Rebecca Bland visits one of Yorkshire’s most iconic bike shops
This piece first appeared in the June edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
When you walk into Pennine Cycles, you can instantly sense the heritage, the passion, and the knowledge that oozes from within the walls. Not just because there are signed jerseys hung on the walls from ‘90s and early 2000s cycling superstars, or because of the masses of hand-built steel frames and wheels hanging from the ceiling, but because it feels like an old school bike shop – and at the heart of that, is husband and wife duo Paul and Sandra Corcoran.
Located on Thornton Road, in between Thornton and Bradford, Pennine Cycles has existed since the 1940s, although this location is somewhat newer. The shop began its life as Whitaker and Mapplebeck Cycles Ltd, named after the original owners, although in the 1950s they changed the name to Pennine Cycles. In 2000, Paul and Sandra took over the shop and have managed it through some boom and bust times, with highs including building a bike for Sir Gary Verity [former CEO of Welcome to Yorkshire] in 2014 to celebrate the Tour de France coming through Yorkshire.
Tour de France legacy
“For us as a bike shop, an independent bike shop tucked away on Thornton Road in Bradford, which as a place doesn’t get all the good press, was really a super time with all the things that spun off that,” explained Sandra. “And I think cycling in Yorkshire was very much on a high at that time. I think there’s been a decline with Covid, and it has changed people’s shopping habits. Everybody’s habits have changed. Cyclists have hung up their wheels, and there are different patterns of shoppers, and changes in footfall for everybody.”
There’s no denying shopping habits have changed, not just with Covid but in the last 10 or so years as local bike shops fight to compete with internet giants. For Pennine Cycles, though, their speciality is conversation. And that’s why they’re keen to get people inside the shop, rather than on their website.
“We want to get customers in the shop to help them,” added Paul. Sandra continued: “We are going to do more on the website. When we look at the analytics, we do get a lot of views. People are looking, but not necessarily buying. But it is quite time consuming to keep it all up to date.”
If you’re in the trade, you might know Pennine Cycles not just as a bike shop, but as a bike brand. They continue to hand build steel bike frames under the Pennine name to this day, with Paul proudly showing me his pink winter bike in the store. They have a healthy stock of things like Campagnolo, and an obvious passion for Italian brands, but the key for Paul and Sandra is to stock bikes that they believe represent quality.
“We sell bikes that we can service and repair,” added Paul. “Bikes that will stand the test of time, like De Rosa, Time, Look, Cipollini, but even things like Falcons or Dawes for kids. We sell everything from balance bikes up to adult bikes – and of course, Pennines.”
There aren’t many independent bike shops that also have a bike brand under their wing, but for Paul Corcoran, getting more people on bikes – safe bikes, and the right one for them- is his bread and butter.
“It’s my game. People talk about it being a passion, and well yeah, it is a passion. But it’s my game. It’s something I found that I love, enjoy, and I want other people to enjoy it as much as me.”
Sandra continued: “One of our core values is to ensure that people buy the right bike. The one that they’re going to enjoy riding and be so happy about and not just park it in a garage and forget about it. So it has to fit them and it has to be safe.
“Even if people come in with repairs, that’s what we’re looking at – safety. People don’t always believe you when you tell them what needs changing, because yeah, it’s going to cost them more money.”
When you’re facing up against cheaper prices from shops that perhaps don’t solely focus on selling bikes, it can be difficult to get across to customers just why the price of a bike is slightly more in a specialist shop than a non-specialist.
But Sandra and Paul are aware of this, and try to make themselves as flexible as possible, understanding that not everyone is a cycling expert, as Sandra explained: “One of the things that we pride ourselves on is that we’re about advising people, helping people to give them tips.
“We still are only a small shop, but we do try and get everything that people want and we always say we can get anything to do with cycling accessories. We are perceived a bit as a road bike shop, so people then do not think we do kids bikes and stuff like that you know, but we do everything.”
Looking ahead, Pennine Cycles hopes to continue where it left off pre-Covid, and host events at the shop to encourage more people to visit.
“One of the things we want to think about doing in the future again, is hold some basic maintenance sessions,” continued Sandra. “Things like how to change an inner tube, fairly simple stuff, but also hold nutrition evenings, just to attract more people in.
“We’re very much aware that although we’ve been around a long time, people come and go. We think people know about us but those people that do are in their 60s and 70s and aren’t riding anymore or have moved away.”
“20-30 years ago, there was probably another three or four shops in Bradford that sold bikes,” explained Paul. “Now, you’re troubled to find another bike shop. But we are fortunate. We’ve been in business 76 years, and we have some loyal customers which helps us.”
By combining frame building and the shop, Pennine Cycles has created a lasting legacy in Bradford, one that hopefully will remain for many years to come.