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When the tagline on your Instagram account reads “Not your average bikeshop” you know that it can’t be taken lightly—especially in a country like the Netherlands. Nothing is normal or average in Dutch cycling. You’ll find that bikes, bike shops, bike paths, pre- or post-ride coffees, ’cross races, group rides, everyday cyclists and pro racers are all at a very high level; even the speed of an average weekend group ride is nothing short of amazing. So, anything “above average” would clearly evoke another class, not unlike Dutch pros Mathieu van der Poel or Annemiek van Vleuten.
Nevertheless, on a visit to the Koppel Bikeshop in the Netherlands, I was not in a mood to question its Instagram moniker; I was more interested in satisfying my curiosity about the business and its owners. Many of the intriguing facts about Koppel and its Koppel Frameworks are showcased on the internet with amazing carbon, titanium and filetbrazed steel bikes—with the latter especially eye-catching.
Koppel Bikeshop is in Amersfoort, a city 20 kilometers southeast of Amsterdam. Like every Dutch community, Amersfoort is perfectly maintained, cobbled, flourishing and a joy for the visitor. The shop itself sits in an old factory building rehabilitated into retail shops and small business, only accessible by foot or bike. Being an actual former workshop, the entrance of Koppel Bikeshop has only brick walls, and it’s not until you reach the door of No. 13 Oude Fabriekstraat (“Old Factory Street”) that you know you’re at the right place! The shop is long and narrow, with a high ceiling. Bikes on the walls provide illumination as captivating as stained glass, and down the shop, as in a church, is the choir where the most sacred work is done.
Maybe the most astonishing is the calm that reigns here. Probably the sound of vinyl-generated music and subdued light help, and even on a busy Saturday morning it seems that the shop’s atmosphere inspires a certain peacefulness. You’re also lulled into a relaxed mood by the friendly greetings from Mirjam Visscher, Tom Hoekstra and Mirko Meerwaldt, backed by an offer of a coffee from their massive Rocket Espresso machine.
When creating Koppel, Tom and Mirjam had a vision to create a place like no other. Barista coffee and high-end bikes are de rigueur in the Netherlands, so they wanted to provide their customers with another level of comfort, shopping experience and customization.
Family businesses are not that unusual, even in bike shops. What’s more here is the distribution of roles. Mirjam is not there to sell tubes; she’s the bike-fitter! Working previously at musculoskeletal system imaging in the medial world, she has developed the skills to dial in your position like no other. She rides seriously too, and her precious advice will be applied to your bike with an undisputed faith.
Moreover, fitting is not optional at Koppel; it is offered with every new bike purchase; it’s even done before discussing any brand name or model. So Tom, with decades of working in the bike industry, will pick the best possible bike for every profile-fit-need-budget-taste combination.
And Mirko will provide an enlightened vision in a WorldTour setting to any machine passing through the shop. His manual skills are backed by a lifetime of cycling culture, making him suited to addressing any question or proposal.
Well, not bad? No, but still “not average enough” for these three perfectionists.
Every material is cherished at Koppel Bikeshop, and so the initial idea for Koppel Frameworks was to create their own frames in various materials. With his industry background, Tom located Asian suppliers that could make Koppel carbon and titanium frames to their own specs. The plan was not to become just another brand, but rather to offer a distinctive bike with a custom paintjob and finish at a very good price point.
They also occasionally do custom paintjobs on brand-new superbikes when the color of the year is not to a client’s taste, or if something more distinctive is wanted—like the glossygreen Factor LS created by Koppel. Don’t look for that color on the Factor website. It’s not there.
But the Koppel team remained a little unsatisfied with the overseas production option and decided to take one (high) step further. Like Tom and Mirko, I have a special liking to custom steel. But while I am totally content just to ride it, they now have the ability to build steel bikes with their own hands.
After having dreamed for years to work with steel, the two men eventually took formal training with two great masters: Enigma Bicycle Works in Great Britain and Big Forest Frameworks in Germany. They then acquired the tools and (some hard work later) they are now proud to offer their own steel frames, made to measure, in the workshop. Of course, the annual production can be counted with the fingers of a one hand, but what’s important is the satisfaction of being able to fit, design, weld and put together someone’s dream machine in house.
While welding in the busy store is probably not the most convenient place for a workshop, Tom and Mirko hope to move production to another place as the orders grew. In the meantime, they continue to build frames with basic tools, inspired by masters before them who used not much more than a hacksaw, files and a torch.
At the time of my visit, I had the chance to discover their latest creation: a just-assembled blue road bike awaiting its lucky new owner. I could be biased, but this bike showed an incredible level of craftsmanship despite the youth of Koppel Frameworks. The frame’s proportions, smooth filetbrazed joints and stunning paintjob could speak to the most demanding steel connoisseurs.
I must confess that the vibrant color of the blue Koppel road bike was enough for me to drive to Amersfoort! And then I met the team. Mirjam, Tom and Mirko are the most polite, charming and competent team you could dream of. They have taken many challenges with Koppel and elevated the art of matching their workmanship with their passion to a high level. They are there to realize dreams in any given material, color or budget and they’re on a mission to never let you ride a boring bike.