“Being a social space by having the coffee shop works so well. People have always liked to hang out here but felt they needed to buy things and couldn’t always afford a T-shirt. Coffee is a much cheaper option,”
Bolt's owner Andrew Almond isn’t stumped for new ideas to expand the business way beyond its current home in Hackney, London either. Last November he moved Bolt from its original premises, into the unit next door with almost three times the space and that’s opened up the potential to explore new ventures with the Bolt brand.
“We’re doing mechanics courses now,” says Andrew, bursting with energy as usual. “Simple stuff – how to maintain your own machine. Tony Davis, a racer for years, hosts them for us. He really knows how to teach and we had 50 people here for an introductory course. Then the first series of courses was held over five weeks with 11 people per class.
“We ran the class from seven until nine and then had an hour of informal chat and beers. Anything I do has to have a social angle. You have to give people an excuse to hang out and meet.”
Bolt is also offering leatherwork courses. It sells a neat tool roll made by La Rocka (they’re also now doing a Bolt bag made by Malle), but the courses offer people the chance to make their own tool roll from scratch – cutting, colouring, sewing etc. “We’re also going to have courses on belt making,” adds Andrew. “My aim is to have something running from Monday to Friday every week. We’ve got a barbers shop upstairs – and we’re hoping to open a bar and have regular food nights.”
He’s also seen an expansion of his customer base: “It’s still mainly motorcycle people and local musicians – 90 percent bikers, but all sorts. We’re getting a lot of sportsbike riders now. We ran a ride-out to Hastings and we had dirt bikes, Harleys, customs, classics, sports bikes. It was the most rag-tag group you could imagine. There were loads of us. I didn’t want it too organised though – it was more like a group of mates.”
When Bolt started, the aim was to support small local companies. “The cool thing was to pool together small local brands, but with people who I felt were doing it right. I’ve always believed in collaboration with products and events – working with people who I felt were doing it right, like the Black Skulls, Kingdom of Kicks, Eat Dust – but it’s gone much wider than that. Now we’ve got more space for a showroom and art gallery. There’s all the bike culture and craft element to the shop now.”
Brands include many of those companies who sell motorcycle gear that bridges high-street fashion: Hedon helmets, Wolverine boots, Deus, Biltwell, Wrenchmonkees clothing, Levis, Bell, Gapelle Leathers, Iron & Resin, Ben Davis, Indian Larry, East Dust and La Rocka.
Andrew is now applying for art council funding, to use the space as a centre for motorcycle sub-culture. “It’s not so much about the bikes, more the culture behind the bike so I want to do exhibitions with rockers, Lewis Leathers, films, music of the era…
“Motorcycling grew out of the sub-culture – media, music, film. I’m interested in doing it but need funding. I want to put shows together here – but then expand it into a travelling show. I need funding to get it going.”
He’s already kicked off the idea with an art exhibition by Nicholas Coleman from Utah. Andrew says: “He paints classic western scenes but also loves bikes and rides old classics. He was doing a lot of bike painting in water-colours and oils so I invited him over. It was the first time he’d shown his work outside of the US – his first major international exhibition.”
Andrew has invited Nick Clements (Men’s File), Nick Ashley (Private VC), Paul Simonon of the Clash, Dan Ross (Intersection magazine), and Built’s sister title Classic Bike on a steering committee to discuss ideas and look at ways of raising funding.”
Not content with that he’s also branch out into road trips. “I’m setting up Bolt Expeditions. I like the idea of an overland thing – but cooler and more fun. The idea is to get in some real motorcycling on good bikes – but at the end of each day there’s a native American-style camp so there’s no need for the riders to carry camping gear.