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Bespoked 2016 - Me, my bike and I

James Spender
26 May 2016

Bespoked showcases some of the UK's top framebuilders, plus a host of international talent. We caught up with the people behind the bikes.

There are few places on Earth where you’ll see a 3D-printed titanium road bike rubbing tyres with a three-seater tandem, next to a chap making catapults out of sawn-off bike forks, but the Bespoked UK Handmade Bicycle Show is one them.

More than 6,000 people flocked to Brunel’s Old Station in Bristol this year to see 107 framebuilders, component makers and even a bicycle-themed jeweller showcase their wares in a celebration of all that is great and good in the world of artisanal bikes.

Exhibitors came from as far afield as Australia and Japan, packing the vaulted ceilings to the rafters with all manner of exceptional bicycles. Better still, each builder was on hand to explain their creations and their craft, holding forth on everything from the difference in ride quality between Reynolds 853 and 953 tubing (‘one is just more shiny’) to the place of disc brakes in the modern bespoke market (‘mate, you pay me and I’ll make you anything’). 

Bespoked 2016 - Rusby

This year the field was stronger than ever, and Cyclist should know: Bespoked organiser Phil Taylor (no relation to the darts player) asked us to judge the Cyclist Choice Road Bicycles category. It was no easy decision, with custom carbon from Ireland up against handmade lugs from Southampton; inlaid Japanese rubies jostling with 3D-printed nodes from Down Under.

Read on to discover which handmade creations impressed us the most, but as for the bespoke market in general? Take our word for it, the breadth, depth and quality has never been greater. And if you need further convincing, just listen to what the builders have to say…

August Bicycles – Gav Buxton

‘I started building wheels commercially five years ago for local framebuilders, so I’d hang out in their workshops, and eventually I learned how to build frames. The first one was an unbranded commuter bike for my other half, then last year I brought my first August bike to Bespoked. I do my own dropouts – designing them and getting them machined – not because there isn’t cool stuff available off the shelf but because when I was growing up, old Colnagos and the Italian stuff always had customised, tell-tale dropouts or bottom bracket shells, so I wanted my bikes to be recognisably “me” without the paint or branding. This bike is steel, with a Columbus Life rear triangle, Columbus Spirit lugs, seat tube and top tube, and Columbus HSS down tube.’

Bastion Cycles – Ben Schultz

‘Before Bastion we were R&D engineers at Toyota, but since we had no background in fabricating we decided to use as many computer-controlled processes as possible, so 3D-printing the lugs – or nodes – from titanium made sense. It means we can build lighter, stiffer lugs thanks to semi-hollow internal structures, and the angles can be easily customised. The lugs are bonded to custom carbon tubes using aerospace-grade adhesive, and the resulting frame weighs around 900g including the integrated seatpost topper. We’ve developed a software tool to help the custom process, where riders can assess handling characteristics against a database of existing bikes, as well as fine-tune ride quality. Each frame comes with its own blueprint and engineering report, which gives precise metrics such as stiffness.’

Rusby Cycles – Jake Rusby

‘This bike is destined for the Transcontinental Road Race, so it was designed to take wider tyres and mudguards and to have good stopping power when fully laden, hence the hydraulic brakes. It’s all Columbus XCr stainless steel. I’m pretty much self-taught, though I’ve shared workshops with Matthew Sowter from Saffron, who taught me a lot, and now I’ve got a place I share with Caren Hartley from Hartley Cycles. I do all the painting myself. The logos here are polished stainless steel that’s then masked off before painting. I like to do unusual things with the brake bridge as that’s a part of the bike you see when you’re on someone’s wheel, so here it’s asymmetric. I wanted to keep everything as clean as possible, so the Di2 junction box is hidden under the saddle.

Demon Frameworks – Tom Warmerdam (Cyclist Choice Award)

‘I showed this bike at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show this year; it was built for the show’s director, Don Walker. I got a special commendation but I didn’t win a prize. One of the judges said the seatstay caps were out of proportion, but I’ve worked it all out since then. A standard road bike has 14mm width stays, and this one is enlarged by around 25%, so the ideal size should have been 18.45mm for the stays. But since that tube doesn’t exist, the stays were 19mm. Essentially what they said is if I’d put form over function it would have been a better bike, which is dumb. But I don’t care, I’m really pleased with how it came out. This is the first time I’ve decided to do nickel plating, and I’d definitely do it again as it means the detail doesn’t get lost.’

