"is glasgow a cycling friendly city?" the question was asked by a softly spoken gent with a subtle english accent. malcolm replied that the city appeared to be making strides to adopt that persona through gradual implementations cycle tracks around the city's streets and through one or two other initiatives that would hopefully ease the inevitable tension between cyclists and motorists. we did, however, agree that the only way this was going to happen in the long-term, was if folks simply got on their bicycles and headed onto the streets. the quest to reach the critical mass that portland in oregon reckons it has achieved will depend on enough bums on saddles that the cyclist in front of that bus or taxi might well be a neighbour of the driver. putting names to faces (or pedals), seemingly pays dividends.
malcolm glass is the director and proprietor of glasgow's latest bicycle shop, pronto gara, a light bulb almost on the corner of parnie street, one layer down from the trongate, itself an extension of argyle street. it's not slap bang in the city centre, unlike the large and impressive evans cycle store on the corner of bath street, but then, it doesn't need to be. pronto gara styles itself as an urban cycle store, and perhaps characteristically resembles little more, on entering, than that of a small art gallery, similar to those that inhabit the city's blythswood square area. the big window facing onto parnie street features a very novel italian designed velocipede with a standard size rear wheel and a tiny front version, accompanied by a dahon folder.
unlike the aforementioned evans store, the bicycles do not occupy every square inch of floor space; there is barely a skinny wheel or bendy bar to be seen. these are what may comfortingly be referred to as proper bikes, and in this case, mostly women's models. this is no accident. according to malcolm, around 60% of his sales are to the fairer sex, with bicycles selling around the magic £300 mark and featuring sturmey three-speed gears, swept back bars and quill stems. there's more than just the occasional brooks leather saddle, several bicycles with chainguards and even a porteur rack or two topped with custom wood carrying crates. however, it is not all aimed at the female of the species, as there are some darned fine-looking roadsters, and i don't mind admitting that i now have my heart set on a taurus corinto with rod-pull brakes and a magazine rack on the handlebars.
pronto gara (roughly translated as ready to roll) exists on two floors; the ground floor features around a dozen bicycles on the woodgrain floor, with the two additional models in the window space and three mounted on the wall. it's is also home to several maintenance products and furry helmets more suited to malcolm's principal customer base as well as a decent selection of cafe du cycliste clothing. adjacent to malcolm's counter at the back of the shop, are a set of stairs leading to the basement and a further array of fine bicycles. state of the art it is not, but in truth, that is very much in its favour. bicycle shops generally do not get a good rap from the uninitiated; many's the occasion when i've opted not to enter a cycle shop populated by several sales assistants behind the counter, despite being particularly au-fait with pretty much every technical aspect of the cycle industry and its products. for some reason, there is an air of intimidation, though that possibly says more about me than it does about the cycle shops.
malcolm's approach is very far from intimidating; welcoming would be a far more apt description. even when we were deep in conversation about some arcane aspect of the urban landscape relating to cycles and cycling, malcolm would excuse himself politely and welcome each and every customer to the shop whether they had imminent purchase in mind or not. hence the opening conversation regarding glasgow's accessibility as a cycle friendly city.
so why enter the big bad world of cycle sales?
malcolm's background is in retail, but unrelated to the world of the bicycle. his inspiration to open the doors of pronto gara near glasgow cross was an appreciation of the european's embracing of the bicycle as simply a means of transport. where the pelotonese hold their obsession with carbon fibre, electronica, and more recently, the disc brake, a sizeable majority in the likes of copenhagen, berlin and amsterdam look upon two wheels as simply a viable alternative to four. akin to most motorists, for whom the car is merely a daily mode of transport, so the bicycle fulfils a similar yet often more practical alternative. the three-piece suit is as much formal dress for the daily cycle commute as is fluorescent yellow and lycra. and this, dear reader, is where pronto gara is at the cutting edge.
if the bicycle is to fulfil its destiny as the true heir to the throne, the next wave will not come from those partial to lycra. or 23mm tyres. this is not to deny that the bicycles chosen must necessarily be little more than a set of tubes welded together in a less than subtle manner; there is always room for aesthetics as well as beauty of purpose. but ultimately the chosen bicycle ought to fulfil its set purpose with the minimum of fuss, a limited need for maintenance, and while keeping well away from the world of the weight-weenie, ought not to be of oppressive heft. women do not favour the latter, and more than likely, neither does the male of the species. it is a corner of the market that seems not to have found great favour with the mainstream cycle retailers, relying on the likes of malcolm glass to have faith in his conviction that this will not only turn out to be the next wave, but that there is a living to be made in the process.
it is also the market in which inroads are being made by the electric bicycle, few of which, in my opinion, are the least bit aesthetically pleasing. pronto gara's showroom floor is home to two variations on the electric bicycle, both resembling regular bikes, but perhaps with the derailleur in the wrong place. keen to demonstrate the efficacy of a bicycle featuring pedal assist (where the rider has to undertake at least some responsibility for forward motion) malcolm allowed me to ride round the block on the model that fitted me more comfortably. it's an odd sensation when only a modest input at the pedals is followed by a kick from the electric motor. the only way to ameliorate this sensation is to pedal smoothly, a practice that comes surprisingly easily and quickly. i'm not entirely convinced that the regular cycle market is where this variant's future lies; i think it better aimed at those who would lean more towards mopeds or scooters, however, i'd be happy to be proved wrong if it means more bicycles and fewer cars.
despite my concerns that the roadster which is now the apple of my eye is less than ideally suited to the roads, or more importantly, the headwinds of the hebrides, i may well take steps to find out sooner rather than later. for those inhabiting the scottish urban landscape, whether inner city or large town in the central belt, take the time to go chat with malcolm glass, take a test-ride on one of the cycles on the shop floor, and save that team sky liveried pinarello for the sunday ride.
tuesday 26 november 2013