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April 16, 2015 No comments

Bespoked The Interview

Correspondence Friends Events Bicycles Art & Design Monthly highlights
By jim holland
Bespoked The Interview

With Bespoked returning to its spiritual home in Bristol this weekend, we took the opportunity to ask founder Phil a few questions about what inspired the event, and the changes he has seen in handmade bicycles over the last few years. 

What gave you the idea for bespoked? Did you have a background in events before?

The idea for Bespoked came about as all good ideas, while riding my bike. I was working as a teacher in Brighton and used to commute 15 miles each way along the coast and sometimes up and across the South Downs. I had a road bike and a mountain bike but wanted something that was still able to be fast on the road but also be able to cope with off road hills and paths while carrying a load. Cyclo-cross bikes were closest but too race specific at the time, I wanted what is now called a ‘gravel racer’ ‘all road’ bike, which wasn’t really around 6 years ago. So I decided to learn how to make one. I’d always had an interest in handmade bikes and when I was at school the talk was all of owning a bike made just for you. I learnt to weld at evening class and while researching different framebuilders noticed that there wasn’t a show in the UK to promote the industry like NAHBS was doing in the States. My wife Tessa, a couple of friends and myself had set up Brighton Art Fair, a show where the artists would display and show their own work as opposed to galleries, which gave me the experience needed to organise events. Tessa and I then set up Bespoked, and after a couple of false starts had the first show at the Paint Works, Bristol which was a great success.

The UK frame building Industry has grown up a bit since you started 5 years ago, is it a different show now? The core element of the show remains and now that the industry has grown it’s easier to for this to happen. Bespoked is primarily a show for framebuilders, the people that are there are the people that make the bikes. The passion that they have remains the core element of the show. Its now the main event for framebuilder in the UK and abroad to leave their workshops and get together and show what they have been making. These are mostly one person operations, there is no marketing department, just the person that can make you your dream bike. We are seeing more and more new builders in the UK and Europe now, do you think this is sustainable? Is the industry still growing? We’ve had roughly the same amount of applicants for new builder spaces of the last couple of years, and while still over subscribed it’s the quality that’s going up. There’s always been hobby builders making bikes for friends and I think it’s easier now to go that final 10% with the bike finish and get decals printed and get a website up to make things look much more professional. Is it sustainable? Well that’s what we are constantly trying to do at Bespoked is make more and more people aware of the pleasures of owning a handmade bicycle, we’ve launched the Bespoked Times which explains the benefits, this year at Bespoked we have 2 venues, the Arnolfini a very popular art gallery in the centre of Bristol will host the Constructors Challenge, where people can see how bikes can be made for specific purposes, with the Velopresso coffee bike for example, and we also have the Accessories and Design show there, and this venue is free to attend to attract people that might not visit Brunel’s Old Station which they have to pay to visit. When starting out many people will build frames in their spare time, while getting there main income from other sources. Making the leap to becoming a full time framebuilder is a big commitment as there is much more to it than just making a bike frame, as you are also running a small business with everything that entails.

Do you have a favourite builder or bike from the show?

I can’t answer that as I need to remain impartial, there all my favourites! Were you building frames yourself when the show started, or did that come later? The two went hand in hand, I had just started when the 1st show took off, but the time constraints of organising the show caused a pause for a couple of months. As the show went on I visited many other framebuilders in making our Meet the Maker films which helped me develop, just asking the odd question hear and there as different areas of framebuilding came into focus. It also helped me to see how others worked and define my own style. How many frames do you build a year? How big is your workspace? What are the essential tools? I build around 12 frames a year, one a month. I’ve just moved into a new space, which is also where the Bespoked office is. It’s great combining the 2. During the build up to this show I gave myself an hour a day in the workshop to build a bike for my daughter, it’s amazing how focused you can be if you know you have a limited time. It also gives me a break from the computer. The essential tools, are first and foremost, surface plate, so that you know what comes in and what goes out are straight. Next is my tig welder then, milling machine as this gives me the option to make the rest of the tools I need. I’ve turned my old workshop into my paint booth which is great to finish my bike in a way that I want and can have complete control over.

Everyone has their own reasons for buying a custom bike, but what’s your opinion - what makes it worthwhile? I think there are two reasons people buy a custom bike the tangible, that are easily defined which are - the fit, the ride, and the overall look. The fit is the most obvious and this comes from being measured, but it’s the tuning of the ride by tube selection and geometry that can really make the bike. The second is the not so tangible and what the customer gets out of the experience. Being part of the whole process in creating a bicycle that didn’t exist before they commissioned it is also a very powerful draw for people, although not as explicit as the fit or ride. When someone rides away on a bicycle made just for them, they ride away taller, not physically, but proud to be riding something they have helped to create.

Bespoked - The UK Handmade Bicycle Show 2015 takes place 17th - 19th April at Brunel's Old Station & Arnolfini in Bristol.

Find out more about Bespoked 2015 here