Having been a regular exhibitor since 2014, I’m super excited to be running Bespoked for the first time this year. Bespoked is arguably one of the most fun and interesting bike shows on the planet because it centers on handmade bikes and their builders. Bikes designed and built around an individual and their use case scenario as they see it are always going to be fertile ground for discourse, throw in a huge number of capable and dedicated individuals ready to make that magic happen over and over again and you have yourself the makings of a fun weekend.
Building frames is a tricky business, and being small definitely doesn’t help, but in Bespoked I found community, friendships and a voice. The show lent itself to giving my framebuilding practice an annual cadence, it gave me the opportunity to share my work and see how people reacted to it in person, as well as giving me a rare opportunity to talk about it with other builders. It felt like a great tool, to stay excited about what I was doing and stay motivated to make better work each year, and an opportunity to see what everyone else was making. An opportunity to see where my work fits in culturally amongst the work of my peers, because by exhibiting alongside them builders like Johnny Coast, James blacksheep, and Tom Sturdy were my peers. There’s an honesty to seeing bikes in the flesh and talking to the people who made them in person that you just can’t really get any other way. I guess it’s reassuring to know other people’s shoulders hurt, or that their fingers bleed or that the silver flux stings their eyes. It’s reassuring to know that working alone doesn’t mean you’re working in a vacuum. Bespoked felt like a carrot, whereas many other aspects of frame building felt like a stick.
When I heard that the show’s previous owners were moving on to different careers and that the show would be sold, my overwhelming anxiety about the change was that the show would be bought by an events company, and that its focus would shift to growth and profits exclusively, and that it would lose sight of what makes the show unique and worthwhile: the makers. I’d hate the idea of framebuilders being priced out of the platform, freeing up space for larger manufacturers and it just becoming another homogenous bike show. I didn’t want the opportunities and motivation that the show offered me to no longer be available to other builders so, with my best friend and new business partner Josh we raised the money we needed and bought the show.
Taking apart what we’d bought, it was pretty clear that frame builders in the UK were having a hard time. Almost 20% of the framebuilders who showed at the 2018 show are no longer in business. So we’ve come into the show focused on addressing that issue by trying to make the show as easy and accessible as possible for builders and independent makers. Seeing this decline in hard numbers, we can’t then acknowledge how tricky the climate is for framebuilders (especially in the UK) right now without acknowledgment of the fact that some builders also face greater societal challenges in addition to the challenges that they face with their work and in their businesses.
With that in mind, Josh and I are super excited to announce the first Bespoked SRAM Inclusivity scholarship, building on the commitment SRAM have already made towards making the framebuilding space more inclusive with the PBE SRAM scholarship. The Bespoked SRAM Inclusivity Scholarship aims to remove some of the barriers that builders face from groups of people who are not currently represented by the cycling industry. It was really important for us to speak to some of the previous awardees of the scholarship to see what impact it had made to them, so that we could make a start on integrating the programme as part of the show in a meaningful way and to try and make the most of the opportunity to build real systemic change.
Danielle Schön is a builder whose work I’ve admired from afar for a long time. It’s fun, well executed and each frame somehow trumps the last in terms of craft and detail. Danielle was awarded the PBE SRAM scholarship in 2019, and after a bit of back and forth via instagram messages she explained her experience this way.
The maker’s journey is an arduous one – a long and winding road through peaks and valleys of the creative experience. Ups and downs, failures and successes, doubts and praise. There are many obstacles along the way. Bricks in the road – creative woes, technical learnings, financial hardships, finding ways and venues in which to display your work, managing the business and functional logistics of being an artist. These are bricks we can all stumble upon as makers. Now imagine that those are not the only bricks in the road. Add another to deal with the patriarchy on top of it all. Add another for racialized individuals. Add another for those who have faced generations of oppression. Add another for trying to access spaces as a disabled person. Add another if you exist outside of typical gender constructs. Add another for being underrepresented or not even represented at all in the trades or industry. Add a few more for being spoken over, not taken seriously, or written off before even being given a chance just based on who you are as a person, for not looking or acting like who is deemed to be the norm.
These bricks can be hard to see if you don’t personally encounter them on your own journey. It can be easy to say – there are bricks on my journey too, why should I have to remove the ones that don’t affect me? But imagine your own journey, with two times, three times, five times more bricks in the way. Would you be able to make it through? Could you even get started down the road? It is our responsibility as members of a community, and in society as a whole, to help break down barriers of those who have struggles beyond our own.
While “listening and learning” is great, actions are what contribute to making a difference. Enter SRAM and the Diversity Scholarship. One of the biggest players in the industry has stepped up to offer support in a myriad of ways – financial, logistic, technical, media, and community support. By championing an initiative to bring marginalized builders to the forefront, providing a platform and media opportunities, Bespoked and SRAM are committing to removing barriers and advocating for better representation in the framebuilder community. Having the support of both SRAM and the Philadelphia Bike Expo gave me such encouragement and freedom to focus my energy on the craft I pursue. Having industry leaders create and broadcast purposeful space for myself and my scholarship-mates was a growth experience that I’ll always be grateful for. Connecting with people who share the same views and goals for the industry brought about a new sense of excitement, belonging, and community that helped break down the feeling of being an outsider.
