Some of the best looking bikes from Bespoked Bristol, the UK’s handmade bike show, held last month, are now on display at London’s Look Mum No Hands cycling café.
Five road and town bikes by Norwich builder, Tom Donhou, winner of the ‘best in show’ award at the 2011 show, are currently hanging in the windows of the Old Street café.
The display includes the machine built by Donhou for Sam Humpheson, chief mechanic at LMNH, for the Rapha Continentalproject, a series of ‘epic’ rides to document some of the UK’s lesser-known cycle routes.
“I like to push myself rather than just make another pretty frame, and, where it’s right, to use technology,” said Donhou.
The pair met at an exhibition of Donhou’s frames at LMNH last November, and were subsequently paired as builder and rider for the Continental project. A further meeting was held at the café to discuss Humpheson’s requirements: a machine that would provide the stability of his ‘fairly unsophisticated’, Tange-tubed Surly training bike, and some of the performance of his custom made, Seven Cycles titanium race bike.
“I told Tom the bike didn’t need to be particularly compliant. The Seven takes the buzz off the road, but it isn’t flexy. I like a bike that’s quite stiff and agile. The Continental concept is about riding far and fast. It isn’t racing, but it’s not bimbling along and stopping for jam sandwiches either,” said Humpheson.
Donhou returned to Norwich to translate Humpheson’s requirements into a frame design using Bike CAD software and a set of measurements provided by Humpheson from a session at CycleFit in Covent Garden.
A mutual decision to fit disc brakes gave the design its “defining feature”, said Donhou, offering “comfortable power” in all weather conditions and easy accommodation of Continental 28c tyres, and soon-to-be fitted mudguards.
“I wanted something that would take proper, English mudguards. It’s always a compromise with rim brakes. You either end up fitting ugly, long drop calipers, or using a standard brake and jamming themudguard into a small space,” said Humpheson.
Donhou added: “I wanted to do something different and produce a bike that’s unique. It’s interesting to have a steel bike that’s ahead of it’s time. You can be current with steel; you can be creative.”
In February, Donhou started the work of building the frame: cutting and mitiring the tubes, using brass as “a hot glue” to fillet braze them together, and spending “lots and lots of hours” filing the welds to gain a super smooth finish. “Most of the time is in the finishing. I’m a bit of perfectionist and that’s where I lose time,” said Donhou.
The Rapha bike’s painted decals necessitated further sessions in Donhou’s paint booth. A pink ribbon located between the seat stays, painted from a hand cut stencil, symbolises Humpheson’s support for the fight against breast cancer.
Early discussions ruled out the use of a steel fork on grounds of weight and appearance. The steel frame’s conventional 1.18” headset prevented the use of a full carbon fork found in contemporary road bikes, typically fitted with a steerer tapered from 1.5” or 1.25”. Instead, the fork is supplied by American manufacturer, Wound Up, one of the few companies making a carbon forks suitable for use with a road frame and fitted with mounts for disc calipers.
While the frame and fork were ready for assembly two weeks ahead of the opening of Bespoked Bristol on March 23, a delay in receiving the fork and the specially commissioned, ‘Rapha pink’ Chris King headset and bottom bracket meant that the bike was fully assembled for the first time only on the morning of the show.
Humpheson has yet to try the bike (it is to be photographed for Rapha next week) is planning a ride of ‘four or five hours’ on local training loops before the first ride for the Rapha Continental project in Scotland at the end of April, where he will take the dual role of rider and group mechanic.
“It’s not a good idea to ride the bike for the first time in the north west of Scotland,” joked Humpheson. “There’s a natural bedding in process with bicycles and if anything is going to fall off, you want it to happen not far from home!”