Bristol’s Black Beard Bicycles opened its Broadmead shop in 2014, restoring, selling and servicing vintage bikes from the 1940s to the 1990s. We caught up with owner Patrick Thompson to find out more.
What can we find at Black Beard Bicycles?
At Black Beard Bicycles you will find a selection of vintage steel-framed bicycles from the 1940s to the 1990s, fully restored and ready to ride. We normally have something for everyone, from student to enthusiast. Our vintage bikes have a unique French, rural look – we feel it’s a good addition to the city.
What inspired you to start your business and when did it get off the ground?
I started the business three years ago after returning from Mexico. I ended up staying with family in France for a while, which is where the project began. The first year was mainly researching the market, locating good quality stock and parts, and making contact with the main dealers.
Why have you chosen to specialise in French bikes?
A lot of French bikes are really good quality and very well made. French bikes have a unique look compared to the English equivalents, and they’re very in demand. We source our bikes from all over France but mainly from Paris auction houses and specific dealers. We’re pretty careful about what we buy, although the French attitude towards cycling is quite different to ours. People really look after their bikes, polishing and cleaning them weekly. The weather is also a big factor – less rain means less rust.
Have you always been interested in bikes and cycling? Any cycling adventures?
I have always been into bikes. I built up my first frame when I was about 12 years old. I’ve had a few crazy cycling adventures – once, a friend and I were stranded in the desert with a broken bike. It took us about four hours to fix a bike chain with a knife and fork and a rock. Eventually it worked!
Bristol is a hilly city and vintage bikes don’t always have gears – any tips?
All of our race/touring bikes have more than enough gears to tackle Bristol. A lot of them come from the Alps or the Pyrenees originally, which makes Bristol seem rather flat! Bristol’s great for cycling. Sustrans has some great information on local cycle routes, and I like to pop into Roll for the Soul for a coffee.
What should we look for when buying a vintage bike?
When buying a secondhand bike I would recommend buying from a shop; that way, you can always return if you need any advice or tuning up. Buying from classified ads is more risky as you don’t know if the bike has been stolen. Also, there could be problems that you don’t see initially but that could end up being more expensive in the long run. When test riding a potential bike, first spin the wheels to check they’re true. Then, check the tyres to make sure they aren’t split or worn, and also check the pressure. Test all the gear combinations and make sure everything is smooth. Finally, make sure the brakes are working properly, and check the frame and forks to make sure they are straight. There are lots of other things to check so if you don’t know what to look for then it’s a good idea to take a friend who does.
Why the name Black Beard Bicycles?
I chose to name my business after the notorious Bristol pirate from the 18th century. His treasure hunting inspired my own international search for two-wheeled treasures to ship back to the city!
Black Beard Bicycles
The Pithay Building
All Saints Street
Photograph by Ibolya Feher