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Canning Town: How the Bamboo Bicycle Club helps its customers build their rides

Fast-growing material offers natural cushioning, offered by the business via kits and workshops

James Marr of the Bamboo Bicycle Club at Caxton Works
James Marr of the Bamboo Bicycle Club at Caxton Works

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James Marr was working in rural Wales as an engineer when he encountered the problem that would lead to the creation of the business he’s now run for 10 years in east London.

“I was doing a lot of commuting and I was really uncomfortable on my bike,” he said.

“I decided I needed a frame that would absorb more of the vibrations from the road and be a bit more pleasant to ride.

“I’ve always been someone who just gets on and does stuff and a bicycle gives you that ability.

“I’ve always cycled – it gives you a lot of freedom, and I really enjoy that.

“I’ve always tried to fix things and build things myself, so I thought I’d make my own bicycle.”

Having lived in the USA and seen people riding bikes with bamboo frames he began researching the material and found it to his liking.

“That’s where I got the original idea,” he said. “Bamboo bikes are about 120 years old now – they’ve been around for a while.

“Technology has obviously progressed in terms of how you build bikes over time and that’s made making your own much more accessible.

“You’re able to create something really decent now, so I thought I’d build one.

“I told my best mate Ian McMillan about it, and he joined in.

“We used to meet up at the weekends – we’d have some beers and build our bikes.

“That was really the inception of the Bamboo Bicycle Club.

“We really enjoyed building them and riding them – it was enjoyable and sociable and our mates asked if they could come and build with us as well.”

Build workshops take place in Canning Town every month

Initially the idea was to open up the club as a social project with James and his friend keeping their  jobs in engineering while continuing to build and teach others at the weekends.

But the idea snowballed and James quit his job to run the business full-time.

He relocated operations to Caxton Works in Canning Town in 2020 after years in Hackney Wick, mostly because rents in the area were becoming prohibitive for a firm like his that needs a significant amount of space.

It’s necessary because the spirit of the original club still forms the spine of the business.

“We don’t sell finished bikes – only kits and building sessions in our workshops,” said James.

“Over the years it has been a temptation to sell finished bikes, but it was that early feeling I got when I rode the bike I’d built which is really key.

“I remember that when I rode it, me and my mate were giggling, because we just couldn’t believe that we’d built these bikes and were riding them for the first time.

“They were functional, they worked, and they definitely planted the seed of what could be achieved. That initial spark from riding them was unique.

“The first one I built was pretty shit, but it made me realise what I’d done wrong.

“When I’m teaching others, the first thing I say is: ‘Make mistakes, but just embrace that and learn from them – it’s a process’.

“This is something that’s not allowed in our society that much – you don’t go to work to make mistakes – but trying to give things a go and learning from doing them is what I believe in and that’s what we do here.”

That’s, of course, because the other thing the club does is build a lot of bikes and sell a lot of kits so people can make them at home.

“Our home-build kits are our biggest growth area,” said James. “We now do a lugged frame with pre-moulded components – it’s the Ikea of bike building.

“You get the bits in a box, slot all the bamboo into them and you’ve got yourself a bike.

“It moves away from the possibility of compromise, but it gives people the ability to use their hands and learn some techniques.

“It takes a few hours instead of the 70 you’d expect using a cottage industry method.”

James assists a client with his build
James assists a client with his build

There’s a sense, however, that James prefers custom builds – clients who want to get their hands a little dirtier by using flax and resin to join the lengths of bamboo into frames that will suit their needs and desires.

“When you have that combination of materials, the frame becomes a bio-composite and it’s a lot more interesting,” he said.

“The initial concept was to build a certain bike a certain way, but some of the bikes we’ve built are completely bizarre.

“Loads of people build crazy bikes with us in the workshop and we also do custom kits that we ship all over the world.

“People build mountain bikes out of bamboo and that just shows how robust and versatile a material it can be.

“We’ve done loads of BMX and stunt bikes as well.

“Everyone is following the same general blueprint here but each bike is different and unique. It’s down to the individual who is building it.” 

A lugged frame from the Bamboo Bicycle Club
A lugged frame from the Bamboo Bicycle Club

Visitors to the Canning Town workshop can see all sorts of machines created from bamboo including tricycles, electric variants and rides with oversize chunky backbones.

