Anthony “Dutch” van Someren, is a bearded, tattooed biker dude. He’s also the founder of The Bike Shed Motorcycle Club. Founded in November 2011 as a blog about Dutch’s evolution from a sportsbike rider, to a ‘new wave’ custom motorcycle kind of guy.
The blog has grown into the largest independent motorcycle blog in the world. All whilst running three huge bike shows a year. In November 2015 The Bike Shed opened it’s doors on a 12,000 square foot headquarters in Shoreditch, London. Comprising of a restaurant, cafe, shop, barber and exhibition space. Dutch took some time out of his busy schedule to talk a little more about what makes The Bike Shed purr.
This interview has been edited and condensed (and oh boy did we waffle…).
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you founded the Bike Shed MC.
Well, to put it bluntly I was a media wanker for many years. I started out in broadcasting, working for TV channels like MTV, The Extreme Sports Channel, Bravo TV and a bunch of other low-rent cable and satellite channels, where I got to have a few posh job titles. I was mostly a creative director, back in the day when cable TV wasn’t proper tele, and ended up going through publishing, getting into advertising and I was in media business as a creative and marketing director. Or head of something or other for about 28 years.
Over the last 5 years of that career I was blogging and writing. I’d been riding bikes since I was about 17, which was my first passion. The blog I was working on became really big. I started writing it in 2011 and by 2013 we had around 20,000 followers. So it seemed the right time to do something permanent with it, which ended up resulting in The Bike Shed.
Dutch’s wheels at Tobacco Dock 2016.
Newcomers may perceive The Bike Shed as a members only club. How have you gone about encouraging people to visit? Even though they may not have the tattoos, beard and motorcycle?
That’s a really interesting question because once you’re inside it’s obvious. I mean I love bikes, but it’s not the only thing I love. I have a lot of passions in my life and bikes are just one of them. The Bike Shed is not all about bikes, it’s about a lot of other things that people share and have in common. Generally people involved in the cafe racer ‘new wave’ bike scene, have a lot of things in common with other people.
The Bike Shed is a motorcycle club, but you don’t need to own a motorcycle and you don’t need to be in the club. It’s for everyone.
I think many people are looking for things that are safe/dangerous, such as snowboarding, skateboarding, surfing or anything that’s physical and requires a bit of effort and skill to learn. I think there is also a desire for uniqueness, individuality and artisan culture. We like things to be custom, bespoke and different. Those are social traits that apply to lots of people. So many people out there are into photography, designing furniture or their own t-shirts, etc and all of those things are common currency for millions of people in cities like London.
Motorcycling is a very pure version of that. So for me I think we attract anybody who is interested in anything remotely to do with engineering, design and creating things. So we apply that idea to everything from the coffee, staff we hire, the food we cook and furniture we buy. Everything is curated, it’s original and it’s the real thing. I think because of that, we are accessible to everybody.
So you don’t need to be a biker to enjoy The Bike Shed?
The Bike Shed is a motorcycle club, but you don’t need to own a motorcycle and you don’t need to be in the club. It’s for everyone, so if you think it looks interesting then you should come and check it out.
I think what’s happened over the years is that biking has become very insular and maybe a bit geeky, but you don’t need to drive a Formula 1 car to watch Formula 1 at Silverstone. You just need to be an enthusiast and I think that’s what people have forgotten about biking. There’s nothing wrong with being a voyeur and there is nothing wrong with being interested in something without participating. You can also participate in a light way. We get a lot of people turning up on scooters, bicycles or on foot. They just think it’s a fascinating and interesting place.
The Bike Shed – Shoreditch.
I think the heart of that hospitality and experience we have is the idea of a club. So we provide them with a club-like experience where they feel special, they feel remembered. The waiter remembers what coffee they had last time, asks them how their day is. I think that’s how hospitality should be, it’s just we’re not very good at it in England and you shouldn’t need to go somewhere exclusive to have that kind of experience.
Is there an added pressure to be more welcoming due to the public perception of bikers?
I think the idea of a motorcycle club makes people think of badass, wannabe Hells Angel types, with patch jackets, etc. We try to demonstrate that we are not like that. The interesting thing for me is that the bikers I know are among the most honourable, decent people you could meet. If you’ve got friends who are bikers they are the ones who will pull you out of a ditch, or lend you fifty quid and never ask for it back. Bikers are often resolute individuals and risk takers who are up for a bit of adventure. Often they are more likely to be gentlemanly, welcoming, kind and helpful. So we are quite keen to show that side of biking.
