wouldn’t give for just a fraction of Pearson Cycle’s.
A lot has changed since their first shop set up for business 150 years ago, and no more has this been evident than in the most recent of those years. Fads and fashions have come and gone, technology has progressed, and the bicycle industry has matured. But amongst it all has been a prevailing trend to look backwards.
Steel frames continue to survive in the face of carbon, and bike brands new and old continue to plunder the history books for inspiration. You’d forgive Pearson for sharing the same nostalgic outlook, but for Britain’s oldest bike shop the future isn’t boxed-in by its past – their new 2012 range reveals a brave break from tradition.
Top Row: Details of ‘Once More…’, an aluminium framed bike based on their famous singlespeed ‘Touché’. Perfect as a winter training bike or commuting all-rounder, it’s all set to go with mudguard eyelets. Bottom row: ‘I’ve Started…’, a carbon cyclocross frame, but perfect as a multi-use go anywhere bike. Note the Pearson logo runs in the reverse direction on the non-drive side of the bikes.
The Pearson family business – now run since the early nineties by the fifth generation of brothers Will and Guy – is a microcosm of cycling’s history. From a Blacksmith’s branching out into the newly burgeoning field of bicycle repair in the late 1800s, to 2011 with the opening of their second store in Sheen catering to a sophisticated cycling audience looking for high performance carbon machines.
As the popularity of cycling has blossomed in recent years, so has the industry; designer clothing companies have emerged with cool branding and clever marketing, cycle manufacturers have stepped in to serve the demands of a diverse market that seeks cheap carbon frames to custom made titanium and everything in between, and bike shops have matured into lifestyle shopping experiences like any other sophisticated retailers to be found on the high street.
The new performance orientated Sheen store neatly ticks all the boxes of what a new well-heeled cycling clientele now expect; the shop is open and bright, friendly and welcoming, a small cafe bar serves cappuccinos and espressos. But it’s not only surface; upstairs Cyclefit are setting up shop to offer an expert bike fitting service, which is not just an added extra, but an approach which is now leading the way Pearson sees how it serves their customers. After giving me a quick tour of the shop and the fitting spaces upstairs, Will Pearson admits that after seeing how the Cyclefit process works, he realised just how rudimentary the traditional way of measuring up customers for new bikes has been.
The Cyclefit fitting rig: all measurements are adjusted on the fly, power output from each leg can be measured, with each personalised session lasting in the region of three hours.
In a world where amateurs are spending thousands on carbon wheels to save seconds, bike fitting has become a comparatively cost effective way of improving performance. Comfort means time on the bike can be extended, efficiency of pedalling contributing to increased power, and the advantages of avoiding injury caused by poor bike setup are obvious. A fitting session is now the recommended starting point of any bike purchase.
But it’s the 2012 range of bikes are where the changes at Pearson are most noticeable. A new sense of personality has emerged, a quirkiness, and individuality that wasn’t previously expressed so confidently. Will concedes that previous ranges looked up too much to the large bike manufacturers with their understated (i.e. boring) stylings, unimaginative titles – a mass market model that clearly wasn’t relevant to a small independent such as Pearson.
So in comes a range that includes bikes such as the ‘I May Be Some Time’ and ‘A Cunning Plan’, a new logo, new bold paintwork, and hidden details which add an intimacy that’s absent from the bikes from bigger players. The renowned tailor (and Rapha collaborator) Timothy Everest was already an existing Pearson customer, and was called upon, along with design and fashion consultant (also, on occasion, to Rapha) Tim Voegele-Downing, to lend the benefits of their expertise. The result is more coherent branding with a strong element of Britishness – and our peculiar humour – running through it.
Top row: ‘Mine Goes to Eleven’, the top end race frame, available in a more muted colour scheme, and with Campag 11-speed no doubt. Bottom left: ‘Goes Like Stink’ time trial frame. Bottom right: ’10 Goal’ bike polo inspired urban frame.
Hanging on the wall at the front of the shop is the top of the range racing model – ‘Mine Goes to Eleven’… kitted out in 10-speed Dura Ace. Will understands not everyone will get the joke, that it’s more a reference to Spinal Tap than it is to Campagnolo Super Record. The name is intended to capture something about the banter and ribbing that is a part of the British racing scene – turn up to race on a blinged out machine and you better be prepared to back it up with strong legs, or at least be ready to accept some pretty merciless teasing.
It’s also part of a realisation that it’s not necessary to try to appeal to everyone – that’s not Pearson’s job. But even if just a small section of the market is strongly drawn to the distinctive new bikes, then they’ve been a success. The amount of interest and coverage surrounding the new range has already indicated they’ve achieved their aims – a buzz which is unfamiliar even to a business that’s been around for 150 years.
The new Pearson Cycles shop in Sheen displaying the new range for 2012 is at 232 Upper Richmond Road West, London SW14 8AG.