Cycling’s boom time in the UK, stimulated by Olympic glory, domination of the Tour de France and Lizzie Deignan’s (nee Armitstead) world title, has sent hundreds of thousands from the sofa to the saddle. This mainstream growth has gone hand-in-hand with the emergence of niche markets – a sector that caters for the more style-conscious and serious cyclist. We’re talking custom-made bikes.
At May’s Spin Cycling Festival, 12-14 May 2017, you’ll encounter an abundance of artisans who’ve lovingly handcrafted bikes designed for individual needs, geometry and cycling aspirations, and you can get a taste at our Frame lab ‘But aren’t they prohibitively expensive,’ you might ask? Well, no actually with frames starting from a grand. When you consider factory-made carbon numbers might come in at five times that figure, you can see a custom-made bike isn’t just a pipe dream.
That’s not to denigrate off-the-peg bikes, of course. Many are good; some can even be genuinely impressive. But manufacturing and distribution costs mean that sizing options are limited, with five to seven sizes being the norm. When you consider that frame geometry should accommodate for the length of your limbs – upper and lower – arms and even your flexibility, you can see how there’s an element of pot luck, compromise or fiddly adjustment in finding the perfect mass-made bike for you.
And why is fit so important? Hold onto your breath and scan this lot: greater comfort; optimises power output and aerobic efficiency; maximises aerodynamics; and, perhaps most important of all, reduces the likelihood of injury.
There are numerous deeper physiological and biomechanical reasons behind each of these but let’s focus on injury. Cyclists average between 70-100 revolutions per minute (rpm). That equates to 4,200 and 6,000 revolutions per hour. If you and your mates roll out for a 2hr Sunday-morning ride – only interrupted by the café stop and its dangling carrot (cake) – each of you could be pedalling 12,000 times.
Now think about the points of contact: your feet, saddle and hands. Like a golfer slicing a ball when their club head’s a fraction out at impact, if either of these contact points is slightly misaligned from your physiological optimum, the stress on your body – particularly at your knee joints – is intense. Throw in the fact that this misalignment’s repeated thousands of times over each ride and you can not only see why overuse injuries are the most common in cycling, but why a custom-made frame’s such an appealing prospect.
SIZING AND MATERIALS
Each handmade bike craftsman will have his/her way of doing things but, broadly speaking, they’ll determine your cycling history, what your cycling aims are – is this bike for streamlined racing or sit-up, recreational leisure rides – and then take relevant bike-specific measurements like in-seam length. Many will also use a jig to observe you in action, as well as seeing how flexible (or not) you are.
Once the bike-maker’s collected all the information they need and drawn out your dream bike, complete with frame angles and tube lengths bespoke to you, they’ll set about forging your bike, with three frame materials common…
Ø The daddy of them all is steel. Cyclists who ride steel bikes love them – no, they really love them – and not just through some nostalgic charm. Steel’s known for providing an unbelievably comfortable ride and, in the right hands, can last a lifetime. Steel’s also shedding its weighty image with grades of steel like Reynolds’ 953 almost as light, and certainly as strong, as the finest grade of carbon.
Ø Then we have possibly the most beautiful material in cycling – titanium. Like steel it won’t rust, doesn’t fatigue and handles the most aggressive of road vibrations. It’s also a relatively affordable material to produce, although that’s tempered by the fact that it’s a relatively expensive job to hand cut and weld. But any ti-rider you meet will tell you, it’s worth every penny to them!
Ø Unbeknown to many but aluminium (alloy) is also offered in the handmade bike world. This might be a surprise because alu’s commonly used for entry-level steeds. Why? That’s down to aluminium being cheap to purchase and manufacture. The perceived drawback is a shorter lifespan than steel and ti, and a less comfortable ride. However, like other bike materials, there are different grades of aluminium with top-end derivatives resulting in a comfy ride at a light weight.
The United Kingdom is blessed with the world’s finest handmade bike builders, each satiating our country’s increasing appetite for a bike that’ll deliver a ride and experience that simply can’t be matched by off-the-peg bikes. We’re fortunate enough to have some of the country’s finest exponents at Spin, who can show you their work and talk you through the process and benefits. Among them are Aceteam Berlin, Engineered Bikes, Immix Bikes, Selva, Shand Cycles and Wittson Bikes. All these guys are experts, and naturally in demand, but what they don’t know about making a unique bike that’s as individual as your fingerprint, isn’t worth knowing. The demand’s so great that some bike builders have a waiting list of over six months but, as you’ll discover at the Spin Cycling Festival, Olympia, 12-14 May 2017, the care, precision and love devoted to each and every frame will be worth the wait.