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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.

19 comments

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Chuck [572 posts] 3 years ago
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Got my first 'proper' bike from them, a 1996 Dawes Galaxy, which took me 3000km round NZ among other duties. I don't live in Cambridge anymore but still sad to hear they're going.

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caaad10 [186 posts] 3 years ago
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I bought my first ever pair of lycra shorts from Howes, back in about 1987. They had a real leather chamois and I had to tape over the KAS logo on either side with brown packing tape for my first crit in Bar Hill. I'm sure that's one of millions of memories coming back to millions of people with this sad news, I do think they should let the business go on, however.

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jimbocrimbo [51 posts] 3 years ago
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Sad to hear. When I lived in Cambridge this was my go to shop.

Also got a Dawes Galaxy from them which did me proud for commuting through all weathers.

Sad day

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MrGear [87 posts] 3 years ago
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“if your surname is not Howes then you are not taking over”

...that's a bit of a defeatist attitude if you ask me! With a bit of ingenuity they could sell the shop to someone who wants to do something new and different and carry on the name. Or at the very least, carry on the shop.

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antonio [1134 posts] 3 years ago
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A sad time for a local bike shop to go, particularly when everything cycling seems to be on the up. I love my local bike shop and hope it never closes.

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fenlandplodder [2 posts] 3 years ago
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It will be sad to see them go. I bought my first "good" bike from them in 1989. They have always been helpful and friendly.

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Cantab [101 posts] 3 years ago
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Walked past Howes on my way home last night, and was sad to see it on its way out. They still have a great reputation amongst Cambridge students, in a town where more than a few of the bike stores are seen as little more than rip off merchants.
Might take a look in at the weekend for some bargains, but I'd much rather it was staying open! Hopefully a new LBS will open in its place!

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Mart [110 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm sure he could have sold the business and not the name, if it means that much to him.
But I salute him and his family's long service to the industry and hope they have a fulfilling retirement.

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Neil753 [447 posts] 3 years ago
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“if your surname is not Howes then you are not taking over”

Since there are 118 "Howes" living in Cambridge itself, and probably many more within cycling distance, maybe it's not too late too find someone "suitable" to take over the reins (or should that be handlebars).

Perhaps, since so many of our traditional cycle shops are disappearing, we might like to make the occasional trip to our local bike shop one of our new year resolutions.

I wish the Howes a happy retirement.

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gareth2510 [167 posts] 3 years ago
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So the only reason the shop is closing is due to his reluctance for a non Howes to take it on?
Seems bonkers to me that an independant is going due to this and not due to pressure from the internet based companies.

Sad in many ways

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Ghostie [93 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm surprised Howes has lasted this long, especially when one or two went out of business in Cambridge a decade ago when biking wasn't so hip, and since more have sprung up. There's Ben Haywards Cycles (Trek, Dawes; with workshop), which will probably be the oldest bike shop in the city once Howes closes. There's also a couple of Giant-suppliers and Primo Cycles (Cervelo, Parlee, Scott; with workshop). There's also Cambridge Cycle Company in Great Shelford (Genesis, Trek; with workshop). So plenty of LBS left to support for that region.

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Guyz2010 [304 posts] 3 years ago
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What a shame for the locals, they really ought to consider selling the business on to a.n. other. I suspect there's more to it than that, 'old fashioned' doesn't sell to modern trendies however experience does help.
We all gotta retire at some point.

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philtregear [115 posts] 3 years ago
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still have cinelli bars and stem on one of my bikes . i bought hem form howes in 1982!! always been a good shop.

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allez neg [497 posts] 3 years ago
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Ben Haywards - I vividly remember walking past there in 1988 and seeing Cannondale bikes for the first time. These fat tubed brightly coloured beasts looked amazing, exotic, almost otherworldly. I had never seen bikes like it.

I don't have such memories of Howes but am saddened at its closure and like many here surprised that the business wasn't given the chance to continue. If a bike shop in post-Wiggo 2013 in Cambridge can't be sold on then something is seriously wrong.

My mate was a junior partner in a well established traditional IBS and when the owner retired and sold up, he continued it, with a smaller bit of the original premises, the same brands stocked, the same customer base and pretty much the same ethos. Despite competition he employs 2 others full time and makes a reasonable living and has a good life.

I wish the owners of Howes well and hope another person takes over as a bike shop in the premises.

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Viscount [5 posts] 3 years ago
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Howes was the haven of my youth and I bought my first proper racer from there in 1987, my beloved bright blue Moser...

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a.jumper [846 posts] 3 years ago
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No stock list online and too far to travel in hope. Bike shop from an older age?

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armb [103 posts] 3 years ago
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I called in today to wish them well for retirement, and see what was in the sale (I bought some SPD sandals). Michael said it might possibly reopen as a bike shop, but it won't be Howes.

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sq225917 [26 posts] 3 years ago
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I bought a lovely Klein Adroit from them back in about 2004. nice shop, old fashioned service and no pressure.

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Gordy748 [110 posts] 3 years ago
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“If your surname is not Howes then you are not taking over”.

So taking the nuclear option and closing the whole show is preferable to seeing the shop stay open as a legacy of your family?

How petty and short-sighted.