With a successful Kickstarter campaign and a proven pop-up cycle café under his belt, BA (Hons) Fine Art graduate Daniel Armstrong explains how he brought Velo Domestique — Bournemouth’s first cycle café — to life.
STARTING OFF SMALL
I helped my friend set up a cycle café in London called Cycle PS and we created this community of cyclists. People came in and engaged with how their bikes were fixed — it was very different to regular bike shops, which aren’t always the most comfortable environments. You wouldn’t stay and hang out in a lot of bike shops.
The first Velo pop-up was about trying the bike shop/café idea out to see if it worked. Bike shops have been around for ages, but we have a lot of customers who I don’t think would take their bike to a regular bike shop. Maybe they find the space intimidating, or don’t want to leave their bike with someone. When the pop-up closed, we ran the Kickstarter and raised over £5,000.
CREATING THE SPACE
There were a few points when we were setting up when we had our backs to the wall, and there’s tension involved when you are working long hours with people every day.
In a way, putting together this space was curation. I like exploring how and why a space works. We had such a tight budget of next to nothing. It opens you up to trying new things, which we wouldn’t have needed to try if we had big budgets. I think that came from doing a Fine Art degree.
We were keen to get up and running as quickly as possible. We set up in just over a month. Now we’re open, all the stress is cancelled out by people coming in and enjoying the space.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
When I finished my course I felt like there was not a lot I couldn’t have done. I was ready to make things happen. I wanted to create a space that people could just be in. No fixing needed.
We wanted to be really open about repairs and talk about what people want to be done, rather than just doing it and giving them a bill. They can come in and have a coffee whilst their bike is being fixed. At first it was like, ‘Are you a bike shop or are you a café?’.
The idea that it could be both was a bit strange to begin with, but now the people that love it really love it!
OFFER SOMETHING NEW
I think our location in Southbourne really helps with building a community. People make a trip to be here. It’s purposeful. I hope we’re introducing people to this great area as well. There’s a pipe shop and a ukulele store here, too. It’s not your average high street. We’re offering something you can’t get on the internet. People say the internet is killing off high streets, but I would say you need to adapt. Offer something new and real.
I think, because cycling has been around for so long, people don’t really think about changing it. If you look at something slightly differently, you can actually engage with a completely different group of people. The community has really expanded. We get people come in who weren’t initially interested in cycling, but because they’ve come here a few times and seen what’s going on, they’re enthusiastic and want to get involved.
BIKES ARE THE FUTURE
Bikes are the future in a lot of ways. They’ve been around a long time and are constantly changing with trends and themes. The ability to just get out and ride gives you freedom.
You don’t need a licence to ride a bike. It’s cheap. You can look after it yourself.
I don’t really enjoy car journeys. I don’t think people do. With a bike, you experience the journey.
BUILDING A COMMUNITY
The people who work here are absolute cycle enthusiasts, so they’re serving you coffee and talking about the best places to go for a ride.
We want it to be that you’re not just a bike or a food customer. We want everyone to engage with everything! The community we’ve built is ace. To ride in a group is so nice. We do Wednesday night rides and it’s quite a big group now — it’s open and welcoming. Having a venue and a physical presence helps build that wider community.