Otherwise known as Bespoked, the 2018 UK Handmade Bicycle Show was held over the weekend in the centre of Bristol, with a plethora of beautiful and unusual bike-related goodies to discover for those who stepped inside the old Engine Shed exhibition centre.
If you’ve not heard of the event before, it’s definitely one to put on your radar for April next year – particularly if you’re one to appreciate the finer side of bicycle-related craftsmanship. The event itself has been running since 2011, making this year’s Bespoked the 8th – and biggest – edition. As a public three-day exhibition, Bespoked aims to promote independent frame builders and their handmade bicycles. For the most part, the large hall is filled with small, independent UK-based companies and builders, though there are international builders and larger companies too.
This year we saw the likes of Chris King, ENVE and Campagnolo sharing floor space with names like Enigma Bikes, The Bicycle Academy, and Métier Vélo. There are track bikes, road bikes, cyclocross bikes, gravel bikes, mountain bikes, adventure bikes, and touring bikes, and then there’s all the bizarre niche-filling bikes that you’ve probably never heard of before. There’s are a lot of steel tubing on show, but there’s plenty of exotic titanium, carbon fibre, and even bamboo as well.
2018 not only proved to be the biggest edition of Bespoked yet, it also had the largest contingent of mountain bikes in the show’s history, with plenty of stunning examples covering a variety of genres. From lightweight carbon fibre hardtails, through to steel full suspension downhill bikes, there was a load of interesting handmade creations on show.
If you missed this year’s Bespoked, then settle in and have a look through our highlights gallery of some of the lovely mountain bikes we spotted over the weekend.
1. BTR Fabrications – Pinner
The Pinner isn’t a new bike from BTR Fabrications, but this sparkly limited edition model sure as heck has been getting a load of attention at Bespoked. Burf & Tam of BTR didn’t have their own stand at Bespoked, but the fellas were hanging out with The Bicycle Academy crew in a neat mock-up wooden shed. They brought along this lovely custom-built Pinner, which has been finished off with a Cane Creek Double Barrel coil rear shock, a Fox Kashima-coated Transfer dropper post, and that fetching ConRad edition Helm coil-sprung fork.
Welded together from a selection of Reynolds 631, 853 and Columbus steel tubing, the Pinner features 27.5in wheels with 130mm of rear travel, and will accommodate a 140-160mm travel fork. Set up with a 150mm travel fork, the Pinner pushes the front wheel right out with a long top tube and a mega-slack 64° head angle, making it a true hooligan machine.
According to Tam of BTR, they can’t make Pinners fast enough right now. There are plans to speed up the production process with the use of some custom jigs, but being such a small operation, the lads are so busy fabricating and welding existing bikes that finding the spare time to do anything other than fulfil orders has proven difficult. So don’t even ask them about a 29er Pinner…
2. Curtis Bikes – AM Explorer
To sate the appetite of the fillet brazing aficionados, Gary from Curtis Bikes brought along four stunning examples from the current range, including a BMX race bike and the latest iteration of the full suspension XR650. It was this AM Explorer that caught our eye, particularly with its fresh-off-the-trail dirt and luggage setup.
Currently named the AM+, but soon to be renamed the AM Explorer, this bike is a 27.5+ hardtail that can either be built around a 120-130mm or a 140-150mm travel fork – depending on the customer’s requirements. This one here is indeed a customer’s bike, who has just come back off the continent from a 3-week off-road bikepacking tour in Europe, and is getting ready for a Himalayan adventure in the near future. Kindly lent back to Curtis to exhibit at Bespoked, this bike has a few customised elements including a 157x12mm rear axle and a wider 83mm bottom bracket shell. That’s allowed for very snug 425mm chainstays, while still offering clearance around the 27.5×3.0in wide rear tyre.
According to Curtis Bikes, a medium AM Explorer frame weighs around 2.26kg and is priced from £1,150 with standard geometry. Want to go custom? There’s a tonne of options available including various paint jobs and dropouts, so you can spec it out to your heart’s content. Best to inquire with Curtis Bikes to find out what’s possible.
3. Mercredi Bikes – Andy’s Hardtail
Whilst a new name to the world of mountain biking, Adeline O’Moreau of Mercredi Bikes has already become a well known face amongst the UK frame building scene. Just like Burf & Tam of BTR Fabrications, O’Moreau is a disciple of The Bicycle Academy, having completed a frame building course back in 2016. Barely a year later, O’Moreau was at Bespoked where she won both the Chris King and Colombus awards for her frame building talents.
