Biketreks - the ideal pit stop for cyclists visiting the Lake District
- Credit: Archant
A Fleetwood business founded on the supply of fossil fuels is joining the chain gang of cycling enthusiasts, writes Mike Glover.
SIMON Hockings’ family firm was founded on selling fuel to motorists. But now it has taken a new direction by expanding from petrol pumps into pedal power.
Bicycles don’t seem an obvious fit, but Simon is passionate about the project and has opened a new store, Biketreks, to cater for the mounting interest in biking.
‘The Olympics of 2012 inspired me to buy a bike to keep fit,’ said Simon, managing director of AUK Investments, based in Fleetwood. ‘I was always into golf, but I thoroughly enjoyed biking. Everyone tells me it’s the new golf.’
One of his company’s six garage forecourts is at Ings, on the A591 near Windermere. For years it had been a popular stopping off point known for its Little Chef. He got together with his brother-in-law, John Holt, an architect based in Ramsbottom, to plan a new look with a cafe, a bicycle store and a convenience shop.
The cafe is run by Ambio, which also has restaurants at Lakes Motor Museum and Junction 36 Auction Mart selling locally-sourced food, cooked freshly to order. In the meantime, AUK bought Biketreks an existing bicycle shop in Ambleside, which it is maintaining as its primary mountain bike store.
‘It is perfectly placed to attract a loyal customer base and stocks a good range of brands aimed at that market, including Orange, Santa Cruz, Specialized, Scott, Alchemy and Open. At the new site at Ings we are focusing on road bikes, hybrids, electric, ladies’ and children’s bikes,’ said Simon.
It has its own specialist brands of bikes, cycling clothing, showers and changing rooms cater for passing cyclists. Bike prices range from around £500 to £10,000 for a bespoke machine made up for the customer.
‘We have a team of highly trained mechanics who will build your bike and ensure the right fit to make sure it is perfect for the customer,’ said Simon.
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Both Ambleside and Ings have a mechanics’ area for servicing, and even hold evening classes for bike maintenance for everything from repairing a puncture to a full service.
‘Since 2012 we have all enjoyed watching the Olympics and the clutches of medals won by Team GB, 25 per cent of which were won by the cyclists. There is a new young generation, and an older generation, turning to cycling to keep fit and get out on the road.
‘And the Lake District is a wonderful place to cycle both off and on the road. The Tour of Britain passed through with its dramatic climb up Kirkstone Pass. It is clear from the number of people turning out to see such events that cycling is really on the up.
‘The growth is an opportunity to link up with one of our service stations. There is a Windermere to Kendal cycle path which comes through Ings where you can stop, have a coffee and have your bike attended to.’
It all seems a long way from the days when Simon’s father, Reginald, who had a passion for walking and climbing in the Lake District, borrowed money to buy his first petrol station at Plantation on the A591, nearer Kendal, in 1967.
‘It was all a lot quieter then, with the whole business being about selling fuel,’ said Simon. While he is MD, one brother ,Angus, is finance director and another, Marcus, is human resources director. They now employ 65 staff across the group.
‘I like the idea of having bikes in the mix, because of the growth of that business with people coming to the Lakes because they like to cycle.
‘There has always been a link between petrol stations and the leisure industry in the Lakes. Once you had water-skiers filling up their car from one pump and their outboard motors at another. Now a lot of motorists have their bikes on board.’
Simon is planning for the future of his family firm. Daughter, Sophie, aged 21, is studying fashion journalism at Kings College, London, while 19-year-old son, Benjamin, is studying engineering at Bristol University.
It’s no surprise to discover that Simon, who trained as accountant with Ernst & Young in Manchester, has provided each with a cycle to bike to and from studies.