Industry Insider: building beautiful bikes by hand with Enigma Bicycle Works

Ten years after being founded, we see how Enigma are continuing to make beautiful handbuilt bikes in Sussex

“For the frames we make, near enough isn’t good enough. It has to be just so. That takes time but it’s very important – and it’s one of the things that makes an Enigma frame different.”

Jim Walker is the founder of Enigma Bicycle Works – one of the UK’s foremost handbuilt bicycle manufacturers and a company which this year celebrated its tenth year anniversary. Walker, a veteran of the cycling trade, founded Enigma in 2006 from a converted cowshed but the family firm now operates from 8,000 square feet of workshop space in Hailsham, East Sussex.

In many ways, however, nothing has changed and the Engima ethos remains the same: to build beautiful frames by hand in titanium and steel; bikes with a ride quality matching their looks.

Enigma Bicycle Works, handbuilt frame

“I’ve had a long-term passion and love for beautiful bicycles,” Walker tells RoadCyclingUK. “I decided I would start a bicycle company – that’s where it all started, to indulge my passion for building beautiful bikes.

“The design of our bikes follows what I love in a bicycle, which is a classic look – timeless, understated appearance. It’s a great combination of good looks with a very modern performance.”

The Enigma team is now made up of 12 staff with a shared passion for handbuilt bikes – a passion, commitment and attention to detail evident in the frames that emerge from the Hailsham workshop, from the perfectly-mitred tubes to the faultless welding, the beautifully-finished paintjob to the quality of the complete build.

“Every member of our staff takes things very, very seriously,” says Walker. “They are perfectionists and if every one of your staff has the same attitude, the end product will be as good as it can be.”

The Enigma team includes Walker’s son, Joe, who has established himself as one of the country’s pre-eminent titanium frame builders – the metal in which Enigma truly specialises. The Enigma range now includes eight titanium frames and five steel frames, across four categories: fast endurance, endurance, versatility and off-road.

Enigma Bicycle Works, handbuilt frame

“We know the materials very, very well,” says Walker senior. “Steel is not quite so difficult [to work with], but titanium is very difficult. We know how it works. Understanding it and appreciating it means you can work well with it.”

While Enigma sell stock sizes in set specifications, it’s in custom builds, based around frames handmade in the Hailsham workshop, that Walker’s team excels. Customers – and potential customers – are actively invited to visit the workshop to see the process unfold and to truly understand what sets a custom-made Enigma frame apart from an off-the-peg machine in a bike shop.

“It’s great for customers to come to a place like this and see what goes on,” Walker says, “because it’s far different from going to a bicycle shop.”

Enigma Bicycle Works now operates from an 8,000 square feet workshop but remains a tight-knit operation

Enigma launched its own paint facility in 2013 to complete the jigsaw and bring every step of the manufacturing process in-house. That control helps set Enigma apart from the competition, says Walker.

“To do everything in-house, every process, means we can have control of everything,” he says. “We control every aspect of what we do. If you can do it all in-house then you can control the quality and the end product is better.”

The process starts with a bike fit and discussion between the customer and Enigma team about their riding style and preferences, intended use, and any existing injuries and anomalies. That fit and discussion forms the basis of a drawing which will inform the build as it passes through the talented hands of the tight-knit Enigma team.

Enigma launched its own paint shop in 2013 to bring every process in-house

“We’re a small team and some of the guys here have been working here for years,” says Walker. “It’s like one big family, really. We all know each others work, we know each others strengths and weaknesses – it’s that togetherness that makes us what we are.”

While Enigma frames are now ridden around the world, it remains a small business at heart. In the ten years since the company was founded, the team may have grown and the workshop expanded, but Enigma’s work remains a true labour of love.

“We offer a product made with lots of passion – and which has been made by hand,” says Walker. “That’s what Enigma is all about.”

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