Swarf is essentially a one-man operation operated by Adrian Bedford, in Dorchester. A couple of years ago he left his engineering job, and began creating a stir with the Swarf Curve, an entirely hand made, half steel, half carbon full suspension bike, which won Swarf best newcomer at the 2014 Bespoked Bicycle Show in London.
Recently he’s fixed his attentions to hardtails, firstly with the Spline, a 26in or 27.5in machine, and latterly with the Spline 29, which is along similar lines, but is designed to fit – er – 29in wheels.
The basic idea is that you order a frame, which will come with fixed geometry, and a powder-coated paint-job. From there, you can order a variety of hopups, from purely cosmetic ones such as fancy paint-jobs (painted by Fat Creations) or Guilloche head-badges, to 142×12 rear dropouts or dropper post routing.
Our frame came with quite a number of customisables. When Adrian agreed to make us a frame, I wanted to see what was possible – and as a tall chap I struggle to find frames long enough – so I asked him to make one with as long a toptube as he possibly could, with a little more on the seat-tube as well. And it’s a beast. It comes up with a 26in effective toptube and a 21in seat tube. But even the stock lengths are pretty generous; the standard Large frame has a 25in toptube, for example. The rest of the numbers are Swarf standard though – chainstays are reasonably long at 17.1in, and the head and seat-tube angles are, based on a 120mm fork sagged 25%, 67.5° and 75° respectively; pretty modern numbers for a 29in bike.
Other upgrades over the stock frame include routing for a dropper post (£35), 142×12 rear dropouts (£50) and a Guilloche head badge – which is admittedly gorgeous. The other real indulgance in this frame is really pretty obvious; it’s the paint. Adrian can ship the frames to Ali at Fat Creations, who will paint whatever you like – for a fee. The increase over the stock powder-coat starts at an extra £120, and carries on upwards. This paint job, is actually 3 colours – to get that orange sparkle (which is quite ridiculously spectacular) Ali used a silver coat, followed by orange, followed by lacquer. We estimate that this would cost you a bit over £400 – which is a pricey paint job, whichever way you cut it. It does look spectacular though.
But how does it ride? Spectacularly well, as it happens – I loved this bike. I kitted it out with a variety of gear in a couple of XC or more gnarly incarnations, ending up with a 1×11 XTR drivetrain, some Marzocchi 44 140mm forks, some Stan’s Valor wheels shod with the fattest rubber I could find, a Ragley 40mm stem and an Analog Joystick 800mm wide carbon bar – this was to be a huge, hardcore hardtail, then. And so it proved.
The frame really lent itself to being pushed hard – I was very grateful for the increased length I’d asked for; I could run a shorter stem, and push the front into stuff much more. I should stress that this effectively gave me an XL frame; the lengths of the small, medium and large stock geometry frames that Swarf makes should feel similarly roomy. And the extra 20mm of fork travel I’d blessed the front end with helped with techy stuff too, although on more than several occasions the front end wrote cheques that the back end struggled to cash.
Long travel, relaxed, stable high speed front ends coupled to fully rigid back ends need careful management (and fat rubber) to avoid wheel-based calamities. My ineptitude in this regard I suspect is due to rear suspension – coming to a long-travel hardtail straight from something with loads of rear travel is a jarring experience. After a few rides, though, I was able to accommodate the rigidity of the back end a little more in both line choice and riding style, and the rear rim suffered less as a result.
The back end didn’t feel as light as some shorter chainstayed bikes, but the enormous wheelbase I’d blessed the bike with (which was entirely my own fault, of course) didn’t have the effect of slowing everything down nearly as much as I feared. It actually felt extremely balanced, although I had to remember to work the front end a little more than I do on shorter bikes; even more so as it’s a hardtail.
The paint on our review frame is truly, truly glorious, but personally, riding where I do, I’m not sure it’s worth the great expense. A multiple colour two-pack and lacquer, complete with stencilwork is never going to be as robust as powder coat, and a paint-job this complex is a nightmare to re-touch. And I ride on, over – and occasionally through – very pointy, scrapy scrapy rocks. The inevitable scuffs and scrapes don’t harm the frame particularly, but they break my heart. For me, this gorgeous paint job would be better on a road bike, or at least a frame which isn’t likely to be ridden as ‘enthusiastically’ as this one was. At least not without being slathered in invisitape.
It’s not cheap, even in the basic iteration – but for your cash you get a frame hand made in the UK by a chap who’s developed a truly modern, completely sorted hardtail. This frame really is fantastic. The paintjob is perhaps a little more divisive. As a showcase for what Fat Creations can do, it’s unquestionably brillant. But such beauty and complexity isn’t necessarily suited for hard riding in Yorkshire. While there would be no problems in softer parts of the world, here a single colour, or even (whisper it) a powdercoat would better suit a frame you can push as hard as this. Awesome.
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|Product:||Spline 29 Frame|
|From:||Swarf Cycles: www.swarfcycles.co.uk|
|Price:||From £820. This frame £1420 (est)|
|Tested:||by Barney for|