GOLDHAWK BIKES: PURPOSEFUL PASSION THAT'S RIGHT UP OUR STREET
Michael Stenning nipped down to London, for a chat with Jeff Rutland about Goldhawk bikes, their ethos and this sprightly road and urban machine. Spoiler alert, at £1400 for the complete bike, Michael nearly ordered one, on the spot!
Jeff Rutland has an enviable track record, in various genres of design & engineering, including oil exploration and aircraft. He’s also had a lifelong passion for two wheels, with and without engines.
His route into the profession, is slightly old school but in a very favourable sense. He served a four-year apprenticeship and then, studied for an engineering degree. Like many of us, building a frame, let alone building a bike brand, from scratch is a dream.
The ethos underpinning Goldhawk is bikes is quite straightforward. A fast, agile, fun ride; well thought out and proven spec, unique, crisp aesthetics. Then there’s the sense of owning something small scale and boutique, yet affordable. Turning all this into a reality, is an entirely different thing.
MS: So Jeff, how did Goldhawk Bikes Come about?
JR: I was the engineering Director of an oil tech company. A rewarding and lucrative role, but it meant being away from home up to six months a year. Introduce children to the equation and something had to change. Fortunately, the stars aligned at the right moment and I seized the opportunity to follow my passion for cycling.
MS: “So how did you decide upon the Rodax concept and ultimately, present form?”
JR: “Essentially, I created and built the bike I always wanted. It brings together good design, components and styling in a versatile, practical and affordable machine that’s rewarding to ride, The sort you’re forever finding excuses to ride- everywhere but don’t get palpitations when locking up in the street.”
MS “That’s a pretty tall order but certainly explains the choice of Reynolds 520. One that’s often wrongly regarded as a “low rent” OEM tubing. Partly because its produced under licence, in Taiwan. Qualities including resistance to minor dings, responsiveness, weight and overall cost means 520 is an obvious choice?”
JR: The debate around tubing can get very opinionated, but it’s important to consider the wider picture when making material choices. You need to think not only about the frames’ intended use, but also how its manufactured. Picking a ‘bigger’ Reynolds number does not imply a better design! 520 is 525 made under licence in Taiwan and subject to the same quality standards. Our frames are made in Taiwan, so it makes perfect sense to use locally sourced material. We use a ‘boutique’ manufacturer recommended to us by Reynolds themselves and our frames are ISO tested to Race standards, so all in all, it’s a very high quality product and gives us the stiffness and characteristics we wanted."
MS “How many prototypes did you build before settling on the present specification, and geometry?”
JR: This is probably Mk5. There are no short cuts in the R&D process, especially when it comes to adding real road miles to a design and the time it takes to make a prototype. Early versions were made by re-working existing frames. My welding is poor, but I struck gold when I found a welder who had worked with Brompton some years ago. I also purchased a few complete machines which were stripped for their parts and then it was simply a matter of racking up 8000+ miles!'
MS “There is always the risk of getting too close to a project and bias taking hold, positive, or otherwise”
JR “Very much so and there’s always a balance between being confident in your product and blinkered to its shortcomings. Ultimately though, Goldhawk is all about having personality, both in terms of performance and the aesthetics. It’s not radical, so I think there’s a broad appeal, but I wanted to bring certain elements together that you might not find on a more generic product.
The appeal both as a producer and for my customers is that I make bikes that reflect how I want it done, not some marketing department. There’s always a risk that you can get it wrong, but I ride my own machines everyday and listen to my customers, so am constantly looking for improvements."
MS “There is a perception among some that frames are badge engineered. Bought in volume from Taiwanese factories. Separated only by different braze ons, decals and paintwork.
JR “Not so with Goldhawk. As already mentioned, the frame is made in Taiwan, but to my design and made to order in small batches. Taiwan is still the #1 bike manufacturing country and the factory we use employs more quality inspectors than I’ve ever seen, and that includes back when I was manufacturing aircraft."
MS “Presumably, given your background, devising the correct geometry and characteristics was relatively straightforward, in the mathematical sense?”
JR “True to a point. I use a very high end 3D CAD (computer aided design) package to set out the frame geometry, but it would be inefficient to use it for the components. For that, I use BikeCAD Pro, which is an incredible product. I can dial in dimensions for stems, posts etc that allow me to end up with the final design much quicker. I also liaise with the factory to make sure that what I’ve created can actually be made. “
MS “You’ve made no secret of favouring flat bars and there’s obvious merit, especially in urban contexts. Any intention of offering a flared drop bar version/sibling?”
