The lone man working in a shed and creating engineering masterpieces is a part of British tradition. From the jet engine to the monocoque car body, the sheds, garages and small industrial estates of Britain have been littered with people creating high quality products with little financial backing but plenty of knowledge and shedfuls of raw passion since the industrial revolution. This heritage has passed into the British mountain biking brands; Hope, Pace, Orange, Cotic – there are plenty of relatively small outfits making products that go head to head with those produced by faceless mega corporations and coming out on top.
Cut to the other week in the Singletrack office. The phone rings and on the other end is a man from a bike company we’ve never heard of, asking if we’d be interested in a story about him riding the MegaAvalanche on a frame he’s made himself. The answer was obviously yes. So, let’s introduce the main man behind Hammoon Cycles, possibly the newest addition to the UK’s bicycle manufacturing sector..
Who are you?
Will Norgan, age 42
Tell us a bit about Hammoon Cycles..
Started in a shed in the of winter 2008 with a milling machine, lathe and bench drill. It took six months building jigs and tools before TIG welding my first bike. Now all cycles are individually designed using Bike Cad and AutoCAD. Design, tube bending/cutting, welding and build all happen in Shaftsbury, Dorset. Frames are painted, either powder or spray by paint specialists.
How long have you been riding bikes?
First bike was a chopper which was horrible! Then I bought my first BMX at 13 and managed to break every part of the bike except the wheels.
Bought a Raleigh Corsa road race bike at 16 and then started mountain biking at 18. Raced as much XC as I could afford to during 1990-93 and also did a DH at Margam.
Since then, regular mountain bike group rides including many trail centres and playing around on my BMX.
How did you get started frame building?
I have a passion for bikes, MX, BMX, 4X, DH, XC and road racers. I was looking for something new and making cycle frames was what I really wanted to do. My work has always involved design, technical problem solving and making things so it did not seem unnatural.
How does someone move from previous ‘normal’ jobs (construction management and sports coaching) to framebuilding fulltime?
As quickly as possible! I knew what I wanted to do and put everything into making it happen. In reality I had to work on both bikes and building for the first 18 months then my long time friend John invested in the business.
When and where did you learn the skills and techniques you needed to create frames?
Huge amounts of reading and becoming more of a bike spotter than I would like to confess to.
The Americans are great at documenting and sharing their fitting design and engineering knowledge. Eleven years of Motocross from 11-22 repairing my own bikes really has helped and I have been welding since I was 14. Then two years ago I bought an EWM German TIG which has been perfect for bikes. Pete, of Seaway Powell, has helped me enormously with his years of engineering experience and the use of their workshop.
You make all your own tooling – tell us a bit about that.
This came about for two reasons. I looked at Sputnik and Anvil tools and realized without £10k or more I could not afford these great tools. Secondly, I last used a lathe at school and by spending six months with guidance working with aluminium, stainless steel and bronze it gave me a feel for the machines and materials. Its amazing how many axles, heat sinks, surface table gauges and jigs you need. Being able to make my own is a real advantage now.
How long does it take to make a Hammoon frame and what does the design and manufacturing process involve?
I think I spend longer just on design than others, up to a day. Tube cutting, tube bending and assembly on the jig can take two days and welding takes a day. They get sent off to be painted and on return from the painters I clean up the frame from excess paint. Reaming tapping and facing the frames.
All the bikes I have built so far have had full component build up. This is satisfying as I can see that everything works as it should.
So – start to finish one and half weeks, specifying and ordering parts can take longer.
What’s the most important thing in the design of a frame for you?
Its intended purpose. Not just whether it is a road bike/mountain bike but knowing exactly what type of riding it is for and meeting the needs of the rider.
How do you test your frames?
On my friends and myself. I raced the 4x bike at UKbikePark downhill and took it to Alpe D’Huez for a week of hooligan riding and the Mega Avalanche race.
How did that go?
