(Bloomberg) — At first glance, Bike Shed Motorcycle Club could be mistaken as Soho House for motorcyclists.
Nestled under four Victorian railway arches in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood and packed with heavy leather chesterfield sofas, Persian-style carpeting, and miles of exposed brick, the club plays host to bearded bikers who ride in on café racers to sip whisky and, maybe, get a new tattoo or a man-bun trim at the accompanying salons. The archetypically British space glows at night, filled with riders laughing and drinking, the scent of tobacco and leather and motor oil wafting through the air.
But where Soho House is intentionally and prohibitively exclusive with its $2,600-per-year membership (plus dues) and image-based criteria for entree, Bike Shed’s approach is rather more porous. In fact, one is as likely to see elderly ladies lunching there and families who drove in from Surrey for a Sunday roast as motorcyclists riding in for a beer.
“Bike Shed is strictly members and non-members only,” says Anthony “Dutch” van Someren, the former MTV and Bravo (among other places) executive who in 2011 founded Bike Shed Motorcycle Club with his wife, Vikki van Someren, a former executive at (among other places) Harper Collins and Virgin Media, and 30 investors. “It’s for people who love motorcycles and people who love people who love motorcycles.”
Now the duo is looking west, opening a second location in Downtown Los Angeles. The circa 1945, 30,000-square-foot warehouse with 25-foot ceilings sits near a Blue Bottle coffee shop, trendy Bavel restaurant, Rei Kawakubo’s fashion church Dover Street Market, and, yes, Soho Warehouse. (And, it should be noted, it’s also within blocks of LA’s skid row.)
Set to open in “60 or 90 days” according to Dutch, the $6.4 million build is $1.1 million over budget and a year late but primed to enter a vibrant California bike scene that’s thriving despite the Covid-19 pandemic. If all goes as planned, this won’t be the only Bike Shed in America for long. The van Somerens are planning to open three more as soon as the LA location breaks even, though they haven’t settled on where just yet.
“We like Texas, maybe not Austin, but actually we like Dallas,” says Vikki during a recent tour of the new Industrial Avenue space. “Atlanta is interesting; Denver is interesting,” Dutch adds. “And also we are interested where people are reaching out to us—Chicago for example.”
The largest motorcycle market in North America, Southern California has long attracted international brands. Deus ex Machina, founded in Australia in 2006, is the best known with its flagship in Venice, Calif., and stores in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The others with outposts in SoCal are the rougher-edged BMW Motorrad-backed House of Machines, which closed its store during the worst of the pandemic, and Heroes Motors, a French brand founded in 2015 that runs retail locations in Hollywood and Malibu.
At their best, such spaces form the backbone of local motorcycle communities, providing safe spaces to park, hangout, and even repair motorbikes. They also do the work of low-key, no pressure outreach for those who are not already deeply entrenched in motorcycle culture—but might want to be.
“It’s so important to have a place for welcoming people who aren’t in the traditional demographic of rider base, which is white male,” says Tim Martin, a former Falcon Motorcycles employee and longtime rider with deep roots in the LA biker community. Martin has lived in Downtown LA, just several blocks from the where the new Bike Shed will open, since 2010. “These kinds of places are important to grow the community wider and larger.”
Bike Shed LA is the most ambitious and upscale of the lot. Art Deco-style chandeliers and brass appointments dress up multiple bars, including a horseshoe-shaped one behind a secret door for members only. It has wine cellars and vaults for private whiskey storage, gleaming tiled kitchens and bathrooms. The 4,000-square-foot retail emporium is already piled with boxes, and a 7,000-sq-ft atrium will double as an event space for premium brands such as L’Oréal, BMW, and Apple, according to Vikki. There’s on-site secure parking for more than 100 motorbikes—which is perhaps even more than needed as the van Somerens say they expect more than half of Bike Shed customers to not ride at all.
“They come for the food,” Dutch says. In London, the restaurant, which serves grilled lamb cutlets, sundried tomato risotto, and multiple variations on gourmet macaroni and cheese, provides 60% of the club’s revenue.
The Downtown LA space is a “proof of concept” for future North American expansion, using private equity investments from some of the same investors who backed the first Soho House in London in 1995. (Although Soho House is heavily indebted and has never turned a profit, a June 23 filing for an initial public offering valued it at potentially $3 billion.)
“I read quite a lot of what Nick Jones has written over the years, and one of the things he said he regretted when he came to the U.S. was doing one [house] at a time,” Dutch says, referring to Soho House’s founder. “He wished he had done more.”
As of 2019, the van Somerens have a holding company, Bike Shed Holdings, that oversees Bike Shed Motorcycle Club Ltd. in the U.K. and the new Bike Shed Motorcycle Co. in California.
Membership, Not Exclusivity
Bike Shed members pay $1,000 annually for first-dibs access to group rides, track days, and private events. In the LA location, they’ll also gain access to private lounges and that bar behind the secret door in the rear of the main space.
Prospective members must have a motorcycle license and either be referred by a member or have met personally with Dutch and Vikki. London’s Shed has 800 members; membership in LA will be capped at 1,000 people—100 have already sold.
Women in particular will be key to the Bike Shed LA atmosphere. In the U.K., they make up just 3% of total motorcycle riders but 10% of Bike Shed membership. In LA, where an estimated 20% of riders are women, “six or seven” of the 100 members are women, Dutch says, and he expects far more.
“We have a disproportionate number of female riders because we are inclusive, we are welcoming, we talk a lot about common ground, leave your differences at the door,” he says. “We positively encourage new riders and learners, and I think that really helps. We try and avoid that bro, dick-swinging kind of ammo culture like, ‘My bike’s faster than yours.’ And we live and breathe that daily.”
The club is not affiliated with any one manufacturer, though it has done several one-off retail collaborations with brands like Triumph, Royal Enfield, Hedon, and Great Frog London over the years. “We don’t do buyouts for brands,” Dutch says. Between them, Vikki and Dutch own a Ducati Sport Classic, two Honda Dominator 650s, a Triumph Thruxton 1200 RS “customized a bit,” a Royal Enfield 650 custom, and a few additional Ducatis that they “fight over.”
The van Somerens say they reached out to many of the riding communities that dot the Los Angeles landscape from Newcomb’s Ranch restaurant in the mountains on Highway 2 to Neptune Net’s along the Pacific Coast Highway, from the Rock Store hangout to the Old Place in Cornell, Calif.; most they’ve known for decades anyway. But they say they are pointedly not trying to charm the harder-core crews that also have long histories along the California coast.
“We very much don’t go to all the proper motorcycle clubs and go, ‘Hey we think you’re cool and rock ’n’ roll,’” Dutch says. “I’d rather just stay away from that. We have no opinion. That’s a culture in itself, and that’s fine, but we’re not saying, ‘Come here and hang out.’ They might think we’re too expensive and a bunch of hipsters. That’s fine if that’s what they think—but we just separate ourselves from that culture.”
That dissociation from any type of favorites or exclusive feel is the linchpin of the club’s hoped-for success. (“There are so many different flavors of motorcycle, so if you just provide an all-inclusive, happy welcome place, then the niches within it—the enduro people, the chopper people, whatever—they will find each other,” Martin notes.)
While other spaces that cater to bikers have seemed intimidating or even downright threatening to non-riders, with big loud rigs and rowdy patrons, or, on the other side of the spectrum, have diffused the culture to the point that they seen simply glorified coffee shops with photos of motorcycles on the walls, Bike Shed with a bit of luck will occupy the middle ground—with a dash of Soho House style thrown in.
The directive for inclusiveness comes straight from the top. Says Dutch: “We just don’t want that snobbery.”