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Cambridge bike shop Howes Cycles to close after 173 years

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.

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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