The business also sells a wide range of add-ons from gear and brake packs to the simple addition of water bottle holders.

“If you’re into bikes, you know there are hundreds of different types and variations,” said James.

“Basically a bamboo bike is just a bicycle, no different from any other, that you use or may have used regularly.

“The only difference is that you can customise it, create something you want and it’s a lot more accessible.

“If you want to build a custom bike from other materials, you’re talking tens of thousands of pounds, so bamboo bikes are quite affordable to build.

“From a ride perspective it’s also a lot more comfortable because the material naturally absorbs impact.

“We’ve done a lot of work with universities researching bamboo because there’s huge under-investment and naivety about it in the western world.”

Frame build kits start at £410, while one-day frame building workshops, which run once a month and must be pre-booked, start at £695.

Bamboo can be used to make a wide range of bikes
Bamboo can be used to make a wide range of bikes

Read more: How Just Vibez is set to take over Greenwich Peninsula

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Royal Docks: How Reset Connect brings people together to fight climate change

Inaugural event at Excel will see sustainability pioneers like Canary Wharf Group inspire others

Reset Connect CEO and co-founder Duncan Reid
Reset Connect CEO and co-founder Duncan Reid

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Duncan Reid has been an events man his whole career.

It started at university in the 1990s, organising parties with DJs at the students’ union.

Then there was a strategic move into the business sector, conveniently leaving Friday and Saturday nights free for attending music events rather than putting them on.

In 2010 he joined Clarion Events – one of the largest companies organising conferences, shows and exhibitions in the world – rising to become MD and executive vice president of its energy division.  

“I was already managing the move away from coal, gas, oil and fossil fuel extraction – there were big things happening with carbon emissions,” he said. “Then the pandemic hit.”

With the events sector among the hardest hit, Covid meant many shows didn’t take place for two years, contractors were left without work and organising companies laid off staff.

For Duncan, it was an opportunity to take a step back and decide on a future direction.

“I started looking around for what I wanted to do,” he said. “Then I realised sustainability should be my focus and that it was important that we fast-tracked as much of this sector as possible.

“The two big challenges before the pandemic were that the pace of adoption was not fast enough and – the really big one – was that, even if a company wanted to roll out sustainability, whatever they wanted to do, there was a big funding gap.

“For example, if you were a company that made ready meals and you wanted to move to using electric vehicles with refrigeration to transport them, then that would be quite a hassle for a small business.

“Big corporates can have a sustainability strategy and can appoint someone to oversee it, but for small businesses it’s quite a challenge.

“Then if you’re a startup, it’s hard enough to get your idea off the ground let alone managing your impact on the environment at the same time.”

That led Duncan to the idea for Reset Connect – a new conference and exhibition that is set to get its first outing over two days at Excel in Royal Docks.

Taking place on June 28 and 29, 2022 – during London Climate Action Week – the event will see more than 100 exhibitors and sustainability partners showcase their services and more than 150 speakers discussing a very wide range of topics.

Canary Wharf Group – long a pioneer in environmentally friendly development and stewardship – will be represented by head of sustainability Sophie Goddard at a panel discussion, starting at 11.15pm on the event’s second day.

She, together with representatives of Sintali, Savills Investment Management, Hark Systems and Mitie, will seek to illuminate processes and technology that can be implemented now to fight climate change.

That’s just one session in a packed programme and the two-day event will also see opening keynote speeches from Doughnut Economics Action Lab co-founder Kate Raworth on the first day and World Wildlife Fund chief executive Tanya Steele on the second.

Reset Connect aims to help businesses become more sustainable
Reset Connect aims to help businesses become more sustainable

With the Elizabeth Line’s arrival shrinking the gap between Canary Wharf and Custom House (the station adjacent to the venue) to three minutes, Reset Connect is also easily accessible. 

“The idea is really to pool the learnings that the corporate sector has and to share them among peers to help everyone benefit,” said Duncan.

“It’s analogous to what’s happened in finance with technology.

People would queue up in branches of banks to withdraw money and then go to another bank to pay that money into someone else’s account 15 years ago.

Now there’s an app on your phone, you’re sending money to someone else and you don’t even think about it.

“This is where we’re at with sustainability – this is where we move away from carbon quite massively.

“It’s really easy for us to keep using oil but then we certainly won’t be here in 100 years.

