Petrol prices and eBay threaten village cycle jumbles

By Sam Dansie | Saturday, May 18, 2013 9.00am

A thread of UK cycling subculture – the cycle jumble – is being unpicked by online auctions, escalating travel costs and declining numbers of bargain hunters, claims a regular seller.

Despite the popularity of reconditioning vintage bikes, cycle jumbles – the bike equivalent of the table-top sale, where a dedicated kit hunter can pick up rare equipment at bargain prices and follow it up with a slice of cake made by the local WI – appear to be declining.

“People who are interested in them are dying off,” said Mike Clark, who attends between 20 and 30 each year to buy and sell merchandise. “It’s just one of those things that the people interested in having the old and interesting stuff tend to be the older generation.” 

Some of the biggest cycle jumbles in the country is held in Ripley, Surrey, which hosts three events a year. But even attendance at that stronghold – once an essential rendezvous for the London courier crowd, with upwards of 400 buyers per jumble – is showing signs of decline, said Clark, who lives in Kent. 

“It’s not as rampant as it was five years ago. Anywhere between five and eight years ago it might have been attended by 50 or 60 couriers, and now you might be lucky to find half a dozen,” he said.

Online sales

It’s not just couriers – generally, buyer numbers are down. Clark blames auctioning sites such as eBay, as well as spiralling petrol prices: “People are thinking, ‘It might cost me £50 [in fuel] to get to this jumble and I might not get what I want, therefore I’ll source it on eBay.’ Ebay, even if it’s going to cost more than you hope to pay, at least you know you’re going to get it.” 

Clark, who said he hates computers and refused to follow the trend online, said he believes the volume of business in vintage parts is as big as ever but has moved out of village halls and onto the internet.

Nigel Scott, who runs a website in Dorset selling vintage Campagnolo equipment and organises an annual calendar of jumble events, said his experience of a popular jumble in Kidderminster, the West Midlands, was similar. A decade ago, a queue used to wind around the corner to get in, he explained. Fast forward a few years and a friend told him he had been first in line when the doors opened.

Pockets of success

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Calling the demise of cycle jumbles might be premature, however. Clark said he has no intention of packing his boxes of merchandise into the attic and turning his back on the culture: “It’s a social event as much as a business opportunity.”

And Scott, through his network of contacts, has heard reports that certain jumbles are doing a rip-roaring trade – one, in Muswell Hill, London, is doing good business from well-heeled locals doing up vintage bikes, he said.

“Another organiser – at an event in Chalfont St Peter [Buckinghamshire] – said he had an exceptional attendance and people had told him it was better than Ripley,” Scott added.

It means the jumbles, usually as famous for the WI cakes as the rare gems waiting to be uncovered, should soldier on for some time yet at least.

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