andrew almond | bolt motorcycles

A motorcycle is much more than just a bike, it’s a lifestyle and Andrew Almond, the founder of BOLT Motorcycles knows it. The Stokey shop and garage not only turns out custom bikes, it sells a range of clothing, accessories and art. We caught up with Andrew to discover where the passion for bikes comes from and to find out about his epic upcoming 1000-mile road trip…

Where do you live in London and what do you like about the area?

I live and work in Stoke Newington and have been in Hackney for the past twenty years, so it feels like home. I like the fact that you can still feel the sense of the original village and that it’s slightly disconnected from the rest of London by its lack of transport facilities. BOLT is based in an old Victorian stable, that has been home to a motorcycle garage from the 1950s to the 1970s and I appreciate the sense of lineage and heritage in the area. Around the corner was the site of Tom’s Cafe, a Rockers cafe in the sixties and a few streets down was another cafe favoured by the Mods. East London has become synonymous with art, creativity and design, and this innovative edge, alongside its rich subcultural history is the inspiration and fuel to what we do.

Where does your passion for motorcycles come from?

Originally, I rode motorcycles whilst working on overseas projects in Mozambique and Israel – they were essentially a means of mobility – although undeniably a lot of fun at the same time. When I moved to London I bought an old 60s Vespa and I love that riding opens up the city and allows you to escape at ease. Likewise, when I travel my preferred means is always a motorcycle, they embody the spirit of adventure and you see the world differently on two wheels, you are exposed, and you take it all in. I love the simplicity of the motorcycle, little more than an engine and two wheels, and the scope of what can be done to them – everything can be customised or uprated to improve performance or reflect an individual’s style and preference. There is a real sense of community in the motorcycle scene and it’s great to meet people from all over the world and see their distinctive take on things – it makes for a small world.

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BOLT is as much about clothes and art as it is about bikes, how do you select the brands and pieces that you stock in the shop?

We curate our stock from small independent brands that are motorcyclist owned, most of the labels we stock come from people who build bikes or are heavily involved in the scene in some way. We import from our apparel from California, Belgium, Copenhagen, Paris and Germany and generally stock wares that are exclusive to BOLT. We favour apparel that has a traditional approach to workmanship and quality, that pay due care to detail and produce garments that are hard wearing for life on the road. Our own apparel references the past, but we are not a retrospective brand, our cuts are contemporary, and we are innovative in producing our own fabrics or using new technologies that make improvements for the wearer.

Collaborating with artists is something that has been a big part of what we have done from the outset. This might be from hand-fabricating parts for motorcycles through to hand chain-stitching, hand tooled leather, hand painted or printed apparel. We like to make things with a human element, so that the wearer knows that the product has been handmade throughout its production, that it’s limited and is something to be cherished. My preference is for a sense of timeless style, for quality goods that last, that become integral to the wearer and their individual style.

What are your fave routes to ride in London?

I have a few different motorcycles and scooters, and each lends itself to a different type of riding. My 1969 Lambretta scooter is great for racing around town and cutting through the traffic of the West End. My Buell motorcycle is too powerful to ride comfortably in the city and just wants to go fast so I tend to take that out to Epping where I can let it off its leash. My favourite thing is to see the sea, that always creates a balance to life in London, and I often ride out to Hastings, Southend, Margate or Brighton when I feel like escaping the city.

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Why do you think the market for custom bikes is growing?

For years the custom bike scene was dominated by either flashy show or performance enhanced sports motorcycles and it came down to a case of how deep one’s pockets were. Styles and taste was often superseded by thick show chrome and ostentatious designs led by the Orange County Chopper school, completely impractical for the London streets. About ten years ago there was a revival of home grown custom bikes, taking relatively affordable old Japanese bikes and stripping them back with a DIY approach. People started appreciating patina and style over substance – they weren’t high performance machines but fun city hacks, neither too powerful or precious for daily use. This opened the scene to a whole new generation of motorcyclists who found that they could do much of the work themselves from their own garage with limited funds. Motorcycles attract a diverse cross section of people and there are many younger people and women who are taking to two wheels nowadays due to the lifestyle, scene and events that have become available. Everyone needs to break out and get their kicks sometimes, and motorcycles are the best excuse to leave everything behind and let off some steam.

Tell us about the bespoke Budvar bike you’re making for your 1000-mile European road trip.

This is a fun project for us and a great opportunity for us to bring together many of our collaborators on one project. We are utilising craft throughout the build, from a handmade frame, to hand-tooled leather seat, hand painted body work and so on. The Jawa is a typical workhorse, utilitarian with a small capacity engine – really it was designed for short trips, a means of mobility. We have gone for quite an extreme overhaul and we are only really keeping the wheels and engine; the rest will be custom-made. The bike is already unrecognisable from where it started off. What really drew me to the bike was the engine which is beautifully styled with finned curves and follows the form from the original 50s-60s models and is most likely an old engine that they had laying around the factory.

The challenge will be riding it to the Budvar brewery in Budweis, South Bohemia as I am 6′ 4′ and the bike is rather compact due to the small engine. We could have stretched it out to fit my size, but the engine would have looked dwarfed and I couldn’t bring myself to building something that I wasn’t pleased with aesthetically. The engine is two stroke which will be a lot of fun for ripping about the city but on the open road for miles on end will have a capacity to overheat. This is the fun part, planning a route that takes in the country roads, small towns and lesser seen places. We will be having a party along the way and will visit our friends who have motorcycle shops in Bruges, Amsterdam and Prague. I think the impracticality of everything is what appeals to me, anyone can ride some appropriate motorcycle 1000 miles, but where’s the fun in that? I am excited to see where the little Jawa takes us to.

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Describe your perfect day in London.

I wake up and play some records whilst I take my morning coffee – caffeine and music are two things that I need first thing. I’ll head out on my motorcycle and catch up with different friends, I’ve built my business around friendships and people who inspire me, I love to gain new influences and to find projects where we can collaborate on. Since it’s a perfect day, the sun will be out and it is scorching hot, so I’ll race down to Southend in the afternoon – I can make it in under an hour. As long as I’m looking out to sea I’m not bothered about the rest of what’s going on around me, I think as I get older it’s easier to focus on the small things that make me happy without the distractions. My favourite restaurant is Bistrotehque hidden away in a warehouse off Cambridge Heath Road, so I’d have dinner with my girlfriend Marianna. I’d finish the day off at my friend’s pub, catching up with old friends until the clock strikes and another day begins.