MC Cyclery Takes its Own Road

MC Cyclery is a bicycle retailer that does things differently to most other Australian bicycle shops.

This is in large part a reflection of the passions and complementary professional skill sets of its two key owners, Andy Walsh and Harvey Crabtree.

Neither works full time at MC. In fact, both spend most of their time pursuing business interests within their respective professions of IT and hospitality. But far from being an indulgence, MC Cyclery is a substantial, tightly-run business in its own right.

Having first met Harvey several years ago, after a long delay I finally took up his invitation to visit and photograph the new MC Velo store, now established for a couple of years, and to interview Harvey to learn more about what makes this bike business tick.

Exterior view of bicycle shop entrance
MC Cyclery occupies the ground floor corner of a large new high rise apartment building. Clearly, having steps is not ideal, but just to the left of this picture is a lift and there’s also direct shop floor level access from the internal car park, that’s immediately behind the wall to the left.

It Starts with a Passion for Cycling

“I’ve had love affairs with every single aspect of cycling since about 8 years of age,” Harvey recalled. “I got serious about it around the 15 year old mark. I’d also commenced part time employment in the hospitality sector.

“The two went quite well together because while we had late finishes, we didn’t have terribly early starts, so if you could get out of bed you could make the bunch ride.

“Road cycling, like most teenagers, was my passport to freedom. I started riding with a few local clubs in Norfolk (UK) which was my home and doing the odd criterium race.

“I had a chef opportunity to go and work and train in Spain. That would have been 1986. I ending up hanging out in a junior development team. At the time all roads led to the Movistar team.

Interior view of bicycle shop
This is the view that greets customers when they enter MC Cyclery. The workshop is in the far left corner. You can see the stairs heading up to the mezzanine. There’s a bike storage room immediately to the left, behind the counter area. From this viewpoint, the main P&A display is directly behind the camera.

“I was considered good enough to sit in the bunch, but wasn’t quite there… it was a harsh realisation, but I figured at the end of the day it wasn’t going to happen for me on two wheels so I’d better stick with the kitchen.

“I’ve still got cycling friends in Spain to this day, but I decided to get serious about the food side of things.”

Harvey’s definition of getting serious about food started with becoming a master chef which has since morphed into being a CEO, advisor and consultant to a wide range of major food manufacturers and catering operations.

Interior view of bicycle shop
This panorama shot distorts the straight glass frontage onto Anzac Parade, but shows most of the ground floor retail space.

Customers Who Bought the Business

Harvey and his business partners started as customers of a fairly typical, long-running suburban bicycle shop called Maroubra Cycles.

“If you’ve ever heard the story of the local villagers who got together to buy their local pub to stop it being closed, we’re effectively the bunch riders who got together to buy their local bike shop,” he recalled. “The original four partners were myself, Graham, Michael and James. That transitioned over time to just Andy Walsh and I when he came on board in 2017, with Graham retaining a very small stake.

“It was Maroubra Cycles, then it became Maroubra Cyclery for very brief time, then it got shortened to MC. But for some reason it became “MCC” because it was MC Cyclery.

“Grant Kaplan purchased it as an owner operator from the previous business owners Grace and Matthew Reid, who also owned the building.

“That was back in the bygone days of bicycle retailing when the internet didn’t exist and you could literally put stuff on the shelves and tell everybody what to buy when they walked through the door.

“Grant ran it successfully for 4-5 years then created Giant Sydney in Clarence St.”

Interior view of bicycle shop with products display on wall
This P&A wall is immediately to the customers’ right as they enter the store.

After Harvey and his cycling buddies bought the store, their next challenge was the narrow, rather tired old building in suburban Maroubra. They wanted both a better space and a better location.

“We had been looking for 18 months plus for a new location,” Harvey continued. “Bike stores need a very specific type of footprint. The old Maroubra location was one corridor, which meant things had to be stacked. When you start double stacking bikes it’s almost a barrier to purchase. It’s awkward lifting them down. People can’t really see what they’re looking at.

