Up close with Bolt London

Housed in a working yard that looks like it could be on a farm somewhere, Bolt London is a lifestyle that hits you immediately with its unique character as soon as you step over the threshold. The yard is in fact a former stable block in North London’s Stoke Newington.

The former HQ for biker group The Ally Pally Ton-Up Boys, as well as the workshop of the Duguid brothers, who made the sporty glass-fibre fuel tanks for London’s Cafe Racers in the 1960s, Bolt is a destination created by founder  Andrew Almond to celebrate the coming together of many heritage motorcycling subcultures, where craftsmanship and the art of custom made cycles is complimented by a deep-seated passion for the lifestyle and apparel re-imagined from that era.

There is nothing quite like it. Down, dirty and an environment that feels completely authentic, the Bolt store is a celebration, not just of classic bikes, but also the wealth of clothing and styles associated to that world and where films, music and art play out with effortless ease for an aesthetic that is not only alluring but completely of an independent mindset.

Here, Robin Clementson talks to owner Andrew Almond about what really makes Bolt tick…

Q&A – Andrew Almond chats to Robin Clementson

Can you briefly describe what Bolt is and what it means to you?

BOLT is a key arbiter and protagonist within the motorcycle scene in London and beyond. More than a label, BOLT is an authentic participant and evocative champion of a culture with a rich heritage and evolving resonance. We draw inspiration from motorcycling past to create contemporary garments combining innovation and luxury.   

I like to think we create our own scene through our diverse creative output across music, fashion, design and culture through organising festivals, art shows, cinemas and other events. 

You have romantic visions of the lifestyle around motorcycling, would this be accurate?

Such an inherently dangerous lifestyle choice naturally attracts a certain type of thrill seeker; it takes a commitment to ride a motorcycle.    

How does the Bolt offer marry together with the high octane world of motorcycling, or is it completely removed?

Bolt highlights a peculiar and narrow niche that’s rooted in two wheeled subcultures both past and present.  The rise in ‘new wave ‘ custom motorcycles shops further accentuates the difference in our approach.  

It’s important that Bolt distances itself from the contemporary custom scene that it came from.   

Any subculture suburbanises after a few years and the custom motorcycle revival, whilst to many is considered a growing market, has long since lost is credibility. For me anyway.

There are very few brands producing inspirational goods and the scene feels corporate, far away from its back yard, grass-root beginnings. I try to disassociate Bolt from current trends and focus on the classic sub cultures from Rockers to skinheads, and their adoption of style across all culture forms. 

I would like to see us alongside Lewis Leathers ,building on heritage and quality, from a global view.   

The style of classic bikes and the apparel worn yesteryear has enjoyed a revival. Would you say that is accurate? Why?

Commonly the custom motorcycle scene is said to have come out from the economic recession of 2008.  Previously custom culture was the reserve of the show chrome, air-brushed $100k Harley Davidson choppers seen on shows like Orange County Choppers.   The economic crash led people to seek out vintage bikes, old Hondas from the 70’s that could be individualised.  Patina instead of show chrome, creativity over expenditure and a whole new aesthetic rule book.  

I think you can go much deeper into the discussion of the emergence of the modern day ‘Hipster’. A response to modern times, a romantic idea of a past of superior production or a new appreciation of a different aesthetic are all relevant.  It’s the same story and trajectory as selvedge denim.  

Many of the styles of bikes we ride, from café racers, choppers to scooters all have their heyday between the 50’s and 70’s so it make sense that our clothes are influenced by the same periods.  

We all know the old school films associated to motorcycling, such as On The Waterfront, The Great Escape, Easy Rider – is the world of Bolt a celebration of all those styles and touch points to create a coming together with like-minded people?

I think this is exactly it; it’s about connecting the dots between a myriad of cultural reference points within films, music, art, design and fashion. 

You started riding bikes overseas and developed this deep seated love for the lifestyle and style that goes with it. The handcrafted and almost the sartorial aspects to that ‘world’ – do you therefore follow your own path of what you think Bolt should represent or do you accept and follow other influence?

We have never had a firm idea of what we wanted to be or where we wanted to go with Bolt, rather we knew we wanted to do something and went on from there.   We have always had a strong social awareness and chosen spaces conducive to gatherings, served coffee and held regular events.

Our influences are from those around us, building our own scene rather than following a notion of something bigger.

Can you talk us through the brands you have within Bolt. Why they have been selected and of course your own line?

We’re very loyal to the brands we stock, most have been met on the road first and friendships made before business. We work with a number of small producers from around the globe, importing exclusive items that represent something exciting to us.     We curate our offer inline with our values for craft and quality, pulling together the best of what we can find. We are exclusive stockists for Aero of Scotland who produce some of the finest leather jackets available.   

Our own line has been developed slowly over the past eight years, avoiding seasons and only working on a new garment when we design something new or see an improvement on what already exists. 

Our focus is the fabrics and materials, either developing our own or working with the best suppliers. We use 15 oz Japanese selvedge from Kuroki, superfine virgin wool from Manteco Spa in Italy and technical waxed fabrics from British Millerain.  

It’s about refining the details and creating depth through different treatments and finishes. A well-designed and fitted garment, in quality materials, will always look stylish and last, repaying an investment in production.   

You talk about being more of a destination and an event brand rather than sticking rigidly to the guidelines of a typical retail brand. That’s fair?

I started Bolt without any retail experience, and created somewhere where I wanted to be and which created opportunities to get involved in creative projects.  I spend so much time here I have to love the space, there’s always coffee on the go, beers in the fridge and a yard to tinker on motorcycles.

I do not want to limit what we can do, from building custom motorcycles to designing clothes, hosting cinemas to music festivals. The lines are blurring, retail is increasingly experiential, and more than anything people need something they can believe in. Fashion often lacks inspiration; it’s an appreciation of good clothes and style that creates impact. We use our distance from commerce to our advantage, we design garments in limited runs so we preserve the freedom to create entirely as we please.   

The community at Bolt is eclectic but easy, with a great vibe – music, coffee, haircuts and then the shop itself. What are your aims moving forward, where do you want to take Bolt?

I’d like to grow what we’ve built in our current space bringing together more creatives to the mix. Having three businesses within the same space works really well, we share many of the same influences and it feels very natural. It’s about bringing people together and supporting communities of shared interests. 

What gets you excited within the realms of the job, what brands do you admire, what do you look at and think ‘that’s cool’?

We’re in touch with motorcyclists all over the world, and it’s the small scenes that develop in different places that keep me excited and looking for the next thing.   Recently it was a group of riders in Moscow who had adopted and adapted the Bosozoku style, a unique Japanese motorcycle sub-culture, and made it their own.   

You are a free spirited chap – is that a help or hindrance?

I sometimes wonder how things may have been if I was more commercially minded and finally resolve myself in that all my favourite businesses went bankrupt.   If you do something to make money you often have to compromise, and if I were to do so I would quickly loose interest.  The only way for me is to believe in what I do and hope that I can manage a way to make the numbers add up.


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