Made In Maboneng: The Whippet Cycling Co.

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Emile Kruger is the man behind The Whippet Cycling Co. From the repurposed container in which the shop and workshop is housed, to the custom bikes he builds for customers, Emile’s approach is all about re-purposing and re-building what already exists into something new that can be enjoyed again. We like this idea, as well as his super slick bikes.


Where is your space?


It’s the large container situated on the corner of Commissioner and Albrecht streets, in Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg.


What about the location and space appeals to you?


Maboneng is a great location that just feels right for the shop. It has a great community vibe, which feels very creative and energetic with new bits of the precinct popping up all the time. I love that it’s in the CBD too; there’s a vibrancy that you only get from being in a city centre – especially one as multifaceted and interesting as Joburg.


With the actual space – I’ve got an obsession with shipping containers, and how people repurpose them – so couldn’t believe my luck when I found out there was one up for lease. In a way it syncs with what we’re trying to do with the bicycles – while we do have some new frames and components, the majority of what we stock is vintage and second-hand that we recondition and make good again. It’s about using what’s already in existence rather than the constant and unthinking pumping out of new stuff.


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Is there a story behind how you came to occupy the space?


Not really – when I first was looking for a site for the shop it was a toss up between Maboneng and Braamfontein, but soon after looking into available shops in each area, another bike shop opened up so through a process of elimination we ended up here.


In what ways does the city inspire what the Whippet Cycling Co is all about?


For want of a better word, the type of cycling we’re trying to promote is urban – cycling the city’s streets, exploring and getting to know the environment that we’re part of. Our bikes are pretty much all fixed or single speed – perfect for an adrenaline rush if you are experienced or just a lazy cruise for the novice.


Joburg’s CBD is full of these great old buildings in various states of (dis)repair, which, with some attention, love and the right mindset, could come into their own again. The same goes for old bicycles – there must always be repair and reuse.


What’s behind the name ‘The Whippet Cycling Co’?


Steel racing bikes, especially track ones, always made me think of racing dogs/sight hound breeds: sleek, stripped down to their bare essentials in the pursuit of speed. I have also loved Whippets for some years now and when we moved back to SA it was the natural choice for pets and the name for the shop, especially as I now had two ready, if miscreant, mascots!


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What exactly do you offer at the Whippet Cycling Co?


Custom build bicycles are the core of my business at the moment. I offer a fairly wide selection of second hand and vintage bicycle components, including a massive stock of over 200 vintage Italian steel frames. I’m also the authorised dealer for Brick Lane Bikes components and frames (London-based bicycle manufacturer) – with this selection of parts your options are pretty much endless.


As for services; my workshop and advice is free of charge for people to come and use when I’m open. The Maboneng Precinct has a real community vibe and I try to promote this in any way that I can. I have also recently started to build three-wheel and courier bicycles.


Is there a common look to all Whippet bikes, or is each one unique in and of itself?


It depends. Most customers will have their own idea of what they want to get built so the bikes will usually all end up looking different. That said, I’ve been using a lot of raw steel frames in some of the builds I’ve been doing, which does give them a similar aesthetic – a bit rough and ready, a classic beater or pub bike.


What the process of building up of a bike?


It all depends on the client’s choices and when he/she makes them. I usually start with the frame and will install all the greasy bits to it. From there, I’ll move on to the cranks, handle bars and saddle, leaving the wheels for last.


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What is the particular appeal of riding a bike with no gears?


There are two sides to a fixie’s appeal for me. Firstly, in its aesthetics: clean lines, no extra bits and bobs added, pure and beautiful. Secondly it’s in the ride, especially good quality old steel frames. Being fixed gives you a certain responsiveness, making your whole body interact with both the bike and road.


Where and why did the fixie trend originate, and how has it been appropriated locally?


There are many stories of where the modern fixie started. My favourite story is that it started with Indian immigrants to New York in the 70’s. Having little money to buy and service bicycles for their jobs as couriers, they converted old bicycles to brakeless fixies making them cheap and easy to repair.


As for the local angle – the SA market is still very small for fixies and single speeds compared to Europe, Asia and America, but there is definitely a current revival in the air for vintage, well-made, steel bicycles. People have these old racers in the garage, which are perfect to convert into fixed or single-speed bikes.


Cycling’s booming at the moment, particularly in niche areas like fixies and cruisers. Why do you think this is?


Worldwide cycling is becoming more and more popular; it’s a cheap and environmentally friendly form of transport that as an added bonus helps keep you fit. In Spain this year, bicycles actually outsold cars for the first time. With the niche areas – fixes can be very cheap to build especially if you’re lucky enough to have an old racer hiding in the garage. They’re easy to customise and change if you get bored; and ultimately, they are a fashion statement which people like to show off.


Who is welcome at The Whippet Cycling Co?


All, as long as you’re a friendly and positive sort.


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What music is playing?


Completely depends on my mood and what I’m doing that day.


What will the space never see?


I don’t like closing off options as you never know what you might end up doing, or where you might end up – but its probably safe to say that it’ll never see any of those off the peg ‘unipack’ bikes.


What new exciting things can we look forward to coming out of the space?


Locally built frames. There used to be an old bicycle factory across the road from us in the 80s and 90s (the Sancini factory)– which we ended up, through a very circular route, owning all the old stock from including jigs, steel and lugs. I’m also keen on getting someone in to run bicycle mechanic workshop in the future.


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