“More importantly, Andy and I always had a vision of what we wanted to create and we knew it made no sense to invest what we wanted to do into a leased property. We wanted to be able to buy our freehold and then spend the money, because it was about an $850,000 fitout all up, by the time we finished.

“If you put that together with the freehold, we made pretty much a $3,500,000 investment, right in the middle of a pandemic, which some people might think is a little crazy – and we’d already run out of stock (due to covid shortages) by the time we moved into the new store.”

Clearly, most Australian bike shop owners don’t have that sort of money in their back pocket to invest into their bike shop. MC Cyclery doesn’t have a particularly large footprint, but it’s in a prominent corner location on one of inner Sydney’s widest boulevards in the heart of a suburb where the median price for a house on its own block of land is $3,950,000 and for a unit is $960,000.

Interior view of bicycle shop, person behind counter.
Store Manager David Campbell hard at work behind the counter. As you can see from the price board above the espresso machine, MC Velo members get their post-ride coffees for just $2 each.

“As to why Kensington, within 18 months, this particular part of Kensington will become the most densely populated part of Australia,” Harvey predicted, referring to the massive amount of new high rise development that’s going up all around their store.

“We discovered the premises by accident. We were riding down Anzac Parade, saw the new building, saw the shop with a “For Lease” sign. It was just an empty shell at that time.

“We got in touch with the landlord and said we’d prefer to buy. He said, “Make us a decent offer.” Which we did, and we were off to the races!”

This is partly a pun because the main entrance to Royal Randwick Racecourse, Sydney’s top horse racing venue, is just 200 metres down the road. Across the road from that is Centennial Park, which has a 3.8 kilometre traffic light free road cycling loop that’s used by thousands of Sydney cyclists every day. That loop is just 600 metres via bike path from the shop. There’s a stop on the new light rail line right outside the shop door with trams running every few minutes into the CBD that lies about four kilometres to the north west.

“We didn’t make the decision based upon the location of competitors,” Harvey continued. “Covid changed everything from the old territorial arguments that used to exist. Certain sacred cows were ditched, like shipping bikes to sell interstate.

“People will make their decisions based on who they like, what the price is, is it in stock, can I get it today?”

Interior view of bicycle shop, mechanics workshop area
The workshop runs two electric hoist workstations and features a full bicycle wash bay.

Fitout Goals – More Than Just a Store

Harvey explained that they wanted more of a clubhouse feel than just a retail store, “We realised there was no way that we’d achieve everything we wanted to based upon a single floor: functional space, social space, merchandising space, a workshop and storage. So we put in the development application for a mezzanine floor.

“We built something that we wanted people to come and hang out in. Yes, it’s a commercial enterprise, of course. But it’s our vision. It’s what you get when you allow people who love bikes to build bike shops.”

The overall feeling I got in visiting the store was “warm and inviting.” It’s fitted out to a high standard, but it’s not pretentious. Space is limited, so every item in every corner of the store is there for a reason. You can see more details of the fitout from the photos and captions that accompany this article.

Interior view of bicycle shop lounge area
Immediately upstairs is the MC Velo rider lounge where members can hang out and chat after each ride. You can see the stacked stools in the bottom right to let more tired legs sit and have a rest.

MC Velo – “The Glue”

Harvey and his partners always wanted to have a social membership and riding club element to the store, but initially weren’t sure how to package their offer.

“We were having a brainstorm back at the old store in 2017,” he recalled. “We’d been toying with the idea of a club within the store for a long time. But we couldn’t quite land on how we should do it. Because what I didn’t want it to be was, “Here’s a membership card, here’s a discount. Thanks.”

“We wanted to bring our closest customers closer. We wanted to build on what we already had through bunch rides, which was a massive asset.

“I wanted something that was a bit more meaningful. I didn’t want the usual club politics, AGM’s, secretaries, committees and other BS. I’d watched some big Sydney clubs almost disintegrate.

