Everybody has had that job: mind-numbing repetition, where you sit and daydream about the things you could be doing, coming up with elaborate plans with your workmates of the business you would start if you didn’t have to turn up at this office day in, day out.
Text: Nick Chapman
Photos: Andy Donohoe & Mari Oshaug
The guys behind L’Hirondelle started from just such a place. Three friends working together at a 9-5 job who thought there must be something better that they could be doing with their time and skills. An interest in bicycles and cycling drew them together, and spotting a gap in the French market for fixed gear equipment they turned their particular expertise to a more personal passion, and five years ago the Beasty Bike online shop was born.
To begin with they only sold lights, but as the desire for fixie bikes and courier culture took off, they began stocking parts and some bikes, and soon the time came to make a decision: to stop the bike business or give up the day jobs.
Jumping into the unknown, they decided to go with bikes and began working out of one of their apartments 200 metres away, storing products, fulfilling orders and shipping. The shop in Paris’s 15th arrondissement was on the journey between the apartment and the post office, and they passed the empty store of a former Egyptian travel agent everyday. The idea to take the shop offline seemed a natural progression: filling a gap in Paris offering bikes for those looking for fix cool rather than top of the line racing and lycra.
They call themselves an urban bike shop, and this very much is on show throughout: all of their bikes are single speed or fixed from the likes of Aventon and German make Schindelhauer; their parts on show come from brands synonymous with the scene like Brick Lane Bikes, a huge range of caps from Cinelli and commuter bags Chrome and local Parisian maker New Pharaoh. This attention to detail across all products sets the shop apart, and is the keen eye of founder William, who looks after the Paris shop and is in charge of buying.
However, being an open-minded place welcoming all types of riders is also big thing for L’Hirondelle. The shop is a hub for people to come together. It is decorated with pieces of art made by friends, customers, locals to the area.
The walls are covered in photos of the short-lived team they ran for a couple of years, supporting up and coming riders, taking part in races like La Petite Course. More photos are of the guys from the shop and their friends on trips to Red Hook in London, cycling trips to the mountains: the things that draw them together.
The other side of the shop that is home to the workshop, contains all sorts of machines waiting for their turn on the stand: old racers, cruisers, shoppers and folding bikes give the biggest insight into the range of their clientele. When Bikevibe visited we were excitedly shown a trapdoor behind the counter, and told that down in the cellar was where William spent his days in the dark when it was the only space for the workshop when the shop opened and was half the size.
Since then they have grown much larger than the even the doubling of the shop size: founder Yves moved to Marseilles where he oversees the distribution for the Beasty Bike and the running the the L’Hirondelle shop in the south of France. Whilst we were visiting we were let in on the news that a new shop was opening up in the north of Paris. For those in the Netherlands, there is even a L’Hirondelle in Meppel.
And the name? That came when a friend told them the story of how Paris policemen came to be nicknamed l’hirondelle (the swallow) as their capes would fly up behind them when they cycled along like a swallows tail. An early French bicycle manufacturer took on the name, which creates a fantastic link between this forward-thinking, community-minded enterprise tying back into the cycling history of the city.