I know it’s bleak having a white woman as an offering to a diversity scholarship. If anything, it shows truly how much work needs to be done for better representation in the framebuilder community. This is why I hope that in continuing this initiative, growing its support and reach year by year, it can start to effect change in waves through the Framebuilder community and bike industry. I look at it in a compounding way – with more BIPOC builders, more builders that are part of marginalized communities at large, the narrative can be shifted. More points of view can be broadcast through the community we all seek to advocate for. And in turn, those challenges of the status quo, the viewpoints, and the representation will create more of the same. I hope that soon we can see a truly diverse community representation at every level, from builders to teachers to media moguls to brand execs. The image is on the horizon, and we can get there – by removing as many bricks as we can along the way.
Guy Stone of Relstone Cycles works as an accountant and builds complex lugged mountain bike frames in the minutes of spare time he has between his job, and his main interest in life, hanging out with his kids. Via a video call he showed me his garage where he builds frames alongside his two workshop tortoises. Guy designs frames out of his head, and works things out on paper when he needs to, and often involves his family in the process. When we met he’d just finished preparing a bottom bracket shell for brazing with his daughter while they waited for the school bus together.
I asked guy about his experience of being a sram scholarship awardee at PBE, and what it meant to him in real terms
Participating in a custom bike show is cost prohibitive for many small framebuilders. Sram removed those barriers for me. In addition to providing a component group for my show bike, Sram provided travel, lodging and booth space for the show. Without the help from Sram I wouldn’t have even considered participating in the show.
The 2021 Philly Bike Expo was an experience of a lifetime. I had the opportunity to meet so many cool people that are passionate about bikes. In addition many of my family members and Friends also came to the show to support me. It is so cool that my Children will have memories of their Dad at the Philly Show. I also made many important contacts at Sram and met many other industry insiders. There were several photo shoots and interviews that were published. This wasn’t only great for getting Relstone Cycle’s name out there but it also helped me to open OEM and industry accounts that are essential to framebuilders success.
Having received this leg up, Guy is already focused on giving back to his community with Project VA dedicated to building bikes for veterans around their specific bodys where they’ve been injured as a way to help them cope with PTSD.
Chatting to Guy was a breath of fresh air, there was nothing of pretense about his practice, his ear to ear grin through a lot of our conversation was indicative of his enjoyment of the journey he’s on through building frames.
Increased diversity also brings different perspectives and drives innovation. I am very excited that Sram has stepped up to support framebuilders while increasing diversity at the Bespoked Show. I felt some pressure to show up with something good. My recommendation is to not worry about trends or try to imitate what others are doing. Stay true to yourself and build a bike that is in your style. I chose to build a lugged steel mountain bike. Unconventional construction methods and geometry definitely generated quite a bit of discussion.
As a builder that is primarily self-taught I found that I didn’t share the language that many framebuilders in the industry speak. I don’t use design software, a frame jig or machine tools. My process utilizes simple hand tools, a pencil drawing and a relatively flat piece of kitchen countertop. Even though my process was different from most, the end result was the same, a handmade custom bike. My process relies heavily on visualizing the bike I am designing in my “Mind’s Eye.” If I can visualize it, I can usually figure out how to build it. I used the experience as an opportunity to learn from others and open my mind to different ways of designing bikes. As a result I am working on making several changes to my process this year.
I wish you the best of luck as you apply to the Sram Inclusivity Scholarship for the Bespoked Show. As one of the premier shows in the world I am sure that it will be a great experience. The London venue is going to be so cool. Most importantly enjoy the process and have fun!
Framebuilders, all framebuilders, need support from the cycling industry. Nobody needs hoops to jump through, gatekeepers or something to push against, that’s the situation at its best, so we’re aiming to support people experiencing it at its worst. I also spoke to PBE SRAM scholarship awardee, Jaqueline of Untitled Cycles. Jacqueline’s work represents a unique approach to bicycle design combining a love of fine art with years of experience working at breadwinner bikes in portland.
The most important thing For me was that the scholarship felt like the seed for building community. I had known about Megan Dean and Danielle Schön and Julieanne Pedalino and that was pretty much all the women builders I could name at the time, and I was showing with them! I had been watching their work but it was great to really connect with them you know? That felt really special. The community aspect of it.
Why do you think that the majority of builders are white men?
Representation is a double edged sword: when you’re the first one doing anything then you’re the one that’s subject to all the microaggressions. You’re forging a new path, you have to put up with all the bullshit and that can be hard because there’s no one around to talk to about the barriers that are specific to being the only one. So it’s hard to be the first one. Since the last three years I’ve seen and met other trans frame builders.
Who?! I haven’t!
