We’re back today with Josh’s second installment of coverage from the Bespoked Handmade Bicycle Show! Let’s jump right in below with more recapping and a gallery of beautiful builds from Prova Cycles, Clandestine, Black Sheep Bikes, Etoile Cycles, Dawley Bikes, Avalanche Cycles, Coal Bikes with Black Cat Custom Paint, Fahrradbau Stolz, and Sour Bicycles…
With the death of NAHBS this year, along with the precarious state of global economies, I was a little apprehensive about making the long journey over to London for Bespoked. The pandemic saw a sharp boom in the cycling industry, which begged the questions: 1) would there be a counter ensuing bust, and if not, 2) how much of that growth will be truly lasting on the handmade side? Would builders and component makers find value in showing up during these (continuing) uncertain times? I’m no expert—but even the experts seem to be having a hard time answering these kinds of crystal ball queries—but folks did show up to Bespoked and, in fact, packed the house.
To me at least, as an outsider looking in, I’d posit that there are a couple of reasons for the crowds packing the velodrome. First, the UK framebuilding community is tenacious. Anchored in large part by The Bicycle Academy (with so many builders having either learned or taught there), the Frome institute serves as a strong source of solidarity while spotlighting the amazing work being done in the UK, Europe, and beyond. Second, is the relationship between custom builders and mainstream cycling brands. In recent years, you might have noticed mid-to-high-end off-the-shelf bikes skyrocketing in price, a trajectory that has caused prices to either bridge or even exceed the gap in cost between handmade and mass-produced. I don’t know about you, but if I had 14k quid to spend on a gravel bike, I’d choose custom-fit and handmade parts over stock alternatives any day. On the other end of the cost spectrum, though, are the builders looking to make relatively approachable products.
Take the Spoon Customs Sestriere, for example. It’s a fully custom scandium road bike, with a solid build kit, that’s selling complete for £5,100 (~$5,750). Additionally, the Dawley Activist full suspension pictured below will cost somewhere around £2,000-2,500 if/when it goes to market. That’s a solid pricepoint when you consider the design and production involved in making such a bike on a small scale. With more and more folks getting into cycling and/or wanting to upgrade their old rigs, bespoked bikes seem to be an increasingly viable and popular option now more than ever. Therefore it appears that shows like Bespoked will remain integral in promoting the folks crafting these frames and components by hand. And that’s good news to our ears.
I spent the bulk of my time at Bespoked scouting a suitable location to document a handful of bikes (easier said than done at a crowded tradeshow venue encircled by a track) and, then, actually doing the work of documenting them. Otherwise, I tried to connect with exhibitors looking for interesting and innovative products on display (more on that in a bit).
On the first day I was there, however, I was paired with ultra-distance cyclist Zara Bellos to determine an award winner for “best touring bike.” Awards for handmade bikes, which are essentially art pieces and each remarkable in their own right, are a bit silly to me. But let’s be honest, these kind of objective rankings are customary for these types of events because they provide a ceremony of sorts and—understandably—are engaging for the public. The Bespoked team did a really nice job diversifying the types of awards and the folks judging them. There were a lot of awards, spanning categories from Absolute Legend to Outstanding Contribution, and there was a strong attempt made to prevent it from being a bunch of cis white dudes awarding other cis white dudes. Each judge or group of judges presented three runners-up before announcing their category winner, which provided some interesting insights into their evaluation processes.
Zara and I walked the expo aisles first trying to determine what exactly defines a “touring bike” (which is a whole other internet rabbit hole) and then attempted to pick what we thought was the best one loosely based on our idea that it should be capable of multi-day rides and could carry plenty of gear. Interestingly, the one we landed on wasn’t at a builder’s booth per se, but rather the Clandestine build at the Wizard Works booth decked out in a full package of WW luggage. We were the first of a long list to present awards and were admittedly slightly caught off-guard to be given the task making our performance a little underwhelming in comparison to most of the other judges. One of my favorite award presentations was from the team in charge of Best Finish which ultimately went to the Quirk Cycles Mamator for VelofiqueDesigns‘ incredible work. A group comprised of artists and a professional finisher, they spent the entire day pouring over all of the bikes to compile their list. I highly recommend you read Ian Greyharbour’s account of the group’s experience. It’s amazing.
