One of the biggest names in the British cycle industry is developing a small range of high-end, steel frames to be handmade in the UK from Reynolds tubing, RoadCyclingUK can exclusively reveal.
Evans, best-known to thousands who have taken up cycling in recent years as a mass retailer of predominantly entry-level machines, is reviving the brand begun by its founder, Frederick W Evans, more than 90 years ago.
James Olsen, who designed the Genesis range of bikes for Madison, is at the centre of Evans’ project to update three classic models from the FW Evans range: the Steelite, the Super Continental and the Ultra.
All take their names from classic FW Evans marques, but Olsen insists the new models will be evolutions of their predecessors, not reproductions.
“We’re definitely not making a ‘retro’ project,” Olsen told RCUK. “It’s what would have happened if the brand had never died away. If you look at the tube profiles, the patented drop outs, you realise FW Evans was quite an innovative guy and we wanted to keep that.
“FW Evans had some great bikes in the past. Most were custom to some extent. We have gone right back to the 1930s looking at the model, the style, and thinking about what we would see in the range now if the FW Evans brand had continued. The Ultra was the lightweight, fast, steel bike of the day. We have taken that name and updated it.”
He described the new Steelite, made from Reynolds 631 tubing, as a “lightweight, steel all-rounder”, the Ultra as “racy as a modern steel bike can be” with an oversized 631 head tube to accommodate the tapered steerer of a contemporary carbon fork, and the latest Super Continental as a “lightweight, long distance, audax or touring bike” whose prototype has been made with 853 tubing. Test results will dictate if the additional strength offered by 853 is required, he added.
Olsen has drawn on a close working relationship with Reynolds to develop an idea pioneered by FW Evans: ovalised tubing used by the Evans founder more than 80 years ago. “I was looking at FW Evans’ back catalogue and he had an ovalised tube profile to give what is now cherished as vertical compliance. Everyone else was using curly tube profiles for nominal improvements, where he used something quite different, which I think is impressive engineering,” said Olsen.
“We wanted to get the right level of stiffness in some places and compliance in others. This guy was doing the same in 1928.”
Testing has not been completed and Olsen stressed that the development phase is far from finished. The frames are being developed to an “open-ended” timescale and production will not follow the “model year” schedule typical of mass production frames. “I’m so used to Taiwanese time scales, but this is a very different project,” said Olsen, adding that he would be pleased if production began this summer.
“The aim is to get something with the comfort of a traditional steel tubed 531 frame but by having the tubes flat ovalised, something with a lot of side to side stiffness, without shimmy or flex. We didn’t want the trade off to be a lack of comfort,” he said. “We have done some comparative modeling. On paper, it looks like we have twice the vertical deflection than some of the bikes I know that we have used as a benchmark for comfort.”
Olsen was a visitor to Bespoked Bristol, the UK’s handmade bike show, and highlighted the TIG welded, 953 Brian Rourke frames and the creations of Ted James among the frames that had most impressed him. “It was great to see the revival in handmade British frames, but also to see the kind of things we are up against,” he said. “The quality of handmade bikes in the UK is fantastic. You could do a lot of that in Taiwan, but not in the same customised way. We’re trying to do something half-way between the two with small batch rather than mass production.”
Reviving a “connoisseur’s brand” was a dream project, Olsen admitted, but insisted that designing “second or third” bikes for newcomers to cycling for Evans’ Pinnacle range, was as satisfying as “preaching to the converted”.
“It’s a great project. Not only do we get to build some really lovely bikes in the UK, but we get to surprise a lot of people about what we can do,” he said.
“People won’t expect us to put time and resource into this. They are not going to be cheap bikes. On paper, this isn’t a commercial project, but at the same time, there are so many passionate cyclists in the company, there’s a thought that, ‘wouldn’t this be fun to do?’”