Bespoked ‘Best MTB Award’ Interview: Craft Bikes

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Jim from Craft Bikes talks us through the exquisite titanium bikes, made in Kent, UK, that were on display at Bespoked, Manchester. Their hardtail actually received our ‘Best Mountain Bike’ award – though when we had this chat we’d yet to make our choice.

Which bike shall we start with?

I’d like to start with, let’s call it the proper mountain bike, with the big knobbly tyres on. That’s our latest bike and that’s the first titanium hardtail we’ve ever made. We’ve made four hardtails prior to this, but they’ve all been in steel, and they were all kind of different iterations to get to a geometry and sizing that we thought was our preferred bike and design and weight to build bikes. I think what I really like with that bike is it’s all the learnings we’ve got off of building gravel bikes using 3D printed parts and titanium, kind of all squashed into what I think is my perfect hardtail mountain bike. It’s not everybody’s liking, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but we’ve pained over a lot of little details on it.

If you say what is the standout thing on it, it’s probably the large scale use of lots of 3D printed parts. The rear drop outs, both sides are 3D printed titanium. The bottom bracket yoke is Ti, the seat stay yolk is Ti, head tube is Ti 3D printed, and even the cable ports are 3D printed titanium. So this is the little cable exit port that’s on that bike and that’s just a polished version of a twin one. But even those I’m kind of obsessed with 3D printing on. Like, do we really need to do that? Well, we do if we want our logo on it just to be different! So, it’s nothing too radical in terms of geometry – 65° head angle, 75° seat tube angle, just for a bit of decent climbing capability. Titanium tubing throughout. Handmade by me in Kent, down in Hythe. One at a time. Custom bespoke geometry made to order.

And what fork have you got on there at the minute?

So the fork that we’ve designed this particular build round is a Pike 140. It’s a 29er both ends, and that’s a 140. So you’ve got a 65° head angle at sag at 20% sag on that bike.

What kind of reach numbers on this one? What size would you call this?

So the reach on this is 450mm and I’d say I’ve built quite a long front end on it and tried to get the back end in as tight as I can with the 29 inch wheel. So I’d say it’s probably somewhere between a medium and a large. So it’s probably a medium plus!

And how long are those chain stays?

Chain stays on this particular build are 435mm which is probably 5mm longer than most people would say is the optimum. But one thing I don’t like on hardtails from a personal design point of view is I don’t like bent seat tubes. I like the clean lines of straight lines. So to get the straight seat tube, which doesn’t limit me on droppers and other issues you sometimes have with bent seat tubes, I needed to just push the stays out a little bit to accommodate the 2.4in wide tyre we’ve got on the back. So we’ve got a nice big tyre in there with plenty of clearance, but it just makes the rear end a little bit longer. But from having ridden it now, it’s actually a really stable bike, but it’s still quite playful. So it’s a bit of a barge at times, but I quite like that because it’s got a lot of traction on the bike and it’s a lot of fun to ride. So it hasn’t really affected the back end like you think it would.

What category of riding would you say this falls in if we had to pigeonhole it?

So I’m not really big on pigeonholing bikes, but you know, if you insist, I would say it’s, I don’t know if the term ‘all mountain hardtail’ is still relative in the industry, but I’d say it’s a hard hitting hardtail that’s probably a little bit more biassed towards descending than it is ascending. It’s not a cross country bike. It’s got a slackish head angle. It’s got a low bottom bracket, 55mm below axle point, so that’s quite low. But it corners like it’s on rails and it descends well. It can handle jumps and other things. It’s overbuilt. So it’s heavy duty built. I’ve kind of overbuilt everything on it to ensure that it’s got long term durability and it can take really quite a lot of hard riding before you know you’re going to see any fatigue on it. But yeah, I’d say it’s on a more descending biassed side of a hardtail. A good all round trail bike that descends well rather than a cross country whippet!

A hardcore hardtail we might call it?

Ohh, here we go! Yeah, I like it! Let’s go with hardcore hardtail.

Before we move on to the other hardtail (or is it a gravel bike?!), is there anything else about that bike you really want to tell me?

Well one other thing is we’ve gone to great lengths to try and think of every little detail. So the rear brake, there was a lot of work put into bringing the brake inside of the frame rather than doing what most people do, which is just bolting it onto the back of the seat stay. That little side took 9 iterations in design and print to get it to work because it’s quite difficult to get the calliper inside the frame. But I think it was worth it in the end. And the only other thing that’s worth pointing out to people is that at present, the biggest chain ring we can get on the front is a 32T. We’ll look to improve that in time, but I think it’s still plenty big enough.

Does it have a name?

So it’s a bit of a lame name, but it’s Titanium Hardtail V1.

Bike One, Bike Two…OK….