Ashley our head mechanic at the time said, “Why don’t we build it around a bike service plan?”

“I said we’d do it if we got more than 20 people involved. It’s been around the 70’s and 80’s for about six years now and currently we have 82 members.”

“It’s one way of keeping the customer for a much bigger part of the journey. When they come in for a service, they’ll be on your shop floor and you have the chance to show them the new models and so on.

“We realised it can be quite a good educational tool. Because we run Hubtiger software we can link to their Strava profile and run the actual wear and tear on their components.

“So I can say to our customers, “Actually, you’ve done 15,000 kilometres on that chain, of course it’s worn! There it is on Strava.”

“When members sign up, they get a high quality Italian jersey, with a yearly new design. They get a significant amount of in-store discounts. There’s a minimum of 10% on P&A. They get access to all of our MC Velo rides. We have two open rides a week. All the rest are members only, including all of our long rides.

Bicycle on display in bike store with framed jerseys in background
This display features memorabilia which Harvey obtained directly from his friend Bradley Wiggins, the now retired former Tour de France, Olympic and World Champion. Harvey shared detailed stories behind each item on display here, which space does not permit to repeat in full, other than to say that they’re bikes, wheels and jerseys from the 2012 Tour de France and the 2012 Criterium du Dauphine, both of which Wiggins won. Take a look at that chainring! If you can’t remember oval chainrings, Google it!

“Members agree to have three $230 premium services per year. They pay for the first two, but we cover the cost of the third one. So that’s roughly three to four month intervals which means they’re going to have a perfectly maintained bike, year round.

“It’s become quite a big asset, but more than that it’s become this amazing social entity as well. Tonight we’re having a ride management summit online with everybody to go through our ride plan for next year and what we’ve learned from this year. And right now, I’ve got 38 of our 82 members signed up to that already.

“The core of the bunch, we were all riding together before we owned MC Cyclery. We have a great reputation around Sydney in terms of being a safe bunch and a great bunch to learn to ride with. The rides are covered by insurance, as we class them as promotional events for the store.

“We also have an association with the Coogee Triathlon Club. We started a fortnightly women’s ride which was aimed to get their members out of the park, learning how to ride in bunches. That’s blossomed into maintenance classes and we have a very healthy cross-pollination.

“One of the things I’m proudest of is glue that we have with MC Velo. When you wake up on the other side of the world and see a photo of the Saturday ride and there’s been 30 riders, everyone’s grinning away and it’s all been run very smoothly, without you even being there…

“There’s a big emotional investment from both Andy and I in the store, but no more so than in the results we get out of the Velo, for sure.”

“We’ve got members who are everything from anaesthetists to current serving SAS soldiers. Lock them all in a room for half an hour and tell them to get on and someone would probably be stabbed! But put them all on bicycles and it levels the whole thing. Generally speaking, bicycles bring out the very best in people.

MC Velo certainly creates lots of smiles and social connections, but it’s also important to the overall business. MC Velo members account for 15% of all sales transactions and 19% of revenue.

Interior view of bicycle shop, apparel products hanging on racks.
Attaquer apparel is on display upstairs.

Proud to be a High End Road Store

If you’ve read this far and looked at the photos, you would have already figured out that MC Velo is a specialist high end road store. Road plus gravel bikes account for 65% of all bike sales. They do sell mountain bikes, commuters, recreational and kids’ bikes, but they’re all given limited floor space and account for combined 35% of bike sales.

“Trek are our anchor global brand,” Harvey said. “We have a very entrepreneurial relationship with them. It’s a genuine partnership with Trek. They’re very behind the clubhouse theory.

“We’ve maintained a hire fleet of high end road bikes since 2016. We initially stepped into the gap when the Rapha Clubhouse closed. We started with Cannondale through PSI and we’ve continued that through the Trek partnership.

