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30 April 2015 1 comment

Hartley Cycles in Her Own Words

Correspondence Friends Bicycles Art & Design Stories
By Juliet Elliott
Hartley Cycles in Her Own Words
In my previous post for the Brooks blog, I chatted to photographer Camille Macmillan and new frame builder Caren Hartley about the intriguing sounding steel machine the latter was hand-crafting for the former, something the pair had nicknamed the ‘Demi-Porkeur.’ I didn’t post many (any) photos of the bike in said post, because at the time the project was little more than a twinkle in Daddy’s eye, but after working sixteen hour nights in the run up to Bespoked, Caren managed not only to finish the build, but win an award at the show, the first won by a female frame builder in the history of the event. I chatted to Caren to find out more about her first year as a frame builder. [caption id="attachment_14605" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Photo: Ollie Hammick"][/caption] Hey Caren, congratulations on winning ‘Best Utility Bike’ at your first ever show! I know you were hard pressed to get the bike finished, how many hours did the build take from start to finish in the end? Thank you! Yes it was a bit of an epic project, with a very tight deadline – I must have spent 400+ hours on the actual build and then a fair few more designing it.  Almost every thing on the bike is completely custom, hand made and designed specifically for the project. You’re very new to framebuilding. When did you build your first frame at the Bicycle Academy and what inspired you to make the move from sculpture and jewellery making? My first frame was built at the Bicycle Academy just under a year ago.   I had been toying with the idea of frame-building for a while, as I’d got more and more into cycling; I thought it was something that with the skills I already had I could be good at.  But it was Jenni from London Bike Kitchen who really got the ball rolling when she commissioned me to make her a new road bike by booking me on the Bicycle Academy course! Since building that first frame destined for Jenni, how have you begun to build your business and explore the commercial aspect of making bikes? I have been building the business gradually through social media and word of mouth, and finding my niche.  I think it’s important to be able to offer something different, and with the aesthetic I’m developing and my attention to detail I believe I can do that.  Also through searching for myself in the past, I have realised that there are very limited offerings in terms of high-end bicycles for smaller riders and women, so I am currently developing a small range of road/touring frames, starting with my 650c Road bike, that tackle some of the difficulties that this group of riders can face when looking for their perfect bike. How many bikes have you made now? The Porkeur is my fifth.

Hartley Cycles' 'Demi-Porkeur'

Are you still working as a jeweller, sculptor and teacher? How are you managing to balance the different aspects of your life, and are you intending on making the switch to being a full time frame-builder or are you happy to multi task? I am still doing some teaching and I am an occasional visiting lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University on the Metalwork and Jewellery Dept, I also co-founded Made By Ore, a jewellery and metalwork studio in Walthamstow.  As far as my art practice goes, I’ve put it on hold for the time being whilst I concentrate on growing Hartley Cycles as it gets hard to keep all the balls in the air, but I feel I’ll probably come back to it. It’s hard to let go, and the ideas still plug away even if I’m not realising them right now. Can you tell me a little about your workshop/studio? Where is it and what machinery do you have in there? Do you own it all? My workshop is in Peckham South London; I share it with another framebuilder Jake Rusby, of Rusby Cycles.  As far as machinery goes I’m pretty much doing everything by hand right now, which is slow! I’ve also been lucky, as Jake has let me use a lot of his tools. But as I get more orders I am investing in more and more of my own equipment. What machines do you have your eye on for the future? The next things on the list are milling machines and some mitring fixtures – this will speed up my process immensely! [caption id="attachment_14607" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Photo: Sebastien Klein"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_14606" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Photo: Sebastien Klein"][/caption] How do you select your tubing, and what are your favourites? I select each tube set based on the individual frame, what the clients wants in terms of characteristics of the ride, and the type of riding they intend the bike for.  For the Porkeur I chose Reynolds 931 stainless steel for it's high strength and corrossion resistance. I love using stainless stays, as they look really beautiful when mirror polished and left raw, both Reynolds and Columbus are excellent. Which other frame builders do you admire, and if you could have your own bike built by anyone, who would it be? I really admire Matthew Souter as in a relatively short time he has built an amazing following, and I love the aesthetic of Jake Rusby’s frames.  I also admire Matt from Talbot Frameworks as he is not afraid to try new and exciting ways of doing things.  If I could have any bike built for me? Wow that’s a tricky one… um… it would be bad for my brand if I rode anything but a Hartley! How do you select components for your builds? Are you more drawn to performance or aesthetics? For me they are equal, a bike has to perform to the highest standards or you won’t want to ride it, and it has to be beautiful or you won’t fall in love with it. Do you/would you ever build a bike for someone if you didn’t like the style they wanted to go for? Would you ever try and talk a customer out of something? I am happy to make any type of bike, and love the challenge of making something new, especially when there are set criteria/or functions that the bike has to perform.  But it’s important to me that each bike I make looks and ‘feels’ like I made it.  That it’s my take on that type of bike and has elements of my style. Do you fit your customers before building a bike, and if so, how do you do that? I always recommend customers get a professional bike fit before I build them a frame, as everybody is so different, even two people of the same height or build.  I work with a great company called Le Beau Velo in Hoxton.  They are a small business like me, and they really care about their clients as individuals. What’s your next build? I’m currently working on an exclusive run of 650c road bikes for a new shop Flat Harry’s Cyclery, that is opening in June in Maidenhead.   They are based on the bike I ride myself and intended for the shorter rider.  They will be off the peg; finished to the same high standard as my bespoke frames and built from the top end tube set Columbus Spirit with polished stainless XCR stays. Do you find it hard to part with your finished frames, after working on them for so long? Yes I do actually; it’s hard not to become attached to something you spend so much time with.  I will be really sorry to see the Porkeur go, and more sorry that I can’t even have a ride on it before it does as I can’t reach the pedals! By Juliet Elliott
Great article and a beautiful bike. I'm a female working in a heavily male dominated industry but not as skewed as frame building I imagine. It's so encouraging to see the first female winner. And someone who is trying to address the problem of good bikes for small people!
Jo Bell 23 May 2016 at 17:12