Rook Cycles
  • Rook Cycles makes striking commuter bicycles from imported parts in a small shop at the top of Long Street in Cape Town.
  • A basic bike will set you back R5,450 before any extras – and that comes with a lifetime guarantee on the frame.
  • Now Rook is going wholesale, and you may just start running into its brand if you are shopping for bicycle that will get you places while also turning heads.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

A small bicycle shop at the top of Cape Town’s Long Street, Rook Cycles is changing the way South Africans see cycling. 

There’s no lycra, or cyclists teetering around on cleats in the buzzing Cape Town store. Instead, there’s good music, a coffee machine, and an X-box, and walls laden with components and colour coded accessories.

There are also striking bicycles everywhere you look – but not in dozens of different models. Rook sells just two core bikes from their store and on their website, both pared down, lightweight single speeds that have no suspension, no gears, and no unnecessary features.

But simple as these base bikes may be, both can be customised into one of a kind, highly practical, and yet surprisingly affordable bicycles.

“It’s kind of the skateboarding of bicycles,” owner Luke Godfrey says about the single speed bikes they build and sell, “because it’s taking back cycling from the lawyers and the doctors, and placing it in everyday peoples’ hands.”

The entry level Rook One bicycle costs R5,450 and the flagship Rook Race – a lighter, more aggressive bike – is R8,295. Both can be configured as easy city bikes, or as a hipster-friendly (and more terrifying) fixed gear bikes, or fixies.

The business, which started in Godfrey’s apartment as an online-only store, ultimately aimed to manufacture the bicycles in South Africa, but Godfrey says it simply isn’t practical if they want to keep hitting the price point.

“In the beginning our motive was to manufacture the bikes here,” says Godfrey. “But after visiting China and Taiwan, multiple times and going to multiple factories, and riding the quality that we’ve received from there, we just can’t match it.”

So to keep costs down and quality high, Rook sources steel frames from a factory in China, which is run by fourth-generation bike builders, and pays the hefty import duties that comes with imports.

Rook Cycles

Frames and components are shipped to Cape Town, where they are assembled on the shop floor in Long Street. Custom orders are often available in a matter of hours, with a "walk in, ride out" service on most bikes, plus free shipping around South Africa.

The bikes have their roots in the no-frills, aerodynamic track bikes that race in velodromes, but transitioned into the outside world by becoming the go-to bicycles for messengers and couriers in big cities, thanks to their ruggedness and practical simplicity, particularly when it comes to repairs and servicing. 

“Our Rook One hi-ten steel bike weighs just 10 kilos, and we guarantee it for life,” Godfrey says. “It will last forever. And if it doesn’t, we’ll replace it.”

In recent years manufacturers like Rook have reinvigorated the sector by building practical and good looking customisable city commuter bikes that turn heads.

It’s very unusual for two bikes to roll out of Rook looking the same, even after it has sold more than 600. Even at the entry-level price point, customers can pick frame and wheel colours, colour-coded components. A little extra will can also buy accessories such as front baskets, high rise, bullhorn or drop handlebars, and even coffee cup holders. 

In the last three years Rook has grown organically through word of mouth and social media. The company recently did a deal with a property developer in Woodstock in Cape Town, which bought two dozen of their bicycles to entice residents not to use the limited parking bays; anyone who gave up a parking bay got a free bike.

Now Rook is on the cusp of finalising a wholesale deal that’ll should see its bicycles distributed in other stores – and you may just start running into them if you are in the market for an affordable commuter bike that will also turn heads.

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