Denmark and its capital, Copenhagen, are synonymous with bikes and design. The two things collide in a small, dusty shop with a big reputation – Sögreni Bikes, who handbuild their own bicycles to customers’ preferences.
At the shop’s helm is the scruffy and rambunctious Søren Sögreni. Despite his T-shirt-and-shorts appearance, the founder is a man in demand. If mainstream design companies are after showpiece bikes, he’s their guy.
“The customers I respect most are the handcraft people,” Sögreni told BikeRadar. “They’re the people who know what it means, how much it costs and how long it takes to make it.”
Depending on what private customers want, delivery can take anywhere between two and four months, sometimes longer, he said. “The problem is many people don’t understand the delivery time on a special build. They think it’s something that you can make on a computer, press a button and the thing comes out – that’s a big problem.”
The shop’s centrepiece when BikeRadar visited was a stunning, lustrous silver urban bike made for Georg Jensen, a Danish jewellery and ornament designer. The powder coated finish had taken an age to perfect, said Sögreni.
Simple, clean lines on the Georg Jensen edition – just 14 of the bikes were made
Sögreni just designs and builds the bicycles now. Frames are made elsewhere (“in Europe, to our specifications”), although he used to make those too. Aged 18 and with no qualifications other than a driving licence, he created his first frame while working as a cinema operator. Soon, friends wanted one.
Word spread, but it wasn’t easy in the early days. In the 1980s, Copenhagen wasn’t the cycling utopia into which it’s grown, Sögreni recalled. Even after setting up shop in Sankt Peders Stræde, he supplemented bike-building with cinema shifts and work as a discothèque bouncer.
Sögreni claims to have been the first designer in the modern era to make flat and wooden mudguards – something he’s being doing for a quarter of a century. Business in general is now good, though he says he doesn’t make money on bike builds – they take too long and margins are small. Instead, accessories and maintenance provide bread for his table.
Sögreni’s handmade bells are the most popular items in the shop
Many orders come from overseas, possibly thanks to Copenhagen’s global reputation; if you’re after a stunning urban bike, why not head to the city where the bicycle rules?
Danes, on the other hand, Sögreni complained, see bikes as utilitarian, functional – disposable, almost. He pointed to the sorted array of nuts, bolts and bearings individually coated in a special anti-rust protection on the dining room table. He is the only builder in the world using the coating, he said.
“It’s difficult to convince Danes to wait for the bike and get this quality. They think that it makes more sense to buy a factory-made bike, which is extremely stupid, because when you use it in the winter time, in the salt and the snow, it corrodes. Not this,” he said with a flourish.
Sögreni’s attention to detail extends to a special anti-corrosion coating
The ranks of unpainted frames, the dazzling bells and pedals, the special edition bikes, the untidy dining room table and not least the witty, eccentric presence of the owner himself make a visit to Sögreni Bikes well worthwhile.
BikeRadar asked Søren three simple questions.
1. What’s the coolest thing in the shop at the moment?
I don’t know. But people love our bells a lot. I will let people decide, and they really like the bells. For me, I have a lot of cool stuff.
2. What are you lusting after now?
I want to finish my projects, but the problem is we’re a small company and we have to get bread on the table every day. We have a sidecar that has a patent, an idea for a wooden bike, and a lot of different things coming. There are a lot of projects on the way, but they take time and money.
3. What’s your current bestseller?
That’s the bells. I was inspired by my mudguards and I thought, ‘Why not make a flat bell?’ They’re spreading more and more.