Cycling isn’t just about energy bars, isotonic drinks and screeching brakes. A new breed of two wheelers are bucking the trend with organic beers, fine wines and al fresco dining in the middle of our capital. Look mum no hands is a pit-stop with a difference for London’s cyclists, offering not just great food and drink, but a one-stop-shop, with free bike locks, expert advice, and mechanics on hand for anything from a full MOT to the installation of a new derailleur.
Following the boom in cycling popularity over the last ten years and a 100% increase in the number of journeys made in London, as well as an estimated 40,000 cycle hire journeys along the busy roads of London, it’s hard to imagine a better time for the emergence of a cafe concept like this.
Word has spread a long way beyond the confines of the square mile, with look mum no hands covered in the press as far away as New York, Tokyo, in articles that talk of a London cycling revolution.
The café is located on Old Street, one of the busiest cycling thoroughfares into central London, sitting sandwiched in between two post-war office blocks.
Opened by entrepreneurs and bike enthusiasts Matt Harper, Lewin Chalkley and Sam Humpheson, the trio had the vision of offering an all-inclusive experience, where cyclists could enjoy a quick double espresso on their ride into work, or an organic Beef, Stilton & Ale pie washed down with a house beer on their way home. And if your brakes are a little loose? No problem, the in-house mechanics can take care of it while you relax and watch the world speed by outside.
Reaching to an audience beyond the weekend warriors and gear-obsessives, look mum no hands understands that there is a large new community of cyclists who are not inherently interested in bike craft or lore. Instead they are people who happen to use a bike to get around the capital because it’s convenient, and, yes, more fun than sitting on the tube. Coupled with the fact that cycling is patently cool again with a generation in their mid-twenties, early thirties who are the prime target for any urban ‘designer’ café, look mum no hands acts as the perfect bridge to bring very disparate groups together to feel they are all part of this heralded London cycling scene.
Co-founder Sam Humpheson explained with the genesis of both the café’s name and the original spark for the whole concept.
“The idea really came about because my good friend Lewin had run cafes for a long time and I have run bicycle workshops. We always spoke about how we thought it would be a great combination to have them both working in one place.
“In terms of the name it was difficult. We wanted something that was striking, but a lot of bike shops are based on weak puns and we tried to avoid that. But at the same time we were very keen not to be seen taking ourselves too seriously. So we thought [look mum no hands] was a fun way of alluding to the simple pleasure of cycling.”
You might be wondering why a commuter on their bike wouldn’t keep pedalling a little further to somewhere nearer their place of work or their home? The reason is simply that look mum no hands has very quickly come to offer a fixed point for a community that stretches a long way beyond the usual local reach of a café, sandwich seller or local pub.
There are noticeboards with information on stolen bikes, charity rides, and cycling themed exhibitions and art installations; and the cafe hosts regular parties throughout the cycling season, from March through to October, such as for the upcoming London bicycle film festival at the nearby Barbican.
“As a cafe we offer something to cyclists that very few others can offer.” Humpheson explains. “We have got loads of parking for bikes, and a very bike friendly interior, and we have mechanics on hand all day every day. As well as a great location on one of London’s busiest commuter routes.
“Because we operate the workshop 12 hours a day, we have two or three mechanics working Monday to Friday, and there is normally always one working Saturday and Sunday,” he adds.
With the cafe regularly packed to the rafters with passing commuters, cycling afficionados, and simple banana, chocolate & walnut cake-lovers, Humpheson is confident that the idea can spread.
“We are really happy where we are at the moment. We are crammed for space inside, so we would like to squeeze more in somehow. I think it is a concept that could travel, particularly in London with such a busy and devoted cycling community.”
When was the last time you had a chance to see an urban phenomenon develop in front of your very eyes? Get down to look mum no hands, and you’ll find one coming to the boil nicely, along with a slice of very fine cake.