We also help run an event called The Distinguished Gentleman’s ride every September and that’s all about showing you can be a gentleman biker. Of course there is a bit of a gentleman rogue aspect to it all, but it’s old school, it’s a decent crowd. So we go out of our way to show that side of it. We’ve even been called the posh boys motorcycle club and I used to really resent that. I found it really irritating, but after a while I thought, well actually if that offsets the perception of us being down and dirty, spit and sawdust types, then sod it, I’ll take it.
How important was it for you to move from the blog – the Bike Sheds digital base, to a physical location?
I think we are fighting against this shallow world that people are drawn to, where they want instant gratification. People create personas of who they want to be online and they spend ages trying to live up to this imaginary person, who doesn’t really exist. Editing their lives, making everything look really cool. So I don’t think we trust what we see and read. People might have thousands of friends on Facebook, but I challenge anyone to really know more than 100 people.
This was something that wasn’t lost on us with the blog. For people who really care about something which is also all about loyalty, trust and friendships, whilst doing interesting and amazing things together. We were using this really kind of fragile, social media as the glue to create a community.
So it was very important for me to get offline and start some big events and exhibitions along with putting this place together. For example we did our event at Tobacco Dock and 12,000 people turned up. That’s an awful lot of people and I’d rather have 12,000 people at Tobacco Dock engaging directly with us and our community of bike builders, photographer, baristas, barmen, etc than have 12,000 likes on a Facebook page.
The Bike Shed 2016 event at Tobacco Dock.
It’s a little bit like Instagram. Which is to say it’s a great metaphor for the world we live in. We use a digital platform to make pictures look analogue. We make them square, put a vignette on them to make them look like an old Polaroid, but they are taken using digital technology. I think that’s what a lot of people are doing now, they are using digital and social media to create things that feel more analogue and that’s kind of what we’ve done. We’ve built a community online with a blog and Facebook, then we’ve said, well wait a minute let’s see who’s real and who is authentic. Let’s put something together that gets everyone in a room and see what that looks like. That’s really what The Bike Shed is all about.
Can you tell us a little more about your first event?
We’d been blogging for a while and had a conversation about going to the bike show at the NEC, Birmingham at the end of 2011. We were sitting in the pub, all of us lifelong bikers and no one could be bothered to go. We thought what’s the point? It’s a long way to go, really expensive and when you get in all you see is a trade fair full of the same motorcycles you can see in a showroom.
There are hardly any women at these events and the women that are there, are being paid to be there. Clad in lycra and only really there for data capture or to sit on a bike whilst some pervy guy takes a photo of them. It’s a 90% male, sausage factory of guys squeezed into Gortex and there is nothing cool, sexy or interesting about it at all. The food is shit, the coffee is horrible and the parking costs a fortune. Why would we go? What’s the point? We were a bit appalled by that because we are all bikers and love motorcycles.
Krazy Horse bling at The Bike Shed 2016, Tobacco Dock.
So what did you guys do?
So we had a conversation about what would a bike show look like if we did it. What would the perfect bike show be? The answer was that it would be in the heart of London. In an amazing space. The toilets would be clean. The food would be really good, with loads of places to sit. Live music, good coffee, great bars and amazing street food. Every motorcycle on display would be there for a reason and it would be on a pedestal, it wouldn’t be roped off. Anyone could take a clean, clear photograph of that bike and know why it had been chosen to be in that exhibition. On top of that it would be surrounded by art and photography. It would be an exhibition, not a bike show or trade fair.
So a few weeks later we were sitting in that same pub when I said, “right lads, I’ve booked a space”. I’d booked arches in Shoreditch, which is a place about 7 arches down from where we are today. We had about 70 bikes, art, photography and barista coffee. We put in a barbershop and tattooist, because we thought that was fun and cool. 3000 people turned up and that blew us away. We were not expecting 3000 people to come and spend their day in Shoreditch looking at bikes.
The most disruptive thing we’ve done has been to be a bit unprofessional, whilst doing things from the heart, instead of from the pocket.
In fact Brad Pitt turned up, he was filming at the time and everyone said you have to tweet about the fact that Brad Pitt had turned up. I said, “no we don’t. He’s here on his leisure time. He didn’t come here in a in official capacity. He just turned up because he likes bikes. He’s a biker and we should respect that”.
Did you have this long term vision at that point? Was this what you wanted to build?
Yes I think so. I mean we were in it, we were living it. Most of us were in media. Photographers, cameramen, directors or people making film, etc. We were all united by biking and we never talked about work or what we were doing within our professional lives. Often talked about places we wanted to go and things we wanted to do and bikes we wished we could afford. We knew that if that’s what united people, then that’s what we need to give them.
Quench your thirst for more than just a beer and burger at The Bike Shed.
Famous visitors… that’s got to be pretty cool, no?