“It all runs via the new platform on our website. We treat it as a demo program. If people come back and buy the bikes, we refund the hire cost. They cost between $80 to $135 for the first day, depending on the bike model, then the day rate decreases on a multi-day hire.

“It’s not been unknown to put someone on a bike for a month. Maybe they’re a project manager who’s come to Sydney on a specific job.

“Once we’ve run the bikes for about a year, we then sell them at a discounted rate. Out of 90 or so hire bikes, we’ve only had one total write-off.”

MC Velo’s main apparel partner is another inner city Sydney brand, Attaquer.

“We had always admired them from afar, what Greg (Hamer) and the guys had achieved there,” said Harvey. “We spec their premium level for the MC Velo kit and then we run their entire range across retail as well for 80% of our apparel, then Bontrager.

“We have become the road premium store we always dreamed we could be. Back in the Maroubra store we’d sell a complete TT / Tri bike once every 18 months. It’s not unknown for us do three in a week now.

“The bike game now is all about evolution. You have to keep moving, keep evolving. You’ve got to be super analytical and critical of your own offering.

“We go out of our way to find brands that aren’t everywhere. We consider all of our supplier relationships to be true partnerships.

“We have a firm stance about what we sell. We won’t put anything on the shelves that we haven’t ridden and tested ourselves. That runs for everything from a valve cap to a $7,000 set of wheels.

Man standing with bicycle in store
This is Phil Hayes, expert bike fitter, qualified coach and ex economist. He’s a direct import from Ireland who has been back in Australia 2 ½ years. Phil said he typically does 4 to 8 full bike fits per week. MC Cyclery direct imports gebioMized saddles from Germany, that they sometimes fit to bike fit clients’ bikes.

Tech Savvy Business Partner

Looking at the MC Velo website and hearing about all of the things that they do with workshop management, club management and integration, it’s clear that this is a very tech savvy business.

“I’d love it to be me!” Harvey laughed, but all of the tech is down to Andy. “Bike shops today need to learn to work with the internet and embrace it.

Harvey went onto detail how his business partner, Andy Walsh has had a long high-level corporate career in technology, including being CEO of Iress, a multinational data management and protection company.

“His talents on everything IT are legendary,” Harvey said of his business partner, who designed most of their current website on his laptop while on a flight to London.

“Literally everything from the Hubtiger software in the workshop, how we communicate with the MC Velo members, all the ride comms…”

Clearly MC Velo is a unique bike shop. One where the owners only spend about 30% of their time working on this business, while they’re off in their respective hospitality and IT specialities for the rest of their working weeks.

They’ve hired a highly qualified and experienced team who run the business on a day to day basis. If external appearances are anything to go by, then the system is rolling along nicely in the big chainring with a breeze at its back.

MC Cyclery by The Numbers

Kensington, NSW Approx 4 km south-west of Sydney’s CBD. A high density, high income suburb with rapidly growing population due to high rise development.

Social Media
MC Cyclery has 2,800+ Instagram followers, 3,000+ Facebook followers, 400+ daily website visitors. Uses SMS for workshop and bike fitting interactions and for prompting post-transaction Google Reviews. Uses Google Ads for paid campaigns.

Premium Road Bike Hire
Generated $23,200 in revenue from bike hire in 2023. Integrates bike hire with demo bike fleet and generates bike sales through hire customers.

Brand Partners:
Floor Stock Brands: Trek, BMC, Merida, We The People, Avanti
Custom Bike Builds: FiftyOne Bikes (Ireland), Passoni (Italy) and Parlee (USA)
P&A: In addition to regular suppliers such as SRAM and Shimano, has developed exclusive partnerships with a range of high end boutique brands.

MC Velo
In operation since 2019. Typically 70 to 80 active members – approximately a quarter being female.
In 2023 MC Velo members represented 15% of all sales by volume or transactions and 19% of revenue.
Organises rides six days per week from 35km to 200km. Road rides plus curated gravel rides.
Longest Days – take Friday off work and go on a 200km country adventure that often incorporates train and ferry rides.

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