Cycle-rail journeys, or journeys cycling to rail stations then jumping on a train, are growing. A lot.
This is already common knowledge but – when you get down to it – it’s unthinkable that we take for granted that cycle-rail journeys were at 14 million in 2009 and rocketed to 39 million in 2013. 39 million! That’s an awful lot of inner tubes.
Anyone part of that boom who is riding to the railway station every Monday to Friday will see the evidence first-hand. Fellow cycle commuters daily have to negotiate all the bikes already locked up and taking all the best spots, despite cycle parking spaces more than doubling since 2009 (to over 53,000 spaces).
So why aren’t there more cycle retailers taking advantage of a footfall to kill for and tapping into that cycle commuter market at rail stations? That’s the question we asked in BikeBiz magazine a couple of issues ago and sure enough, one reader – from the Cycle Rail Working Group (CRWG) – pointed out that increasing numbers of retailers have indeed been taking advantage of the potential of the railway.
One of the newest shops capitalising on cycle commuters is Russell’s Bicycle Shed, which opened at Sheffield Station this summer. Just a couple of weeks after opening BikeBiz spoke with owner Russell Cutts…
The story goes that you turned up once a week at Sheffield rail station to service bikes and the opportunity to set up a permanent site came about when the station was being redeveloped – was it really as simple as it sounds?
Is anything as simple as it sounds? It took some work to get in touch with the station manager and then put forward my proposals, but I have found East Midlands Trains to be very supportive. They were very eager to get me working here one day a week and when the cycle hub development got underway they did ask if I would be interested in taking on the shop unit. It was anything but easy. After providing a comprehensive business plan I need to persuade East Midlands Trains board that I could make this successful. I have since received a lot of help and support from East Midlands Trains.
How popular was the service on those weekly sessions before you opened the shop? Did you get regular custom from the cycle commuters there?
I’ve built up a good relationship with the commuters and the take up of the service was astounding. People knew they could get their bike serviced or repaired while they were at work and they didn’t need to find a bike shop that opened at 7am to do it. Effectively their day was uninterrupted, so it made complete sense. There are many commuters who use my service regularly and some who have been thankful that I was there when they returned to find they had a puncture. I provided a public bicycle pump within the store which people really appreciated, especially those who commute to Sheffield on the train and leave their bikes here overnight.
What were the biggest obstacles to setting up the permanent servicing station and shop?
Finance. What can I say, the banks are unhelpful and many avenues for funding just wouldn’t touch this type of commercial enterprise.
I’ve spent a lot of money just getting the place stocked up and with my Marin franchise there will be significant investment to offer an all-round service for those commuter cyclists.
How’s business been since you set up the Bicycle Shed?
Well I’ve only been trading here for two weeks [at time of press] so it’s hard to tell, but I have had a good couple of weeks and there has been lots of interest shown in the shop. I’ve noticed a strong uptake in my cycle hire offering too, people are taking advantage of the location to pop out to the Peak District for a few hours or ride the Five Wiers Walk. Although I am yet to market the hire business other than through the web, I have seen a good response so far.
So your service is tailored to commuters? Do you sell spares as well as offering repairs?
I offer all services, although we are attached to the cycle hub and our main focus is commuters we do offer services to all other types of cycling. We have a very wide range of products and spares available to buy. I also offer hire of bicycles, car carriers and soon Bike Boxes.
What advice would you give to other bicycle businesses planning to work alongside their local railway stations?
Working at the railway station means you see the same people twice a day in most cases. Having a good relationship with this customer base is critical to success.
Any final thoughts?
The connection between cycling and train travel is an obvious one; more people on bikes means less congestion and with most stations in very central locations within cities it benefits a wider community of cyclists. To help connect up the major cities having cycle hubs with businesses like mine attached is critical, not withstanding that I am still running a bicycle shop and you don’t have to be a commuter to benefit from the services I provide.
Cycle Rail Working Group: Working with the railroad
The Cycle Rail Working Group (CRWG) is a group which was formed originally by the last government back in 2008 with membership from a number of key players in the world of rail transport – notably Network Rail, the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), Transport for London, Passenger Transport Executives Group, with representation from the DfT and some other more specialist groups.
During this Coalition Government, the CRWG has received £30 million in funding from the DfT for projects – large and small – to improve all elements in support of cycling to stations, from better security; better parking facilities; better access to stations and also, in a number of cases, the provision of premises for local bike shops to provide maintenance and repairs to cycles at the station themselves. Find out more at