Bespoked 2022 Award Winners:
Best in show – Sturdy Cycles – Time Trial bike
Peers’ Choice – Prova
Best Road Bike – Avalanche (Judged by Jack Sexty and Richard Peploe from Road.cc)
Best Mountain Bike – Ra Bike – Ra 12 (Judged by Hannah Dobson from Single Track Magazine)
Best Off Road – Sideways – 29er salvage gravel bike (Judged by Kathryn Moore)
Best Touring Bike – Clandestine – Wizard Works Tourer – (Judged by Josh Weinberg and Zara Bellos)
SQ Labs Build Award – Clandestine – Tandem (Judged by Basti from SQ Labs)
Mike Burrows Award – Auckland Cycleworks – (Judged by Stuart from Bikefix)
Best Finish – Quirk Cycles – Suprachub (Judged by Ian Cole, James Kapper, Ted Rogers)
Bespoked SRAM Inclusivity Scholarship Award – Sideways
Best New Builder – Huhn Cycles – Trail Bike (Judged by TBA John)
Best cargo bike – Ten:07 – Unicorn (Judged by Patrick Fields)
Best Track Bike – Cicli Barco – Track Bike (Judged by Jesse from Track Nation)
Best City / Utility – World Bicycle Relief – Buffalo Bike (Judged by Dan from Cycling UK)
Outstanding Contribution – Mark Phillips from DCode Ltd.
Absolute Legend – Tom Nowell from Runlight Ltd.
As should be expected from a show called Bespoked, innovative building methods and lustrous finishes were two themes that permeated the expo aisles. Builders like Sturdy and Prova presented what’s becoming possible with additive manufacturing. Others, like Sour, Huhn, Perry, and Rå, and the Mert Lawwill adaptive bikes, for example, showed inventive and progressive designs for steel and titanium full suspensions. There was no shortage of classic styles and methods on display from builders like Donhou, Barco, Clandestine, Lord, and Feather, many of which are making their own forks, stems, dropouts, fenders, and other components.
How about those adjustable seatposts from Fish Fabrications!
And the finish work. WOW. Nearly every bike was finished beautifully in everything from anodized titanium to wet-painted masterpieces. Even the powder coatings were mind-blowing. The likes of Wizard Works, Brooks, and Tailfin brought the latest wares in racks and luggage, while Bear Frame Supply had some very interesting examples of machined bits like dropouts, axles, hangers, and tubing.
With plenty of chatter going around about how difficult it’s been to get parts as a small-scale builder, it was uplifting to see some of the larger cycling brands and event organizers stepping up to offer support this year. Partnering with the Bespoked team, SRAM expanded its Inclusivity Scholarship and broadened the application criteria to: “If you don’t see people like you, or work like yours represented in the cycling industry for whatever reason, then you are eligible to apply.” Four builders were chosen (Etoile, Avalanche, Sideways, and Saliter) and provided travel funds, accommodations, show expenses, and build kits for their bikes from SRAM’s catalog. SQLabs offered all exhibitors any of their inventory to use on show bikes and hosted a build-off among the builders using their products for a chance to win $1,000 cash. Schwalbe sponsored the Friday night afterparty that featured a collaborative beer with neighboring Howling Hops Brewery, which was the Kölsch-style Mullerd Mike named using Schwalbe’s nomenclature. They also featured all handmade bikes in their booth displaying various tire models. Bespoked sponsored the Ultra Distance Scholarship with a free booth to help in promoting their cause and also a booth for Lazarus and 7R in helping bring awareness to Ukrainian brands at the show.
Both Friday and Saturday concluded with eventful after-parties. On Friday, a healthy-sized crowd from the show gathered at Howling Hops to sample Schwalbe’s Mullard Mike beer and enjoy delicious Sri Lankan food from Kottu House. On Saturday night, Ted James led us out of the Velo Park down to Patchwork Pizza where he and Manny Gabriel sessioned the indoor mini ramp while we all ate pizza and decompressed from the packed days.
…then Josh and Petor serenaded us with the sweet sounds of gabber and house…
Now, let’s take a look at another group of amazing builds from the show!
Prova Cycles Hardtail MTB
This MTB is an iteration of the Ripido model we make with a conventional or pinion drivetrain. The bike is a test bed for some new designs for us, mostly in the dropout area. We currently use a few different dropouts on the mtbs and pinion framesets, so this is a design that will carry across that range and feature parts completely of our own design. They are sliding dropouts with the thru-axle creating the clamping force between the sliding inserts and dropout faces. There are adjuster bolts to help with tensioning. The brake mount is down low and the sliding insert locates radially on a titanium ledge with a pinch bolt. The overall aesthetic is intended to match the rest of the family.
The bike also features a prototype one-piece 780mm x 25mm titanium bar. This allows the front centre to be increased without having to reduce the headtube angle. The bars are tapered titanium, important for reducing stress where they connect to the stem just like a butted tube in a frame, and the “stem” is a 3d printed titanium part. This is the thickest titanium part we have ever printed!
