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52: 08 - À Bloc Bicycle Shop

Name: À Bloc Bicycle Shop
Address: 116 Commercial Rd, Prahran VIC
Web: http://ablocbicycles.com/
Phone: 9510 4238
Served by: Joan (& His amazing moustache)
Owner: Chris Wright

There’s some cool kids hanging around in a bike shop that’s only 3 months old, in the heart of Prahran.  They’re young, and passionate about bikes.  Whilst we are there, À Bloc staff member Joan leaves the comfort of the counter to help fix someone’s bike.  He then returns, and promptly makes our coffee.  From bike mechanic to barista in a few seconds, it’s exactly what À Bloc is offering – a multitude of reasons to stop in and visit this bike shop… I mean café… I mean gallery… I mean, all of the above.

So what’s good about À Bloc Bicycle Shop? 

You know what you’re getting with À Bloc Bicycle Shop.  They do bikes – really nice bikes – they do coffee, some food and they do art. But this is a space that is definitely not overloaded.  It’s certainly not as packed full of bikes like most bicycle stores these days and as a result the boys of À Bloc Bicycle Shop have given all the functions of the space plenty of room to breathe – or ride.  

As we enter and place our orders for coffee with the incredibly friendly and Italian Joan (Pronounced “Dew-an”), we move to sit at a beautiful timber table and stools and to use Katie’s words “The furniture is so damn cute!”. A modern take on milking stools with a rich hardwood timber, beautifully finished, made by the Arteveneta furniture company that inhabits the space just behind À Bloc Bicycle Shop itself. How romantic is that?

Glancing around the café zone of the space, everything is subtle and well detailed.  The café counters have a wonderful, powder coated black expressed steel frame – something that you don’t see often. It looks ridiculously robust and holds within this frame as if they are almost nestled in there, storage units painted a soft, crisp blue. This black frame language is reflected in the display units for all merchandise in the shop and this in turn suggests that they have been designed to replicate the frames of bikes – slender but functional.  In addition to these large display stands, the clothes racks also take on bike-like form, with the top steel rail wrapped in bicycle grip tape. Sure it may be a bit kitschy, but it is subtle and it just works. And it’s all these subtle details that whilst simple, are carefully considered and put together well to make this space as great as it is. 

The building itself is grand in scale, with high ceilings and lofty voids. Entering the space you immediately look up, towards the beautifully decorative timber bracing and gigantic rusted steel beams. There is definitely room to move or adapt the space whilst the brand grows which is exciting. The layout is well designed and everything nicely ordered – from the bike racks on the wall, to the merchandise on display, everything is in order – everything has a place. And there is a lack of over-embellishment that is refreshing, as it could have been easy to add a lot more designed elements in an attempt to fill the huge volume, but the restraint exercised is to be commended.  

It seems like the brand itself is incredibly well conceived.  The À Bloc merchandise, logo and letterpress business cards are all very tidy, as well as the calico tote bags, graphics showing bike service pricing behind the bike workshop area, the menu and bits and pieces here and there. It’s all-consistent. For one space to combine café, bike shop and gallery is clever. They are the triple threat of the café scene here in Melbourne. It feels like the À Bloc minds understand that these days it’s difficult to rely on one revenue stream so they are diversifying; yet still striving to do all three things at an incredibly high level of quality. 

What could be better about À Bloc Bicycle Shop? 

We were literally saying to ourselves "well, surely there must be something that needs improvement in this place?” It was hard digging, but we came up with three suggestions for improvements. 

There are only eight seats in the café section. But there is absolutely more room inside for additional  tables to get more bums on seats and sell more coffee. It would be worthwhile applying for permit for outdoor seating as an opportunity to increase these numbers as well.  Cyclists as we know it, are pack hunters. So whether you’re a Hipster Bro-mance in skinny jeans or Amateur weekend Peleton clad in lycra, these guys would love to be seen on the footpath drinking espressos and talking about Le Tour, so À Bloc should look into this from a Business development perspective. 

The bottom shelf of the merchandise display units could benefit from some doors to hide the cardboard boxes that sit in it. Typically this wouldn’t bother us, but given how tidy everything else is, you really notice this.  These could be designed using the same metal mesh used to on the top of the units for a consistent design language. 

Lastly, when we ventured into the art gallery, it was between shows and as a result the open space to the rear of the shop looked quite sparse.  It would be worthwhile investing in some permanent art to hang in the space for these in-between periods, so the walls didn’t look so bare.  Also, the bikes that run around the perimeter of the space would work better lined up directly in the middle – almost as if they were the art focus. 

What’s its thing? 

À bloc is a paradox. It has consistency but it also has diversity.  We will begin to see more and more ‘places’ like this opening up - where you mix up the goods and services provided in the one space.  In this instance À Bloc Bicycle Shop know and understand their demographic.  Bike lovers tend to like the latest gear, enjoy a good coffee and appreciate good art. And to do these three things in the one well designed space, ensures that À Bloc Bicycle Shop will be peddling for a long time yet. 

Defining Design Details

  • Space to breathe – the layout is minimal showing amazing restraint.
  • Exceptional detailing – construction of the café counters and the merchandise units is precise.
  • The brand – it’s nice to see an established identity across all the branding and marketing from opening day.  Logo, business cards, tote bags, website, social media – it’s crisp.
  • The diversity – 3 functions in the one space, but more than 3 reasons to come back!

Super Tectonics spoke to owner Chris Wright and he mentioned his own design studio – Honn Projects.  It appears Chris (who is an architect by education) is aiming to do a very similar thing to Super Tectonics - and that is work across multiple disciplines within the design and architecture industry.  Perhaps one day Super Tectonics and Honn Projects may even collaborate! 

* A Blocs next art exhibition opens on Sunday 16th March. Ride on down. Check out their facebook page and website for updates.