Handmade Tales

By Max Leonard

Made in England is a forthcoming book co-written by two British frame builders about British handmade frames. Ricky Feather of Feather Cycles and Matthew Sowter of Saffron Frameworks have been travelling around the UK to interview builders about their craft, gaining an insight into their particular style, techniques and philosophy. They’ve talked to each artisan in his own workshop with photographer Kayti Peschke, house photographer at Bespoked Bristol (who also happens to be Ricky’s wife), documenting everything from tools to teabags.

If you’ve ever been through the process of getting a bespoke frame made, you’ll know how rewarding it is. Finding the right framebuilder for you; developing your ideas, talking it through; choosing the materials and being measured. If you haven’t, this book can be a starting point, an inspiration or simply a celebration of artisans who, and with growing support, fly in the face of conventional bicycle production (let’s face it, most production of anything).

The USA has led the charge with a community of people who are passionate about craftsmanship. Everywhere you go you find pockets of people producing beer, food, clothing, bags, furniture or bikes, one item at a time, with their own hands. Partly because of NAHBS (the North American Handbuilt Bike Show) which has collected together many of the craftspeople working across the expanse of the US, the handmade bicycle industry there has an international profile and voice, and gives the rest of us something to aim for.

There’s no reason why that kind of resurgence can’t happen here in the UK. It seems we’re pretty good at riding bikes at the moment, and we’ve been world-beaters before in the framebuilding game – Freddie Grubb, Hetchins, Rotrax and others are coveted marques. A lot of the old guard are still there, quietly working away. And there’s a new generation including Ricky, Matthew, Tom Donhou, Tom Warmerdam (of Demon Frameworks), Ted James, and Jon Aston (of Chickens Frame Emporium) who are learning, inspiring and doing their bit to spread the word.

As for the bike Ricky made me for the Rapha Continental UK, it gets better and better with every ride. We spent an afternoon drinking tea and chatting in his workshop outside York, talking over the intended use, the tubing we wanted to use, lugged v brazed, mudguard eyelets, forks, his riding, my riding … the lot. After being measured up it turned out I was sitting pretty on a 54cm-square frame; but to know that every angle is correct, all components are right, and that it was being made with care and attention by a friend is something incredibly special.

Its first official outing came at the Rapha Continental UK’s launch at Bespoked Bristol. But it wasn’t made to sit on a stand: it was made for long days on uncertain roads. Now, a couple of thousand miles in, the saddle position’s tweaked, stem slammed, and it rides beautifully. It’s comfortable, climbs well, and it’s fast. And every time I ride it, I remember everything Ricky put into it. People talk of a bike for life, and then in the next breath mention their next dream purchase. A frame made by any of the builders in Made in England can be truly that.

The book is now available for pre-order “here”:http://www.pushprojects.net/. A limited number of advance orders will come signed, and with a special edition photograph of the buyer’s choice.