Mercredi Bikes is O’Moreau’s growing venture, which first specialised in producing custom cyclocross bikes for her racing team mates, but has since grown to include road, gravel and mountain bikes too. Each bike is made to order for each customer, with custom tubing, geometry, paintwork and build kits that are tailored to that rider. Because of this approach, there are no specific designs or model names. Instead, each bike is named after its owner.
The mountain bike that Mercredi brought to the show is Andy’s 29er Bikepacking Hardtail. It’s designed to be a singletrack slitherer that can also be loaded up with kit for off-road bikepacking. O’Moreau built the steel frame with sliding dropouts in order to adapt the rear centre length accordingly – short for trail riding, and long for bikepacking. There’s a slim 27.2mm rigid seatpost in place for when a seat bag is being used, though in party mode a 30.9mm dropper post can be also fitted once the shim is removed from the frame.
The frame is made with a collection of Columbus steel tubing. Like all Mercredi frames, the front end is fillet brazed, but the TIG-welded rear triangle is a departure from the norm. This is because of the chainstay yoke that O’Moreau wished to use for this frame, which is a three-piece member that is there to provide big chainring and tyre clearance.
If you’d like to know more about the Mercredi brand and how O’Moreau got into building frames, then make sure you check out Beth Hodge’s excellent feature on Mercredi Bikes here.
4. Prova Cycles – Ripido 29er Hardtail
Another lesser known name in our list, Prova Cycles turned up to its first Bespoked show with an impressive trifecta that included a steel/carbon fibre road bike, a gravel bike, and this beautiful 29er hardtail. Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Prova Cycles is owned and operated by Mark Hester – a Mechanical & Automotive Engineer who has an impressive resume that includes working with composites and building chassis control systems for the likes of Robert Bosch and Jaguar LandRover.
Hester shares a workshop space in Melbourne with Bastion Cycles, where he has access to some of the same composite and 3D printing technologies that Bastion uses to develop its super high-end road bikes. For this hardtail, Hester wanted to utilise 3D printing to develop several complex pieces of printed stainless steel – something that we don’t believe has previously been achieved on a mountain bike. There are two 3D printed sections – one for the non-drive side dropout and one for the driveside chainstay yoke. Each junction is completely hollow, with a lattice-like internal structure that provides strength while remaining very lightweight.
The bike itself is designed around 29×2.6in tyres with a 140mm travel fork. As for geometry? Yes, it is slack, and yes it is long. Hester conveniently painted all the numbers onto the downtube, which includes the 66° head angle, 74.8° seat angle, 428mm rear centre and 472mm reach. We like the sound of those a lot!
5. RA Bikes – Bergsra Prototype
We’ve been following North Yorkshire-based RA Bikes on Instagram over the past 12 months, having had our interest originally piqued by some pretty interesting geometry numbers being used on the steel full suspension prototypes. RA Bikes has actually been around for a lot longer though – owner and builder Rafi originally rolled up to the 2012 Fort William World Cup with a 29er downhill race bike that he’d built himself. That prototype caught Greg Minnaar’s eye in the race pits, and Rafi was also interviewed by the event commentator, who finished off the conversation by saying that it was a cool concept, but one that would unlikely take off in downhill. Oh, how times have changed eh?
Rafi and his partner Charlotte turned up to Bespoked 2018 with a drop-bar 29er that he had only finished building the evening before the first day of the show, having received a very late invitation to come to the show and exhibit in the ‘New Builders’ area. He also had this full suspension prototype frame, which is currently a work in progress, but interesting enough that we wanted to give you a closer look at it.
Currently made from TIG-welded 4130 cromoly tubing, the Bergsra frame is hopefully going to feature some custom hydroformed Reynolds steel tubing in a later iteration. Rafi’s goal is to get the frame weight under 7lb with a coil rear shock, and he’ll be offering a range of stock sizes. The frame is designed around 29in wheels with clearance for a 2.6in rear tyre, and suspension travel will be 140mm on the back thanks to a dual-linkage design (the frame Rafi had at Bespoked was unfortunately link-less, but they’re coming), and 150mm on the front. Geometry has scaled back a little from his previous prototypes (which had an 80° seat angle and a 500mm reach!), as Rafi feels that he’s found the limits of uber-contemporary geometry. As such, this new 29er will get a 65° head angle, and ‘only’ a 485mm reach and a 78.9° effective seat angle.
Rafi is also working on a longer travel version that will have 160/170mm of travel. The plan is to offer both frames in 27.5in variants too, which will have similar geometry and the same travel. All of the bikes will be made from steel, and Rafi is currently experimenting with a new swingarm that will feature an elevated chainstay design. He says that the design brings a load of engineering benefits, but potentially causes an aesthetic problem for consumers who may not like the elevated chainstay look, so he’s not sure at this point. If you want to follow the progress of the prototype frame, make sure you check out the RA_Bike Instagram feed, or follow the website link below (which is also a work in progress!).
