I dreamed I saw a monster advancing through a devastated town centre, mighty footsteps shaking semi-derelict buildings. I awoke in my armchair to find I had been reading a news item about Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley’s latest gambit: buying the 60-shop Evans Cycles chain out of administration for just £8 million, to follow his swoop on House of Fraser’s tottering department stores group in August. Say what you like about Ashley’s ruthless opportunism — he’s already said himself that half the Evans outlets will have to close — he’s the only big beast out there who’s on a mission to keep bricks-and-mortar retailing alive.
But in this era of cycling mania, why isn’t the 97-year-old, well-recognised Evans brand enjoying a golden era, rather than gasping in intensive care? Perhaps it has suffered the curse of private equity, ownership having passed through two sets of financiers’ hands in the past decade. There’s certainly no lack of demand for what it offers: I’ve often observed that (like Apple retailers and repairers) bicycle workshops are absurdly hard to find in most parts of Britain. During my own brief love affair with long distance cycling in the 1990s, I even thought of opening one in my Yorkshire hometown of Helmsley. Someone should develop a pop-up, low-cost bike-shop franchise, easy to adapt to disused high-street sites, and enter it for next year’s Disruptor Awards.