“So we need to try to work out how we can reduce carbon emissions on a scale similar to the fintech revolution. 

“That is quite daunting, because a lot of the technology is in the early stages of development, but we need to do something major, quickly because the dial isn’t moving fast enough.”

That’s exactly the issue that Reset Connect will be addressing – how to rapidly shift away from a system that destroys the planet to one that allows humanity to go on and thrive. It’s no small ambition.

“The point of the event is to get people who are already doing things well to talk about what they do, how to speed up adoption, what funding they use and whether they borrow money or use assets to do it so others can learn,” said Duncan.

“Obviously it’s a work in progress and it’s a really complex area. One of the reasons it’s called ‘Reset’ is because part of the issue is about how you measure success. 

“In the past that has always been linked to a profit measure but over the next 10 years it will increasingly become about impact. It’s about asking how we measure it, what we put our money into and what we really value.

“People are already talking about this in the corporate world, as are shareholders and the startup community.

“People also want to know how they can invest their pensions and savings in these areas.

“Some businesses may say that because they’re not listed it won’t affect them, but it will affect everyone. At some point you’ll be part of someone’s supply chain and that means you need to be thinking about it.

“Then there are the big fossil fuel companies – there are lots of pension funds invested in them so it’s really complex.

“Do you take the money out or do you find a way to work with them to be better, because the danger is that they will carry on being bad if you don’t?”

The show will take place at Excel in the Royal Docks
The show will take place at Excel in the Royal Docks

Duncan said there was a real appetite not only to tackle these topics, but also to do so in person with Reset Connect bringing together businesses, activists and politicians.

“I think the thing we really missed during the pandemic was people coming together, face-to-face,” he said. 

“The analogy I use about events is that they are like a football match.

“You can watch it on TV but it is so much better if you go to a game with five of your mates – it’s a completely different experience. That’s why we try and make as much of our content free as possible.

“While Covid fast-tracked the adoption of video call technology, things are so much more productive when you can shake someone’s hand and see and feel the products they are selling first-hand.

“I think that, if we’re going to tackle some of the climate challenges we’ve got, then we’ll achieve more if we’re able to get round a table, meet at a stand or talk about it over a beer with someone you’ve unexpectedly met but share a common purpose with.

“A lot of it is about serendipity and also discovering the things you didn’t know, but really needed to. 

“Of course you can sit at home and google ‘cities’ or ‘city infrastructure’ and that will give you a load of information, some of which may well be very interesting.

“But it won’t be the same as having Sophie Goddard from Canary Wharf Group tell you about its partnership with the Eden Project and what their vision is for that.

“You might stumble across some details on page 25 of your search – but that’s not the same as having a leading developer telling you how it builds cities for the future, what that looks like and what the partnership between business and finance needs to look like to make it happen.

“At Reset Connect, you’ll hear from experts like the Mayor Of Copenhagen, for example, telling you what that city has done to become a world leader in sustainability.

“And all of this is just one stop away from Canary Wharf on the Elizabeth Line.”

  • Reset Connect’s exhibition is free for visitors to attend with registration. Access to the conference is via delegate pass. 

For startups, scaleups, not-for-profits, academic institutions and public sector organisations these start at £295 per person. Advance delegate passes cost £600.

Readers can get 25% off their booking at Reset Connect by using code WL25.

Duncan said in-person events were great for sharing ideas
Duncan said in-person events were great for sharing ideas

Read more: Why the Elizabeth Line is a game changer for events at Excel

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Greenwich: How Joy’s Caribbean Fusion tackles waste and meat consumption

Founder Tescha Joy blended banana skins, spices and veganism to create a street food business

Tescha Joy of Joy's Caribbean Fusion
Tescha Joy of Joy’s Caribbean Fusion image Matt Grayson

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Taste and waste is what Tescha Joy is all about. Driven by a desire to create sustainable, eco-friendly, flavourful food, she created Joy’s Caribbean Fusion – a street food brand that had its debut at Bexley’s Wasteless Market two-and-a-half years ago.

Since then she’s gone on to establish herself at RARE Farmers Market at Royal Arsenal Riverside and recently started a residency every Thursday from noon-8pm, at Pegler Square in Kidbrooke Village, just by the station.

