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Six generations of the Howes family have run iconic store

One of the oldest bike shops in the UK, Howes Cycles in Cambridge, is to close after 173 years.

The business that eventually became Howes Cycles, John Howes & Sons, was founded in 1840 in Regent Street, Cambridge and has been run by the founder’s descendants at the same site ever since.

But John Howes’ great-great-great grandson Michael and his wife Pat are retiring at the end of December and the shop is having a closing down sale for the rest of this month.

If you’re thinking that 1840 is before the first commercially available bikes, you’re right. John Howes was a coachbuilder and wheel-wright who began to work with bikes in 1869, just three years after Pierre Lallement filed the first patent for a bicycle in the USA.

Until 1937, Howes had its own brand of bike, Granta, named for the longer tributory of the river Cam. The shop also stocked bikes from companies now long-gone or better known for other products, such as Alldays & Onions; Coventry Eagle; Elk; Humber; Howe; Lea-Francis; Singer; Swift; and the Walter Hewitt Cycle Company of Coventry.

Michael Howes took over from his father in 1970 after helping out in the shop since he was a child.

Mr Howes told Cambridge News that it was sad that his family business was closing but said “if your surname is not Howes then you are not taking over”.

He said that he and Pat don’t have any particular plans for retirement, but would “let the world do to them what it will”.

This writer remembers getting friendly, helpful service from John and Pat Howes when he was an 18-year-old with loads of clueless questions and ill-informed opinions about bikes and cycling. May they enjoy a long and happy retirement.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.