How East Bikes London went from bedroom project to vintage cycle empire The Wapping-based bicycle shop offers a wide range of classic Raleigh and Peugeot mounts

27 March 2018

By Erica Bush

Rosario Vacca, left, and Tim Lloyd-Skinner. Credit: Matt Grayson

“I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was when one of my flatmates came downstairs on a Saturday morning really hungover and trod on a piece of cable we’d left out,” said Tim Lloyd-Skinner.

“That was when they said, ‘You’ve got to find yourself a place to go’.”

The co-founder of East Bikes London is sat on a sofa in his Wapping studio, bikes hung on walls and parked in neat rows on the floor.

The cycle shop, which specialises in vintage bikes, has called Pennington Street its home for the last four years, after making the move from its former, makeshift bedroom premises.

Originally a hobby project with Hull University friend Stuart Powell, Tim’s business has grown unrecognisably from its humble beginnings.

After both moving to London post-graduation and setting up camp in a flat share in Shadwell, a need for cash was the initial impetus.

“Stu was looking to change his career at the time,” said 30-year-old Stroud Green resident Tim.

“He was working in a bar and wanted to get into TV production so he had to go and do an unpaid internship for four or five months.

“Consequently, he needed to make some money on the side.

“Before Stu went to uni he’d taken a year out and worked in Halfords fixing bikes so he knew everything about it.

“He just started by buying projects – one cheap bike at a time from Ebay – and fixed them in his bedroom.

“Every time he’d sell a bike, he’d put aside £10 to buy a new tool so the tool collection got bigger.

“On a nice sunny day I’d be outside and chatting with him, he’d be fixing a bike and I might be putting a tyre on or something like that and it grew from there.”

Inside East Bikes London. Credit: Matt Grayson

A spot of savvy marketing – setting up a Facebook page and a dedicated website – combined with organic word of mouth saw the business transform.

But the pair were still working out of their east London home.

Cue the Wapping studio, which today houses more than 30 vintage bikes on a constant rotation of selling and buying.

“We offer restored vintage racing bikes – anything from the 1970s up to the 1990s – and also bike servicing,” said Tim.

“Vintage bikes are just really well built.

“They’re steel frames, they’re a little bit heavier.

“Steel has a natural give in it which simply means it’s going to be better for absorbing the impact on London’s roads, which do take a battering over time.

“I think they look great as well and most of our bikes are 25-to-30 – some even 40 – years old and they’re still in great nick so what’s to say they’re not going to go on for another 25-to-40 years?”

Inside East Bikes London. Credit: Matt Grayson

The bikes, mainly sourced on Ebay from sellers “looking to find a bit more space in the shed”, range from between £200 and £250 in price.

“We try to offer affordable bikes,” said Tim, who cycles every day to and from work but wouldn’t label himself a cycle enthusiast.

“For most of our customers it’s their first bike in London so we’ve managed to get our bikes to a price point where people can justify the spend on it by not taking the tube to work for six weeks or two months.”

Tim, who will work on a bike for anything between three hours and one day, describes the process of restoring bikes as “very calming”.

“Every bike will get the same treatment,” he said.

“We put the bike up on one of our stands and we strip it down entirely to just the frames.

“Everything comes off, the wheels, the forks, the bottom bracket, and we just rebuild it.

“We rebuild as much to the original condition as possible but as we go along we notice where things need to be replaced.

“Most of the time we’ll put new tyres on because if they’re anything like the age of the bike then there’s no way they’re going to still be good.

“Sometimes we’ll change the wheels if they’re in a bad state and we’ll always change things like the brakes.”

Inside East Bikes London. Credit: Matt Grayson

Originally specialising in “any kind of racer from the 1970s to the 1990s”, the company has honed in on some of the UK’s most iconic offerings.

“We soon realised how popular Peugeots were in London and taking them apart and rebuilding them ourselves we realised that actually they’re really decent quality for the price point,” said Tim, who rides an Mbk himself.

“For most people growing up in the UK, their first bike was a Raleigh, they’re one of the biggest bike brands in the world, so we have plenty of those hanging around too.”

With Tim and Stu both pursuing other careers - Tim running a golf course cost management and property development business and Stu in television production - opening times for East Bikes London previously comprised a handful of weekday evenings and Saturdays.

But a recent hiring of Italian mechanic Rosario Vacca, 29, is set to change that.

“We’ve just taken on Rosario who’s our new in-house bike mechanic and he’s able to offer a much better time-frame for things so that’s something we’re really pushing over the course of the next year,” said Tim.

“This time last year people would get in touch looking to get their bike serviced and we were just too busy to be able to do it so we would actively have to turn them down.”

While Rosario’s experience working in a garage since his teenage years means the company’s hours can grow, it’s his talent for bike customisation that looks set to add another branch to the business.

Inside East Bikes London. Credit: Matt Grayson

His most recent project, a wedding gift for a close friend, features printed images of the wife and groom alongside extracts of the wedding vows on the frame.

“People ask me, ‘What does Rosario do?’ and I compare it to a tattoo artist,” said Tim.

“So if somebody goes into a tattoo parlour and says, ‘I want a tattoo and this is what’s important to me but I don’t know exactly what I want’, a tattoo artist goes away and designs that.

“So we’ve got a bike here at the moment which is covered in stamps from around the world and that was because somebody had mentioned to Rosario that when they were a kid they’d grown up collecting stamps and they also loved to travel.

“So he’s created a bike which is made up of stamps from around the world.

“That is a talent.”