T. White’s Bikes: Indie Style on Symonds Street

Apr 18, 2016
T. White’s Bikes: Indie Style on Symonds Street

Bike Auckland

Bike shops, like people, have personalities. T. White’s Bikes is how you might imagine an independent bike shop — a cheerfully scruffy hail-fellow-well-met kind of place, bikes old and new jostling for space with banana seats, bins of pedals and hubs, a row of recycled forks and, for no apparent reason, a collection of 80’s boom blasters. Ace the amiable Pug might greet you at the door. bFM will likely be on the stereo; if you’re unlucky it’ll be country and western.

Tim White, one of the few Aucklanders who can claim to have a t-shirt with his very own bike shop on the front.
Tim White, one of the few Aucklanders who can claim to have a T-shirt with his very own bike shop on the front.

There’s a good chance you already know the place if you’ve been around bikes for a while. Tim White and his crew have been in the same shop in Symonds Street, on the ground floor of a lovely old neo-classical commercial building, since 2008. You’ll know them for sure if you’ve had anything to do with BMX, Tim’s passion from childhood, or with the fixie phenomenon.  Or if you’ve ever been on the prowl for a cheap, pre-loved bike that’ll just get you to work every day. The T. White’s chaps sell loads of them.

Tim’s been a bike guy since day one. As a kid, he pedaled around Grey Lynn.  He remembers being endlessly impressed when his Dad restored an abandoned mountain bike from the frame up, just because it was fun, and Tim started doing the same as soon as he could. When he left school, he went straight to work for Adventure Cycles, then in Fort Street. He never left the industry. There was a stint with a bike distributor, mechanic jobs at different bike shops here and in Canada, and then, hungry for a new challenge, he hung out his own shingle.

Bringing old bikes back to life, one tool at a time.

Like any business, T. White’s has had its ups and downs. It’s rocking along right now but Tim reckons its biggest achievement will always be that it found him a wife.  “First time we met was when she came into the shop with an old, red road bike. Some other bike shops had turned the job down because it was a real headache – the bottom bracket was wobbling around,” Tim smiles. “But we did it, and Rebecca and I started from there.”

These days Rebecca is the unseen strength behind the business. Tim and mechanics Brian and Ben are all in the workshop, but it’s Rebecca who performs all the back-office functions that the boys are hopeless at.

Ben gives the thumbs-up to another repair.
Ben gives the thumbs-up to another repair.

What the boys do rather well is fix bikes, tons of them. There’s a quiet pride in the workshop in figuring out the tough jobs; it’s Brian, who worked with Tim back in the Adventure Cycle days, who gets the toughest.

Mechanic Brian is the go-to guy for really tough repairs and is seemingly rewarded with bourbon.

Most of the shop’s business comes from servicing customers’ bikes and from selling used bikes that they breathe new life into. There’s steady demand, too, for parts, many of them second-hand. Tim thinks it’s a no-brainer. “Why would you not re-use a perfectly good component if it does the job? It saves the customer money and it’s a form of recycling.” One example: rear brakes fitted to a customer’s converted fixie. Tim points to the caliper, a second-hand Shimano 105 unit. “That’s in great nick and it’ll cost the customer $25. A new one, maybe $80.”

The T. White’s crew all ride. Ben is devoted to his fixie. Brian has a Frankenstein bike of uncertain provenance, and Tim commutes from Bayswater on a mountain bike converted to carry parts, people and a Pug. Three days a week he pedals son Arlo into preschool; the rest of the time he carries Ace.

Ace the shop dog at home in Tim’s commuter-cum-shop bike.
Ace the shop dog at home in Tim’s commuter-cum-shop bike.

They’re open from 10am, six days a week. Call in. There are plenty of bigger bike shops nearby, but if you’re looking for a place that was started by a mechanic and is still run by one (with his wife and dog, of course), T. White’s should be on your list.

Customer support runs in the family. Next generation standing by!

T.White’s Bikes
(09) 307 3607
132 Symonds Street, Newton

– by Ross Inglis, who does work experience in the T. White’s workshop on Thursdays, and can’t stand country and western. His last story for us was about bike business legend Frank Clavis.

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