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Interview: Anthony Hopwood Nottingham's Bicycle Boom Box

4 November 14 interview: Mark Patterson
photos: Samuel Kirby

Anthony Hopwood is a hard man to miss. Partly because he’s a tall, beefy bloke with long hair, a beard and baseball cap, but mostly because he rides around town on a bike with a massive sound system thumping out dub reggae at high decibel levels...

If you’ve seen or heard a man on a bike playing loud music, approaching and receding down the streets of Hockley and Sneinton, then it was probably Anthony. But the so-called Bicycle Boom Box is only one string in his bow. At 29, Anthony is a commercial photographer, a trained cycling instructor, a bike mechanic and a social entrepreneur as well as being an inventor of many other strange bicycles.

Through his company Bike Lab he builds a range of ‘fun bikes’ which can be hired at events (such as some of Nottingham’s recent Freshers Fairs). There are currently eight in the fleet including the Bicycle Boom Box, a high one not unlike a circus clown’s bike and a tall creation with Chopper-style handlebars called Grandma’s Nightmare. “The bikes are going for a bit of a steampunk look,” says Anthony. “At the moment I’m working with a really eccentric guy in Mansfield who wants to be anonymous but who has the skills in welding. I do the dogsbody work.” Despite the wacky image, the general trend of Anthony’s interests is bent towards a serious promotion of cycling as a daily form of transport.

Cycling is his main passion and it is with its furtherance in mind that he and business partner Tom Barber intend to open a cycle social enterprise. Located just off Forest Road West, the new businesses, Bike Works, will sell donated second-hand bikes, run courses and teach cycle mechanics. For a small annual fee, cyclists will be able use Bike Works’ tools and workshop to repair and maintain their own bikes. Income will initially be ploughed back into the business but Anthony and Tom hope they can eventually draw a wage.

Alas, while ideally located to supply bikes to the student market, Bike Works will be on a hill. Is that a marketing hitch for cyclists? “My theory,” says Anthony, “is that we live in a hilly city and so at some point you have to go up a hill. The best part is you then have to go downhill. You conserve your energy going downhill for when you go back uphill. Hills just do not bother me and they shouldn’t bother other people.”


Anthony’s cycling and recycling started early with a nineties era Raleigh Activator mountain bike. “There was a big group of us,” he recalls. “Eddie Clarke, who now runs The Cycle Garage in West Bridgford, used to go out with us. Eddie is an old friend.” As time went on, Anthony began buying cheap parts to customise his Activator. “I put rise bars on it, better forks, better gearing. I started changing bits around on it. Then we discovered the Cattle Market and bought Raleigh Burners and Shoppers for a fiver, cycling around and trashing them to then rebuild them. Five pounds would give us all that joy, then we’d strip them back to the frame and have all these parts to fix up the next one.”

You can see where the Fun Bikes idea started. They are fun, but awkward. When I met Anthony at his photography studio in Sneinton he carried one of the taller bikes out into the street so I could give it a test ride. Getting onto the saddle without falling a long way to the ground was harder than getting onto a horse. Yet Anthony occasionally cycles one of these Pythonish contraptions all the way from his home in Bulwell to Sneinton. And no, he swears, he doesn’t get jeered at. “They make people smile and make other people on bikes look normal. I never get beeped at. I feel so safe on a bike like that. Just having something different means that suddenly a car driver is your best friend.” That’s certainly a nice change from the usual cyclists’ experience of being called a twat. “No way, no way. Everyone loves that Chopper.”

The Bicycle Boom Box is a different matter, though, and Anthony is ever so slightly reluctant to talk about it. One suspects this is because he doesn’t want its Nottingham renown to overshadow his various cycling enterprises and because the bike has got him into trouble with the law. But a quick description of this bicycle is first in order. Inspired by Nottingham’s original sound system bike builder, Jon Trotsky, the Bicycle Boom Box is built around a German Hercules frame with 42-spoke wheels. The frame supports two sets of speakers, a bass bin and an amp. The power comes from a big leisure battery while the music is inputted from Anthony’s mobile phone, which is currently looking a bit rough after it fell off the bike and got ran over three times.

It’s a heavy bike and getting from A to B isn’t made easier by the damaged gears that are locked permanently into a large cog, requiring Anthony to pedal like mad to make progress. Nevertheless, the bike makes regular appearances at Nottingham’s monthly Critical Mass bike rides and has occasionally provided the music at impromptu street parties - hence the law problems. Broad Street in Hockley has been the usual venue. “The thing is,” says Anthony, “I turn up and people start dancing in the streets. Then the police come and want to know whose bike it is. I come over, turn it off and say ‘yes sir, don’t worry sir, I’m going sir’ and wait until they’re gone before turning it back on. Other drunk people go ‘what the fuck are you doing?’ and get in the face of the policemen. All of a sudden two or three policemen come in and the traffic is stopped. My philosophy is ‘turn it down, keep it down and when the police go, turn it back up.’ But when you’ve had a few beers you just want to party, don’t you?”

After one incident, Anthony decided it was time to go quiet and kept the musical bike in his studio for two months. It wasn’t just attention from the police that was a problem. “People put loads of videos on YouTube and were tagging me in them, which I didn’t like. It’s a great thing but there’s no point being ‘that guy’.” You want to keep control over it? “Yes, exactly. There’s going to be a lot of them around soon because people are always asking me how to build them. The more the merrier - then it’s just normal. Go to somewhere like Brazil and everyone has a sound system.”

In Nottingham, England, the Bicycle Boom Box is Anthony’s way of showing that you can do most things on two wheels. Think of it as the soundtrack to his campaign to make the city more bike-friendly and less car-reliant. “It’s about having more people on bikes so we can have a cleaner, healthier city,” he adds. “I want to be able to wobble home on my bike and not worry about it.”

Amen to that.

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