 Her food is vegan and contains only plant-based ingredients, cooked with Caribbean spices to create dishes that attract longer queues at the markets she serves than stalls selling meat. And it all started with some banana skins.

Scroll down for Tescha’s Banana Skin Curry recipe

“I’m a public health nurse and work three days a week in the NHS,” said Tescha.

“My first dish was banana skin curry – I was at work one day and everyone was throwing away their banana skins and I asked them to give them to me instead.

“I hate waste so I took those skins and created a dish with them. There’s lots of iron, fibre and many other nutrients in them. The whole point of the dish was that I wanted to show people that you don’t have to throw away certain ingredients. 

“I showed you can create a nice meal from them and that’s where I got the idea for the business – it’s the dish I took to the Wasteless Market and it’s the only recipe I’m happy to share because I want people to recreate it at home.

“I want to have it printed in this paper so readers can use it rather than throw away their banana skins. 

“We’d normally throw them away in the Caribbean too – people over there are amazed when I tell them.   

“I’d decided to go vegan for environmental reasons – I think we eat too much meat in this country. I’m not anti-meat, but I think it’s important to cut down.

“Climate change is important to me because I want a better future for my children – I want them to grow up in a world where we waste less food. 

“I know what it’s like to be hungry. The majority of people in this country don’t know what that’s like and we need to cut the amount of food we throw away.

“I’ll literally make a dish from nothing – some potato peelings can be put in the oven with olive oil and you have some crisps.”

Tescha's take on doubles with chickpea curry
Tescha’s take on doubles with chickpea curry and pickles – image Matt Grayson

Tescha’s banana skin curry remains a firm favourite on the menu at Joy’s, joined by a host of core dishes intended to delight diners with both flavour and texture.

She said: “Cooking is also my passion and it’s in my blood. My parents owned a restaurant in the Caribbean. I would have to just get changed after school and go and help whether I wanted to or not.

“My brother owns a restaurant in Catford and I have another brother who is in America and has a restaurant there.

“There’s a long family tradition of cooking, but I’m the only one who does vegan.

“Normally you’d have jerk chicken and jerk pork – quite meaty dishes. I wanted to explore different types of food using Caribbean flavours.

“Also, I think it’s good for my children to see that vegetables can be really tasty and it’s better for the planet.

“On the classic menu, I have chickpea curry with flatbread – it’s really naughty because it’s deep fried – and that’s served with mango chutney, which I make from scratch before every market, tamarind sauce and pickled onion, red cabbage and cucumber.

“In the Caribbean we call it doubles because you get two smaller breads, but I do it as one large one, just to be a bit different.

“We also do rice bowls with toppings of barbecue jerk mushroom, jerk tofu and cauliflower bites.

“My best seller is the combination bowl where you get a bit of everything including the chickpea curry and the flatbread. It all comes with the same toppings – the chutney and the pickles.

“Then we do specials such as vegan fish, which is made from jackfruit or banana blossom with plant-based marine ingredients to give it that fishy flavour.

“People can be a bit hesitant to try vegan dishes, but once they do, they usually come back and say they don’t need the meat.

“I catered for a wedding in December and the bride told me some of the guests thought they’d need to go to the local burger shop after they’d eaten the food.

“But she called me back later and told me nobody had gone – they all were amazed at the texture of the dishes and the different flavours.

“I’ve built up a big following in the areas where I trade – at RARE in Woolwich I have a queue, which is longer than the meat queue and I think people are becoming more aware of veganism and meat-eaters are also cutting down and having plant-based food instead.”

Joy's serves a range of vegan dishes
Joy’s serves a range of vegan dishes – image Matt Grayson

New dishes undergo strict quality control from Tescha’s children who taste all of her dishes before they’re allowed to make it onto the stall.

Her ambition is to keep growing the business to the point where it can operate more widely and be her sole focus.

“I’m still working as a nurse, which is something I’ve been doing for 20 years,” she said. “I’d love to have Joy’s in multiple locations, to train people up to run those stalls and serve the food. 

“At the moment my goal is to get a van so the business can be more mobile.

“This really is my passion – it’s something I want to develop. I now make and sell my own sauces too – called Island Drizzle. 

“People kept coming and asking me for my recipes and my husband said: ‘Don’t tell them, just put it in a bottle’.