Many well known or famous people come into the club. One of the things they like about The Bike Shed is that nobody bothers them. People might simply ask them what bike they ride. We have a few proper Hollywood a-listers who are members here. Both English and American. There was one – who I won’t name for precisely the reasons I’m describing. He’d been looking at a bike and somebody approached him, asking him if he knew where they had put the battery on the bike he was looking at. They weren’t even looking at him. They were looking at the bike and all they could talk about was where the fuck the battery is?
I think that’s a fantastic and a great compliment. Yes it’s nice that we get celebrities who tweet that they want to come to The Bike Shed – Eddie Izzard was up here the other day and that’s nice because it opens us up to a bigger crowd. But we also want to be a little bit anonymous.
Bikers often have a specific style, with the tattoos and beards, etc. Why do you think that is?
That’s a good question and I don’t really know how to answer it. Obviously I have a beard and tattoos, but that has more to do with the fact I’ve always loved tattoo art. I have a beard because the wife fancies blokes with beards. She kept looking at other people and saying, “ooh he’s a handsome dude” so I said, “yeah I can can grow a beard. Watch this.” So it’s got far more to do with that than anything else.
But I think there are many different types of biker and I think that’s the point. There are a lot of people who feel they need to identify with something and be part of some sort of group or gang. There are bikers who might get tattoos and dress a certain way and want to be recognised as bikers on or off a bike and for them that’s really important. But there are a whole bunch of other people, who ride bikes and are happy not be identified as bikers.
Yes you don’t see many hells angels in London do you?
If you actually look at the numbers, most bikers are not hairy, tattooed blokes on Harley-Davidsons. Many bikers are commuters. It’s a very small subset of people who want to look like a badass, hairy biker. I think the crossover between the beards and the tattoos here at The Bike Shed is actually because we are a bunch of ex media wankers who just happen to be in Shoreditch.
I think a lot of people are attracted to the ‘new wave’, cafe racer scene, because you can ride a bike in jeans and converse, wear a leather jacket you can wear in the pub and an open faced helmet. So actually I think the interesting thing, is about it being less tribal. It’s about being more ‘normal’. When you look around The Bike Shed you can’t identify who’s a biker and who isn’t. It’s not who has a beard and tattoos. That’s just what Shoreditch hipsters look like. It’s not because you’re are in a bike club. So the answer to your question is to challenge it. To say it’s not quite what you expect. Of course, proper hairy bikers are coming in because it’s a biker place. But so do bankers, fund managers and accountants.
Motorcycles and muffins.
You opened in November 2015. How do you think Shoreditch culture has embraced you in the time since you opened the doors?
Well there are a lot of different cultures here. You’ve got the tech city, silicon roundabout bunch who just want a quick lunch at Pret. Then you’ve got the people who live here. Who are resentful of anything new and interesting, but for some reason have moved into the middle of Shoreditch. Then you’ve got all the people who come here during the weekend. Who are mostly from everywhere else in London except Shoreditch. They come to Columbia road, Brick lane and the old Truman Brewery and I think we’ve had a different effect on all those people.
Firstly, the fact we haven’t opened up some scary, hairy bikers club, surprises people . There are no punch ups or trouble and that actually, we are really polite and it’s a nice place to hang out. I think the tourists that come here love it and treat it as a bit of a sightseeing adventure. There are as many people, her with flowers from Columbia road, as there are bikers. It’s actually a melting pot.
The Bike Shed can be found at, 384 Old St, Shoreditch.
Sometimes there are what I call ‘broadband surfers’ working here with their laptops. Next to our regular 4 o’clock couple of old ladies, who come in here for their daily tea and cake. Then we have the tourists who’ve seen us in Timeout. Along with the silicon roundabout types, who come in to prepare a powerpoint presentation. So it’s actually a great melting pot of different people and it’s probably unlike any other place I’ve been to in Shoreditch.
It would seem you guys aren’t your average business owners. Would that be accurate?
The biggest and most disruptive thing about us, is that we are actually a bunch of amateurs. I’ve never run a restaurant or a club. Never run a bar. Never run a shop. We are our own punters. We shop here and we eat here. Spend most of our lives in this building and we want to make it really, really nice. We’re not looking to maximise turnover of tables, getting people in and out whilst hassling people with a laptop to buy 5 coffees.
Grab a bit to eat at The Bike Shed.
We simply do things that we think are cool, fun and interesting, in the hope that we can pay the bills at the end of the month and so far it’s been all right. The most disruptive thing we’ve done has been to be a bit unprofessional, whilst doing things from the heart. Instead of from the pocket. We love what we do so we are nice to everybody. I think that is probably the biggest culture shock for most people.
If you fancy getting involved, you can find The Bike Shed at, 384 Old St, London, EC1V 9LT.