Best of British - Stanton Bikes
How poker, Brexit and dodgy drop outs made Stanton the company it is today
The hardcore hardtail is a uniquely British phenomenon. There's a Blitz spirit mentality to knowing that, while you could arguably have bought something a bit more sorted to the job in hand, you can still thrash your mates who have gone out and bought that fancy, bouncy full-suss.
Only in a part of the world where they eat a handful of hot gravel for breakfast, get up half an hour before they go to bed and drink out of a piece of rolled up newspaper could a brand like Stanton be born. Mud meets metal with this brand as they've staunchly stuck to a steel/titanium brew and aim squarely for that filthy, rutted terrain for which the Brits are famed.
Their story starts and ends with Dan Stanton, a one-man positivity juggernaut who has risen out of a bike shop to own one of Britain's biggest bike companies. Time for some trumpet blowing as we've been there too, the first to ride his prototypes and frothing for what the future has in store.
2,000 frames after he sent us his first ever, we caught up with Dan Stanton for a run down on how the brand got this far and what the future holds now he has decided to take his destiny squarely into his own hands.
What were you doing before Stanton?
I finished my degree and I was either going to go on and do a Masters and a Doctorate or something different totally. My wife said to me, "what is it you really want to do?"
I said, "I'd love to own a bike company but I haven’t got a clue, I haven't got the first idea." I just rode bikes four or five times a week, every week. She encouraged me to leave what I was doing, I took a wage cut and went and worked in a bike shop. While I was there, I taught myself the basics of CAD and figured out how the cycling industry works.
After about a year and a half, I had my first prototype frame built it up. I had to sell the bike that I had to get this prototype and it was definitely different to everything else but it was an exaggeration of what I was trying to achieve.
I was going for something that felt between a 4X bike and a trail bike. I found that, at the time, trail bikes were so XC orientated that they just didn't feel capable enough at all. You couldn't get wild down a raggedy run when you were constantly feeling tetchy and your bike felt steep, awkward and high. We used to ride 4X bikes all the time and we'd just have to grin and bear the uphills. The aim was to design something that sat between the two.
It felt like skiing on a bike. I know that sounds crazy but if you’ve ever been skiing, you push with your feet and the rear wheel kind of drags around afterwards. It was really slack, a lot slacker than anything I'd ridden. I tailored everything back a touch and I eventually came up with a design that I was happy enough to take to Dirt. I think I’d only had three of this particular type at the time and I took this complete bike and that year it was put in the Dirt 100. From that point it just kind of blew up.
How did you get the money together at the start?
One of my mates was an aerospace engineer and I basically said to him over a game of poker: "I've got a better hand than you, if I win this hand I'll let you buy into this company I'm starting". He placed the bet, I had a better hand, he lost so he put in seven grand for the first 50 frames to come over.
I went away, started mapping all the social media and the marketing and everything else but really after the Dirt 100 I could not get the stock in to supply demand - the first 50 frames were sold two months before anything arrived! I paid my mate back his seven grand plus another lump to say thank you very much and I just carried it on driving it forwards with new models and fresh iterations. Going forward eight years, we've sold a couple of thousand hardtails, we're engineering a full suspension trail bike and have employed all the staff to manufacture it here in house. Along that process there have been a sickening amount of ups and downs but it's the most entertaining life curveball I've ever thrown.
What are the differences between manufacturing in house and shipping it out to the Far East?
We've been a company where I design something, wait four months for the prototypes to come, figure out whether I like it or not and then get something else going on with slight alterations. It can take you nearly a year before you get a production run of anything you're chasing. You also have to order 100 at a time so you’re sat on loads of colours and models, just to try and satisfy demands.
"I lost 80 grand in profit"
Manufacturing in house alleviates those dramas but the learning curve is steep - the current stuff is done by quite literally the best manufacturer in the world. We’ve had to understand how to jig things up, how to manufacture things properly, put in all the correct health and safety, make sure the welder's got all the right accreditation, so that we're producing product that is at least equivalent to the current stuff we get made - it's a whole nother ball game.
Thankfully, through the blessings of serendipity and chasing every avenue down, we've managed to get a really lovely melting pot of people and I couldn't ask for a better team.
What made you decide to switch to in-house production?
Brexit was the straw that broke the camel's back because I lost 80 grand in profit. I should have had 80 grand to plough into fresh ideas and fresh models but it was swallowed just by currency.
It went from £100,000 getting about $150,000 before Brexit, down to $130,000 straight after then the lowest was $118,000 so that's $32,000 (£25,000) lost on one order. Plus you've got to consider the value of everything you've bought is much higher so your VAT payments are higher, tax duties are more expensive, shipping costs are higher, so everything costs an absolute fortune now.
Basically I didn't want the ups and downs of politics to affect the financial stability of my business, that's the cut and dry of it. Plus at least I'm not sat on loads of stock, all I'm doing is buying in some tools and some billet, machining it, welding it putting it together and there's your frame in a couple of weeks. We're not making bare hench profit but we're living a lifestyle that we want to live, everyone's paid well, everyone's happy.
Where did the idea for the full-suss come from?
We're starting with Switch 9er, that's basically a 140mm rear, 160mm front enduro bike that has a progressive wheel rate so that means you can use nice, linear, coil shocks or more expensive air shocks and get your tuning dialled in.
It's a really nice climber, it's got very little pedal bob, that's what we're all pretty gobsmacked by. You're able to rumble through the rough stuff and it feels quite magic carpet-y and then when you point it upwards and start climbing, you look down at the shock and there's the minutest of movement, I'm really, really chuffed with it.
We're not tied into a massive lead time so we're able to move from model to model super quick. We can get this one proper pinned down but we’re currently playing around with a 27.5 plus version that we’ll get on the market probably a month or two months after this one.
We’ll also have the ability to offer customs. We're going to build the biggest frame we can get away with CN test wise and then we can adjust geometry to suit customers. Some people only want certain decals, some don't want any decals.
Then for the Sherpa and Slackline I'll run a suspension schematic similar to what we've run now but the kinematics will be linear and it will be run with cheaper air shocks to get the progressive feel.
"We're not making bare hench profit but we're living a lifestyle that we want to live"
Then, because we can, we're going to make a 4X full-suss.
In the old business model, you'd have to buy 100 of them and you've got to pay your guy out in Taiwan to make sure they're not screwing it up or just using whatever they've got laying around to put your bikes together.
You either pick somewhere that is absolutely mint at manufacturing or you pay peanuts and you have to pay a member of staff to be out there just watching while they make stuff. Otherwise, not being harsh but I've had frames here from cheaper manufacturers and they'd have varied back ends. So if we said we wanted a 148 rear, it's 143 and we measure another and it's 154, you tell me these have been QC'ed? Even to the point with some of them where the dropouts are machined to tight so you can't get a wheel in. Imagine if we'd done a production run of them.
So yeah, you've got to pay through the nose and buy 100 at a time so I guess this is why these corporations aren't doing things like 4X bikes anymore because the demand isn't great, but we can. I can make one for myself, take some photos of it and say we can make you one of these.
Do you look back on those difficult times as a positive now then?
I went round to my mate’s house one night and said: “Look drama filled here, we’ve lost massive profits here just in currency.” I showed him it all and he gave me a brotherly hug and said to me, “This will probably be the best thing that's ever happened to you”. That's the point, isn't it? It's all about the mindset you look at things with. I thought, there's a positive in this, let's drive one, and then here we are. Well happy.