You’re in Glasgow on your bike and need a good cup of coffee and some healthy victuals, but don’t need the stares; you like good sounds and you want to talk bicycles, not fitba’ and maybe you’re looking for the latest in ‘fixie’ street cred hardware and kit? Look no further – 162 Dumbarton Road, Partick and Siempre Bicycle Café should be your destination.
Siempre Bicycle Café is the name of this oasis in the desert of bad coffee and ‘I’m too sexy for my job’ bicycle shop staff.
‘Siempre’ is Spanish for ‘always’ and there are two versions of how the establishment gained the Latino handle.
We’ll take co-owner and ex-rock drummer, Callan Dickson’s male perspective first;
“The word has a good sound to it and features in some of Che Guevara’s greatest speeches, “Hasta la Victoria Siempre.”
“And it fits, always fun, always coffee, always bikes . . .”
His partner, Kirsten Caldow has a slightly different version;
“When I was working at a Bank I used to travel a lot and Callan would make me music CDs to take with me; he’d write on them; ‘always’.”
Call us sentimental fools, but we like that one better.
To emphasise the urban credentials, Siempre Bicycle Café is sited right next to the entrance to the Kelvinhall stop on Glasgow’s famous ‘Clockwork Orange’ metro.
We asked Callan if Partick was the preferred location for setting up shop;
“We looked at a few places, but it was always going to be the West End of Glasgow, it’s ‘student land’ and has that Bohemian feel to it.”
Ironically, it was one of the negatives sides of cycling – falling off your bike – which was the catalyst in the Siempre Bicycle Café project. Kirsteen explains;
“It was something I’d thought about for years, I love cycling, coffee, cakes, good food – I’ve always wanted to put those elements together.
“But there has to be a trigger; I fell off my bike and broke my pelvis. I couldn’t walk for three months – and during that time I put the business plan together.”
Despite Kirsteen’s background in finance, her tale on funding the venture is a familiar one;
“The banks and building societies gave us no help whatsoever, we had to sell things, borrow and use savings. The upside is that we have no big debts hanging over us.”
It was a dark and wet Glasgow Saturday morning when we called. but there was a steady stream of customers in search of good cappuccino and/or clothing.
This meant we had to shuffle interviewees; so as Kirsteen headed for the kitchen, Callan sat down with an eye on the door picked again up on the theme of location.
‘We’re a local business, there’s no point in us setting up as that and expecting folks to deal with us on that basis, then us sourcing from big companies – many of our suppliers are within a mile of here.
“We use local butchers, fish merchants, bakers and cheeses merchants.
“Our ‘Skinny Man’ T-shirts are made in Glasgow; we’re always looking to source local suppliers and products.’
The theme of being part of the community and inclusivity is close to both partners’ hearts. Kirsteen explains;
“What I tried to put across to the banks in the business plan was that we weren’t looking to set up an elitist high end bicycle shop.
“It‘s a place where everyone who enjoys cycling can come – from club riders and mountain bikers starting or finishing their runs to grannies with their old bikes to kids with their scooters.’
Callan takes this up;
“We want art and music to be part of what we’re about, this is an ideal space for gigs and exhibitions.
“Next month we’ll be screening cycling films on a Thursday evening – to give folks something to look forward to on a cold, wet January night.
“And in the spring we plan to have a big screen TV and show the Classics.
“We want the place to be a hub for art and music as well as cycling; and that means all cyclists – MTB guys, commuters, fixie guys and anyone else who gets on a bike.’
On a first visit to Siempre Bicycle Café, it’s hard not to be impressed by the work that’s been done on design and corporate identity.
Kirsteen took us through the brief;
“We were very lucky with our designer, Pearce O’Halloran – we showed him books of old cycling photos and talked about what we were trying to do.
“Colour was very important to us, purple and pink were our choice; we wanted a balance – not the usual male-dominated colours. And there are creams and browns used in the decor – welcoming, inviting colours.
“We liked those cycling pictures from the 20’s where you could see how hard it was, but people kept riding because they loved it, always kept pushing on – and having a beer and a fag after your race or ride was all part of it.”
We suggested to Callan that it’s a good time to be riding the ‘fixie/urban warrior’ bike and clothing wave;
“When you’re in Glasgow and see all the cycle couriers, you think there must be dozens of them working the streets, but apparently there are only five full time couriers in the whole city!
“It’s a big movement and a fixed gear bicycle is perfect for city riding, you don’t necessarily need 27 gears – with a fixie they’re so simple, mechanically that there’s little to go wrong.”
Although it’s not just fixies on display; there are Cinelli and Raleigh road bikes, middle of the road machines and cool Dutch-style ‘town bikes’ with baskets for your baguettes.
But the clothing on the shelves reflects ‘street vibe,’ with denim on display and a big selection of courier bags and ‘alternative’ headware. Callan explains;
“When we set up, we approached some of the big names and they weren’t interested – but some of whom have been back to us, since. The suppliers who went with us at the start fitted with us as smaller, more esoteric companies.
“Vulpine for example, their commuter clothing is well thought through and good on the eye.
“And Swrve jeans – there are bigger brands, but it’s good to go with these guys who supported you at the start.
“What’s surprising about some of these names is that they don’t actually have a network of retailers, you can only see the stuff on line, so it’s good for folks to be able to come in and see and handle the products.”
And as journos, we’re expected to ask the cliché questions, like; ‘have you had anyone famous in, yet – apart from Rab Wardell?’ Callan fields this one, too;
“We have the guys from The Fifth Floor coming in.
“They’re into fixed wheel culture; they promote events, sell clothing, videos and accessories and produce films about fixie culture – they’re a cool bunch of guys.
“And I had one of my heroes in the other day, Paul Buchanan from The Blue Nile (cult Glasgow band who cut the epic single ‘Stay,’)
“The Blue Nile are on our play list here and I wondered how he’d react if one of their tunes come on!”
And finally, the big question, is the coffee any good?
Back to Kirsteen’s territory;
“We deal with a Glasgow company called the Dear Green Coffee Roaster – in Gaelic, Glasgow is ‘The dear green place’ – they actually approached us, wanting to deal with us, which was nice.
“The blend we use is called ‘Goosedubbs’ and is a blend of Brazilian, Colombian, Sumatran and Ethiopian coffee.
“It’s ground on the morning we get it, so it’s as fresh as can be.”
And we have to tell you; it is the business! As was the french toast with bacon and maple syrup.
If you fancy great coffee, good tunes and friendly chat with like minded folks, jump on the Clockwork Orange – or better still your bike, and get down to Siempre Bicycle Café.