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Technical & Maintenance

Handmade Bikes | The Art Is Far From Dead

There was a time, back in the early 90’s, when there was a frame builder in every town. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but there were loads of them…

From Dirt Issue 124 – June 2012

Words by Ed H. Photos by Ed H.

Then before we knew it the vast majority were shutting up shop. The reasons are varied; some of it was down to everyone jumping on the booming mountain bike bandwagon (which actually turned out not to be so big), then there was the bigger companies becoming even bigger, and perhaps the final nail in the coffin for many was the mass acceptance of full suspension, something that most frame builders didn’t feel comfortable tackling. Now though we seem to be witnessing a resurgence in the once dying art of handmade bike building…

The second Bespoked Bristol show went ahead in March and I was pretty blown away with what I saw. Last year’s show was good, but this year it was on a whole different scale, it must have been at least five times the size, if not more. There were a few names there like Chas Roberts who were around in those early days, but it was the number of new names that really surprised me. Judging by the number of fixies at the show that trend has obviously encouraged more people to fire up their torches, but there was still a good number of mountain bikes on show, perhaps reflecting the rekindling of many riders love affair with the hardtail. My favourite easily had to be the ‘29Gnar’ from Ted James Design Ltd. Ted only finished putting together the gearbox equipped hardcore 29” hardtail at 4am the night/morning before the show, and it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Mad Max film. The fact that it sat alongside an exquisitely finished ladies town bike that he’d also created just made it even more special.

I think a lot of riders don’t get the whole handmade thing, they just think they’re excessively expensive and that anyone making them is making a fortune. From my experience though that couldn’t be further from the truth. I know a couple of well–known frame builders and despite being described as highly successful at what they do, both of them barely make a living from it. They do it simply because they love doing it, and I think that’s probably the same for any frame builder, even the superstars of the game.

So what are you paying for then? Well I suppose it’s difficult to put into words, I think it’s just one of those things that you either get or you don’t. You could liken it to buying a table from Ikea or getting carpenter to build you one. One has soul, individuality, true craftsmanship and passion running through it, the other doesn’t but does the job. It might sound strange to some of you, and I can’t really explain it, but if I know who has made a bike that I am riding then it always feels that bit more special than one off a production line. If you’re with me on that though then make sure you make it to next year’s show, you’ll love it.

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