With a longing that can only come from the anticipation of seeing a selection of the UK’s best handmade bikes up close, last weekend I went to visit the Bespoked Bristol Cycle show. Unlike most other cycle shows which are dominated by the big cycle brands, this smaller independent show celebrates the handmade frame builders, component makers and clothing providers available in the UK. Since its inception back in 2011, this friendly, certainly less commercial show, has grown to become staple of the bike calendar for any true enthusiast who is as excited by lugs as a great frame finish.
On entering a show like this is a bit like being a kid in a toy shop; with interesting stalls at every turn. There are brands you have heard of but never usually get except online, or on the other hand, brands that are new to you but have interesting takes on established tradition In fact, I was expecting to see a lot of fixie/hipster bikes but actually it was mainly traditional road bikes in modern materials with gears and even two brakes on display.
The first stall I ventured into was Vulpine where I got to speak to a very friendly lady called Jools about some of their products. It was good to get a feel of the materials, the jackets look excellent, and I really like the magnet closure on the pockets. It was clear why they have garnered excellent reviews from a variety of sources. The merino t-shirts looked very nice in the 2013 colourways. All stocked / coming soon to the www.alwaysriding.co.uk shop of course.
I also got to speak with Remy Clemont of Cafe du Cycliste who was launching their 2013 range at the show. I was particularly taken with his Josette jersey which is wind and waterproof. Not designed for high summer but in cooler conditions paired with arm-warmers and a base layer this would be a very versatile jersey. The windproofness would save you carrying newspapers to the top of your local cols for the descent. I was also sold on their cycling gilets which had a back opening which allows you to get into your jersey pockets to grab that energy gel whilst riding.
After spending some time in the apparel area, it was high-time to talk bikes, and what better way to start than by seeing Woodelo, which were one of 3 companies making frames from wood (Souplesse and Flat Frame Systems were the others). Woodelo are based in Tipperary, Ireland, and their frames are made of local ash and aimed primarily at the high performance end of the market. Makers Liam and Daniel claim they are a very comfortable ride. Nice spec such as Enve forks and shown with Campagnolo groupsets but all frames are built individually and can be specced as required. Very impressed but £2,200 for a frame is a lot of money. Interested rides can visit their site at: www.woodelo.ie
Next to Woodelo was Olly Webb of DMO Frameworks. Olly has built his frame in his spare time and is looking to build around 10 frames a year – the exact opposite of big bike business production. His bike is a 29er mountain bike built for multi-day adventures. After a tour of Wales his first target is the 430 mile Highland Trail race in Scotland next month which I am also competing in. DMO can be found online through their site at: www.dmoframeworks.blogspot.co.uk.
Olly’s bike was adorned with Wildcat Gear custom bags and harnesses and as I stepped next door I bumped into Ian and Beth Barrington who are the makers of Wildcat Gear equipment – www.wildcatgear.co.uk. Like me, they were just looking around, and told me their bags could also be found on the Oak Cycles stand which won best touring bike in show award (they are online at: www.oakcycles.com). Beth mentioned she was very busy and expected to be even busier after the show. Ian will also be riding the aforementioned Highland Trail Race.
I also had a close look on the Saffron Frameworks stand at the bike Matthew Sowter built for Mike Hall. Mike won the World Cycle Race last year averaging 200 miles a day for his record breaking circumnavigation of the globe. This bike was a singlespeed with a few interesting touches – look at the seat-tube on the pictures It can also be converted to a belt-drive if required. Nice.
Perhaps the frame builder that tempted me most was Donhue, who were showing one bike built for a client that had a 104 Royce tooth chainring which is hoped will be able to reach a whopping 100mph! They also had a lovely 853 Pro Team framed bike for a client in a ‘John Player Special’ colour scheme and another with a rack built on. I could have been tempted to consider ordering one but there is currently a one year wait for delivery of frames. Would certainly be worth the wait though. Donhue Bicycles can be find at their home at: http://www.donhoubicycles.com/.
This brief look at the Bristol based Bespoked just touches the surface of what was available to see, but for any cyclist interested in the burgeoning home-grown scene, it is well worth a visit. My only advice for 2014 visitors would be to take a flask and sandwiches along with you – long queues for the Look Mum No Hands cafe!
My photostream of the day can be found over at Flickr: http://goo.gl/zPHNI