A long time ago, the UK used to be the epicentre of the cycle manufacturing world. Household names like Raleigh used to rule the roost, and there was a good chance that if you owned a bike before 1980, the chances were it was built in the UK. Now? Not so much. But while the glory days of the UK cycle industry may be sadly long-gone thanks to the enormous changes in manufacturing and the global economy over the last half-century, it isn’t all quite doom and gloom.
Going against the tide of offshore manufacturing in the Far East, there’s been a recent flurry of activity in the UK cycle industry that has seen a number of small and medium-sized companies develop new products that are designed, engineered and manufactured right here in ol’ Blighty. Bigger and more established brands like Brompton, Pashley, Hope and Orange have been bucking the trend towards outsourcing manufacturing for many years, but it’s the smaller and younger players that are helping to stir interest both locally and abroad, building more momentum for the wider UK cycle industry.
Aided by events such as the Bespoked Show in Bristol, these new companies are bringing their own innovative take on the mountain bike, often along with the ability to tailor-make a frame to a rider’s specific needs and wants. And thanks to the power of the internet, the marketplace has shrunk considerably for those small brands, giving greater visibility to a wider – and often global – audience.
Although there are a load of brands offering UK-manufactured mountain bikes, there are far fewer brands that are making full suspension mountain bikes. So without further ado, here’s a current list of ten full suspension mountain bikes that are made right here in the UK.
1. ARBR Saker
With its huge monocoque carbon fibre frame, the ARBR Saker is surely one of the most eye-catching mountain bikes on the market right now. And it just so happens to be designed and manufactured right here in the UK. Established in 2013, ARBR is a small company specialising in just one model: a 160mm travel enduro bike that’s based around a high single pivot suspension design. Using an idler wheel that runs inline with the main pivot, ARBR states that the Saker achieves 100% anti-squat in the lower climbing gears, while producing a significantly rearward axle path that claims to gobble up the hits.
The Saker rolls on 27.5in wheels with Boost hub spacing, and features a 65.1° head angle, a 74.5° seat angle and a 1x specific frame. Using an autoclave manufacturing process, ARBR has engineered the mainframe as a monocoque, with the swingarm made of two individual chainstays that are bonded together. Two hidden alloy links connect the swingarm to the rear shock to control the shock rate.
“I wanted to blend master craftsmanship with cutting edge technology to produce the fastest bike that can be made“, explains Robert Barr of ARBR. Further information: arbr.bike
2. BTR Fabrications Pinner
Based in Frome, Somerset, BTR Fabrications is a two-lad operation headed up by Burf & Tam. For the most part, BTR has focussed on welding up grin-inducing steel hardtails for hooligans, with several models covering the spectrum from XC through to DH. We’ve previously tested the Ranger – a ridiculously rowdy 27.5in trail hardtail setup with a 120mm travel fork, which had us packing bricks with just how fast it could go down the sort of things that we really shouldn’t have been riding a hardtail on. As some of you already know however, BTR doesn’t just build hardtails.
Called the Pinner, this rugged steel machine uses Reynolds steel tubing that’s welded up in a girder-like formation that looks like it’ll outlast religion. The Pinner is built around a single pivot suspension design that delivers no fewer than 130.42 millimetres of rear travel via a CNC machined alloy linkage. Being a BTR, it’s of course long and slack. While it’ll take a 140-160mm travel up front, BTR spec the head angle at 64° with a 150mm travel fork. Reach starts at 430mm for a Small frame size, and goes up to a whopping 500mm for the XL.
It’s all very tough and naughty-looking, and adding to the cool-factor, BTR offer the option of a coil shock. Because why not?
More info: www.btr-fabrications.com
3. Carbon Wasp Enduro 29er
A lesser known name in the wider mountain bike industry, Yorkshire-based Carbon Wasp is a multi-faceted engineering company based out of Leeds. As well as producing a range of carbon fibre frames that are designed and produced here in the UK, Carbon Wasp also provides a carbon repair service, and builds carbon tubes for use by custom frame builders. Looking to adjust the geometry on your bike or modify it to accept bigger wheels? Carbon Wasp can produce custom carbon fibre linkages or even a whole new swingarm to help modify your existing frame.