We have debated long and hard about giving our bikes names, and to be honest with you, we can’t find any names that are meaningful to where we live and where the bikes are made that aren’t cheesy. So at this time, we’re just going to stick with their kind of denomination of gravel, mountain bike. And then the big drum roll. Is it a flat bar gravel? Is it a mountain bike? Is it a 90s retro bike? Well, I’ll let you decide. It’s a real debate, this one, isn’t it? What do you think it is? That’s a better question.

Well so tell me about some of the angles on it that might help.

OK, so I’ve got to probably get something out the way. Our version of what a gravel bike is is quite different to maybe what the mainstream industry think it is. A lot of mainstream industry, big bike manufacturers still think – which is fair enough, I’m not criticising it – that they’re just really road bikes that can be ridden down tow paths.

Oh no, not in my world!

But I think for us, a gravel bike is something that can be ridden anywhere really. And I guess for us where we live, it’s quite flat in Kent and we have a lot of chalk, and we have a lot of mud. So for a lot of people who buy our bikes down that part of the world, they’re really good winter bikes that they can ride off-road. They can go down some singletrack on, they can perhaps ride fire roads and they can ride them predominantly off-road in the mud, but still have a really good time. And then, you know, do some road miles to commute between those different sections of off-road riding. This bike is actually Chloe, my partner’s bike, and she really likes gravel riding, but what she doesn’t like about gravel riding is drop bars. And I’m like, OK, that’s fair enough. If you don’t like drop bars, you don’t you don’t feel you can hold on well enough when you ride off -road on them. So we built her this bike, which is kind of a bit of a fringe bike. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

This particular build has got a mountain bike drivetrain on it. So it’s got T-type transmission on it. It’s got some Zipp Explorer wheels on, so a bit of compliance in the wheels, and then a flat bar setup on the front that is predominantly mountain bike biassed. And then an E-silk suspension seatpost. It’s got a little Rudy suspension fork on it. So I don’t know, some people might argue that this is really just a very short travel hard tail mountain bike. I kind of feel like for us it’s an alternative to what other people call a flat bar gravel bike. 700C wheels, 70° head angle, 60mm BB drop quite a lot of drop on the BB. Seat tube angle on this is 74°, so fairly slack, but we ride quite flat trails down in Kent so we don’t really have any super steep climbs. It kind of gives you a nice comfy riding position for long rides. It’s really comfortable off-road. I’ve ridden it off-road down some quite sort of challenging singletrack and thought this is really as good as a mountain bike. So hence your point. Is it a mountain bike? Is it a flat bar gravel bike? What would make you say – here’s a question for you then – what would make you say it isn’t a flat bar gravel bike. [Laughs] Am I not supposed to ask you any questions? I’ve turned the tables now!

So I’m still I’m not sure what the point is of a flat bar gravel bike over a flat just a hard tail. But I totally get the linking up the road transitions or whatever. And often a gravel bike is the cheaper option for getting the weight down compared to a hardtail that would actually deliver that same kind of nippy ride. Like, then you get into like very fancy parts and carbon fibre. I can see that I know a lot of people that read Singletrack, that this is the kind of thing that they would like. It’s kind of comfortable. It’s not breaking your back. Yeah. It doesn’t give you the multiple hand positions that a drop bar bike gives and maybe on some long distance stuff you might want that. But I’m gonna play the politician and totally not give you an answer, obviously!

No, no, it’s, it’s good. I mean, that’s the whole point of this is to have a bit of debate. And to be honest, when we built this bike, a first thing I said to Chloe was this bike is going to be a Marmite bike. People are going to love it or they’re going to hate it. And I think I wouldn’t say hate’s a strong word, but I think the the reactions are really mixed and they are quite polarised. People either walk past the stand and go ‘ohh, I like the mountain bike but I can’t get my head around the point of that‘. Which I do understand because I personally when I’m not riding my mountain bike I ride a conventional gravel bike with drop bars. And I agree with you 100% that I prefer that hand position. I prefer the nimbleness of the handling and the reactivity of the handling. And I quite like being able to get through narrow trees off-road with smaller bars. And then as you say, when you get on the road, the drop bars I think are more comfortable position. But I think where we’re building bikes that are custom bikes built around each customer’s very, very specific needs and requirements, I have to be really disciplined and careful not to slip into, ‘well, I like drop bars, so you should like them’. And I think when Chloe said to me, ‘I really want a flat bar bike cause I’d like to experiment and see what the differences are’, that’s what we came up with and she loves it. So that’s actually the success story, isn’t it really? Because if she loves riding her bike because that’s exactly what she wants, then I’ve done my job and I’ve done it well. But I can totally get that for a lot of people it will be a Marmite bike.

