Earlier this year, much-loved lower Kentish Town Road bike shop Chamberlaine Cycles, which dated back to the 1950s, underwent a transformation. Emerging as the slick contemporary store Giant Camden, it’s still run by the same team with Nick Freilich at the helm, who has been there for over two decades. But it now boasts separate women’s and men’s sections, as well as a unique bike fitting system. We tracked Nick down to find out, quite simply, what started his two-wheeled obsession.
Tell us how you came to run Chamberlaine Cycles as it was.
I was in my early twenties, working in human resources, and made redundant during the 1991 recession. I applied for a cycle mechanic’s job as a filler, and turned up to this most traditional of bike shops on my custom-built racing bike. Owned by two brothers, Ted and Stan Chamberlaine, who were approaching retirement, the place was full of characters. I was the only cycling enthusiast working there, but I loved it. Stan Chamberlaine is an eccentric larger-than-life character and enthusiastic bicycle repair man of the old school: I shared his enthusiasm and became very fond of him in particular.
And so that’s how you started your career?
Not quite. I actually took the decision to return to study for my masters at Middlesex University, thinking that an HR career beckoned. But once I’d finished, about to marry and having spent my last £700 on a honeymoon to Tuscany, I needed a job quickly. I telephoned Stan and arranged to return to work for his son Steve who was then running the business. And to cut a long story short, after being given the job of setting up a new branch in Hatfield, I went back to Kentish Town Road to manage the shop with Steve. That was 20 years ago.
How did the Giant rebrand come about?
Although we had different ideas about the direction Chamberlaine’s should take, we always rubbed along quite well. But as time progressed, the business became more out of step with a rapidly changing market and increased competition from both the internet and modern chain stores. Steve was ready to retire, and the opportunity for me to buy the business and morph it into a state-of-the-art Giant brand store became a reality.
Let’s rewind: what was your first experience on two wheels?
I spent my first few years living care free next to green belt in Elstree, on the edge of London. Once I’d learned to balance on my bright orange Tornado chopper style bike, I had my key to freedom. I would take off across the fields and pavements and soon found that I could ride a circuit of 5 miles without crossing a main road. It was a voyage of discovery and independence. Uncharacteristically, my mum didn’t seem unduly concerned at my absence or stories of vast houses with French style shutters along the Barnet Way. That was probably my first step on a journey which has led to me to the point where I have spent most of my adult life riding and working with bikes.
Any bad memories?
Aggression from frustrated road users is a regular experience. I try to be a cycling ambassador and respond in a friendly manner no matter how I am feeling. It is important to diffuse situations as they arise and try to connect on human terms.
No horrific injuries then?
I’ve been lucky to escape anything too serious, although broke my nose aged five, and sliced my arm open, requiring surgery, mountain biking a few years back. I think these events may have involved a degree of showing off to friends. I think the penny may have dropped now.
What was your first (two-wheeled) love?
As a teenager I enjoyed touring through Europe. I only became interested in competing as a student at North London Polytechnic, but I think I lacked the motivation and talent to be any good. My rediscovery of mountain biking and endurance racing in the 1990s refuelled my enthusiasm for riding; to access those early feelings of discovery, freedom and fitness in a more challenging and sociable way. It did become a bit of an obsession, but I now have it more under control. It is, however, really hard when the thing that you love to do naturally produces loads of those feel good endorphins.