“It comes in medium, hot and extra hot. They’re all vegan too and are quite different to a lot of sauces out there because you can use them as a marinade, a dressing and as a condiment.

“It’s not the hottest sauce around because I’m more into the flavour than the heat – customers can come down and try it.”

Cook it: Banana Skin Curry

While most of Tescha’s recipes remain secret, she’s happy to help people cut down on waste by sharing this one – perfect for using up that unwanted peel…

Tescha's Banana Skin Curry
Tescha’s Banana Skin Curry

Ingredients (serves three-four)

4-5 large ripe banana skins

1 cup peeled, diced potato

3 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp curry powder 

1 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp fennel seeds 

1/4 tsp cumin seed

2 cardamom pods

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp ground coriander 

1/3 tsp chopped scotch bonnet 

       chilli pepper (optional) 

3 tbsp vegetable oil

1 large onion finely (chopped) 

1 tbsp fresh thyme (chopped)

1 tbs curry leaves (optional)

2 tbsp fresh coriander (chopped)

1 cup water 

1/2 cup coconut milk

Method

Thoroughly wash the banana skins, remove the rigid woody end at the top and dark spot at the end. 

Add lemon juice to the skins to stop them going dark while chopping (they will still be edible, even if this happens, so don’t worry).

Use a spoon to scrape out the inner lining and discard the scrapings. Depending on your preference, finely or roughly chop the skins. Then add the diced potato to them and combine with salt, curry powder and turmeric. 

In a pestle and mortar, place the fennel seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom pod, garlic, ground coriander and chilli. Grind into a paste. Add the paste to the banana skins and potatoes and mix in well. Add chilli here if preferred for a spicier dish.

Add the oil to a frying pan, heat and turn down. Add the chopped onion and stir until softened and then tip in the chopped banana skin mix. Increase  the heat and sauté for 10 minutes. 

Add the coconut milk, water, thyme, curry leaves and fresh coriander to the pan. Cover and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes. 

Add an extra 1/4 cup of water if you prefer a more moist curry. Remove from heat once the banana skins and potatoes are soft. Serve with rice of your choice, a flatbread or on a bed of salad.

Tescha Joy

Read more: Tom Carradine celebrates six years of Cockney sing-a-longs at Wilton’s

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Greenwich: How the Art Of Zero Living brings sustainable products to shoppers

Store in Greenwich Market stocks more than 400 eco-friendly lines with no plastic packaging

Art Of Zero Living founders Justas Kanapeckas and Vita Viskackaite
Art Of Zero Living’s Justas Kanapeckas and Vita Viskackaite – image Matt Grayson

Vita Viskackaite and Justas Kanapeckas would love you to bring your own containers when you visit their shop in Greenwich Market. But if you don’t it’s no bother. The Art Of Zero Living is as ready to serve curious passers-by just as any convenience store would. But it does it without resorting to single-use plastic.

Opened two months ago, the shop carries more than 400 product lines – all carefully selected by the couple to meet their exacting environmental standards – including 240 kinds of food with 85% certified as organic. 

how did you come to start the Art Of Zero Living? 

Vita: It was born during the pandemic, when we were at home for eight months doing nothing, and we couldn’t shop zero waste, because there was nothing around, so we decided it was the perfect time to start something.

I was working at Itsu in the logistics department as a supply chain coordinator.

Justas: I’d been working in a restaurant as a manager for the last 10 years, so I’m from a retail and hospitality background and Vita knew about supply and logistics, but retail was new for us.

One morning over coffee – we’d already watched a lot of Netflix – and we said, as we were locked at home, we should use the time for something.

The storefront in Greenwich Market – image Matt Grayson

where did you find inspiration?

Justas: We’d read a book by Bea Johnson, who coined the term Zero Waste. We’d always been into nature and, because we have a daughter, we thought it was important to work on that area.

Vita: Bea gave me a kick up the arse. Her ideas had already pushed me to make changes – we refused to buy food in single-use plastic packaging, but during the pandemic we were forced to go back and buy it, because we didn’t have anywhere to buy it locally in Greenwich. When you’re purchasing this stuff every day, you don’t realise – you think it’s normal. 

But when you start living a different lifestyle and then you have to go back, you realise that it isn’t at all.

Food products ready to be dispensed into containers – image Matt Grayson

what will people find in the shop?

