Cult Shop: a motorcyclist’s nirvana in Stoke Newington
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Housed in a former stable block in north London’s Stoke Newington, Bolt boasts an interesting pedigree as a destination for all things motorcycling related. In the 1950s, the building served as the HQ for a biker group called the Ally Pally Ton-Up Boys before becoming the workshops of the Duguid brothers, purveyors of sporty glass-fibre fuel tanks and fairings to the capital’s “café racers”. Today, it’s a destination shop for those who believe modern-day motorcycling is about a whole lot more than the bike.
“Bolt is based around motorcycling’s art and craft aspects, and that means building one-off machines as well as selling clothing and organising events. Anything, in fact, that’s inspired by biking’s subculture,” says proprietor Andrew Almond, who launched the business from a London Fields railway arch in 2013, before relocating two years later.
The mews is a trove of top-quality new and vintage apparel and retro riding kit. But stroll around the raw concrete floor beneath its bare roof beams and you’ll also find “proper” coffee being served, and racks stacked with collectable vinyl records. Head up the multicoloured staircase and there’s the unexpected discovery of a hairdressing salon, Cut and Run, complete with neon signage and 1960s wallpaper.
The shop’s centrepiece is a 1999 Buell X1: a lean, mean café racer sporting a full set of aluminium bodywork meticulously crafted by Jake Robbins of Sussex-based restoration specialist Vintage Engineering. “The fairing, fuel tank and seat unit were all handmade using a traditional English wheel,” says Almond of the £12,000 Harley-Davidson powered bike. “It’s a showcase of British craftsmanship.”
Almond, formerly a senior business manager at the Barbican arts centre, came to motorcycling as a 20-year-old charity worker in Mozambique. “We were there setting up schools, and I found myself a 50cc Honda to get about on,” he recalls. “Bikes became a passion. But when I got back to England I noticed that there were no contemporary shops angled towards the emerging motorcycling scene, which was all about retro style, individuality and hand-crafted products.”
Since then, other spaces have capitalised on the zeitgeist, but Almond says Bolt is less about business and more about creating a focal point for the biking community. In normal times, the stable yard hosts meets that attract impressive numbers of bikes and classic cars. “The events undoubtedly lose us money – but they bring people together, create friendships and provide inspiration,” he says.
That being said, there are still many retail opportunities. Much of the clothing is exclusive to the shop; the £620 Bolt Type II, for example, is a modern take on a 1950s denim jacket made using 15oz Japanese cloth and Dyneema protective fabric. It’s also an official stockist of coveted Aero Leathers (from £620), while an extensive line of motorcycle-inspired sweaters and T-shirts includes heavy-duty, double-piqué striped numbers (based on those worn by the flat track riders of the 1920s and ’30s, £120), own-brand motocross shirts (£60) and a super-heavyweight Tomlinson loop-weave race sweater hand-appliquéd with the Bolt logo (£150).
The shop is also known for its classic-looking crash helmets, such as the full range of luxury models from Hedon (from £299), as well as others from the more affordable Biltwell catalogue (from £125). Collaborations with like-minded creatives are a speciality, and a series of one-off custom helmets includes those by cult LA-based pinstriper Von Leadfoot (£550) and illustrator Jess Wilson (£320).
It also offers the “Bolt X Edie” collaboration of eco-friendly clothing made with Edie Ashley (daughter of motorcycle-mad Private White VC designer Nick). And an impressive array of accessories ranges from Lewis Leathers riding gloves (£145) to Pike Brothers A3 cap, based on those worn by USAAF (United States Army Air Forces) mechanics in the 1940s (£55), and beautiful belts and wallets by leather specialists Club and Fang (from £90).
Just don’t get any ideas about the early 2000s Triumph Thruxton parked on the stableyard’s cobbles, a “backdate” build that combines the looks of a ’60s original with the benefits of modern engineering. “That’s not for sale,” warns Almond. “It’s my daily ride...”