And also something we probably don’t talk about a bit is we, as we all get a bit older and a bit crankier, we’ve all got ailments, injuries, restrictions anatomically that perhaps limit us. So when you were 20, riding a really racey road bike for six hours was doable. When you get to 50 and your lower back starts to hurt after two hours because we go for a long ride, we come in, we don’t do our stretching, we have a cup of tea, we sit on the sofa and then we wonder why the next day we can’t ride for three hours because our lower backs or our hammies are pulling. Well, I think as we get older, I think that’s what I really like about gravel bikes is out of all of the cycling genres, I think that is the most like, ‘do what you like’. It doesn’t have to be that. It doesn’t have to be that. If you want to ride them with your handlebars on backwards, well then crack on. As long as you’re having fun and it suits your riding position and it’s comfortable and enjoyable. Because let’s be honest, riding bikes is supposed to be fun. And I think all of us sometimes forget that and take it a bit too seriously. So I kind of feel like although our flat bar gravel/90s mountain bike speaks to some people, in the opposite end of the spectrum that drop bar gravel bike with a dropper post – a dropper post on a gravel bike, what are you doing, man?! But it’s what the specific person wants.

So I totally get that because like I think when I’m writing my gravel bike on the drop bars, I’m generally wanting to add some peril into the trails that I’m riding, but it does stop me going too far kind of thing. Whereas if I was on a flat bar gravel bike, I’d get out of my depth because I’d be trying to do the stuff that I should be on, a hardcore hardtail or an enduro bike or something for.

And I think, Hannah, that’s a really, really valid point because funnily enough, I’ve ridden both of these bikes in the Surrey Hills when a client was wanting to demo them. And when I rode Chloe’s bike, the first thing I thought was if I owned this bike and I rode it all the time, I’m going to hurt myself because I kept thinking I was on a mountain bike, but I’m not. It’s kind of got its limitations. Whereas as you rightly point out, when you’re on a drop bar, it just keeps you on the fun side of nearly crashing on every corner and having a sketchy fun ride that’s really challenging and fulfilling and satisfying and fun. But you just have to rein it in that little bit where you’re like, OK, don’t be silly. It’s still a drop bar bike.

If somebody wants to order a bike, how do they go about it? What kind of lead time do they have?

Our lead time on most bikes is generally 3 months and that’s from start of process to finish and delivery of bike. The best way to get in touch with us is through our website which is craftbikes.uk or alternatively check us out on Instagram, either Chloe Craft Bikes or at Jim Builds Bikes. Generally the process is quite simple. We’re trying to take out and demystify the whole process of custom bikes because I think for a lot of people it’s quite an intimidating, or they perceive it to be an elite thing. You know, ‘I’m not a good enough rather to have a custom bike’. For us, custom bikes are about giving people bikes that they love, they wanna keep and they wanna ride for a very long time and enjoy. So yeah, just get in touch.

OK! Thank you very much.


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Author Profile Picture
Hannah Dobson

Managing Editor

I came to Singletrack having decided there must be more to life than meetings. I like all bikes, but especially unusual ones. More than bikes, I like what bikes do. I think that they link people and places; that cycling creates a connection between us and our environment; bikes create communities; deliver freedom; bring joy; and improve fitness. They're environmentally friendly and create friendly environments. I try to write about all these things in the hope that others might discover the joy of bikes too.

More posts from Hannah

Viewing 9 posts - 1 through 9 (of 9 total)
  • Bespoked ‘Best MTB Award’ Interview: Craft Bikes
  • 1
    whatyadoinsucka
    Free Member

    all that hard work and finished off with sram brakes for the bin..

     

    lovely looking angles and curves..

    hardtailonly
    Full Member

    Lovely bikes.

    Article needs a bit more proof-reading; several examples of ‘written’ instead of ‘ridden’ for instance ….

    3
    stwhannah
    Full Member

    @hardtailonly Argh! Jim’s accent played havoc with the transcription – lots of barks instead of bikes!

    bedmaker
    Full Member

    ChatGPT – write me an article about a bike.  Start most of the sentences with the word so.

     

    Weird writing aside, that is a thing of beauty!

    somafunk
    Full Member

    Very nice, if I could ride I’d be on the phone to Craft right now.

     

     

    Lummox
    Full Member

    Having met and ridden with Jim and Chloe on an alps trip a while back I can say I think Jim’s being a bit modest. The two of them not only are great people to hang out with but both are absolute shredders. Watching Jim’s bikes come to life has been great, especially when he releases a pic of a new 3d printed component. Kudos Jim, hope you’re both good 🤙

    noneoftheabove
    Free Member

    You had me at the calipers inside the stays; that is too nice.

    hightensionline
    Full Member

    ChatGPT – write me an article about a bike.  Start most of the sentences with the word so.

    Weird writing aside, that is a thing of beauty!

    It’s clearly stated as an interview, and a chat at that.  It’s an informal article about some cool bikes, nothing weird about it to my eyes.

    (So) does a (slight) return to mid/late 90s bikes represent a cynical retro cash-in, or is it just that as we get older we return to when we felt most comfortable on the trails?

    DaveyBoyWonder
    Free Member

    Ace bike. Reading about it made my head hurt.

Viewing 9 posts - 1 through 9 (of 9 total)

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