Vita: High quality, natural, sustainable food and other products – absolutely nothing that has chemicals in it.

It’s all about being able to trace each product from the beginning to the end of the supply chain. We can provide all the information customers need and we believe in organic food and use all the products ourselves. I’m happy to stand by every single one – if we didn’t like it, we wouldn’t sell it.

Justas: We’ve done eight months of homework and we’re still doing it if we decide to bring in a new line.

Customers can buy as much or as little as they like because the things we sell are mostly not pre-packed. We try to eliminate as much packaging as possible. 

Of course, for first-time buyers we provide paper bags and containers free of charge. We live this lifestyle so we know how to encourage people.

The shop also sells many non-food products – image Matt Grayson

how does it work?

Vita: We explain that to everyone who comes through the door for the first time. Either people go back home and get their jars and containers, or use our bags.

I remember my first time shopping in such a store – it’s very strange if you’re used to a supermarket. You’re afraid to drop the beans or that you might put something in the wrong place, because it’s complete freedom for you to help yourself.

But nobody should worry – we’re always there to advise customers that it’s fine, that they can make a mess and it’s normal. The shop is designed for this. Then they laugh and we make them feel welcome. We want Greenwich to know that we exist, because we are affordable. We said that we were not going to be expensive, even though we are organic. People should be able to afford this food and bring their own containers.

Justas: We’ve had Australians come to our shop – many of them – and they’ve said shops like this are on every corner in their country and wonder why it’s not like that in the UK. We are the first shop like this in Greenwich.

how would you like to develop the brand in future?

Vita: Business is getting better and better – we knew that at the beginning it was going to be very hard.

No-one made a shop work in two or three months, it takes time – one year, maybe two – we don’t know. But this is our idea, it’s our lifestyle and it comes from the bottom of our hearts, so we’re going to fight for it.

Justas: One of the good things is that everyone can buy from us, because they are not forced to buy a lot. We have literally had people spending 83p on nuts or some pasta.

I hope this shop will bring us more attention in general, and maybe we’ll start a bigger project, perhaps open a few more or maybe teach kids in schools – that would be nice. It’s not only business, it’s spreading a message.

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Wapping: How Stirling Eco is bringing art to the booming world of electric vehicles

Founder and CEO Robert Grace is building a moped-focused brand that’s filled with creativity and a flare

Stirling Eco founder and CEO Robert Grace – image Matt Grayson

Creativity courses through Robert Grace like the electric mopeds he designs and sells flow through the streets of London. The founder and CEO of Stirling Eco began his career in decorative ceramic tiling, rising through an apprenticeship to the pinnacle of the industry with a company – Grace Of London – that produces intricate mosaic designs using 12, 18 and 24-carat gold, other precious metals and Swarovski crystals.

So what prompted him to launch an electric vehicle company and base his operation on The Highway in Wapping? 

“Stirling Eco came about because I was asked to decorate a bike – an electric moped – about three years ago by a German company because of my reputation with gilding and ceramics and so on,” said Robert. “I said: ‘Sure, send it over’. This bike was to be decorated for a big fancy show in America and, when I got it, put it together, sat on it and tried it out, I realised there was nothing much like it in the UK.

“We actually stock that model in the showroom now – it’s called the Ridgeback. So we did a bit of product research and we were so far ahead of the curve.

“During the first lockdown, I was fortunate that I was staying for three months in Poole, in my friend’s beautiful house, 80 metres from the sea, sitting in the garden and thinking about what the world was going to be like. When you set up a business, you try to imagine how things will be in five years, but the virus turned everything on its head.

“We couldn’t really see beyond 12 months at the time, but I wanted to work out what could set us apart if we went into this market, just as I was set apart from my peers as a tile fixer by the creative component to what I was doing. We decided it would absolutely be the art side of the business that set us apart with the bikes, so we set about designing something really stylish.

“Primarily it had to be functional because people would buy it to get to and from work – it had to work correctly, but beyond that there was no reason it couldn’t be sexy and fun as well.”

The result was the Electro Ride, a low slung collection of curves evoking classic chopper motorcycles but built for modern urban riding. Powered by a 2,000W motor it boasts a 45mph top speed although comes limited to 30mph, has a range of 30 miles on a single four-hour charge and starts at £2,410 for the entry level model. 

