Tim Skinner grew up in Maitland, and apart from a few stints in different areas of Australia, Maitland has always been his home.
Tim opened The Bikesmith & Espresso Bar in 2016 and has a number of other projects that he focuses on, such as events.
We recently spoke to Tim about why Maitland is a great place to live and why community engagement is at the core of all his work.
Thanks for taking time out to chat, Tim. You must be a busy guy with the shop, family life, cycling…
I am, but I really enjoy everything I do. I’m an avid cycler and have been actively involved in the mountain bike scene since I was young. Over the years that has gravitated to gravel biking, and more recently the bikepacking scene. My son has recently turned four, so I’m keen to take him on a bikepacking trip. My wife is also an active commuter cyclist.
So, the bike shop came about because you’re passionate about cycling and wanted to share that love with the local community?
Yes, in a roundabout sort of way. We opened the espresso bar and the bike shop simultaneously, but at the time the coffee shop was the centre point. I was working in the mining industry, but I’d had enough of shift work and needed a career change. My wife and I were also looking to start a family at the time, so it just felt right. I pulled my passions together in a business model and then we took the leap. We focused the business around the coffee shop, and then grew the bike shop from there, figuring the foot traffic in the coffee shop would help with the bike shop aspect. Today we have about 15 staff members.
I imagine you have quite a few regulars?
We have a very varied crowd, which adds to the atmosphere. We are located in an area with a bunch of high schools nearby, so we get kids coming in before school and ordering their coffees and hot chocolates. There’s a passionate group of retirees who come by every day, and they sit and sip their espressos while they debate the politics of the world. We affectionately refer to them as the ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’. Because we are in the CBD, we get a steady influx of office workers, and people often travel from further away to visit us, too.
That’s because the coffee is great, right?
I’m sure that’s a big part of it. We use a local roaster called Suspension Espresso. They are based in Newcastle, and the guy behind it – Chris Johnson – is a friend of mine. What I like about Suspension Espresso (apart from the great coffee) is that they are a low-profile operation. I like the down-to-earth aspect. So much of Chris’s business is about supporting the community and giving back, and Chris and I have similar ideals when it comes to both life and how we operate our businesses.
Can you tell us a bit more about that community aspect?
Maitland has great cultural, art and music scenes, and this is something I’ve further discovered as an adult. They are small underground scenes with plenty of community backing. We support the art scene through the shop with poetry slams, art exhibitions and music. We work hard to support local emerging artists, whether that be by displaying their works or encouraging them to use our space. For example, we have an in-house poet who sits inside the coffee shop on weekends performing. There is often a busker out the front of the shop, and I’m very happy for them to be there. We try to be a business that doesn’t have a ‘no policy’ to anything that involves community, and running the shop has really opened my eyes up to these subcultures. Many of the staff members are part of some of the scenes, too. There’s a girl studying floristry, a photographer, an artist…
The cafe is a really lovely place to hang out. Are you there most of the time?
I run the bike shop, but these days I’m also branching out into other areas of the business. We have a mobile coffee van and I want to activate that more through music festivals. We support a local growers market. And bike events are a big focus, too. We support a number of cycling events each year (when not restricted by Covid) and I’m working on my own gravel bike festival, which will be held at an eco-lodge near Dungog – the hot location in the mountain bike scene right now located 40 minutes’ drive from Maitland.
Life sounds pretty darn good. What’s the best thing about it right now?
Family. My little guy is an active little man and I’m loving that he’s getting into biking. We recently left our apartment lifestyle and moved into a house that we are renovating, and I get to sit under the mango tree and watch him jump on a trampoline.
Thanks for the chat, Tim. We will be popping over for a coffee soon.
You can visit The Bikesmith online or at 326 High Street Maitland.