The finish work is a matte green titanium anodise by Ninevoltcolour with a polished titanium logo and brushed back end. Other nice stuff includes the custom polished Intend fork, and custom titanium chainrings (want to try a chain on the pinion for summer) by Dward Design in the UK. See more from Prova Cycles here.
Prova Cycles Flat Bar Gravel-ish Bike
The Purple Haze Towne is our first all-titanium frameset including bars, post, and fork and it’s also the first Prova for Kelly. We have built it as a bike for her to commute around Melbourne using many of the bike paths and gravel tracks with provision for fenders for next winter and rack mounts so she can use a front bag. The frame is based on our popular Mostro gravel frame but swapped out the usual dropbars for a custom bull-nose titanium flat bar. The stem lug is a printed part to our own design and the tubing is all 22.2 titanium with the bull-nose shape doing the job of reducing stress at the stem interface.
The fork is a collab with Tom Sturdy and features a distinctive shape made possible using additive manufacturing. It is made of three titanium parts welded in the low stress area mid fork and a carbon steerer bonded into a long and tapered double lap joint. The fork is a design study at this stage to look at the possible benefits to ride comfort that a slender steel fork can have while matching the aesthetic of our bikes. This first one is less than a taco heavier than the carbon fork usually specc’d on the Mostro.
The finish work is a team effort between Liam of NineVoltColour and Kelly. The colour is a matte anodising with the bottom of the frame matte raw titanium and the top brushed. The build includes the new Midnight Chris King colourway and an Ingrid drivetrain. The brakes are Formula Cura. See more from Prova Cycles here.
There’s always a sense, for me, that building bikes is a kind of lineage, a path cut for nearly 150 years. I’m not interested in some kind of historical re-enactment, but I like to reference classical bicycle design (top eyes, twin plates) even while building with flat mount brakes and all that modernity, leaving my fillets unfiled and finishing with powdercoat.
The brass wedge clamps were a detail I saw on some of the stems of another Bristol framebuilder, Robin Mather, who kind of passed the torch to me in one way or another. I took that idea and integrated them instead into the stem extension and top tube, to take another tiny step down that path.
This is a bike for long road rides at any rate, with room for a picnic or enough flapjack to go the distance. It’s geared non-macho low for the end of long days, with higher bars and full mudguards for comfort. There’s no pretense for racing: it’s an honest road bike, for a cyclist. See more from Clandestine here.
Black Sheep Bikes Lugged Ti Single Speed
This bike is meant to be the ultimate around town cruiser but still rugged enough to take on trails as well. It has a 70 degree head angle for quick steering as well as a 72 degree seat angle to put the rider further towards the back axle giving the bike a shorter wheelbase and making it nimble overall; its also great for wheelies. It is a klunker frame which was deliberately designed to have the top tube bend continue straight into the seat stays which also were made to run parallel to the down tube.
Keeping up with the klunker theme it also has a 1-piece bar stem built to mimic our klunker bar shape, complete with a crossbrace and matching pad. It is built up single speed with a 15t/17t Boone titanium dingle cog and tensions with our HACS telescoping chainstay system. In addition to the HACS it also has 2 belt splitters at the top of the seat stays allowing the entire rear triangle to be taken off for easy travel.
There are a handful of details on it that we haven’t put on other bikes before; this is the first lugged titanium bike we have made, they were all hand cut in the shop and everything is fully welded together. It also features a box yoke that was waterjet out of plate and welded together, it allowed us to dictate the exact tire and chainring clearance we needed; currently it has Schwalbe Nobby Nic 29×2.4’s mounted to the new Chris King Carbon mountain wheelset but it has clearance for up to a 29×2.8″.
It also features the Capo crankset and 32t Gecko ring from Leonardi racing. Complete with Magura MT7-HCW brakes it weighs in at 22.9LBS. See more from Black Sheep here.
Etoile Cycles Tricolour Step-through Picnic Bike
This is a lugged steel step-through frame adventure/picnic bike built for my wife. I only became aware of the SRAM Bespoked Inclusivity Scholarship in June of this year and I hadn’t built anything for nearly two years (covid lockdowns, travel restrictions, etc.) so this particular build was a bit of a rushed job. It was a privilege to be chosen as one of the four scholarship recipients, allowing me to help increase the visibility of people not usually represented at this kind of event, in the cycling industry and on bicycles.
