On a rainy afternoon we visited Reiðhjólaverzlunin Berlin, the new bicycle shop on Snorrabraut and met with owners Alexander Schepsky and Jón Gunnar Tynes. They welcomed us wholeheartedly, sat down with us in their relaxing shop and let us ask them some questions about their goods up for sale, Icelandic bicycle culture, and their hopes and dreams.
Is this your first venture in the bike-biz?
Alexander: Yes. We both enjoy riding around on classic style bikes. We also really like nice clothing. Last spring we noticed that Iceland’s bicycle culture was growing, but we saw room for improvement. We wanted to introduce fashionable clothing to the cyclists, and decided to make a business plan and the bank immediately green-lit it because they liked the idea.
Would you call this the dream job?
Alexander: Opening my own store has been a dream of mine for a long time. Since I was raised in Germany I got used to German bike culture. There, I would usually fix my own traditional bike, which was quite easy. I liked that culture a lot. I wanted to help to make life easier for people in Iceland, because they are used to mountain bikes which are harder to fix. That’s the reason we opened this shop. I called up Jón Gunnar [my now business partner] and asked him if he’d be willing to venture into the bicycle business with me. Even though he didn’t fully understand me with my german accent he immediately said “Yes, let’s do it!”
Jón: Sometimes when I don’t understand him I just nod my head and say “Sure, why not?”
What is the main idea?
Jón: I’ve always thought of this to be more than just a bike shop. It’s really a lifestyle shop. We wanted to introduce Icelanders to a new way of living. Our main idea is that you spend more time thinking about where you’re going and less how you get there. Your means of transport should not affect your choice of clothing.
Is that why you thought it was important to sell both bikes and bike related clothes in the same spot?
Alexander: Yes, we wanted to show people that they could wear fashionable and/or everyday clothes while cycling around the city on nice bikes. Spandex is unnecessary. Many of our customers have lived either in Denmark or Sweden and have noticed this element in those cultures. There, bicycles are eye catching and used for transport to and from cafés and theatres for example. Icelanders should have no less. Demand for traditional bikes for women, with accessories like baskets, has been high recently. We’ve had a lot of women come in and ask for bicycling clothes too.
Jón: We started out with classic style clothing for men as well as bikes for both genders. We’ve had so much positive reaction that we decided to add a lot of women’s clothing to our stock. Right now we are selling some overcoats but this fall we’ll be adding a whole line of clothing for women.
How do you divide the workload?
Alexander: I handle the bicycle department. That’s my specialty. We both find clothes that we like. That’s Jón’s strong suit though. I contact the companies and ask if they are willing to trade with us. A lot of companies have shown us support since we opened up our doors. Without having to buy a large quantity from their stock, which means less risk for us, they collaborated with us. There is definitely a growth in sale of bike related clothing these days. A lot of opportunities.
Do you collaborate with Icelandic clothing designers?
Alexander: We are really into it and already, we’re selling a line called Blik. It is a knitwear collection for women and men designed by Laufey Jónsdóttir for Varma Design. We also designed a few accessories ourselves. For example, a must have for the next picnic,- a wine bottle holder.
What’s your target group in regards to age, gender etc.?
Alexander: We sell bikes from two bicycle manufacturers based in England which suit different age groups. First it’s Bobbin Bicycles. They fit the twenty-something crowd with a little less between their hands. They are designed with influences from 1940s design and come in a variety of colors. Bobbins bikes are designed in England and produced under strict quality control in Taiwan but we get them straight from Britain. The latter is Pashley. Those bikes are a little more expensive and suit a more mature age group.
Jón: The Pashley bikes are specialty made. People can come to Berlin and try on different sizes and styles. Then we measure the correct size that fits you and order a unique bike from England, handmade just for you. It started in 1926 and is one of the oldest bike companies in England. The fact that they only manufacture around 10.000 bikes per year says something. Their quality control is very strict.
Is England on top in the city-bike game?
Alexander: Originally I wanted to sell German and/or Danish bikes. They have a lot of good companies. Icelanders are generally moved by the British lifestyle. We decided to go with Pashley because of their high standard and interesting history. When we get a better feel for what’s popular amongst Icelanders we will start stocking up on a variety of manufacturers.
Will you be hosting some events in the near future in Berlin?
Alexander: We’ve hosted a few quite successful bicycle trips recently. There we invited people to bring their own picnic and ride their bike with us through town. Then we found a tranquil setting for a nice picnic. We’d like to host a course that would help Icelanders brush up on their traffic safety rules. The focus would be for cyclists. We are also thinking about offering special nights on Thursdays for either ladies or gents, introducing new fashion lines or bike models or show how to fix minor things on your bike.
Are Icelanders good cyclists?
Alexander: Recently we’ve ridden our bikes downtown a couple of times for an after work drink. We were surprised how few young people in Reykjavík were biking. Many of them get rides instead of riding their bikes.
Jón: Yes, in fair weather a bike trip can be an ideal and fun activity for almost anyone. Going on a tranquil trip downtown and sitting down at a café with your family for example.
Has the number of cyclists in Iceland increased in the past few years?
Alexander: Yes, definitely. The “ride your bike to work” program is quite popular here and has had a great influence. People keep riding their bikes even when the program is brought to an end. Icelanders have started riding their bikes earlier, in April or May and don’t generally stop until well into the fall. Some are more willing than ever to bear up in the snow.
Do you feel the Icelandic bicycle community is lacking in some way?
Alexander: I feel the Icelandic bicycle community is really on the rise. It is progressing in a cool way. I hope that cycling routes will continue to grow in numbers, quality and distance.
What do you think is the main reason for this growing enthusiasm?
Alexander: Economizing has a lot to do with it in post-recession Iceland. There are many however that are aware of their health and use bicycle riding for fitness. A daily 10 minute bike ride can be enough. A direct result that follows more bicycling is a decrease in risk for stroke and heart attacks. This means less burden on the Public Health Authority and money is saved. Icelanders have also started thinking in added measure in terms of environmentally friendly and green energy. The bike community is a part of that.
Do you have any advice for young cyclists out there?
Alexander: Reykjavík really isn’t too rural. You can get between places relatively fast on your bike. Here, it’s an ideal mode of transportation. Invest in a city bike on which you can sit upright so won’t get back aches. Naturally it doesn’t hurt that they look hip and come from a shop like Berlin!
We say farewell to the two entrepreneurs, both wearing comfortable yet stylish clothing for cycling, as we ponder their ideas about riding your bike done as a means of transport and leisure activity at the same time. They really practice what they preach and we wish them the best of luck.
Interview: Alexander Jean Edvard Le Sage de Fontenay
Photographs: Nanna Dís