It’s all about the bike…

Customers often ask ‘how long have you been here?’ I suspect they ask this because I am getting on in years or because the shop looks like it’s been around for quite a while – or, most likely both. They’re usually surprised when we tell them we only opened our Revolution Cycles showroom in December 2007. Inevitably, the next question is ‘why a bike shop?’

You see, most bike shop owners are usually ex-racing snakes relying on their cycling fame to get their fortune. We, my son Stirling-James (aka SJ, Stirling Junior, and just plain Stirling) and I, are the antithesis of this. Our fascination has always been with the bike – especially the mountain bike. Sure, my first adult bike experience was the very wet Argus of 1987 on a shiny, new Peugeot Rapport with two huge rings on the front, six tiny rings at the back and funny little gear levers on the down tube – no wonder it took me nearly 5 hours to cross the finish line in Camps Bay joining another 3 000-odd saturated souls on that soggy soccer field.

However, it was in 1990, that the first mountain bikes hit our shores and my real love affair with Table Mountain (we still live on the slopes of this iconic wonder of the world) and MTB’s began. Sedgefield Fat Tire Festival, Knysna Oyster Festival MTB Race, Dirtopia Festivals, Tokai Forest and our happy social MTB brotherhood, the Lost Amigos, the original night riders, lunch with Gary Fisher, Alpine & Pyrenean adventures, planning the first Epic with Kevin and Leon – all this thanks to that beautiful machine, the mountain bike! Despite my preference for gravel, mud and rocks, road biking has not been neglected with more than 25 Argus Cycle tours under my belt (SJ has completed 7 tours) and more fun rides than I can remember – the road bike has its own smooth, graceful appeal. The road bike is a thing of beauty akin to a European sports car while an MTB is like a 4×4 (a proper 4×4, not some of today’s glorified nanny vans).

Okay, enough nostalgia. Our family bike shop came about more by accident than planning. I’d done my 26-year stint in the corporate world (financial institution legal advisor and then a big change to magazine publishing – Car and Getaway). My wife had sold her retail business and Stirling Junior (an actuarial science honours graduate) was coming to the end of his contract with a financial futures trading company.

In March 2007, Gail and Nick opened Load and Go selling mainly Thule products (inspired by a Thule brochure that had found its way into my in-tray at Getaway magazine). I had a few publishing commitments to finish off, and joined Load and Go in August and SJ’s trading contract had come to an end in October. We were shooting the breeze with Nigel (a keen cyclist) on the pavement outside the Thule shop and the subject of putting some bikes into our underutilised little showroom (all 25 square meters of it) came up. He put us in touch with newcomers, Felt bicycles and a few weeks later we built 31 Felt road, mountain and TT bikes, designed the Revolution Cycles signage and custom built the tiny showroom and one-bike workshop “under-the-stairs”. Check out the page on “Why Che?” for more on the logo and name choice.

Our success in the first year – selling only Felt bikes – was such that the bikes gradually spilled over into the Thule fitment area. The inevitable addition of other cycle brands, our customer service, bicycle repairs reputation (Irvin is the real star!) and a large, competitively-priced range of accessories forced Load and Go onto a specially-built mezzanine floor as Revolution Cycles just took over! In 2011 we convinced Specialized to appoint us as resellers of their products and this great brand (with some others) made us a serious player in the Cape Town retail cycle industry.

Things got tighter – our bike and Thule stock began squeezing customers into a narrow maze of metal and rubber – one couldn’t see the carriers from the cycles! Choices had to be made and a new phase had began: Revolution Cycles, managed by Stirling-James, was happy in the original store (171 Bree Street) and Thule Load and Go found a good temporary home at 44 Orange Street. And just as we thought things were settling down, in 2013 we got the exciting news that Specialized Bicycles were going to begin the process of helping their main partner shops become big, beautiful Specialized Concept Stores.

And so the search for a bigger premises began, kind-of, because we got lucky! The building across the road (177 Bree Street) was being knocked down and a beautiful new building was being erected in it’s place. We immediately applied to be their street level retail tenant and not only did we secure a long term lease, we also had a small hand in finalising the floor lay-out which would ultimately become the shop you know and love today. And what happened to our first-of-it’s-kind Thule store? We moved it back into the original premises at 171 Bree Street and in late 2021 we proudly sold Load and Go (including the premises) directly to the importers of Thule in South Africa, who have further modernised the store to become an even more beautiful Thule Concept Store.

Gail still cracks the financial whip and is the ‘Big Boss’. And me? Well I am in and out trying to sell as many bikes as possible (between cups of coffee and the weekly night rides with my amigos) – hoping that my fortune (earned before the bike shop) will give me some fame! Since the big upgrade to a Specialized Concept Store, it is Stirling Jnr who run’s the show and continues to drives the Revolution Cycles forward.

Our aim is, and always has been, to keep people on their bicycles and to give you the best shopping experience possible – friendly, passionate, professional and knowledgeable. Our focus will always be on the ‘ordinary’ cyclist (road, mountain and a little bit of city) whose primary aim is have fun on their bikes, whether it’s an hour on our mountain, a lap around the Peninsula or a week of the Epic. The more our customers love their bikes, the more we love them. Lance was wrong – it is all about the bike.

Stirling Senior
(originally published by Senior in 2013, now with some additions and updates by Junior in 2022)