Copenhagen is regularly touted as the most bike-friendly city in the world, so it’s no surprise that Dan Mikkelsen first realised the potential for biking as an alternative form of transport in the Danish capital.
"I’m a chef by trade but I also worked as a bike messenger in different parts of the world," says Mikkelsen, the owner of Bicycle Junction in Wellington. "I lived in Copenhagen for a few years in a neighborhood called Nørrebro. It's roughly the size of Newtown in Wellington but there were 40 bike shops in this small suburb. Three or four sold sports bikes. Some were bike repair shops and the rest sold bikes designed for transport, including cargo bikes. Cycling is still seen as a sport here in New Zealand but it's also an incredibly efficient form of transport. We’re one of the few specialist transport bike shops in the country."
Coffee & philosophy
Mikkelsen opened Bicycle Junction in 2012 after he tried to import a cargo bike (a bike designed to carry more than one rider and light baggage) from Christiania, a famous Danish bike brand. The company told him he couldn’t have one but they could ship a pallet of four bikes to New Zealand. By the time the bikes arrived, Mikkelsen had sold all four of them to friends and ordered his next shipment. Soon he was selling the bikes online and he opened his first store in Newtown.
Mikkelsen decided to combine his passion for bikes and coffee and build an ethical business based on transport cycling.
"I had friends who worked in bike shops and I asked them, 'Why don't you start something with coffee and bikes?' Then I thought, 'if no one else is going to do it, I should.' And that's how it started."
Like many cafes, Bicycle Junction are long-time supporters of the Again Again reusable cup system and sell very little coffee in takeaway cups. They pick up their veggies from local suppliers by bike and they don't even have a company van. Everything is done using a cargo bike and trailer system.
Bicycle Junction donates parts to ReBicycle, a Wellington organisation that 'upcycles' donated second-hand bikes into safe, practical commuter bikes to gift or loan to people who need them, while also encouraging their customers to donate bikes to the charity.
Bikes are typically packaged in foam and polystyrene but Bicycle Junction works with suppliers who pack their bikes in removal blankets that can be reused. It’s all part of the shop’s social philosophy or manifesto:
"We believe the simple choice of riding a bicycle as a daily mode of transport can be life-changing, while also helping to change the world. All over the planet bicycles are helping people to reconnect with their communities, appreciate the environment, and enjoy sustainable and healthy lifestyles. That's why we ride ours every day."
Quality over quantity
As well as reducing waste and recycling or reusing where possible, Mikkelsen is also committed to selling products for permanence rather than consumption.
"I don't want to sell a bike that is going to break after a couple of years and need to be replaced," says Mikkelsen. "There's a lot of disposable bicycle stuff being sold and I don't think that's ethical."
That was one of the reasons he wasn’t the earliest adopter of e-bikes.
"We were concerned about the quality of stuff in the early days which was a lot of ad hoc kits and really new technology that wasn’t built to last. We wanted to be sure that we sold reliable, top quality products."
"People use their e-bikes every day, rain or shine. They get ridden a lot more than ordinary bikes. Some of our customers have tens of 1000s of kilometres on their e-bikes and they're still going strong. The new bikes and technology are very impressive. We still sell a lot of pedal bikes but more than half of our turnover comes from e-bikes now."
From the start, Bicycle Junction was committed to being a community space, helping to organise events and create positivity around cycling as a better form of transport. That doesn’t mean Mikkelsen considers himself an activist.
"There are plenty of activists out there trying to convince people to ride bikes but that’s not me. Don’t get me wrong. Activism is an important part of creating the change we need and my Mum has been an active cycling campaigner in Wellington for over 30 years. But where activism uses a push approach we aim to pull people in and inspire them to embrace alternative forms of transport by making it fun."
"There are lots of reasons why you should ride a bike. It's good for the environment. It's good for your health. It's cheaper than paying for a car and parking in the city. It's obviously the right thing to do but we don't concern ourselves too much with those reasons. The people who are going to ride bikes because of those reasons are already riding bikes. While the environmental impact of bikes is important and every cargo bike we get on the road takes another car off the road, we’re more about the joy and positive benefits cycling offers."
People see a whole lot more bikes on the streets and roads around New Zealand and think cycling is booming but it's only the beginning, according to Mikkelsen.
"You look at some European cities and how many cyclists there are, the facilities for cycling, and how entrenched it is in society and it’s on a different level. We’ve still got a long way to go to catch up but we’re on the right track. Our message is 'We’re out there enjoying our bikes. Come along for the ride if you want.'"