Sam Dirksz | Meesterknecht
Hidden amongst the old antique shops on the Kerkstraat in Amsterdam's Spiegelkwartier is the bicycle shop/cycling cafe
. Founded by cycling enthusiast and serial entrepreneur Sam Dirksz (formerly fixed-gear shop Pristine), Meesterknecht celebrates
Amsterdam's rich cycling history whilst providing a space for contemporary cycling to thrive. Coffees are prepared with the shop's exclusive espresso blend
'Gangmaker' (the word for a a derny rider, or one that creates a slipstream for the cyclists following it) while the finest selection of road bikes, cycling clothing and
accessories adorn the walls. By showcasing the best of what cycling has to offer in The City of Bikes, Sam and his team hope to inspire Amsterdammers to regard cycling as more
than a vehicle for their daily commute. We talked to Sam over a frothy cappuccino about his journey and his future.
- Interview and photos by Margot van der Krogt
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Sam, and I guess you could say that I have a very broad background. I first worked as an electro technician. Then I transitioned into social work whilst studying psychology for a year. After that I moved to Amsterdam because the masters programs were better here. After returning from my travels in Mongolia the crisis hit which meant I had to do something else. Six months later I started Pristine Fixed Gear, my former bicycle shop. That was five years ago. Now it’s Meesterkneecht.
Why the interest in bicycles?
Cycling is an every day thing here in Amsterdam. Before Pristine, I never stopped to think about how practical cycling is, how sustainable and environmentally friendly and how Dutch it actually is. It all started with my former business partner who had a fixed gear bicycle, a really nice and simple bicycle. It appealed to me, but I never thought I would start a business with it. It’s still true that although the bicycle is very established here in the Netherlands – it’s a vehicle to get us from point A to point B – people are becoming increasingly aware that it can be more than just that. It’s also become a hobby of mine, and I believe that as an entrepreneur, you want to make a business of your passion.
The bicycle culture definitely has changed in the past few years.
Internationally it’s definitely growing, like in Asian countries and in the US. People are more and more enthusiastic about it and becoming more aware of the health aspects, also in the Netherlands. If you look at what we had done over the past five years with Pristine, we definitely see that the passion that’s always been there is growing. We were able to attract a group of people in their mid 20s and 30s who were so enthusiastic about the fixed gear bicycle that they started to approach bicycles in a more general sense. So you have the bicycle that takes you from point A to point B and then you have your training or racing bicycle.
I think it's interesting to look cycling’s history here in the city. After the Second World War, for example, people were seeking a new form of entertainment to express the new freedom they were feeling. There were several velodromes in Amsterdam (there’s only one now) and races were held in the city center. It was a kind of glorious time that we’ve forgotten; it’s a past that we as Meesterknecht want to look back on and relive in a new way. We’re embracing a passion, a craft that has made a comeback.
Tell us more about Meesterknecht. It’s much more than just a bicycle shop, right?
It’s an extension of what we started at Pristine: we had a bicycle shop downstairs and a lunchroom upstairs. We were inspired by cities where the passion for cycling was quite established, cities like Berlin and New York. When we started Pristine, people didn’t quite get the concept. But actually, coffee and roadies go together well and Meesterknecht is aplace where that comes together. It’s a place where people can meet up before heading out on a ride or discuss and plan their next one. It’s a place where people can get their bicycles fixed. And it’s a place where tourists can experience Amsterdam’s bicycle culture – they have to be careful not to get hit by a bicycle when crossing the road but there aren’t many places where you can get a feel for the culture, for its history.
You could say the coffee is the first step in the door.
I guess so. So many people don’t know how much you can actually do with a bicycle. Most people, if they need a new bicycle, go to Halfords and buy one for 150 Euros. That’s fine but after a year it will fall apart. Even though we know what a bicycle is (two wheels, a steering wheel and a seat), there’s much more to it. I think it’s important to highlight the longevity of a bicycle – spend a little more and devote a little more of your time on it because then it’ll last longer. It’s that simple. We’re trying to make people aware of that.
You’ve only been open for a few months. What have the responses like been so far?
The responses have only been very positive until now which makes me want to hear some kind of criticism so we can continue to improve (laughs). A lot of people really like what we’ve done with the place while others ask, “Wait, is this a café or a bicycle shop?” Our former Pristine clients really get what we’re doing and our new clients are happy we’ve created something they missed before. I’m happy we can fill that gap in this way.
Do you think the city of Amsterdam fosters ‘making’ or a ‘maker culture’?
I think ‘maker’ is something that comes from within you. You don’t do it because it’s a trend, but because the spark derives from the product or service you want to provide. That’s also what defines success. When you have a passion for something and that’s tied to the drive you have for that, it ensures that in times of doubt or crisis you keep going. The ‘maker’, the ‘entrepreneur’ then defines who you are.
Do you have favorite places in Amsterdam to highlight?
There are so many things I still have to discover. I’ve never been to the Anne Frank House, for instance, and I’ve lived here for six or seven years. I’m talking about history and heritage and I’ve never even been there! That’s an unfortunate thing about being an entrepreneur, you don’t have much free time. But I’m exploring the area around the Spiegelstraat because it’s close to the shop. Amsterdam is a small city but if you look at all that it has to offer, it’s actually pretty big. And I moved to Noord a little while ago and I’m really enjoying it there. I’m kind of tempted to start something there just because I know it’ll be ‘the place to be’ in five years.
What are your plans for the future?
There’s a lot I still want to do in my life (laughs). But regarding Meesterknecht, my ambitions are to become an established bicycle shop in Amsterdam. There are a few large players that have been here for a while and if you look at the concentration of the amount of people living in Amsterdam and the amount of (professional) bicycle shops, it’s quite limited. We want to make sure that people know to find us, and that when someone says ‘Meesterknecht’ you think of the pleasant atmosphere, the quality of the products we sell, and the delicious coffee we serve. There’s still a lot to do to get Meesterknecht to where we want it to be. But first, make sure the wheels are turning for the summer season. We’re looking forward to it!
Thanks Sam for this interview! You'll find Meesterknecht at Kerkstraat 168. Be sure to stop by during the week, open Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 7pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9.30am to 5pm. Follow along on Facebook , Instagram and Twitter .