Cycle cafe pops up to fill a gap in the market

Dipak at PopUp Bikes

Dipak at PopUp Bikes

The news that the UK is officially in another recession confirms what businesses have long known: times are hard. What will commercial landlords do with vacant trading space? And with rising fuel prices incentivising cycle commuting, where are we going to put all the extra bikes?

One Manchester-based social entrepreneur has put two and two together.

Dipak flips the espresso lever and a mechanical hiss cuts through the conversations of half a dozen commuter cyclists. At the door, Prakash shakes the hand of a brightly clad customer then wheels her bike to the storage bays as she goes off to change into her workwear. Welcome to PopUp Bikes, the latest incarnation of secure, covered cycle parking.

The railway arches on Manchester’s Corporation Street are home to various small businesses including taxi garages, artists’ studios and engineering firms. “The arch we’re stood in was owned by a wealthy businessman,” explains Dipak Patel, the proprietor of PopUp Bikes. “He used this place to park his car during the day.” We laugh because his premises could easily house a dozen cars. Or a hundred bikes.

PopUp Bikes aims to be more than a manned parking facility which is why a day’s parking comes free with a coffee (and that’s priced lower than Costa). Cycle commuters who don’t drink coffee can choose between daily and monthly parking tariffs.

It’s early days, the facility having opened mid-April, and Dipak knows that even a social enterprise must grow fast to survive, but his positivity is contagious and he has done his homework. Having researched the number of commuters cycling into Manchester, he thinks the numbers stack up.

This operation has cost a fraction of the Cycle Hubs being planned by Transport For Greater Manchester. The savings result from using existing premises at a time when the lettings market is deflated, whilst the social aims of the business encourage suppliers to cut their prices. It’s the kind of smart thinking that’s essential in a shrinking economy and Dipak is confident this model could pop up all over the city – as long as cyclists keep buying their morning coffee.

This article was originally published at The Guardian Northerner blog.