*Eindhoven, the Netherlands*
Alex de Kraker lives in Eindhoven in a small, typically Dutch house with red brick walls and a large curtainless window facing a busy avenue called St Joris Laan. St Joris is Dutch for Saint George. The steel frames which Alex handbuilds one at a time in the small workshop behind his house are named after the dragon-slaying legend, too. Since 2010, the self-taught framebuilder has been focusing on his passion for cycles while working part-time at a renowned research institute.
Silver-brazed with stainless steel lugs from Llewellyn and a stainless Richard Sachs bottom bracket, the custom-tailored frame uses a mix of Columbus Spirit uber-oversized and Life steel tubing to ensure a razor-sharp, yet comfortable ride.
What inspired you to build? What does the craft and the material you are using mean to you? Is it a job, a passion, an attitude?
With St Joris it is my intention to create the finest bikes where rider fit, bike performance and intrinsic quality are self-evident. It is a quest for being creative in the true sense of the word, a quest for making the ultimate bike. I am energized being in my own personal space and come out of it, having created something marvellous. It is my aim, time and again, to create a superb frame that is even closer to perfection as I have ever done before. And that’s a never ending story.
In my opinion, building bespoke bicycles is a unique combination of mental work and manual labor where thinking and doing are not separated as in many of today’s jobs. I consider myself lucky to be able to unite both thinking and doing with my passion for cycling.
I use steel for building bikes. Steel has a rich history in craftsmanship. Not only in bicycle making, but ranging from Japanese Samurai swords to the Golden Gate Bridge. In my experience, it is the most versatile material to work with.
How do you make a bike? What’s important to you in the process and what is it that sets you apart from other builders?
Besides my Master degree in Mechanical Engineering, it is mostly the experience and learning as a child and teenager at the workbench in my dad’s shed, that is invaluable for making well-constructed bicycles. It has allowed me to develop real insight into the behaviour of materials by constructing all kind of toys and tools that failed and needed to be rebuilt. This kind of ‘knowledge’ is in one’s hands rather than in one’s head. What may set me apart as a framebuilder is the level of detail I go into, no matter whether it is fitting the rider in the optimal position (for this, I cooperate with Argos-Shimano’s team doctor Edwin Achterberg), designing the bike for its riding characteristics or finishing the bike down to the smallest detail. It is just my nature to strive for perfection in every frame.
What does the Rapha Continental mean to you and to the bike you’ve built for us?
To me, the Rapha Continental is a revival, or even a new approach, of enjoying cycling, nature and culture, escaping the cubicle farm and daily hectic most of us are ended up in nowadays. The Rapha Continental bike I have built, as well as other St Joris cycles, are actually the result of that same approach: escaping the cubicle farm and doing what you love to do.
Tell us about your favourite bike ride.
It is my lunch ride, a perfect little break from the workshop, just about 50 kilometres. Leaving Eindhoven at the southern part, you will find yourself out in the open space quickly. Passing through some villages and little forests and heading for the ‘Malpie’, where a small river runs through an area of moorland and forests. Once you crossed the Malpie, remember to sit down for a while at the town square in Borkel en Schaft for a coffee and a piece of apple pie. Continuing, you cross the Dutch-Belgian border and head for the Achel Monastery, where they still make ‘Trappist’, well known by all local cyclists. Don’t sit down there otherwise you won’t be home before dinner. Heading back north you cross yet another moorland and small bicycle lane through the forest that leads you back to Eindhoven.
In our journey to explore the Hidden Europe, where do you think we should go and ride and why?
Although the Netherlands won’t be the first spot cyclist would think of, it is quite a varying landscape. One of those special landscapes is found in the province where I was born; Zeeland, in the southwest. While the northern part of the province is adjacent to our biggest seaport Rotterdam, you already smell the Belgian atmosphere when riding in the southernmost part of it. From there, Antwerp is within reach on your bike. The UCI’s World Ports Classic is basically the whole province in one race. If there is a single typical thing to be mentioned, it is the never ceasing wind. That’s why you won’t be able to find a tree over there that stands upright. The relentless wind is often complained about amongst riders but it is also the charm of riding in this region. Riding here is intended only for the strong among us. So be prepared…
What would you do, if you weren’t building bikes?
There are probably two answers to that: One is riding with good friends, the second is creating the new bike to be build in my head.
For more information visit: stjoriscycles.nl