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PINK FLOYD’S CURIOUS LITTLE DITTY FROM 1967 IS EVOCATIVE OF THE BRITISH LOVE AFFAIR WITH BICYCLES. SINCE AT LEAST THE 1880S, WE HAVE BEEN BALANCING ATOP CHAIN-DRIVEN TWO WHEELERS FOR ALL MANNER OF ACTIVITIES. CYCLING REPRESENTS FREEDOM. HERE CW SALUTES THREE FIRMS THAT STILL MAKE BIKES IN BRITAIN.

Long before Sir Chris Hoy lifted British cycling to new heights, some sources believe, the first mechanically propelled two-wheeled contraption was built by a Scottish blacksmith called Kirkpatrick MacMillan in 1839. The penny-farthings of the mid-Victorian years were popular with daredevil riders despite their dangerous reputation, but it was not until the invention of the «safety bicycle» in the 1880s that cycling’s popularity boomed. Getting one’s feet in touching distance of the ground proved to be a great advantage. John Dunlop’s invention of the pneumatic bike tyre in 1888 helped remove the boneshaking tendency of the earlier machines.

The British became skilled at manufacturing bicycles, especially in cities with light engineering traditions like Coventry, Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester and Oxford. Bicycle makers were numerous and frame badges such as Armstrong, BSA, Carlton, Coventry Eagle, Claud Butler, Holdsworth, Mercian, Phillips, Rudge, Viking and, of course, Raleigh will still bring a smile of recognition and many happy memories to millions of cyclists.

The consumer value for bicycles and cycling goods in the UK market exceeded £2.9 billion in 2010/11, according to a report by the London School of Economics for British Cycling, the national promotional body. The number of cyclists increased by 11% for the same period and 13 million Britons now pedal around regularly. Each cyclist in the same period contributes around £230 a year to the UK’s GDP.

There was a 28% leap in retail sales for the same period reviewed, meaning that in 2010/11 some 3.7m bikes were sold at an average price of £439. Consumers will find that most of the bikes on offer are now manufactured in the Far East, but there remains a small but lively core of UK-based makers, which reflect some of the best traditions of British cycling.

PASHLEY PLAYS THE RETRO CARD

You won’t see people wearing Lycra-rich sportswear while riding their Pashleys. Harris Tweed jackets and cavalry twills for chaps and perhaps Laura Ashley floral-printed dresses for the ladies are more the sort of costume Pashley people prefer.

Retro styling is at the centre of the company’s appeal. Founded by William “Rath” Pashley in 1926 and based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Pashley Cycles is England’s longest-established bicycle manufacturer. The bicycles and tricycles carefully manufactured by the 50 staff in Warwickshire find their way to more than 40 countries worldwide.

Traditional manufacturing methods allied to modern componentry and materials are used in the range of styles that stretches from the traditional sit-up-and-beg Princess and Roadster models to the sportier, but still retro, Tube Rider Double Scoop “beach cruiser” and the Guv’nor, which is based on the company’s Path Racer of the 1930s. Prices run from around £450 for a Poppy to £1,495 for a Clubman Country touring cycle.

“Pashley has always concentrated on hand-building quality bicycles which have a style and function that sets them apart from others,” says managing director Adrian Williams. “We create products which we enjoy and which we hope our customers will like, rather than following any particular fashion trend. Our bicycles are not mass-produced. They are the product of a small enthusiastic team of designers and production engineers -supported by over 95 UK suppliers — who work with our skilled craftsmen to create over 160 different models of bike.

“Our frame builders take the raw tubing, cut and bend it and then braze it into a complete bicycle frame. It is then painted with one of 35 different colours and assembled using a variety of components. The bicycle is then boxed for sending to customers both at home and abroad. Some 45% of our production is exported.

“It is fortunate that Pashley has stayed with its craft and invested in its people and products, rather than becoming a soul-less importer like so many others. Customers today are searching for authentic, British-made products with an individuality and style which Pashley brings.”

By cleverly playing the nostalgia card, Pashley has achieved cult status. The comment on the company website with a picture of a Pashley Poppy, a woman’s bike painted vivid pink, is typical: “Poppy making herself at home after I picked her up from the showroom. I LOVE her!”

MOULTON RE-INVENTED THE BIKE

If Pashley is imbued with a between-the-world-wars feel, then the classic Moulton immediately brings back memories of the Swinging Sixties. The death of Dr Alex Moulton at the age of 92 on December 9th last year prompted a huge number of tributes on the website of The Moulton Bicycle Company. A typical one reads: «From a boy, 12 years old in 1965, who saved up to buy a Moulton Standard that gave such pleasure and still does today, my condolences…” Many messages are from the Far East. “Rest in peace and thank you for re-inventing the bicycle,» writes one fan in Malaysia. “Rest in peace and thank you very much for the best bicycle for all,» added another from Thailand.

It is a bitter-sweet irony that after Asian factories resulted in the decimation of the UK cycle makers, the Far East is the major market for possibly the most instantly recognisable British bike — the small wheeled, open-frame Moulton. Some 80% of these British-made curiosities go overseas. The Japanese have been key customers for decades and important new growing markets include China, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

Alexander Eric Moulton was an expert in rubber engineering who wanted to create a machine that was easier to ride — and more desirable to own — than conventional bikes. His concept was to create an open-framed bicycle, which was easier to get on and off. He used small wheels with high-pressure tyres for faster acceleration (because of less inertia). He wanted full suspension and a large amount of carrying capacity over the wheels on the centre line of the bicycle.

His first design, the Series 1, was launched in 1962 and was greeted with acclaim and very large opening orders. Moulton built a factory in the grounds of his Jacobean house at Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire to satisfy demand. The Moulton bicycle, with its F-shaped frame, was a memorable icon of the Swinging Sixties. A stylish bike for urban journeys, it was known as a comfortable long-distance touring machine, which, when stripped down, became a record-beating fast track bike.

