Look Mum No Hands! owners ‘overwhelmed’ by response to closure

The London cycle cafe emerged out of the explosion of cycling culture in the UK ten years ago, but suffered thanks to WFH culture

Look Mum No Hands!
(Image credit: Look Mum No Hands!)

One just has to scroll through the comments on Look Mum No Hands!' final Instagram post to see what the cycling cafe and workshop meant to so many people.

For former British national road champion turned pundit, Matt Stephens, it was where he met his wife. Jools Walker, the author, podcaster and cycling influencer, wrote: "Thank YOU for holding space for so many parts of the bike community and being so rad. You’ll be missed, but I hope to gawd our paths cross again someday in some way." 

Rich Mitch, the designer, commented: "This is pretty heart braking [sic] for the London cycling community but also the wider community as a whole. This place is a beacon, you really lead the way. I've had so many great nights there."

Sam Humpheson, one of the owners of LMNH!, said that he had been "quite overwhelmed" by the response. "It's hard to predict these things, we knew people would be upset, as we are, but that Instagram post is pretty bonkers," he explained to Cycling Weekly. "Such sweet reactions."

The London bike cafe and workshop closed for the final time on Sunday, its owners announced on Wednesday. The writing was on the wall from the beginning of this year, Humpheson said, but the process of shutting down only began in the past fortnight.

The space on Old Street, in between Old Street and Farringdon, and close to the Barbican, provided bike maintenance, food, beer, and coffee to a loyal customer base; it also hosted screenings of the biggest bike races, as well as other evenings.

The reason behind the closure was a drop off in customers since the pandemic. The cafe's location, once its key attribute, became an albatross around its neck.

"We were many things to many different people, but we paid the rent by being a nice friendly cafe in a normally busy part of town, serving coffee and breakfast to commuters," Humpheson explained. "They all disappeared completely during the lockdowns, as you'd expect, but they all seemed to have continued with some form of hybrid working. 

"We were very quiet on a Monday and a Friday, busier Tuesday to Thursday, but still nothing like we were in 2019. There's nothing unique about our business in that way. Although we were a bike cafe, we suffered because we were a cafe."

The business rode the wave of cycling's popularity in the UK, which exploded after repeated Olympic success in 2008 and 2012, along with Bradley Wiggins' Tour de France victory in 2012.

"We opened in 2010, and we didn't have a great masterplan, but it was amazingly good timing," Humpheson said. "It felt like we were riding a wave of cycling culture in the first few years. It was picked up by the media as part of the growth of cycling in the UK, and particularly in London. 

"Rapha opened up their cycle club in about a week or two of us, and about a mile away. Then the Boris bikes might have gone live at more or less at that time, and the Cycle Superhighways had just started to be implemented. It felt like a big story, that cycling was booming, and we were part of that movement."

"It was a pretty spectacular first five years, with the Olympics, and Wiggins winning the Tour de France, and British professional cyclists not being s***," he continued. "There was a huge wave, ad cycling suddenly appeared cool. We suffered for being uncool for being cyclists for quite a while. In the 90s if you were a cyclist in England you were just a weirdo."

The success of LMNH! led to others copying their style, and a growth of cycling spaces which were not just workshops.

"After 18 months you started to see variations on our theme pop up, which was great," Humpheson said. "I really loved seeing other businesses trying to present the social side of cycling, or providing spaces that are more engaging and fun than your typical bike shop. When we were trying to explain what we were trying to do, we weren't able to say 'oh we're opening a cycling cafe', we had to describe it in its different elements. 

"After we had been up and running, you could say 'oh I'm opening a cycling cafe, like Look Mum No Hands!'. We spoke to a lot of people, people came to us and asked for tips as if we had a secret, but we were just making it up as we were going along."

They might have created the prototype for cycling cafes, but LMNH! had not bargained on the pandemic and the future of working from home. However, it is not necessarily the end.

"I think it's time to reflect, I dunno," Humpheson said. "We need a rest, but we're definitely not saying we're definitely done.

"We realise we're loved. It would be nice to consider our options."

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