Build details include: Columbus SL main tubes, Bear Frame Designs low mount dropouts, 1” steerer fork spinning on a vintage Shimano 600 headset, with Reynolds 853 disc blades, custom wishbone seat stays, hand-cut copper detailing, tri-colour powder coat finish. It has clearance for 2.4” tyres, or 2” with guards.
The front picnic rack is custom made, with integrated dynamo light fitting and cookpot/stove attachment. SRAM supplied the 12-speed kit that features X01 carbon cranks and Guide 4 piston disc brakes. Wheels are handbuilt by me, Hope pro2 rear hub, SP Dynamo front on Velocity Blunt SS 650b rims. See more from Etoile Cycles here.
Dawley Bikes Activist Full Suspension
The Activist is our first full suspension frame.It’s a big bike with big capabilities. Bike park laps, holidays in The Alps, race weekends or just hucking new lines in your local woods. The mid-pivot idler system is designed to keep you fresh when barraged by braking bumps and robust steel construction keeps it going lap after lap. Combined with the usual Dawley blend of stability and agility, this is a riders’ ride, handmade by a rider.
With the Activist, I wanted to create a feeling of more sensitivity in the suspension, particularly the top stroke. Because of the linear nature of the leverage curve found on most single pivots they usually aren’t as sensitive as a linkage operated bike with a progressive leverage curve.
But I also wanted to keep the simple, robust and versatile design of a single pivot. So I used a slightly higher pivot (not as high as others because I wanted all-round ability and not just a race bike) combined with more travel, and therefore a larger amount of sag, to create a feeling of sensitivity and plushness. Happily, this also meant I could used the idler pulley to manipulate the pedalling characteristic separately from the pivot location. See more from Dawley Bikes here.
Avalanche Cycles Gravel Bike
The customer brief for this bike was to have a gravel bike, with a randonneuse spirit. We think the painted mudguard bring out the randonneuse aesthetics. Geometry and components have been chosen to create a bike at ease on the road but also on gravel tracks and forest paths. The thru-axle dropouts are designed and manufactured by us at Avalanche, with removable dérailleur hanger and caliper support. These types of details allows us to be independent on the supply of these parts and to be able to troubleshoot our customers in the event of problems with these small parts.
The bike is equipped with a third bottle cage allowing long rides and travels, internal lighting routing for a dynamo in the future, and several inserts for positioning racks. We try to design our bikes for the use they suppose to have, but leave them open to many possibilities in the future.
We really enjoyed making this paint job with the idea to have a poetic camouflage, comprised of leaves and plants. See more from Avalanche Cycles here.
Coal Bikes Pony Hardtail with Black Cat Custom Paint
The frame is a handmade hardcore hardtail designed around 150mm fork built with reynolds 853 tubes by Gavin White of Coal Bikes in the UK. It’s long front center and short rear end ensure a very capable but play full ride.
This is my personal bike and my paint work for it was inspired by designs from the 90s. The 90s was the time I got into biking and spent a lot of time drooling over the top GTs of the day but sadly could never afford such a thing while still at school. For this project, I stripped the fork crown and had reproduction decals modified for them to make them look like the original Quadra 21 forks. The rest of the bike then followed suit with the retro paint with a twist. The Magura Raceline brakes, which are the same colour as the old rim brakes from back then, all topped it off with the obvious tan walls and a smashing of anodised purple color throughout. I’m so happy with how it turned out and I cant wait to ride it!
Fahrradbau Stolz Ferrari Randonneur
I built this “Ferrari blue” bike for a customer living in London who is cycling a lot all over the world.
The frame is entirely made out of original Reynolds 531 SL tubing (tubes had been made in the 70s in England). It has filled brazed joinings, completely chrome-plated, and then finished in a blue paint color from a 60s Ferrari.
The downtube shifting system for the Rohloff hub is the only one I have ever seen. It was specially designed for this customer and machined by us. See more from Fahrradbau Stolz here.
Sour Bicycles Customized Bad Granny
The Bad Granny is one of oldest models that started as part of the side project that Sour grew from. Nowadays, it’s a favourite model and feeds into our passion for welding frames in Dresden, Germany. This shred-commuter is from one of our production guys, Brainfart Industries Corp., or Flori, as we know him. Flori rubs the frame down every once in a while with some linseed oil to keep the patina up.
The EBB singlespeed build features his homemade “a little lighter than moto bars” 860mm steel bars with homebrew dropper remote and cold rolled moto-fender. The remote came about literally because he broke his old remote and wanted to ride the next day.
And that’s a wrap on our 2022 Bespoked coverage! Next year the show moves to Leipzig, Germany before returning to the UK in 2024. See you there!