Mason Cycles occupies a peculiar place in the bike market, somewhere between the custom offerings of a framebuilder and the ready-to-ride potential of a complete bike retailer. In a similar way to the forward-thinking, disc brake-equipped bikes it has been producing since 2014, the brand is cutting its own path in how it relates to customers, offering riders tried and tested geometries with the customer's choice of componentry – a business model that this author is sure to take hold just as disc brakes have.
I'm in the picturesque South Downs of England, on a small working farm where the boutique bike brand's headquarters operates from – the flint and mortar walls of a rustic-yet-homely barn. I'm here to pick up a bike to review, but also to understand a little more about how Mason Cycles exists in the current climate.
"I'm not interested in rules," explains Dom Mason, the man behind the brand. Indeed, I come to understand within my short time at 'The Barn' that nothing about Mason Cycles is based on what others are doing; the brand seems assured of its direction thanks to common sense and practical decisions. Inside the barn are four dedicated full time employees (including Dom), with just a couple more behind the scenes. Overall, the operation is surprisingly small, far smaller than one would expect for the large footprint it has left in the UK cycle market.
I've entered their world – a humble workspace that's neatly organised and decorated with more than a few personal touches. The interior of the barn feels more akin to a family home - with pictures of two wheeled adventures enjoyed by the team, art filled skateboard decks fixed to the walls and cycle caps crispy, salty and thick with memories hanging above a shelf where a bottle of whiskey awaits its inaugural opening.
This isn't a well dressed retail space, this is just how it is – a space where Dom, Cal, Alex and Matt enjoy putting bikes in the hands of riders.
Dom is on the phone and deep in conversation with Mason's Italian frame-builders, obsessing over the details of a new design. He apologises and promises that he won't be much longer, but it's evident that the pursuit of perfection is one of his driving forces. Later in the day when we sit down to talk, that impression is reaffirmed.
I've asked about the updated Resolution2 road bike – a steel platform formed of custom Columbus tubing. "It was one of the first disc-brake performance steel frames with internal routing," says Dom. "It was frowned upon, you know?" referring to how that particular bike stepped away from the established conventions of caliper brakes. "Trying to squeeze dirty rubber blocks against filthy wet aluminium is really not the way to stop, it's kind of steam-train technology. People might not like me saying that, but that's what I believe, and for our bikes – which have to work in all seasons, with big tyres, over all sorts of conditions – of course disc brakes is the correct thing to do."
As I sit and listen, I start to understand the way that we're navigating the detailed technical information inside Dom's head. It's this attention to detail that I'm driven to investigate further, especially when it comes to the updated dropout on the frameset in question.
I ask why it's taken so long for a frameset so key to the rise of Mason to receive an update.
"We had a really refined, lovely, balanced handling bike, and we could have quite easily said 'well OK, let's buy a chunk of steel from Taiwan and weld it in because we must have the latest standard' because people are going to be asking why we haven't got the latest standard?" I'm sensing Dom's disregard for the easy way of doing things as he speaks. "[The Resolution] is a special thing for me, that's the first thing, and I wasn't ready to say 'we've just got to do this' and mess it up."
"Trying to squeeze dirty rubber blocks against filthy wet aluminium is really not the way to stop, it's kind of steam-train technology. People might not like me saying that, but that's what I believe"
He speaks in reference to the thru-axle dropout developed in partnership with Bear Frame Components, a UK CNC specialist and supplier to most of the domestic custom frame building scene. The custom piece meets demanding requirements from Mason – it features a unique design that contains an individually replaceable mech hanger and axle thread insert that suspend the forces subjected to the axle freely of the hanger itself. The asymmetric dropouts are small so that as much of the lively feeling Columbus tubing could be used as possible, and still features the rack mounts that feature on the original Resolution. Most importantly, after at least six different 3D-printed design iterations, I'm informed that the original ride quality of the bike remains.
The attention to detail in this component alone teases the attentiveness with which the Mason range is designed.
I'm keen to ask about 1x gearing and the 650B wheel size, both of which are more frequently popping up on road bikes of late. With a similar insight into both, Dom's views represent Mason Cycles' as a whole - if there's a performance enhancing reason for the inclusion of technology, then it's a no brainer.
The final question I have is one that I've been itching to find an answer for since we lined up this interview what does the future hold for Mason Cycles?
"We've got new bikes we're working on right now," says Dom. "They are driven by advances in technology, of componentry, advances in what people want to do with their riding." While I'm expecting this sort of generic answer, I'm pleased to sit and listen to Dom elaborate further on a bike that might break the mould once more. In a similar fashion to which the Bokeh adventure-sport bike was an answer to the limitations of the Resolution and Definition, the new bike promises to go beyond the envelope of the current range.
"I want to do something that's going to push it further," referencing the new development. "We're looking at something for Josh [Ibett, the 2015 Transcontinental Race winner] to win different types of races on, and enter much more radical and challenging terrain."
With that cat amongst the pigeons, I'm conscious I've maybe heard a bit more than I should have, yet Dom is happy to confirm that all will be revealed at this year's Cycle Show at the NEC in Birmingham.