Although I’ve struggled with a lifelong tendency to overcommit, I’m not a total megalomaniac. A few months ahead of this year’s Bespoked, I asked Josh to make the trip over from Arizona to London to cover the event while I (along with my business partner, another Josh, and an amazing team of volunteers) administered it. Running the show was already a massive feat, and I’d have done a disservice to both the show and the builders by trying to document it at the same time. Josh flew over and covered a huge number of bikes and builders with the diligence and dedication that they deserve (for a refresher, you can view those pieces here and here). It was cool to finally meet the guy on the other side of the emails, as we’d been working together for the better part of a year. During the show we were both focused on very separate tasks, but we made some time for a little road trip to visit the factory where Brooks England manufactures leather saddles, which is just outside of Birmingham in the little industrial town of Smethwick.
The Mamtor from Quirk Cycles is UK-based framebuilder Rob Quirk’s all-road model, designed for mixed paved and gravel riding with clearance for up to 700 x 38c tires. The Kintsugi-inspired Mamtor was one of our favorite bikes from this year’s Bespoked where it won “Best Finish,” and today, along with a brief glimpse inside Quirk’s workshop, Rob gives us a full rundown of this ornately-finished machine by Velofique Designs, accompanied by a gorgeous photoset from Nikoo Hamzavi. Enjoy!
From its crowd-funded origins in 2011,The Bicycle Academy (TBA) has arguably become the most influential framebuilding school in Europe. With names like Ted James, Robin Mather, Paul Burford, and Tony Corke of Torke Cycling, gracing the past and present roster of instructors, it’s no wonder that TBA has seen over 1,000 framebuilder graduates leave its halls.
TBA’s current space is a large, purpose-built warehouse with a semi-open plan on a labyrinth-like industrial estate just outside of the town center in Frome, England. Even with its spacious design, every corner is jammed full of amazing bits of work, every surface adorned with tools or momentos and every wall covered in paraphernalia that induces positive vibes. It’s a fortress for community building and the halls themselves seem built to foster forward-thinking, where shared mantras include, ”what good will I do this day” “make the new” and my personal favorite “flux is thicker than water”.
Many of the faces are TBA come and go—that’s, of course, the nature of a school—and the fluid shifting keeps the place brimming with energy and dynamism. But a few figures have become cornerstones of the institution. Below, let’s dive into some of the conversations I recently had with a few TBA long-haulers.
Since 1866, Brooks England has been making bicycle saddles in the UK. While their original facilities were located in Birmingham, the current factory is nestled in the industrial town of Smethwick.
We’ve all probably owned a Brooks saddle at one point in our life and can attest to their longtime comfort and character that develops from heavy use. Before a saddle ever touches a seat post, they begin as just raw leather and steel. The process by which they make the transformation to a bicycle saddle is complex, yet streamlined in their bustling factory.
Dozens of employees make Brooks England tick and each has their special task. While they will transfer stations every few months, a unique marker on the saddles can tell you who was doing what, when. This catalog of information spans decades and is what makes Brooks so unique. If something goes wrong with a batch, Brooks can asses the situation and make their end product better.
For me, the most interesting part of the process was talking to the workers and watching them move through their tasks with efficiency… In an age when Great Britain has shipped much of its industry overseas, it’s great to see heritage and craftsmanship are still alive at Brooks.
See more in the Gallery, as I walk you through this process.