As for complete bikes, Carbon Wasp currently produces four models: a cyclocross bike, a hardtail, a downhill bike, and this one; a 150mm travel 29er enduro bike. The frame is offered with stock geometry based around a 66.5° head angle, a 75° seat angle, and 420mm long chainstays, though like every Carbon Wasp frame, the frame is fully customisable. “All our frames are handmade in our workshop in Yorkshire, UK. We have developed a unique process aimed at making affordable one-offs and small batches“, explains Adrian Smith of Carbon Wasp. “Using additive manufacturing we can create cost effective moulds and tooling which we combine with standard composites techniques to make strong, light and beautiful parts.”
More information available here: www.carbonwasp.com
4. Curtis Bikes XR650
First seen earlier this year at the Bespoked Show in Bristol, this gorgeous XR650 proudly showcased some of the finest brazing work you’ll ever see, earning itself the ‘Best Full Suspension Bike’ award in the process. Crafted by Brian Curtis and Gary Woodhouse, the XR650 is the only full suspension model that the Somerset-based builder offers, though with 160mm of travel, the ability to fit up to a 170mm fork and clearance for 27.5×2.8in tyres, it’s pitched as a do-it-all fun bike that should sate the appetite of most mountain bikers – save for XC racers and downhillers.
Like BTR Fabrications, Curtis has chosen steel tubing as the foundation of its full suspension trail bike. Unlike BTR though, Curtis elects for fillet brazing to bring its T45 tubes together. “All tubing is hand cut, shaped to perfection and tacked into the jig before Brian does his magic and brazes them together into their final shape“, states Curtis. “The only thing not done in-house is the powder-coating. We hold no stock of frames at all, every frame is handmade for the customer.” Almost every aspect of the frame geometry can be customised including the head tube length, head angle, reach and stack, and numerous options for cable routing and rear dropouts are also available.
Get the lowdown here: www.curtisbikes.co.uk
5. Empire Cycles MX6-EVO
Dropping jaws with the original AP-1 downhill bike way back in 2008, Empire Cycles burst onto the scene with its unique cast alloy frames and simple elevated single pivot suspension design. With a focus on durability and simplicity, Empire earned itself plenty of fans amongst the UK riding scene – particularly with those who ride in all the weathers. Things have admittedly been a little quiet for Empire in recent years while owner and lead fabricator Chris Williams has been attending to his young family, but a showing at the 2017 Fort William World Cup helped to reignite interest in the small UK company’s unique full suspension mountain bikes.
As of right now, there are two models: the VX8 downhill bike, and the MX6-EVO trail bike. As the name implies, the MX6-EVO is a refinement of the previous version, and while it looks very similar with its elevated swingarm and welded alloy frame, it’s now 300g lighter thanks to reworked junction points and custom drawn tubing. Travel is 150mm out back and 150/160mm up front, and you can fit either 26in or 27.5in wheels in. There’s a load of British sensibility built into the frame, including humungous mud clearance, a threaded bottom bracket, external cabling, and user-serviceable full complement needle roller bearings for the main pivot.
Further information: empire-cycles.com
6. Hope Technology HB160
One of the freshest bikes in our ten-strong list of British manufactured full suspension mountain bikes is the HB160 from Hope Technology. Standing for ‘Hyper Bike’, the HB160 is running (you guessed it!) 160mm of travel both front and rear, and is equipped with 27.5in wheels. It’s the first bike to come from the Barnoldswick-based manufacturer, though the brand has been toying with the idea on and off for years, having originally planned to build a downhill bike. As enduro racing has grown in popularity and as more of Hope’s employees have gravitated towards the scene, development veered in that direction and the result is the burly all mountain bike you see here.
The HB160 was officially unveiled in August of this year, and our Andi was one of the lucky few journos that was invited along to the launch. The frame features a carbon fibre mainframe that is made in-house in a new carbon fibre development facility that is likely to expand in its output in the future. The back end of the frame is constructed from alloy that will be bonded together on the production frames, and it’s running a custom 130mm wide hub and a huge 17mm axle that helps to boost stiffness while keeping the stays nice and slim. Because of the proprietary hub and bottom bracket (which Hope also manufactures in-house), the HB160 will only be available as a complete bike.
7. Orange Bikes Stage Four
Any story about British manufacturing and mountain biking wouldn’t be complete without Orange Bikes. Established in 1988, Orange has been around almost as long as UK mountain biking itself, and has certainly been around longer than many of you reading this. Over that time, the brand has garnered a legion of fans thanks to it’s classic single-pivot suspension designs and iconic monocoque alloy frames that are designed, tested and manufactured in Halifax. It’s a testament to the success of the Orange recipe that many of the current models today bear a striking resemblance to models of yesteryear, though with Orange, it’s always been a case of evolution over revolution.
