So, what’s this about then – didn’t I already write a bit on what I thought of the crotchety old men of the UCI and bicycle design? Well, yes. Yes I did, but this is more about how what they did has affected decisions that have been made here at ELEVEN Vélo. You see, for anyone who has followed us or knows me personally, there have always been mumblings about doing our own frame. Call it a personal obsession, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to do since.. forever. I mean, fer fug’s sake, even when I was sitting in the design studio of Cagiva/Ducati in the long distant past, I was doodling bicycle frame designs when, arguably, I should have been doodling moto designs (I was not the only one mind you). So yes, let’s just call it an itch that needs to be scratched.
In the mid 90’s I came close…
Yea baby! URT, AMP’s, Cook Bros. Racing E-Crank + Post, coil over Marzocchi, V-brakes and bar ends – could only be the 90’s. Feb 1996 to be exact.
Yes, it rode, wasn’t at all bad actually – but lack of the ‘right material’ availability and quality skills to fabricate it meant it died in the proverbial. Then from 2009 I got another crack at it. Again, mountain bikes…
The two Amigo’s. That’s me on the right, looking like a typical industry guy typically not riding enough.
This was a different kettle of fish. Taiwanese factories, lots of money (but not enough), budget planning (or the Taiwanese version thereof) and trying to keep people happy. All the bikes rode like rockets and cranked the smile dial up to 11 but none of them ended up like they should have from a design stand point. Close but no cigar. Long story. In hindsight, the whole thing falling apart when it did was a godsend as I didn’t want to be the one, 6 months later, trying to explain to the then owner that “ ahhhh…. know those 26inch bikes we developed? Well, we need to scrap them and go 27.5… and carbon…”.
Since that time, though, I have had the itch to go at it again and on several occasions almost did. Teamed up with James Flatman (if you know the name, you know), whom I met when we used to be the local importer of Dean Titanium some time back, we hashed through a small and interesting line of frames – all in stainless steel. And then we stalled. We started again, stalled again and then stopped. Finally we called it quits before it began. It’s not that the skills or materials weren’t there, they were but…
Ever look at CycleEXIF? Adam does a wonderful job of showcasing frames and bikes made by all the wonderful custom builders out there. Some of the bikes are really fantastic. But for the most part you can pour over them, page after page, and if you have a slightly out of the box view on things, one thing strikes you: all the bikes are the same. All of them (Ok, Rob English aside – he’s a genius in metal). Double triangle, ‘metal’ for the most part, and all are fine examples of what I have come to call being ‘UCI happy’.
While individually they are (mostly) all beautiful for one reason or another, from a design standpoint they are really butt boring and, to be honest, claims being made about some of the frames are really, really out of left field. And that’s where we stalled.
Both James and myself – independently and at the same time – came to the conclusion that there’s nowhere to go as it’s simply all been done. Nice paint or finishes, pretty welds and/or quirky details were just not enough to fire us up and there was no way we’d enter the silly claims game in an attempt to differentiate what we wanted to do. As a result we deemed there was just not enough room left in that space to make either of us get excited to the point that we were going to spend money to set something up. Simply, there’s only so many ways you can do the same thing and, in marketing speak, your USP is up shit creek. To add to that, the industrial designer in me says “no dice”.
The issue is, that itch is still there.
The largest quandary here is the UCI thing. You know, that whole double triangle business. It really does make sense if you’re building out of metal but… well, see above.
But what if one didn’t have to think about that as an issue – where could design go from there? And that’s when it hit me. If we want to design and make a frame, WTF does the UCI have to do with any of it and why on earth should it stop what we want to do? Ok, so you aren’t going to race it in any event that follows the UCI charter – but you know what? The vast majority of riders out there don’t actually race. They ride; and the last time I checked, there was nothing dictating what a bike you ride, as opposed to race, should be.
Of course, there’s complication in everything and if metal is not where it’s at, that really only leaves one viable material, and no, it’s not wood, Rich.
Carbon. “Ohh” and “errr”. Or maybe not so much these days.
Carbon is a brilliant material, except that the cycling industry has f’d it up. The way people around bikes think about carbon is based purely on what the industry tells them (see previous point about the bike industry and carbon). To unabashedly quote myself “In a world of carbon, now so prevalent that it’s almost ubiquitous, vast sums of money are being spent to engineer frames from carbon that mimic a structure optimised for round metal tubes.” That’s not to say the frames being made by the big boys out of the black stuff are bad – anything but – it’s just that as a design, they are being designed to a ridiculous and totally outdated set of ‘views’.
Do I believe, if left unfettered we’d see road bikes evolve in a way only the black fabric would permit? Hell yes.
The other matter here, regardless of what magazines, factories or bike companies tell you, is that carbon fibre, and it’s fabrication, is not really that big a mystery. Depending on how you want to do it, effective carbon structures can be made in a manner not all that different from doing high end glass fibre. Of course, that’s the starting point but the point here is, depending what the item is, it’s not as complex as some would have you believe. In mean, sh!t… there are custom builders gluing and hand wrapping tubes together which, from all accounts, make great frames in the process. Your final outcome might not be F1 racing optimised but hey, you made a carbon ‘something’.
So a carbon frame it is. I mean, why not? It does also help when you have also roped in some specialists in the field to point things in the right direction… and do the complicated stuff…