With Bristol gaining a new bike shop in the form of Friction Cycles, Ben sat down for a chat with the main man Sam Ralton to talk shop.
With most of the Wideopenmag staffers living in and around Bristol, a new bike shop popping up is certainly something to get excited about. Ben had a good old natter with Sam Ralton to find out the ins and outs of opening Friction Cycles during a very interesting year.
Images by Jacob Gibbins.
What is Friction Cycles?
Friction is Bristol’s brand new independent mountain bike shop. It’s going to be way more than just a shop though, and we’ll get onto that. We wanted to do things a bit differently and stock brands you don’t usually see around here; we’ve got bikes from Nukeproof, Pivot, Orange and Rocky Mountain as well as bits and pieces from Hope, Fox Suspension, Deity, DMR, Leatt, 100% and Ride Concepts… to name a few.
For us, it’s all about getting people hyped to get out on the trails so whether that’s fixing up your bikes in our professional, in-house workshop, or talking riding spots with good vibes and great coffee, we’re just stoked to be sharing our passion with you!
Who is behind Friction Cycles?
Friction was started by myself, Sam Ralton; a life-long mountain biker and South Bristol resident. I have been mad about mountain bikes since the early 90s, when I was lucky enough as a kid to be taken on rides and to the races, fuelling a further 30-odd years of riding and bike-related fun. It’s time to attempt to bring these good times to as many people as possible, they nearly always start with a bike.
I was joined early on by Bristol local Sam Fowler, our Shop Manager, whose knowledge and experience in the bike industry has been invaluable… not to mention his riding skills being on another level. His passion for bikes, riding and building trails is infectious. I’ve only ever met a handful of people who are as enthusiastic about their sport as Sam is about ours, stoked to have him on board.
We’ve just been joined by Freddie Pole, heading up our workshop. Freddie has a wealth of knowledge and experience in fixing your ride. He cut his teeth over multiple seasons in Whistler and the Alps, and now has a vast skill set ranging from servicing suspension and dropper posts, to bleeding brakes and building wheels. He’s an all round great guy, and a top mechanic.
Where did the name, ‘Friction’, come from?
A word association search for the word bicycle, it was quite far down the list. I had spent countless hours writing down potential names for the store (some listed below), Friction looked nice written down, and it was instantly more about the sound and the graphical potential of the word than it’s meaning. Although it can be interpreted in many different ways that can be applied to bikes, we’ll let you ponder, is Friction a good or a bad thing?
Skids and Wheelies, Rodeo, and Crankflip were strong contenders.
What are the values and ethos behind Friction Cycles?
To give as much back as possible to the amazing community that surrounds us; it’s that community that fuelled the idea in the first place. Right now, we’re finding our feet, but we’re aiming to pump what we can back into the sport.
Supporting trails groups and trail building, helping passionate riders to ride and race more, coaching the new generation of mountain bikers, and organising social rides and events to bring people together is what we’re about and where we’re aiming to be.
In such uncertain times for the economy it has to be risky and stressful opening a new business. What persuaded you to take the leap and go for it?
It sure is both of those. I’ve dreamt about opening a mountain bike shop for years, but it’s never seemed like the right place or right time. Then 2020 happened and I found myself out on my bike more than ever discovering all of the incredible spots that are right on my doorstep. I was persuaded mainly by the people that I spoke to about it, from all walks of life, everyone was so positive about the idea.
Have brands and distributors been positive about selling products to a physical shop, or were any sceptical or unwilling to work with you as a start up?
Really positive, most had scrupulous checks that we were an actual bricks and mortar shop, which was reassuring, once they knew a bit more about us and the direction of the store, all were happy to set up accounts and supply us. This in itself helped massively with taking the leap as mentioned above, all of the distributors we spoke to were very supportive of our mountain bike focused shop in Bristol, telling us it was about time a store like ours was opened.
What are you doing to COVID-proof the business?
Whilst this question was asked prior to the second UK lockdown, I am writing the answer during it. Luckily, we can remain open as an essential business. It is noticeably quieter in the store, with only people coming in who know what they want, or need a repair carrying out.
Our Covid secure measures that are in place are clearly to a high standard, as we just had a customer visit us today who commented on how safe she felt. In an ideal world, we’d have an e-commerce store with all of our stock online for click and collect or delivery, however we will need to have been trading a bit longer first.
What do you think people want from a bike shop in 2020?
I think people are looking for a more human experience; good customer service, friendly and knowledgeable staff, a space to talk bikes and get advice on new gear. We do so many other things online, I think it’s invaluable to have physical shops where you can go and engage with people who share the same passion as you.
Having a great range of products obviously helps too! We’ve put a lot of energy into hand-picking everything in the shop, and we’d stand behind each one of our selections. Having people tell us how nice it is to see the products they actually want to buy is a huge boost.
People also seem to realise the perks of buying a bike from a local, independent retailer over an online shop; the aftercare and servicing packages that come with a purchase just can’t be matched.
You hear that the future of bike shops is increasingly in workshops and servicing as bikes are more complex and need more maintenance. Do you agree with this?
Not entirely, the above statement is partly true, but bike sales will remain strong for the reasons listed in the above question, people will carry on buying bikes from stores that they can trust, get good advice, service and aftercare from.
How has the shop been received by the local MTB community?
Brilliantly. Everyone’s been really supportive and chuffed to have a new bike shop on their doorstep. It’s great to already have regular customers (after only 4 weeks) and to see familiar faces popping in to say hello. We’d like to thank everyone who has come by to have a look and for a chat; your positivity and kind words have been incredible. Hopefully we’ll be able to invite you all along for an opening party soon.
Why should a Bristol based rider come to Friction to buy their bike or kit?
Well, quite simply, because Friction is theirs. We made this thing happen because of, and thanks to, the incredible community that surrounds us here; it’s by riders, for riders. We’ve loved seeing so many local faces come down already, but for those who haven’t made it just yet; swing by and see that we’re not just a bike shop, you never know, you might meet a new local rider to go and shred with.
Anything else you want to add?
Above all, a massive thank you to all of the people who have given their help and support throughout this journey. Your positivity has been amazing and has been appreciated in more ways than I could describe.
We’d be stoked to see you in store and give us a cheeky follow @frictioncycles.
You can check out everything Friction Cycles-related on their website here.