Officially released at Eurobike, the Stage Four is the newest model from Orange. Like the Stage 6 and Stage 5, the Stage 4 is designed around 29in wheels, though it shrinks the travel down to 110mm to slot it into the trail bike category. It’s effectively the replacement for the outgoing Segment 29er, and like its predecessor, the Stage 4 is built from 6061-T6 heat treated alloy and is optimised around a 120mm travel fork. However, the Stage 4 updates to a longer-stroke metric shock to alter the feel of the rear suspension, while changes to the geometry promise improved handling. We got an exclusive first look at the Stage Four, and you can get the full rundown here.
8. Robot Bike Co. R130
Another fresh name in the UK mountain bike industry, Robot Bike Co is barely in its second year having only launched in 2016 with the radical R160 enduro bike. Unlike some of the aforementioned brands in our list, Robot has eschewed the use of steel tubing for its high-tech full suspension frames, instead relying on round carbon fibre tubes sourced from New Zealand. Joining the carbon tubes together are fully customised titanium frame lugs that are made with state-of-the-art titanium additive printing technology (read: a fancy term for 3D printing). Using complex double lap joints, the carbon tubes plug into these titanium lugs before they’re bonded with glue. Because the tubes can be cut to various lengths, and because all of the titanium lugs for one frame are printed in a single batch, Robot can offer tailor-made frames.
Adding to the R160 in the line, Robot rolled out the R130 at the Fort William World Cup, which shrunk the suspension travel down to 130mm, but grew the wheelsize up to 29in. Pitched as a versatile do-it-all trail bike, the R130 also uses the complex DW6 suspension design, but updates to a trunnion-mount for its metric rear shock, which should help to improve small-bump sensitivity. Stock geometry is progressive with a 66° head angle, though everything from head angle, through to reach, chainstay length and seat tube length can be customised.
9. Starling Cycles Murmur
One of the most in-demand bikes of 2017, the Murmur is an elegant, steel-framed 29er that comes from the Starling Cycles stable in Bristol. Headed up by Joe McEwan, Starling operates out of a shed in McEwan’s backyard, and at this point in time is limited to short runs of frames that require patient customers to sign up to a waiting list. There are several models in the Starling lineup, including the long travel Swoop, the fun-looking Beady Little Eye singlespeed, and the Murmur. All models are made from a selection of Reynolds 853/631 and Columbus Life and Zone tubing, with a compact triangular swingarm rotating on a single pivot. Custom geometry is available, with McEwan being able to tailor-make the front triangle to alter key parameters including reach, stack and head angle.
There is a ‘recommended’ set of geometry numbers though, which McEwan is honing as he gets more experience building each frame and listening to the demands of more customers. For the 145mm travel Murmur 29er, McEwan recommends a head tube angle of 65°, and a seat tube angle of 76°. Contemporary is a good way to put it. The Murmur is ideally partnered with a 150mm travel fork (though you can customise that too), and it’ll clear up to 2.35in tyres.
We were visited by McEwan and three Starling test bikes earlier this year, and you can read the full story about the bikes and the brand here. For more information, head here: www.starlingcycles.com
10. Swarf Cycles Prototype 29er
Unlike the other nine bikes in our list of UK-made full suspension bikes, this one isn’t quite available to the public just yet. It’s a prototype full suspension frame from Swarf Cycles, which Adrian Bedford of Swarf is currently testing and refining as we speak. The design has gone through some key revisions since it was first teased back in August of 2016, with the original frame using a single-pivot suspension design that mounted halfway along the downtube. The latest prototype also comes from Swarf’s Dorset-based workshop, though Bedford has switched to a vertically-mounted rear shock with a CNC machined alloy rocker link driving the shock. A small amount of flex through the seatstays allows the suspension to cycle without need for an extra pivot around the rear axle.
While details are still yet to be locked down, as of right now Bedford is quoting 115mm of rear wheel travel paired to 29in wheels and a 130mm travel fork. Basic numbers are 67° for the head angle and 445mm for the chainstay length, while one of the Large-ish prototypes features a 465mm reach. Claimed frame weight will be around 7lbs for the frame without shock.
Regardless of the numbers though, it goes without saying that this is one elegant piece of work. You can check out more details about the prototype development in our article here, and further information can be had here: www.swarfcycles.co.uk.
And there you go; ten UK-made full suspension bikes that we’ve got our eye on. Which one of these tickles your fancy? And what about the one’s we missed? Let us know in the comments section below!