One week at Alpe D’Huez later the frame was perfect. Me, not so much. I started the qualifier at Dome des Petites Rousses, a rough MX style top part with a fiercely steep, north shore, fast middle section followed by a small climb and then a technical steep rooty lower section. Finishing in front of the crowd over two 4x jumps at OZ station in a time of 32mins 02 seconds, which put me into the Mega Amateurs category.
The race started at Pic Blanc and there was more snow than I had seen in the videos we’d studied before the race. Generally your tyres were in by 6 to 10 inches which meant it was chaos as soon as we started. I laughed at two riders spiralling out of control on their backs holding on to their bikes – here’s some pre race advice: don’t let go of your bike, it stops and you carry on. Moments later I was doing the same thing, not painful but very wet. The rush to get ahead, impossible snow riding and altitude meant I was gasping for breath in about two minutes. After ten minutes of the snow I was glad to ride my bike properly.
The rocky fast descent down to Le Cairn where you turn out of the glacier valley toward Alpe D’huez is almost a rest after the snow. Turning the corner on the grass and re joining the narrow trail I punctured my front wheel. A moment of clatter, front exit to headstand then back over to sit firmly on one ankle on a scree slope. My ankle was numb and I couldn’t walk. Riders stopped and offered help. and after 10 minutes I asked one of them to ask the marshals to help me. The next rider just stopped, took off his helmet and said “it’s about time for a rest, how are you?”.
He stayed ten minutes and put his new inner tube in my front wheel (thanks), then left. Another rider stopped with a pump and I was sorted. (Even if the front tyre was still a bit soft).
With the thought of expensive helicopter fees I now started to coast downhill sitting low on the 4x. I found the French army guy sent out to look for me and possibly call in the helicopter. With pointing used for injury and location of accident we just about understood each other. At amazingly slow speed I now felt I was back in the race.
Along Mine de l’Herpie I found the sisters from Stallions Bar handing out water and encouragement. Alex and Abi had almost given up waiting when I got to them as the route crosses above the town. As I pushed past them my trusty saddle of 20 years snapped off leaving part of the wire frame exposed. Two race supporters then stepped in to pump up the front tyre and bodge the saddle near enough in place with tape.
I actually enjoyed the rest of the race, carefully descending everything, stood clipped in on one foot and on my heel with the other. One racer shouted his support on the way past only to also hurt his ankle. We saw each other throughout and both finished.
My time was 3hr 3mins and 36 seconds and 268 place out of 270, just pipping my new friend to the post on the technical section before the finish at Allemont at 720m.
My ankle was a surprise to the French medics and me when the armour and socks came off. Almost comedy if it had not hurt so much.
I would love to just follow the Mega series around doing bike races. However I think I’ll have to get a lot better at this before that can happen.
Did you ever have any doubts when you were rattling down an Alp?
No doubts, every part of the frame build is high quality so that wasn’t a concern. I was not sure how suited a 4x would be to the race but it handled everything. With more suspension I could have hit the big rocky sections with less care but I don’t feel the bike held me back. In fact it suited my style of riding and on berms and tight switchbacks I was grabbing places.
You’ve mainly been making 4x frames up until now, what’s next for Hammoon?
Next bike to launch is an all mountain hardtail with 140-120mm fork in Reynolds 853 – that’s out next month.
The tantalizing next step is full suspension frames. I think there have been about twenty designs so far. We hope to be testing a prototype this autumn and racing it next year.
A Hammoon race team is being put together now. We have three great riders and me. 2011 will be a year of racing, testing and playing an active part in UK race scene both NPS 4X and DH.
Will you stick with steel for your suspension bikes?
The suspension bike will be all steel and will be a single pivot DH race bike. There may be aluminium, Ti components or future options but for now the main frame and swing arm are steel. We want to test and race develop it during this winter and an all mountain/trail frame will follow. This will be available in a DH enduro spec ready for next year’s Mega – I will be taking the soft option and riding this instead of the 4x….