6. Robot – R-Zero
Another newcomer to Bespoked, but a name that most of you will be familiar with, Robot Bike Co. had this brand new R-Zero hardtail on show at this year’s UK Handmade Bicycle Show. First drip-fed to the public back in December, the R-Zero is getting closer and closer to being production-ready, and is likely to appear on the Robot website in the next week or so (once Andy & Ed get time to photograph it).
Unlike the R160 and the R130 before it, the R-Zero obviously skips the rear shock and DW6 suspension design in favour of a fully rigid frame. It still uses the same distinctive construction method, with round carbon fibre tubes linking up the titanium lugs to produce a frame that weighs in around 1.8kg. The titanium lugs are all made in a single batch via an additive manufacturing process that uses lasers to turn titanium powder into the final form you see here. This allows each frame to be customised by the rider, with elements such as reach, head angle and chainstay length being dialled in to their preference.
However, compared to the full suspension frames, the R-Zero brings added customisability – you can choose your wheelsize, tyre width and fork travel depending on the vibe you’re going for. The dropouts are also bolted together, which offers up a degree of future-proofing – according to Robot, you could turn your frame into a singlespeed if you wanted with the addition of some new dropouts, or you could could accommodate that new Ultra Plus Boost rear hub spacing that’s probably coming in 2019.
As with the R160 and R130, the R-Zero will be made in the UK, and will be available as a complete bike, or as a frame on its own. Pricing will be £2,895 including VAT, which puts it a grand less than the full suspension models.
7. Starling – Sturn
There were plenty of intriguing prototypes kicking around at Bespoked, including this bodacious singlespeed downhill bike from Starling Cycles. Named the Sturn after the Latin name for Starling (Sturnus Vulgaris), this raw metal machine has been fillet brazed in Joe Starling’s workshop, and features 29in wheels and a Fox 49 fork with 200mm of travel. Rear travel sits at 190mm, with an adjustable shock mount offering different positions to play with shock rate and geometry.
The big point of conversation is that dual-chain drive however, which Starling has implemented in order to facilitate the Sturn’s singlespeed intentions. Rather than use a concentric pivot around the bottom bracket (like the Beady Little Eye trail bike), Starling has used a much higher and forward pivot point for the rigid swingarm. This is due to the huge amount of rear travel the Sturn has to cope with, and how that affects the dynamic geometry as the rear wheel cycles through that travel. To eliminate chain growth and maintain a constant chain line with such a high and forward main pivot, Starling has positioned an idler wheel around the main pivot. The main pivot is actually a splined steel BMX crank axle that runs through the swingarm and frame, where it connects to a Profile BMX sprocket on the non-drive side. Here the sprocket runs a short loop of chain down to the chainring, which unlike a normal bike, sits on the non-drive side.
Joe Starling was on-hand at Bespoked to talk through his latest creation, though this one is firmly in the prototype phase at this point in time. The bike shown will be raced by one of Starling’s buddies, so there’ll be plenty of real-world feedback coming in. As to what comes from that feedback? We’ll just have to wait and see.
8. Winter Bicycles – Geländerad
The last bike in our gallery from Bespoked comes from a Pennsylvania-based brand called Winter Bicycles. It’s a bit more of what you’d expect from a handmade bicycle show, with the steel tubing employing some lovely classic lines that blend modern features with retro styling.
Winter Bicycles itself is a one-man operation, with Eric Estlund building each and every frame in-house. Estlund mostly specialises in randonee bikes, though he also produces road, track and mountain bike frames too. His frames are fillet brazed and built with a selection of different steel tubes depending on the application, and he also makes forks and stems too.
This year was Estlund’s 7th Bespoked show, having gone to every one except for the first in 2011. Though he sells the majority of his bikes in North America, around 30% of his sales are international, which includes sending bikes to the UK and further afield in Europe. For the show, Estlund brought a randonee bike that a German customer was actually picking up at the end of the weekend. He also had this lovely steel hardtail, which is equipped with a 130mm travel fork and 2.6in wide tyres. The Geländerad hardtail is for sale, though it just so happens to be Estlund’s size. You know, just in case right?
Estlund has built the Geländerad with a Co-Motion eccentric bottom bracket that allows for easy chain tensioning in singlespeed mode, though the frame has routing to accommodate a rear derailleur and a dropper post. Rear spacing is 142x12mm to allow for more singlespeed hub options. But even without the help of Boost spacing, Estlund has managed to build the frame with super tight 412mm chainstays, despite those semi-chubby tyres.
So what do you guys think of the bikes we spotted at Bespoked? Do any of these float your boat? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!