JR “At some point yes, but my personal conclusion is that for the type of ride I wanted from Goldhawk (fast, but agile and with optimum braking), a flat bar is best. I know some people will want a drop bar and I’m looking at the geometry, but it takes time, so it will come later."
MS “There is an economic reality, that we only get what we pay for. Given the standards of workmanship and general specification, I’m guessing you’ve kept costs competitive by starting with three sizes, Small (54cm) Medium (56cm) and large (58cm). Playing devil’s advocate, the Rodax is biased towards taller, dare I say, male riders?"
JR “Yes and no. The sizes we will stock long term is a learning process and to avoid making costly inventory errors, decided on just the three sizes to begin. As we learn from our customers, so the range may change. I’m not sure I agree about male biased though (laughs). Two of my recent customers have been women. One has a medium and one a large. The large bike is currently on an adventure from London to Cologne, some 380+ miles, so I must be doing something right!"
MS: “Goldhawk and Roadax are interesting brand and model names. What’s the story behind them?”
JR “All very simple really. I’ve just always thought Goldhawk is such a great word. Something about it resonates. When the time came to change the working title of the project to the brand name, I happened to be cycling down the Goldhawk Road near where I live, and it just hit me. The Goldhawk Road is fast, but you need your wits about you. It sums up the ethos behind the bike and was a genuine Eureka moment.
Rodax is similarly straight forward. If I’m taking the same route on my daily ride to the office, I often race against the clock (conditions permitting) in ‘Audax’ style. Because I do it on London’s Roads, I just blended Road and Addax!"
MS “Gearing is a very personal thing and widely spread 1x11 configurations are becoming popular. I notice the frame retains the front mech cable guide…”
JR “It does, and I toyed with removing it, on aesthetic grounds. Ditto the rear brake bridge. However, this gives customers the option of taking that route, should tastes, or circumstances change.”
MS “Am I right in thinking there’s also more to this two-piece crankset, than meets the eye”
JR “There most certainly is. I’m a huge 1x11 fan. I could talk for hours on why and how it’s the perfect fit for Goldhawk, but maybe another time. To keep it brief, the 11-36 cassette is great, but SRAM don’t make the all important narrow/wide design larger than a 42t. To achieve a more road like gearing and keep the chain line more central, I needed 48t. I’d already sourced the rather lovely two-piece crankset from another small supplier and then persuaded them to make a 48t narrow/wide just for Goldhawk. To compare it to a conventional ‘compact’ arrangement, 1st is one ‘down’ from 1ston 34t/28t and 11this one ‘up’ on 50t/11t.”
MS “I appreciate its very difficult to plan, further than twelve months ahead. That said; where do you see Goldhawk bikes, say 5 years down the line?”
JR “My vision is to grow the brand, but keep it small and personal, with maybe 5 or 6 staff. I enjoy the hands-on approach, but am hopefully not building each and every bike myself in a years time! There are plans to take on an apprentice as they would learn not only bike building, but also design and manufacturing. It was how I started my career and this country badly needs home grown talent.”
JR “Turning the tables a moment, what in particular drew you, to the Roadax?”
MS “Aside from the do-all cyclo-cross-esque geometry, it’s the high standard of detailing, which also keeps the bike practical. Proper mudguard mounts mean you can scoot to work, or other business in smart clothes. Without sporting a credibility sapping “racoon strip” across your back."
Generous clearances at the forks and rear triangle, not only permit the use of tubby touring rubber but spiked “snow” tyres, when things get seriously wintry. Four-point carrier fixings mean it can morph from weekday workhorse to weekend tourer.
Disc braking is becoming mainstream, from TT bikes to touring Lorries and for good reason.
However, they’re perfectly suited to the concrete jungle and (bar general servicing, or hose damage), hydraulics systems pretty much fit n’ forget. I like the aesthetics of hub gearing but there’s a weight penalty and punctures are more involved, so the sensibly geared 1x11 derailleur setup is another clean, practical choice.
MS (Noticing dusk creeping closer and diesel strength coffees done…) “One last thing, for now. (looks wistfully at the Goldhawk tethered to railings) How quickly can we get one to play with?”
JR “Hopefully we’ll have one ready for you, in the New Year. That one’s spoken for!”