GOING BESPOKE : THE IDEA
Steve Dyster's been being unusually free with the hard-earned. Here's why he has disturbed the moths in his wallet.
Wander round any bike show for an hour. Take in the range of machines that twenty years ago - even ten - few people would have envisaged. The simple fact is that today you get almost any bike you want, equipped for the job you want to do and ready to go.
With so much offered straight form the peg, why look elsewhere? There are craftsmen who will sit you on a jig, build a bespoke frame and equip it accordingly. You can go on line, browse and select size, colour, components and await delivery. You can have your own idea of what you want and how you want it equipped and what you want it to look like and have no idea how to make it work or fit in with your own little quirks - but someone may help you turn dream into reality.
I found myself in the latter category, with some money to spare and with a bike in mind; a bike for my kind of touring for many years of use.
Peter Bird and Rob Wade, owners of Bicycles By Design, are innovative businessmen; they are also artisans and teachers with long careers in the mystery of bike-building, renowned for expertise and quality. Having known Peter for a few years, it seemed to me that he not only had the knowledge to help me through, but knew me well enough to guide me in the direction I wanted to go, even when I could not see far ahead. Sentimental value, too. What could be better than riding a bike built by a skilled friend? Throw the Coalport location of their workshop into the mix and that sealed it. A modern steel bike built in the very gorge where iron met the industrial revolution on the banks of the River Severn, just a couple of miles from Ironbridge itself. Craftsmanship, friendship, sentiment and history; all enshrined in my idea of a bike.
A thirty-seven mile ride gets me from home to Coalport. You don’t have to visit at each stage, but you do need to discuss things regularly. Proximity has meant a quick trip to take a look at significant developments; face to face discussion is not essential, but frequent and detailed communication is. With unversed folk like me, the opportunity to point and say "This is the bit I am talking about," was probably a good idea.
So, one Saturday morning in 2016 I found myself sitting on the jig in an upstairs room in the John Rose Building next door to Coalport YHA. My task was happily simple; to maintain a steady touring cadence and to answer Peter’s questions. Adjusting length, height, measuring, top-tube, down-tube, bars, stem, and putting those questions whilst fathoming out the big picture was Pete’s job.
“Do you suffer lower-back pain on a long ride?” As it happened I did, putting it down to hamstring shortening and combatting it by standing in the pedals and pushing my heels down. “Is it mainly on the right?” Actually, it tended to be. “Your right leg has to extend further than the left.” Additional note - shorter right-hand crank. “We need to make the steerer tube a bit longer than usual to maintain your comfortable riding position without making the geometry look odd.” I had no idea, but knowledge is what I was forking out for, of course.
About half an hour later, we were having a coffee and discussing what sort of components might fit the job. Peter knew that I am a touring cyclist, who may do long distances, but rarely averages more than fifteen miles an hour over a long ride; at an age when I am unlikely to get any faster. We had already discussed my desire for a road touring bike that would do some rough stuff and that I liked drop-bars - all necessary for sizing on the jig. Maybe you ask if anyone would buy a steel racing bike these days - well, Peter recently built one and it came in below the UCI minimum. But that ain’t for me.
Another trait of mine, well known to Peter, is a penchant for tradition - hence the drop-bars on a tourer. A rake on the fork? Certainly. With disc-brakes? There’ll be a weight penalty to counteract the additional stress. Transmission? Rohloff? Belt drive? Chain and derailleur? Mudguards? Lugs? STI controls or revert to retro down-tube changers? At this point, there needs to be a pause.
Pete told me that there’d be a lengthy lead-in period; time to get things planned properly and others ahead of me in the queue. This will be pricey - and I do have a budget to adhere to - so let’s be sure. Time to think. Pete recommends compiling a scrapbook of the components buyers like the look of. Mind buzzed all the way home.
In the next few weeks I wondered if I really wanted a bespoke bike. Odd leg lengths could be sorted out in a few minutes on the internet for the cost of a few quid. I could buy a tourer with disc-brakes off the peg? Did I really want to spend all that money? My wife confirmed affirmative response, telling game that I deserved to have something special. Being wise, I looked her in the eyes and said that I already had, but I knew she meant my very own Swallow bespoke bicycle. Too late, if I was mistaken.
Have I become a bike snob? Don’t think so, hope not; I’ve ridden a 1993 Dawes Supergalaxy for years. At one time it was in such a poor state that people on one of Peter’s bike maintenance courses laughed as he went through the defects. In fact, it had done 8000 miles that year.
Will the Swallow be a museum piece? No, like all my bikes, it will be for riding. Longer tours, weekends and so on, not the daily commute. It will be looked after, but expect chips in the paintwork and replacement of parts.
Will it bring back my younger days? Most definitely not. Finger’s crossed, many years on from now, I’ll be bowling along, just like those wiry - not that I’ll ever be that - old chaps one sees breezing merrily along on almost any day of the week.
So, with a general idea, and several phone calls later, I confirmed a date for a chat about the frame and to discuss components. That turned out to be as great a pleasure as the initial session. Chatting with an expert, happy to share their knowledge, is fascinating.
So that was the philosophy and the start of the process. Next time, the Tech bit and the reasons why.
The bike will be on display at Bespoked, in April 2017 www.bespoked.cc
Make a weekend of it? There's great cycling all around - even into Telford (ideal for families that like parks - or to visit the industrial heritage sites that pepper the banks of the Severn. Plenty of accommodation and bike friendly! www.visitironbridge.co.uk/
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2017