FREEDOM BY DESIGN
BICYCLES BY DESIGN AND THE DURATEC FREEDOM
Anyone who cycles knows the sense of freedom it brings: commuting, gravel, single track, touring, popping down the pub, racing. This is different, no less freedom to go where you like, but freedom and flexibility in a bicycle, by design. Steve Dyster and others, went to ride the Duratec Freedom, another innovative development by Peter Bird, of Bicycles by Design, in Coalport, way down in the Severn Gorge.
Let Peter Bird, bicycle designer, builder, and entrepreneur explain. “I talk to a lot of people about buying bicycles.” That is very true, because whether it is a bespoke Swallow, a customised Ironbridge, a tandem for travelling around the world, or an E.Bike, Bicycles by Design don’t just want to sell you a bike; they want to sell you the right bike for you. So, dialogue is the order of the day.
“What I became aware of during these conversations was that people were getting a bike now, but were already thinking of an E.Bike in the future, or it seemed to me that they were heading down that road,” Peter told me. At that point, the Freedom became a twinkle in the eye.
E.Bikes have become a feature of the range on sale at Bicycles by Design, and Peter’s been impressed by the Neodrive (Neodrive) e-assist motor. So, why not design a bicycle that is set up to go anywhere, with a bespoke frame, options for the drive train and other components, designed with a direct drive motor in mind? Yet, one potential customer was seeking an E.Bike set up first, to become a regular go-anywhere bicycle for an off-grid multi-month tour in a couple of years.
How does that work? The answer lies in innovation, trust, partnership, and evolving ideas amongst quality manufacturers of bicycles and components.
Key to the concept is a fourteen-year working relationship with Czech bicycle builders Duratec. Pete said, “They are great to work with, and the Freedom would not be possible without them.” Duratec work in aluminium or carbon – Bicycles by Design are steel specialists, high quality and low volume.
Interestingly, the Freedom frame will sport Duratec decals, but the Czech company won’t be marketing it. It’s only available through Bicycles by Design. Good news is that Peter is an affable fellow who listens to potential customers and employs his encyclopaedic knowledge to get them the bike they want. Prices start around £4000. Just remember, this is a bike built to last, with a bespoke, high-quality frame, choice of components, gearing systems that can be almost maintenance-free, all built with expert advice – you can expect it to last - and when those knees start creaking (if you wait that long), the e-assist conversion will assist many more years of cycling.
Coming out of discussion between Peter and his Czech counterparts was the provision of an interchangeable drop-out for running direct drive e.assist or conventional rear wheels. That’s how the vision of future-proofing against the ravages of age and miles has become reality.
Commute, leisure, utility, tour, multi-surface, go-anywhere, you get the idea? You won’t be seeing it in the Tour de France, or even the club TT: nor single-track at speed, although I know one eccentric who loves to take on red routes on an old Supergalaxy.
An upright riding position with wide Jones bars and 27.5” tyres, our ride was very much along the lines of a modern touring machine (fogeys, such as I, still think of drop-bar tourers). Hydraulic disk brakes, pinion gears, gates carbon drive, and a Neodrive motor fitted in the rear hub. Of course, there are other options, and these are listed below. For traditionalists, it was nice to note that it actually looks like a bicycle. Peter looked at me knowingly, “No, you cannot have a rake on the front forks.”
Having only ridden E.Bikes with mid-drive motors before, I have to say that the Neodrive was quite a revelation. It works slightly differently to mid-drives. Its 45 newtons of torque are mid-range, but it remains constant when the motor is active (i.e. when pedalling at under 15.7mph). In mid-drives, switching modes switches the power. With the Neodrive the level of assistance changes. Peter had mentioned that this, in his opinion, gave a smoother ride, without the little surge one gets with some mid-drives. I’d agree.
The pinion gears seemed to fit nicely with this, giving a wider choice – at additional weight – than hub gears. Transmission was through a Gate’s Belt – durable, easy to clean. Control of the pinion gears came courtesy of a twist gear next to the grip. This was the cause of some discussion. This is the only
Direct drive or rear hub e.assist motors such as the Heinzmann and the Neodrive are not cheap, but similarity in appearance to much cheaper products. They are designed never to overheat and suddenly burn-out or go AWOL. With many years of development and engineering excellence behind them, they are very different to some financially tempting models which appear on-line.
There are also retrofit e.assists, such as Swytch. These can be quality products, but are more limited in some ways, mileage per charge, for example. I am reliably informed – thanks Peter – that, in the bike business, such models are described as “retro-fit.” That is taken to mean that they can be installed by the customer. Neodrive is not “retro-fit” in that sense: it requires “conversion” by a qualified mechanic.
control compatible, at present, and not everyone loves twist grip changers. However, this version is easier on the wrist, so when cruising, which the Freedom is ideal for, there’s no issue for me. Gear changing was absolutely precise and sharp, too; another difference from “twist-grips we have known in our youth.” Peter says that getting the initial cable set up is a priority.
E.assist is powered on and off and toggled through by a simple switch. Like this the display was clear and intuitive enough for me not to have to seek advice form a teenager.
All this made for smooth and comfortable cruising. We managed to get up to 28mph on the flat, using the assist as a launch pad.
The Jones bars were described, unkindly, by one tester as the “ugly bars.” No accounting for taste, you might feel; aesthetic values are in the eye of the beholder, and others like the look. Even, this same critic had to admit to their comfort and functionality. Another noted that one could fit masses of tech on them. The latter was me, who has very little tech, but it would, nonetheless, be true. Matters of taste to one side, bars would be your choice.
By the time we returned we were convinced that this was a really good bike for “our kind of cycling”, and, future-proofed would give many, many years of fun riding, wherever we went.
In an age of built-in obsolescence, a concept that offers future proofing for your investment is thoroughly refreshing. Growing out of discussions with cyclists, it is also testament to its creator’s willingness to respond. Freedom of choice, freedom for the future, all by design.
For more info visit https://www.bicycles-by-design.co.uk
Apart from the fact that the bespoke Duratec frame will be made of high-quality aluminium, there’s a lot of choice – not just the colour. There are three drive train options; pinion gears with Gates belt drive and Neo-Drive; Shimano Deore 10 or 11 speed with Neo-Drive and chain.; or Rohloff hub gear, with Gates belt drive and front e.assist Heinzmann motor.
Tyre size is 2.5 max, but down to 1.75 with mudguards, although it may be possible to go up to two inches.
Currently, Magura disc brakes are the norm, but that, like other components, can be a matter of choice in conversation with Peter.
What if you cannot abide aluminium? Well, the options can be replicated on Bicycles by Design’s own steel Ironbridge range. The big difference? Ironbridge frames are not bespoke, but are available in lots of sizes. I am sure it would be possible to have a bespoke Swallow built along similar lines.
PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 2021