North London’s Mosquito Bikes is a shop for the connoisseur.
Stockist of the highly desirable, hand built wares of craftsmen including Dario Pegoretti, Independent Fabrication, Zullo and Moots, Mosquito is the destination of choice for a Europe-wide clientele seeking something different, something personal, and, in many cases, custom made; something, in a word, bespoke.
Little wonder then that Mosquito will be carefully packing a selection of such exquisite wares and heading from Islington to Temple Meads in less than a fortnight’s time for Bespoked Bristol, the UK’s hand made bike show.
The mountain bike boom of the early 1990s drove a demand for off-road machines, but a resurgence in the popularity of road bikes has allowed the team to follow their inclinations as ‘road cyclists by tradition’ (a selection of beautiful off-road machines is still stocked). Sensing an unequal struggle with online and chain retailers for a share of the market for mass-produced bicycles, Mosquito accepted an invitation from the then-agent for Dario Pegoretti to stock the wares of the Italian master. When the agent moved on, Mosquito and Pegoretti cemented a relationship that continues to flourish. Customers come from as far as Switzerland and the Netherlands to be measured for one of Dario’s creations, unperturbed by a delivery schedule that can take up to a year.
The shift from mass-produced to handmade bicycles has brought its own challenges and rewards. “It’s easier and harder,” says Burnett. Savings accrued by holding less stock can be cancelled out by the higher value of the machines on the shop floor.
The process of ordering a custom machine from the frame builders stocked by Mosquito is far removed from placing an order with the online retailers who now dominate bicycle sales in the UK. A bike fit is the starting point with Mosquito’s Serotta certified staff. The Sizecycle, in essence a jig equipped with saddle and handlebars, stands in the fitting area at the rear of the shop.
“What we have is quite unique,” Burnett states in a matter-of-fact fashion that says much about Mosquito. In cycling terms, this is Saville Row, but there is nothing intimidating about the shop’s functional premises or the relaxed attitude of those who work there.
Burnett cycles to Islington each day from Surrey; an Independent Fabrication Club Racer his chosen steed for winter; a Pegoretti Marcelo his machine for summer riding. Despite an obvious pride in his machinery (he gestures impulsively in the direction of the Indy Fab when I enquire about his own collection) there is nothing of the disingenuous salesman in Burnett. The Marcelo is summarised as ‘reasonably stiff and reasonably light for a steel frame’. His following statement is still more revealing: “I know if I bought a carbon bike off the shelf it would be lighter, but weight isn’t always the most important thing. There are factors other than weight: comfort and efficiency of power transfer.” As the discussion moves to a possible parallel between the resurgence in popularity of hand built steel frames and hand built wheels, he elaborates further: “We’re not Tour De France athletes. We have different needs. You need something that will last, be comfortable, and easy to repair.”
Burnett identifies longevity as a key factor in the desire for handmade bicycles. Cycling’s well documented appeal to a more mature audience is another factor, he says, “They are making a personal as well as a monetary investment and they want something that will last,” he says.
Brand selection has been as much about personal relationships as business need, says Burnett. While consciously stocking frames not frequently available elsewhere (the shop is about to become the exclusive retailer of Demon Frameworks’ Signature series; Demon’s Tom Warmerdam, joint winner of the best road bike award at the North American Handmade Bike Show earlier this month, will exhibit in Bristol) those Mosquito continue to supply tend to be those with whom they have an understanding.
The handling characteristics specified by a customer will be communicated by Mosquito to the frame builder. “Someone might have said, ‘I want something really stable because I’m not confident at descending’. They might say they want something that when they stamp on the pedals it jumps out of corners. We pass that on to the frame builder. Once the design and the paint scheme are agreed, from the frame builder’s point of view, they are building that frame. We will then be having a conversation with the customer about componentry and spec.”
While the frame is being made, Mosquito will discuss component specification. “It’s not just about function, it’s aesthetics as well,” says Burnett.
Customers vary in outlook from those unconcerned which of the big three manufacturers supply the groupset to those determined to have Campagnolo. Electronic shifting has created ‘quite a lot of interest,’ says Burnett, and several frames have been ordered with routings for the necessary cabling, the majority from customers of Moots and Independent Fabrications.
A bike fit is recommended to each customer, not just to those of Mosquito’s more exotic brands. “With Soma Fabrications, for example, they are relatively inexpensive, but it’s worth people having the bike fit so we can set it up right for them,” says Burnett.
Burnett’s advice for anyone contemplating a custom bicycle is to begin with an ‘essential’ bike fit: “a dynamic bike fit, not just providing your inseam and your height, but someone looking at you on a bike.”
He cautions against the perceived necessity of trying other examples of a custom builder’s work. “Don’t get hooked up on the idea that you have to ride it; it’s a handmade, bespoked item.” Research, reviews, and discussion are better methods of ascertaining if a builder’s work is likely to work for you, he says.