December 7, 2016
Chipps and Wil spend an hour or so with the enigmatic Scottish framebuilding empire…
It’s hard to know what to expect when you knock on the door of a small framebuilder. Especially a company like Shand Cycles, one that occupies the perceived area of reputation somewhere north of ‘Man in a shed’ and somewhere south of ‘mass production’, or even batch production.
And so, Wil and I found ourselves in a reasonably nondescript industrial estate in Livingstone – the grey strip of flats and industrial units between Glasgow and Edinburgh – last month and, without having called ahead to make sure they’d got a fresh pot of coffee on, just popped in.
You’re right into the action as soon as you’re through the door. A space, much larger than some visitors expect and much smaller than some others do, greets you. There is no antechamber, no calm, quiet mezzanine offices for paperwork and filing, there is just framebuilding.
A quick glance at Shand’s ‘About us‘ page will show you that Shand started at just Steven, in a shed in 2003, making one-off custom frames – some road, some cyclocross and some mountain bikes. The brand seemed to soon get a reputation as the one to get if you wanted some adventure. Whether that was fully loaded touring, this newfangled ‘bikepacking’ thing (AKA touring), or riding road bikes off road (AKA touring) then Shand could make you the bike you wanted.
An expansion in 2011, with a new business partner, Russell Stout, meant a move to bigger premises, more staff, more machines and more production capacity. All the frames are still made one by one though, and production rarely drops enough to allow Shand to make actual stock – though the range has settled down nicely to eight or so base models.
On your left as you step through the door, there’s a rack of test bikes and staff bikes and some packing boxes. To your immediate right is the ‘office’ – a couple of desks side by side with phones, a grubby computer and some magazines and paperwork. There’s probably even a fax machine under there.
Right ahead of you, though, is where the magic happens. Take three steps into the room and you can see the whole operation, from start to finish, as the five or so employees work around you as if you weren’t there.
There’s a tactile buzz in the air. There’s a sense, not of urgency, but of industry. Tubes are being mitred on the machines by the left wall, a complete bike is being cabled up on our right while the full time frame painter, Euan, is prepping a frame and a fork for a matching paintjob.
Ahead, the steady pulsing glow behind the screens says that Matt is hard at work at the TIG welder. Russell, the co-owner is busy fielding calls and emails from customers that could be down the road or as far away as Japan. And in among them all is the slight, energetic, twinkly-eyed man that gives the business its name, Steven Shand.
As we walk in, he’s at one of the machines, preparing some of the endless little bits and pieces that inevitably take much of the time and get none of the limelight in the fickle world of hand-crafted bike frames. Steven spent an hour or so, taking us through the process at Shand, from order to final bike.
It all starts with the order and the deposit. Once your order is confirmed, you get a box with your name on. This box will hold all of the frame tubes for your order, plus details of any extra bits and pieces (one of the good/bad things about making everything in the UK is that every frame is effectively custom made for each customer. Want six bottle bosses? Want a downtube shifter on your mountain bike? It can all be done…). As frames move through the process, your box gets nearer to the production date. You get a last confirmation and then sharp things start happening to the tubes.
The tubes are mitred in house and then they go to Matt Stitt, Shand’s main framebuilder. Matt comes from an engineering background and originally came in to do all of those ‘Can you just’ jobs that Steven didn’t have time for, but it was quickly evident that Matt was a natural framebuilder, welder and fabricator so Steven wisely took a step back and let Matt do the bulk of the framebuilding.
Watching Matt work was impressive. Quick, methodical and with some lovely welds evident on the frames that were then ready for braze-ons and prep before painting.
Paint is another thing that is done 100% in-house by Euan. He preps all of the frames (not to mention the ‘oh, and can you do my fork to match’ jobs) and mixes and shoots the wet paint in the tiny spray-booth at the back of the frame shop. Over 30 colours are available off the shelf, with metallics, flamboyants and other custom colours available for an extra charge. Even the decals are stencilled painted on.
Steven shows us a burnt-orange metallic frame that had been ordered to match a Crayola crayon. It’s reasons like this that the brand seems to have a cult following around the world. There aren’t many made in the UK framebuilders and even fewer that will accept as many “Can you just…” requests as Shand does.
The sight of a Shand Oykel hanging up prompts a chat about this slightly left-field addition to the line. At around 250 frames a year, Shand is pretty maxed out in terms of what it can build in the UK in its current facility. In order to expand the business, it needs to either look to make more frames (and a jump of 50 or so a year wouldn’t be worth the additional work, so it’d have to almost double to make it worthwhile moving to a new, bigger workshop), or it needs to look at the ‘Designed here, made in Taiwan’ approach, which so many other companies have done.
Given that its frames like the Hoolie and Bahookie aren’t too far off prices for a made in Taiwan frame, it made sense to look at doing a carbon frame for riders who wanted something a bit different and the Oykel certainly fits in with that unconventional look and feel that all Shand frames proudly display. However, even Steven admits that by making the Oykel (all of which are inspected and hand painted in the frame shop in Livingstone) it seems to have focussed everyone’s attention back on to the company’s UK-made steel bikes and orders for that ‘none-more-custom’ kind of adventure-bike-with-Rohloff-and-belt-drive bikes like the Drove have never been better.
With instructions to call ahead for fresh coffee next time, we leave the workshop and head south, slightly more knowledgeable about the name behind the brand, the faces behind the bikes and the bikes behind the reputation. We’re hoping to get a Shand in on test in the New Year, so stay tuned and see how we get on.