The person doing the most amazing work is Em who’s based in vancouver canada and she does wzrd bikes. She is just making bikes left and right and doing really incredible work. She is partnered with someone who does all the artwork and painting for her bikes so it’s a really interesting collaboration. I’m trying to think of who else? There are a couple of other people I know of who I think are not out as much, or they don’t advertise that they are trans on their instagram accounts. But yeah, check out wzrd bikes! I think that you’d like their work.
I’ll check them out! What barriers do you see for new framebuilders that potentially this scholarship could help remove?
I have a theory that a lot of framebuilders have a higher income earning partner in their household who isn’t them, or they have passed on generational wealth or something. I think that class is a huge barrier, and that’s a thing that I notice with a lot of framebuilders is that they have some other way of surviving in that initial period where it’s so hard. I don’t know how it used to be, but from experience I feel that there are so few opportunities to learn framebuilding in a structured way and then also follow it up with doing your own work. Most people don’t have access to a metal shop after they complete a course at the bicycle institute or you know wherever they might go. Here in the US there’s not that many custom builders who are hiring. Even in Portland where there’s a lot of builders, my position was very fortunate being able to work at Breadwinner. The positions are so few and far between to get an apprenticeship. You know it’s not hard to build a frame under someone, while they’re holding your hand throughout the process, but to do different frames, there’s so much to learn. I think the learning curve is steep, and I think access to tools and materials is difficult.
The inclusivity scholarship that I got from SRAM was really helpful. There are many steps between building your first frame, however you do that, whether it’s through a class or if you’re self taught, and becoming established and being able to build in whatever capacity, whether that’s professional or as a hobbyist.
It’s a tricky thing to integrate into something lasting and meaningful and not having access to wealth can be a massive barrier. It’s something we’re trying to address with the wording of the Bespoked SRAM scholarship which is if you don’t see people like you or work like yours in framebuilding then you’re eligible to apply.
I like that.
So I guess we’d like to be able to involve people from less privileged financial backgrounds because that’s a huge barrier. Especially in the UK where space is so expensive. It would also be great to see people with neurodivergence for example applying for whom framebuilding is such a suitable line of work for, however I don’t really see any openly autistic framebuilders. There’s definitely a few that I’ve spoken to who are like “keep this under your hat, I actually have autism” and I guess it just makes me really sad that that’s something that people feel ashamed of or even just that they can’t share.
I can relate to that. I hardly put my face on my instagram, like I hardly put myself as a person on my instagram, I try to put my work first and its because im really worried that I’m going to be judged by all these more established builders for being given the leg up for just my identity and not for the quality of my work. So I guess my politics and my personality are sort of secondary to my work. I feel like the times are changing, and I don’t need to be shy that I’m trans, but it is something I do withhold a bit. That’s why wzrd bikes are awesome, Em is awesome because she sheres who she is, they’re all about trans liberation and all this stuff. You know like ACAB and all that is just right up front and she’s doing pretty well it looks like. I think I need to be personally a little less you know, keeping my identity under wraps.
For me one of the hardest things is walking into a room and literally not seeing anyone who looks like me. Sometimes people are like ‘we’re trans inclusive’ but then you walk into that space and you’re like ‘i’m literally the only trans person here’ and that can be difficult. It goes back to the thing about representation. So like someone has to stick their neck out on the line to make headway and to be that trans person in the room for the next person to come in and be like ‘oh there are other people that i can relate to who share a similar struggle or experience to me.
I guess that’s why it’s super beneficial for us to talk to you about the scholarship because visibly from the UK at this point you’re the only trans builder that I see, and i guess i first saw your work because of the PBE scholarship. The UK is definitely a step behind the US in that respect. The scholarship is going to be available for anyone in the world to apply to, so I guess we just have to spread the word as far as we can to try and reach people.
If you search hard enough there are people who just don’t have the resources to get their name out there yet but they’re there. They’re interested, they’re learning, they just don’t have the platform yet to be known as someone who’s starting out. I feel like building community and having mentorships is a really important part of it. I think trying to put people in touch withopune another so they can chat and ask eachother questions thats not the fucking frambuilder chat on facebook or some shit. That’s important. Focusing on building community is what’s going to make the programme sustainable and grow.
I guess that’s another thing that’s really important to us is that the people who we award the scholarship to are given further opportunities and that they can stick around and that we see them again at future shows. You said that the scholarship connected you with Julie Pedalino and Danielle Schön and it helped you build your community. Was that just through the scholarship or were you all linked up beforehand?
We were linked up beforehand in a way that if I reached out over instagram or something to be like ‘hey would you talk to me ‘, but at this point we’re all in group texts and thats great because we can vent to eachother if some fucked up shit is happening or even if we just have questions for eachother which is really important.
Bespoked is a really engaging and diverse show in so many ways already, attracting builders and visitors from all over the world. The Bespoked SRAM inclusivity scholarship is a great start to making the show more inclusive but it’s still just the first pedal stroke of a grand tour. Josh and I are working towards showing the best work out there, and that’s only possible if we can build a space in which everyone feels valued and welcome. If you’re interested in applying, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org!