We went to Bristol for a wander around and a look at some bikes…
Bespoked Bristol: The UK Handmade Bicycle Show 2012
Now in its third year and in a new venue at Bristol Temple Meads, Bespoked Bristol aims to showcase the best of UK bike design and manufacture under one roof. If you’re looking at the name of the show and thinking that it’s all garden shed production and ideas-on-a-napkin, then think again. The criteria for inclusion is somewhat broader than the title might lead you to imagine and includes brands who design and develop their products on these shores, as well as those who build here too.
The show’s exhibitors have been categorised as follows: custom built/in house manufacture; custom built/manufacture outsourced; off the peg/boutique frames/small scale batch production. Not everything on display is manufactured in the UK but it will all be UK-designed. There are clothing and parts & accessories designers and a brace of custom wheel builders present, too. Pretty much every stand is polished and well-executed (even those whose purveyors were still putting the finishing touches to their display as the doors opened on Friday afternoon).
As previously esoteric and rarely seen brands like Enigma and Pegoretti become more accessible (in terms of visibility, if not affordability), it becomes easy to forget that they are still excellent examples of the bespoke bicycle despite being more common than they once were. (Which is not to say that they’re ten a penny down at Peaslake bus stop yet – heaven forbid, say City bankers – but more that the majority of the punters in that bus stop will at least have a vague idea of how brands like this fit into the bike trade as a whole and how they earn their living producing what are, for the most part, obscenely expensive machines).
This does mean that if you’re expecting to be inspired by miracle bikes which have been thrown together from a few bits of scaffold pipe and the innards of a tumbledrier, then you may be disappointed. The stands are mostly well-polished affairs and there are very few ‘Look, I made this in my shed while my partner was doing the dishes!’ bikes on display (with the notable exception of Ted and his double-chained, gear-box ’29GNAR’ frankenbike, which we were too scared to get close enough to for a picture in case it bit us).
This means slim pickings for mountain bikes – the spiritual home of the bodge – and even slimmer pickings for mountain biking kit tarts looking for innovation. And, as for the wheel size debate: judging by evidence from Bespoked 650B is still some way off hitting UK shores. Custom wheel builders and Pacenti importers Just Riding Along had a couple of the in-betweeny sized Pacenti tyres on display alongside some rather natty rims (in all sizes – we were particularly taken with the 31mm, 26in version) but otherwise: nada. Rest easy, zealots…
Tucked away amongst a raft of gorgeous steel and ti road bikes, south coast frame builders Enigma had a lovely, sparkle-lime 29in rigid-forked hardtail. With integrated seat mast, tidied-up Niner fork and a beautifully svelte drop-out arrangement there is clearly no point in lusting after this if you don’t plan on riding it at a million miles an hour everywhere: it’s built to go fast and will rely on you for the engine.
We’ve been angling for spy shots of the well-loved prototype bouncy Cotic for a long time now. Sadly (and quite rightly) Cy kept telling us to put the cameras away until the production versions arrived. So here it is, in all its fizzy orange glory – Cotic’s new full suspension frame, the Rocket.
The numbers: Reynolds 853 front triangle, 7005-T6 aluminium swingarm, 150mm travel (with 140-160mm fork), 44mm headtube, 31.6mm seat tube, 142x12mm through-axle, starting at £1,350 with Fox Float RL. Cy says ‘Droplink’ suspension linkage means maximum efficiency and maximum stiffness; we’re off visiting Cotic to ride the Rocket in the Peak next week, so will have our first impressions up as soon as we’ve cogitated on them. Possibly over a pint or two.
Cotic also had a built-up Solaris, an X and a Roadrat, plus a nice line-up of all their candy-coloured frames for you to deliberate over which is your favourite, and the ‘experimental’ 931 Solaris which inspired a rather surprising forum thread recently. Mirror polished? Yes please, we’ll take ten (and a pot of Brasso)…
Big and little bikes from south-west framebuilders Curtis.
Adrian Ward (the PRST1 was one of his, too…) was showing off his ‘Award’ frame (A. Ward – geddit?).
Possibly the most divisive mountain bike on show, the e-stay harks back to Alpinestars and the hefty dropouts are on the agricultural side of clunky but, as Adrian says, there are good reasons for everything he’s done here: “My criteria were massive mud clearance, the shortest possible chainstay length and front centre, and for it to be belt drive compatible… Because it’s so short, it’s lively yet it’s still hands-off, you can take your hands off the bars and it’s fine.”
With a chainstay length of 407-427mm (dropouts are adjustable for tensioning a mech-free drivetrain, whether that’s belt or chain driven) and a 1050mm wheelbase, Adrian says that it’s shorter than plenty of 26in bikes, yet the 29in rear wheel tucks right under the seat tube. There’s also big mud clearance on even a 2.4in tyre. We were intrigued enough to ask for a ride, so keep your eyes open for further news if you’re a fan of slightly quirky designs…
Sideways Cycles had the only fat bike in the show, as well as a brace of Indy Fabs, and the blingingest kids bike known to man (or, in this case, woman – it used to belong to Tim’s daughter before she outgrew it).
Sideways are the UK White Industries importers too and here are a couple of especially neat products: the ‘dinglespeed’ system (double chainrings and double sprockets, matched to use the same length of chain at the same tension to give two different gears on your singlespeed – we think this is as well as ‘stop’ and ‘walk’, though we’re not entirely sure if you can then still think you’re a singlespeeder if you’re actually blessed with four gears)…
…and the ‘one BCD fits all’ cranks, which feature slotted arms on the outer chainring that allow you to bolt any BCD inner ring to them. Simple and neat – we like.
When King Cages go bad…they become coat hooks and bottle openers. Smart.
Heard to be described by more than one person as “a cross between a USE anti-dive fork and a Cannondale Lefty”, Crisp’s Il Capeo won best off-road bike in show.
Yes, that’s a shock on the top of the fork.
And here’s the antidote: a perfectly chunky rigid fork from Torus.
We’d also like to award a special Singletrack mention to Robin Mather, who didn’t do mountain bikes but had by far the nicest decal panel and headtube badge in show.
It was lovely to see ‘traditional’ framebuilders like Roberts and Mercian lining up alongside the newcomers, too. They’re still quietly churning out classic frames like the D.O.G.S.B.O.L.X. without a bit of hydroforming or plastic in sight and then making them look lovely with real, old-fashioned paint. Yummy.
And finally, we can’t sign off without introducing you to the latest addition to the Singular Cycles stable: Tessa the beagle pup. We think you’ll agree that she’s every bit as exciting as the 140mm 29in all-mountain Buzzard frame development that Sam was trying to talk to us about at the time. Sorry Sam – we were listening, honest.
Bespoked Bristol runs from 23rd to 25th March 2012, in Brunel’s Old Station, Bristol Temple Meads. Tickets are available on the door for the princely sum of £7.50 (under 14s are free, puppy not included).