Rapha have extended their Continental project into the UK, with six cyclists set to complete four “epic” rides aboard bikes crafted by some of the country’s foremost framebuilders.
Rapha Continental was born in 2007 with a mission statement “to travel the back roads of America in an attempt to rediscover something of the lost spirit of cycling” – with each ride organised as an online journal with photography, stories, descriptions, ride details and downloads.
Now, in addition to continuing in north America, the Continental project has been rolled out to include the UK, Europe, South East Asia, Australia and Japan.
Rapha’s six Continental riders in the UK will each tackle the four rides on specially commissioned bikes (scroll down for more on each bike) built by Dave Yates, Brian Rourke, Neil Manning (for Condor), Robin Mather, Tom Donhou and Ricky Feather. Sam Humpheson from the Look Mum No Hands cycle café, who spoke to RCUK about the art of wheel building, will provide the hoops and the complete bikes will be unveiled at Bespoked Bristol, the UK’s handmade bike show set to take place this weekend.
The bikes will be built from the ground up, with each sponsor and part reflecting the Continental ethos, according to Rapha. That translates to Chris King hubs, bottom brackets and headsets, Ambrosio rims, Sram groupsets, Fi’zi:k saddles, Continental Tyres, 3T handlebars, stems and seatposts. Sapim will provide the spokes to complete the wheelsets.
Humpheson said: “The stuff that we’re using for this project is the best, and it complements the whole handbuilt theme. We’ve talked to the riders about what they wanted and I’m really pleased we haven’t compromised on the bits and pieces because I’m sure that the frame builders haven’t compromised. The hubs, rims and spokes are as good as you can get. I always like to see my wheels in two years, when they’ve been given a hard time and they’re still doing their job without complaint.”
The UK rides will start in Scotland, Wales and England respectively, with the fourth event to be confirmed. Rapha’s press release reads: “A team of six Rapha riders will be travelling the country riding specially built bikes commissioned from some of Britain’s finest frame builders. They will be riding to the rhythms of the UK: sharp ups and downs and twists and turns of the lanes, long summer evenings and short winter days, Roman roads imperiously straight and the canals and railways cutting through the terrain, reminders of the industrial revolution that gave birth to the modern bicycle industry.
“The UK can be desolate, beautiful, industrial, welcoming and windswept, all in a five-hour ride. The films and features following the UK Continental will chart how geology, topography and accents can change from one valley to the next, and how each new turn in the road can transport us hundreds, even thousands, of years back into history. The rides will explore the ways that generations of cyclists have used Britain’s roads.
“The UK Continental will also take as its inspiration the craftsmen, artists and writers who have shaped how we think about the landscape and people of Britain.”
BRIAN ROURKE – Stoke-on-Trent
“We’ve built it from Reynolds 853, tig welded it and, to make it look a bit nicer, we’ve silver-soldered all the welds. We’ve also filleted all the welds to make it look uncluttered.
“There are so many different shapes of tubes, like teardrop tubes, which they can’t make the lugs for. That’s why we use tigging more than lugging. We also use it for strength. Tigging doesn’t use too much heat so it doesn’t destroy any of the heat-treatment processes that the manufacturers have put in.
“The wrap-around seat stay is something we’re quite famous for. The tubes are scalloped out on the inside and then joined on the top, so it’s got a nice strong triangle at the back. We’ve made 5,000-odd frames and have never had one break.”
TOM DONHOU – Norwich
“The most important thing in building a bike is to be able to communicate its potential. You’re going to have amazing times when you ride this bike and that’s the main underlying reason I do what I do.
“I could have just designed some bikes, had them made in Taiwan and then shipped over. But I wanted to know where everything was coming from, I wanted to get back to a cottage industry kind of setup.
“One of the main things about this bike is that it has disc brakes. The nature of the Continental rides is that they will be going up some pretty ratty roads and riding in some pretty harsh environments. So it needs to be an all-weather bike. And it’s going to get a Wound Up fork. The way the fork is constructed means it’s a little bit of a nod to mountain biking.”
RICKY FEATHER – Leeds
“I’d never brazed before, or silver-soldered. I had to completely teach myself. Dave Yates was doing a demonstration on frame building. I stood and watched him do his thing and came straight up here and did my first lug joint and it worked perfectly.
“Individual touches are what sets a bike apart from everything else and that’s really important to me. Something that the customer is going to be absolutely blown away by because it’s theirs and no one else’s.
“We wanted a modern look but I really wanted a lugged bike with an oversized head tube so we could use some modern carbon forks. We’ve gone for internal cable routing and wrap-around seat stays so that we’d have clearance for mudguards. We used XCR stainless steel because for long Continental rides it’s not quite as stiff as 953. It’s going to be an all-terrain bike, it’s going to get pretty dirtied up. We didn’t want any corrosion.”
ROBIN MATHER – Bristol
Robin is a rising star among British custom builders. Famously combining vintage, English-built machinery with the latest computer technology, the waiting list for his elegant, beautifully finished bikes is extensive.
“The craft of bike building is about the overlap between art and engineering. A handmade bicycle is a great canvas for an art project but as a machine it must be safe, functional and durable. I believe it’s better to stick with features and construction methods that have been well proven over many years and kilometres. This doesn’t mean I make or aspire to make identical, anonymous bikes. If a manufactured object is the result of a craft-type process, it’s nice to be able to see that craft, to leave evidence of the method of manufacture and even the distinctive style of the individual who manufactured it.”
DAVE YATES – Lincoln
Dave Yates has been building custom frames for over 30 years. His reputation extends around the world and his own experience of long-distance riding makes him an ideal partner for the UK Rapha Continental.
CONDOR CYCLES – London
Established by Monty Young in London in 1948, Condor Cycles is a British cycling institution. They build a variety of bespoke bikes, from touring and track frames to a fleet of modern race bikes for professional riders.
IRA RYAN & TONY PEREIRA – Portland, USA
The original Continental bicycle comes from the collaborative hands of Ira Ryan and Tony Pereira, involved with the Rapha Continental as builders and riders since its inception in 2007. In many ways the bike that started it all, a lightweight steel machine for long distances in a variety of conditions.
The wheel builder
SAM HUMPHESON – London
“It was learning from older and more experienced guys that I did my first bits of wheel building. It takes someone to show you the basics of how to build a wheel, how to lace a wheel, how to put it together, and then from that point it’s a case of doing as many as you can, really. There’s no substitute for building a couple of hundred wheels.
There are legendary wheel builders out there. It’s a funny business and a lot of mythology comes into it. There are big names like Harry Rowland and Monty Young, who built wheels for Condor. They were just very good wheel builders and I don’t know if there are any modern wheel builders with that kind of status. Real craftsmen don’t measure themselves against anybody else in particular – they’re happy when they are happy. If you assemble 10 people who have been building wheels for 10 years and ask them each to build a wheel, they’ll all do it slightly differently.
“The stuff that we’re using for this project is the best, and it complements the whole handbuilt theme. We’ve talked to the riders about what they wanted and I’m really pleased we haven’t compromised on the bits and pieces because I’m sure that the frame builders haven’t compromised. The hubs, rims and spokes are as good as you can get. I always like to see my wheels in two years, when they’ve been given a hard time and they’re still doing their job without complaint.”