‘Bikes are celebrated here’ - Exploring Amsterdam with MAAP

Rouleur heads to one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world to find out why Amsterdam is the place that Australian clothing brand, MAAP, has decided to open its first store in Europe

The glittering canals in Amsterdam are lined with bikes parked either side of the rusty railings that give water a pathway through the city. As people sit sipping coffee and socialising, their bikes are parked next to them, loyal carriages awaiting their call. If you try to cross the road in Amsterdam, you have to be aware of the bikes. Bells ringing, freewheels whirring, brakes screeching – bikes rule this city. There’s unspoken rules when it comes to cycling around the narrow streets, and it takes a certain amount of time to learn how the traffic on two wheels flows. In one moment, another cyclist might be hurtling out of a junction nearby without even feathering the brakes, but somehow, with a nod of recognition and a flicker of eye contact, they end up going left and you go right, and it all just works. Amsterdam is a city that works.

It hasn’t always been this way. There was a time in the 1950s and 60s, when the number of cars in Dutch cities was rapidly increasing – it’s only thanks to fierce activism and forward-thinking policy when it comes to urban travel that Amsterdam has now become a cycling capital of the world. While the active lifestyle and unpolluted air has made Amsterdam a popular city to live in, the city’s attitude towards bikes has also attracted a number of big brands in the cycling world to the area.

The likes of Brompton and Rapha have long had stores in Amsterdam, and the latest company to join the cycling bubble in the Dutch city is Australian clothing company, MAAP. Just a few weeks ago, MAAP opened a new LaB retail concept store in the heart of Amsterdam’s shopping district – the first of its kind in Europe – with the aim of strengthening the brand’s identity on the continent.

“There were a few cities across Europe that really stood out in terms of places that we would love to be a part of, and Amsterdam was absolutely one of those places,” Ian Elliott, MAAP’s Chief Marketing Officer, told Rouleur, speaking just a few hours before the store’s official opening party. 

“The unique history that Amsterdam has with bikes is something that's special and should be celebrated. People were forced to find a new way of moving around the city and bikes came to be that transportation device and a societal norm. The urban infrastructure was designed around helping people move more fluidly around the city by bike. The amount of bikes here per capita is astounding. For us as a brand that was born in Australia and wanted to continue to invest more in the European market, Amsterdam – given its history with bikes and the country's relationship with the Grand Tours and professional cycling – it was a really easy decision of where to start.”

For the last few days, Elliott and his MAAP colleagues have been guiding a haggle of journalists around Amsterdam, showing the city off in its finest colours on a sunny spring week in March. They’re keen to stress that while the new Amsterdam store might, naturally, be based around selling cycling apparel, the launch of a hub in the European city is much more than that. It starts with the name – the ‘LaB’ acronym stands for ‘Life around Bikes’, and cycling clothing is just one part of the store which the MAAP team hopes will turn into a community hub for cyclists and non-cyclists alike.

“I think the question for us now is, as a brand, how can we be thoughtfully adding value to the community of Amsterdam? And how can we do that in a way that is unique to the values and principles of MAAP?” Elliott says. “We want to try and cultivate the spirit of life around bikes – MAAP is very actively involved in wanting to grow the sport of cycling, inviting more people into it. If we can help somebody see that there are other people into cycling and it invites them to try out the sport, then that's amazing. If we can achieve that by celebrating life around bikes, that’s the ultimate aim.”

The goal of making the Amsterdam store more than just a cycling hotspot is reflected in the environment MAAP has created within the LaB space (which was designed by London-based design and architectural consultancy, Brinkworth). Walking inside, the store is bright and spacious, with a slimmed-down and minimal display of apparel, leaving plenty of room for bike storage and socialising. TV screens are mounted high on the wall, showing videos of MAAP athletes and ambassadors, and there’s spaces to sit and chat over a coffee, which is made fresh using the espresso machine behind the counter. 

“The store has a very open floor plan and the idea behind that was to essentially invite people in and make them feel comfortable just hanging around. Creating a space that is welcoming was absolutely a part of the design brief that we gave to the architects,” Elliott explains.

“Going back to the local community element, there's all sorts of really subtle cues that we tried to include in the design, for example, the tiling is from a local organisation. The lighting itself sits somewhat out of the way but provides comfort for the eyesight, as looking at natural light can be a headache sometimes. We’ve thought about how that light is positioned in the store so it's not something that is overpowering and it allows a person to inhabit the space, hopefully, in a very comfortable and easy way.”

Elliott adds that he envisions art exhibitions and collaborations with other local businesses taking place in the shop, as well as it becoming a meeting place for group rides and runs. While it’s becoming increasingly common for consumers to shop online, it’s clear that human interaction and community building is a key pillar of MAAP’s ethos as the company continues to expand within Europe. There’s no doubt that opening a shop in the centre of Amsterdam’s shopping district is a large investment for the Australian brand, but Elliott believes that it is integral in ensuring that they are staying true to their values when it comes to servicing customers.

“If you're operating exclusively online, then you're really limited in your ability to engage with the local community and the individuals that are breathing life into the culture of the sport that, ultimately, you want to be a part of contributing to,” Elliott explains. “The beautiful thing about the sport of cycling is that there's artists, there's chefs, there's writers, there's journalists, there's designers, there's architects, who all find joy and inspiration through cycling. For us at MAAP, the whole idea of a LaB is to actually engage with the other businesses and other members of the community that are actively contributing to the culture of cycling. 

“It could be cafes, it could be music stores, it could be bookstores, it could be bakeries, it could be art galleries. If we are able to contribute to the success of those businesses, and they're also able to contribute to the success of MAAP, then that collaborative effort is going to lift up the entire community. It's going to create a much more vibrant local economy and it's going to be connecting other individuals with things that they might not have otherwise engaged with. That in and of itself is also just another reason for having a physical retail space. It helps bring the values of MAAP and is also helping to evolve and inform our perspective.”

For many, the social aspect of cycling is one of the most beautiful things about the sport, and the opening party of MAAP’s LaB store was a glimpse of the vision that Elliott has for the space coming to life. Students, people from other local businesses, sports fans, Amsterdam residents and many more gathered in the space to celebrate MAAP’s arrival in Europe – and there was barely any lycra in sight. While the evening might have been based around a cycling apparel shop, the reality was that it became a time for socialising and meeting people from all walks of life, brought together by a friendly and inviting hub in the middle of one of Europe’s most active cities.

Bikes are part of it, but as MAAP is acutely aware of, life is about much more than cycling. Through an open-minded approach and a willingness to invest in community, the Australian brand is doing its best to ensure that the sport can be a bigger and better place for all.

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