A gilded Electro Ride with Swarovski crystals - image Matt Grayson
A gilded Electro Ride with Swarovski crystals – image Matt Grayson

 “You can buy an electric motorbike that does 70mph for 100 miles, but that isn’t the market that we’re in,” said Robert. “We want to transform the way people travel around cities – that’s the nucleus of our idea, that’s where everything begins. The components we use are pretty much standard – a moped is two wheels, handlebars and a throttle but electric vehicle technology is so fluid at the moment. The motors are getting more efficient, the batteries are lasting longer and controllers are evolving.

“So changing the motors on these to upgrade them is relatively inexpensive – it’s not like changing an engine in a car – and the maintenance on them is really simple. Really it’s just tyres and brake pads.

“That’s why we’re an art-orientated business – we can decorate bikes personally for clients and then upgrade the technology as it becomes available.” 

Walk in to Stirling Eco’s showroom and there’s little doubt that you’re at a dealer with a difference. As well as selling the Electro Ride, the company stocks a range of other electric vehicles including the Vespa-style Trento.

Part art gallery, part den for electric vehicle enthusiasts, it boasts street art murals and paintings and a red carpet area for those seduced by the glitz and glam of celebrity.

Taken as a whole it forms the perfect backdrop to the mopeds – especially the art bikes, which include one gilded in 24-carat gold and festooned with sparkling crystals, available for £25,000.

“It’s the usual analogy of being a very small fish in a very big pond because we’re competing with big brands,” said Robert. 

“If we were in the same room as them we couldn’t compete – we’d get torn apart. So that’s why we’re here on The Highway. What we’ve decided to be here is the most exotic fish in the tank and this is our aquarium. That’s why people’s eyes are drawn to us.

“We’ve got graffiti artists here, but we didn’t want the showroom to look like Camden Town, so there’s a really good objective mix of artwork here, combining the work of the Bickerton Grace Gallery, which I set up with photographer Anne-Marie Bickerton, with what we were doing with the bikes.”

Stirling Eco creative director Tee Blackwood models the Electro Ride
Stirling Eco creative director Tee Blackwood models the Electro Ride

A quick glance through Stirling Eco’s social media channels reveals a brand that’s unafraid to have a bit of fun while creating some buzz, tempting celebrities to mount its bikes and even collaborating with Ryan Reynolds’ stunt double in the Deadpool movies. 

Look beyond the hype though and there’s both a solid business case and an environmentally conscious core to the firm’s operation. 

At the time of writing London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) is set for a significant expansion, potentially affecting millions of car owners in just over 120 days.

Robert said: “There’s a massive number of people who will, all of a sudden, have to think about paying £12.50 a day to keep their car in the zone if it doesn’t fit in with the new restrictions.

“Many of those will be two-car families where they need two modes of transport. A lot of our clients are coming in because they can’t afford to keep two cars and they’re seeing us as an alternative. They need to keep one car to visit people outside London because our bikes aren’t allowed on the motorway, but they’re looking to us for a vehicle that’s ULEZ compliant, totally tax-free and that you can ride into the City without paying the congestion charge or polluting the atmosphere.

“We’re doing things properly. You need a CBT at least to ride one of our bikes and they have to be insured. But you also get flexibility – you can take the battery out and into your house to charge it, which costs about £1 for 30 miles.

“As a company we really want to look after people. The batteries are guaranteed for 12 months and we pride ourselves on really good aftercare and like to stay in touch with our clients. We even organise rides and people are welcome to join us.

“The nice thing about these bikes is that when you pull up at the traffic lights you get people asking about them – they really turn heads.

“I’d like to share the story of a client of ours called Greg. He works for a big law firm in IT and used to get the Tube every day from Golders Green to Moorgate and used to arrive at work angry every day.

“He came in the other day and we asked him how the bike was as he’d been riding it for about two months.

“He said: ‘Rob, I arrive at work happy every day’. It was really nice to hear him say that – now in terms of the commute he’s in control, there’s no-one around him, breathing on him, that’s freedom.”

There’s a sense that Stirling Eco, which launched in 2020 is very much at the start of its journey and with a showroom filled with art and creative people it’s a space that demands attention.

As for Robert’s tiling, he’s accepted Wharf Life’s challenge to create a special edition of the Electro Ride decorated with his signature mosaics. We’ll watch this space with interest.

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