Today the Moulton bike range runs from the entry-level TSR2, which costs around £950, to the technically advanced New Series Double Pylon, which is £16,500. The simpler models are made by

Moulton’s near-neighbour, Pashley, but the top-of-the-range bikes are still largely handcrafted in the original factory.

«Everything on the bicycle is made here apart from the bought-in components from leading companies like Campagnolo, but even then they are making hubs and gear sprocket assemblies to our exclusive designs,» says Stephen Moulton, CEO of the business and Alex’s great nephew. «Everything is made by our skilled workers, using precision custom-made jigs. One man has been with us for 50 years and two others for more than 25. Young apprentices are being trained to learn the relatively rare skills involved, including brazing, the process by which we join together two pieces of metal.

«Once we have cut the tubing for the frame to precise lengths we connect the pieces by brazing, rather than using lugs.

Our Double Pylon, for example, has 200 braze points, each braze taking between two minutes and eight minutes to complete. Silver braze is used on our stainless steel models, and brass on our painted models.»

«CLIENTS IN ASIA ARE LOOKING TO BUY THE BEST ENGINEERING, WHETHER IT IS ON THE SCALE OF A WATCH OR A BICYCLE.»

At the height of its popularity, Moulton was making between 200 and 300 bikes a week, but today it is making only several hundred a year. The factory employs 15 people. «Now the onus is on quality, bespoke, builds on a fuller range, so individual lead times can be anywhere between three and eight months from the time of order,» says Stephen Moulton.

«The reason we do well in the Far East is that the consumers there are very discerning. They are looking to buy the best engineering, whether it is on the scale of a watch or a bicycle.”

ENIGMA: PERFECTLY FRAMED

A sports car or a motorbike used to top the list of «boys’ toys” for well-heeled, middle-aged men. Now a high-performance cycle is just as likely to be the present that a man awards himself, according to Enigma Titanium, which is based in rural Sussex.

Using high-grade titanium, the best lightweight steel and carbon fibre, the seven-man team at Enigma pours passion and skill into creating riding machines that look wonderful and perform superbly. Enigma’s specialty is in hand-building the central component of a great cycle, the frame, and its resident master frame builder is Mark Reilly, who has more than 25 years’ experience to draw upon.

«We have all sorts of customers, including youngsters and women, but a high percentage are men aged 40 to 50 who are coming back to cycling after taking time to raise a family or build up a career,” he says. «Once cycling gets in your blood, it stays there. They come to Enigma because they like nice things that are well made. Just as they want a nice watch, or a nice suit, or a nice pair of shoes, so they want a bike that’s the best they can find.”

Enigma’s top-of-the range frames are made of titanium, that strong, lustrous, corrosion-resistant element that has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal, making it ideal for a bike frame. Christopher Ward has used titanium for the first time in its new C11 Titanium Elite Chronometer -see pages 14-17 for the full story.

As well as titanium, Enigma uses various steel alloys. With a precision that would impress even Christopher Ward’s Swiss watchmakers, Enigma has developed techniques to make its own range of tubes and profiles. By making the tubes oval and tapering them in crucial areas, the company reduces weight, increases the power transfer while making the bike more comfortable. In another refinement, Enigma specialises in double butted tubes, which have variable wall thicknesses to reduce weight.

Enigma was set up in 2006 by Jim Walker with the help of Mark Reilly. Walker has racked up 35 years in the cycle business, many of them as a distributor, while Reilly brought with him two decades of experience in building frames.

Says Reilly: «How the frame fits the rider is the most important part of getting a good

MARK RILEY, ENIGMA watchmakers, Enigma has developed techniques to make its own range of tubes and profiles. By making the tubes oval and tapering them in crucial areas, the company reduces weight, increases the power transfer while making the bike more comfortable. In another refinement, Enigma specialises in double butted tubes, which have variable wall thicknesses to reduce weight.

Enigma was set up in 2006 by Jim Walker with the help of Mark Reilly. Walker has racked up 35 years in the cycle business, many of them as a distributor, while Reilly brought with him two decades of experience in building frames.

Says Reilly: «How the frame fits the rider is the most important part of getting a good

Enigma Titanium builds a frame to fit precisely a cyclist’s shape and style of riding.

bike. It combines engineering skills, with knowledge of geometry and physics. There is definitely a shortage of good bike frame builders.

«Our frames usually cost between £1,000 and £2,000. A finished bike can go from about £1,700 to £6,500, which is all determined by technology. In cycling, less costs more. If you want better, lighter, stronger components, you have to pay for them; it’s as simple as that.”

To mark his quarter-century in the trade, Enigma is offering a limited-edition of just 25 custom-built Mark Reilly frames, which cost £2,499. The steel tubing is a specially commissioned batch of Reynolds 753 quality, once the highest specification from the specialist Reynolds Tube Company in Birmingham. In his early days Reilly was the youngest frame builder certified by Reynolds to use this exclusive heat-treated manganese-molybdenum alloy.

Annual production of Enigma bikes is in the hundreds, with only 15% going abroad. Mainly this British manufacturer sells its lovingly crafted engineering gems to British enthusiasts.

It remains to be seen if the efforts of Sir Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton, Mark Cavendish, Laura Trott, Sarah Storey, Jason Kenny and the rest of Britain’s elite twowheeled performers lift the sales of bikes, whether for high-performance or for pootling about.

There is no doubt that Britain’s love affair with the two-wheeler is more passionate than ever. British Cycling, the body that promotes all aspects of the sport and pastime, now boasts a membership of

64,000, having added an amazing 14,000 new members since the Olympics. Now that is some legacy to celebrate.

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