Fifty One – Aidan Duff

‘I raced bikes professionally in France for six years, and I met this Italian guy who made frames, a chap called Mauro Sannino. Me and the guys here had an inkling that we’d like to make frames ourselves, so I contacted Mauro for help. He had set up in Bavaria, but when I went across to Germany I found out he’d retired. He had this beautiful factory just gathering dust, so we decided to move it from Germany back to Dublin where we’re based. Mauro still lives in Germany but he comes over a couple of times a year; he’s like our mentor. This frame is inspired by the Rothman’s Porsche Le Mans car, and is made from Dedacciai and Enve tubes. Bespoked is our “official launch”.’

Hartley Cycles – Caren Hartley

‘I trained as a jeweller and did silversmithing, then sculpture and fine art. I wanted a change and at the time I didn’t even realise there was a handmade bicycle scene, so when I found that out I immediately thought it was something I’d really like to do. I tend to do mostly fillet brazing. I think the paint is the hardest part as it’s the easiest thing to mess up, but at the same time it’s great as you can make it up as you go along. It’s a very competitive industry to work in, since you’re really charging for your time, which is a hard sell as each bike takes a long time to make, but shows like Bespoked really help to showcase your work. I actually had to borrow the bike back from the Design Museum, where it is part of the show “Cycle Revolution”. In terms of construction, I think it is close to my perfect road bike.’

Ogre – Eiji Konishi

Eiji Konishi is a man of few words, mostly because he’s travelled all the way from Japan and speaks very little English. Luckily an iPad was on hand to translate so he could explain this unusual looking road bike, made under the name Ogre for his company Weld One. ‘This is my second visit to the UK. The bike is titanium. I also make the handlebars, they are titanium. I make the stem, it is titanium. The seatpost is titanium. The saddle is titanium – I hammer it from titanium. The bar end caps I make, they are titanium. All titanium. The head badge is titanium, but the eyes in the ogre [the head badge logo] are ruby stones. I also make a carbon suspension spring for mountain bikes. It is carbon fibre, not titanium.’

Saffron Frameworks – Matthew Sowter  (Cyclist Choice Award)

‘This is a bike for a customer who had a very specific idea in mind. The seat tube is from True Temper and was originally developed for track frames to bring the rear wheel right in and create an incredibly short wheelbase. I bent the stays myself, which was a challenge to get them perfectly aligned on both sides. The rear brake is chainstay-mounted to keep the bike looking clean, likewise the Di2 junction boxes, one of which is partly hidden in the bars, and the other partly in the seat tube. It was a difficult build; the rear end is so tight it created issues with the chain line and front mech shifting. With a little inventiveness they’re sorted now, because after all, it’s all very well making a weird, pretty-looking bike, but if it doesn’t work, what’s the point?’

Talbot Frameworks – Matt MacDonough

‘When I started I rented a space under a railway arch and made loads of shit frames if I’m honest. I’m a hell of a lot better now, and I’ve taken over a place that used to be an old bike shop. When I moved in, there were a load of old head badges lying around that said “Talbot”, and the name seemed fitting. We paint most of our bikes ourselves, but this one was painted by my mate Rob – I built the bike for him after he crashed his last one. He wanted super-skinny wishbone stays, but not disc brakes, so we used an under-chainstay rear brake. The frame is Columbus steel except for the seat tube, which is carbon. A lot of that is down to aesthetics, but it does help shave a bit of weight too.’

Titchmarsh Cycles – Dan Titchmarsh  (Cyclist Choice Award)

‘There aren’t too many people building in titanium in the UK, but I think that’s down to an inter-generational gap in skills because of what Thatcher did to this country. I guess I’m quite unusual as I bridge that gap. My dad built racing motorcycles for a living and because he was a workaholic, I’d have to be in the workshop to spend time with him, which led to me being pretty accomplished by an early age – I won Young Engineer for Britain when I was 14. One day I had an epiphany that I should be building pushbikes, not motorbikes, and it happened just when handbuilt bicycles were making a resurgence. Bikes have always been my thing – I learned to ride when I was three and if my parents went for a walk I’d beg them to let me take my bike.’

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