We asked resident Ride Velo illustrator, Gareth Llewhellin, the talent behind our T shirt designs, to give us his view on this year's Bespoked, the independent frame builders' exhibition in Bristol. There were some big, well established names there such as Condor, Jason Rourke and Caren Hartley that impressed and excited in equal measure. But it was a much younger bike designer, still to make his name, that really bowled him over.
This was my first visit to Bespoked and, as a cyclist passionate about steel frame design, my initial reaction was that of my much younger self, mesmerised by the celeste green of the Bianchi on show in my local bike shop all those years ago.
This was indeed a sweetshop for enthusiasts. As I entered Brunel’s Old Station I was instantly greeted with an array of colour, chrome and design, but above all passion.
Walking around the stands it was clear to see that boundaries were a naughty word. Designs mixing steel and carbon may be not so new, but creating a one piece rear fender and seat tube out of carbon, sandwiched with steel lugging is something which I have never seen before and it was truly stunning to look at at. The mix of modern components and wooden frames was a stand out too. Indeed, this was thinking out of the box with nobody pulling it back in.
There was such a feast of bikes and design on show. From those that instantly had the shiny wow factor to those which were more subtle at first glance, but the more you looked and studied them, the more the bikes revealed their hidden secrets. Subtleties astounded me. These designs stood quietly on show, very confident of themselves and had me hooked.
After a few cups of coffee courtesy of Look Mum No Hands, I started on my second lap and it was on this circuit that I found what I was looking for. My moment of wow.
I had found the stand of Life bikes. This was the brain child of Andrew Jones, Head of Design and Technology at the Adams Grammar School in Shropshire. This is a school class I could only have dreamt of having as a child.
Inspired by the huge passion in cycling enjoyed in the UK since London 2012, Andrew has created a classroom where GCSE students can design and make their own steel framed bikes as part of their studies. As soon as we started talking you could see and feel his passion not only for bikes and design, but more importantly for teaching and his students. It was electrifying and something I can only hope my children will encounter during their schooling.
One design in particular which caught my eye was created by 15 year old GCSE student Henry Foxall: a beautiful steel frame designed and put together with so much thought, purpose and delicacy it astounded me. This was one of the subtle bikes on show that revealed so much, and offered even more the longer you looked in to it.
Henry, an unassuming but quietly confident young man stepped beside me as Andrew spoke and I must admit I didn’t believe what I was hearing when told me that he was the builder of this fine bike. As Henry took over, you could see the same passion shown by his teacher, but this was different. I was being drawn in to a world of bike design, passion and finishing touches that surely could never be possessed by one so young. I was wrong, so very wrong.
Apart from the beautiful frame build itself, there were elements of sublime detail. Not content with his first saddle and bar tape combo, he switched to Brooks leather and, without the knowledge of his teachers, approached Brooks for some off cuts in the same material. These he expertly hand sewed onto his bottle cage, creating a lovely trio of Brooks fine leather through the frame. The detailing didn’t stop there.
Henry used two threepence coins left to him by his grandfather and dating back to 1942 for bar tape plugs. They sat beautifully against the brown leather tape and were a lovely gesture to his forebear, someone who it was clear meant a great deal to Henry.
As I looked further at the bike I picked out the head badge and logo. Gleefully, I was told by Henry that he had made the head badge himself and hand painted the frame script. By now I should have expected this, but once again I was astounded.
As I was about to leave, I asked if he had ridden the bike yet. Answer? “No, not yet as I have to submit it for my GCSEs next week.” That just about said it all!
So my first Bespoked ended with my head buzzing with all that I had seen and wanting to lock myself in my shed to build a bike frame. Sadly my enthusiasm is much greater than my technical ability, but one thing I can confidently say is that a name to look out for in the near future is Henry Foxall and the future designers coming out of the classroom at Adams Grammar School, Shropshire.
Gareth Llewhellin's prints are available from the Ride Velo Shop