Down in New Milton, a market town on the edge of the New Forest, you’ll find one of the last traditional British manufacturing industries left in the South of England – Royce UK Engineering. The name might not mean anything to a lot of people, but to the discerning cyclist, Olympic track athlete or Land-Speed record holder, Royce is the go-to for top quality, specialist cycle components, nationally and internationally.
Back in 1979 Cliff Polton, a precision engineer with a passion for cycling and pedal cars, was asked to prototype some cycle components. He then set up the production line for the products and in 1980 Royce was born. Today Cliff and two engineers design, make and test cycle components in titanium, aluminium and stainless steel using CNC machines, with the kind of tolerances no mass manufacturer could ever achieve.
Royce is a small company that focuses on building their parts to order. They don’t mass produce. Cliff says: “The market for the quality of the work we produce is not large, and quite frankly price-wise we couldn’t compete in the large market because we’re just not geared up for that sort of thing. Very top-end components, that’s where our market is.”
So what is it that makes Royce parts so special? “The precision in the machining and the quality of finish that we give it,” says Cliff. “Those are the two main, key points that we excel at. Other companies can’t put the time and effort into achieving the kind of results Royce do.”
Which is why the Rio Olympic track squad went to Royce for a locking nut when their rear wheels were wobbling. And why Para Olympian Jozef Metelka, who won two golds and a silver for Slovakia in the track and road cycling in Rio, runs on their drive train and bottom bracket axle, machined from aerospace grade titanium for the ultimate combination of strength, stiffness and low weight.
Royce’s relationship with top athletes goes back many years. In 1992 he helped Chris Boardman win gold at the Barcelona Olympics with a Royce designed and manufactured bottom bracket axle. Then for his record-breaking athletes’ hour record in 2000 Royce designed and manufactured his track hubs and stealth nipples.
Cliff also has a long-running relationship with Nicole Cooke for whom he made special bottom bracket shells and axles for her UCI World Championships win.
Olympic athletes aside, Royce are world-renowned, by those in the know, for their gold hubs, which are virtually indestructible and designed to cope with the toughest conditions. Their top of the range Racing Gold Supreme hubs are manufactured from a single billet of titanium, finished with a titanium nitride coating to give it the extremely hard, distinctive Royce gold finish. Of course, this kind of finish doesn’t come cheap. A front hub alone costs £1230.50. But then you get what you pay for, and there are cheaper options at around the £200 mark.
Because of Cliff’s enthusiasm for all things pedal powered, Royce is involved in some pretty interesting projects like The Arion Project – Liverpool University’s record breaking land speed bicycles. They make parts for the human powered vehicles, designed and built by students studying for a Masters of Mechanical Engineering, which have broken the British Land Speed record over and over again.”
Royce made the rear hub for the Arion 1 and Arion 2 land speed bicycles: “On the Arion 1 it had two callipers on a single disk but the disk got so hot it boiled the seals in the callipers so this time we made the rear hub with two disks on it and a calliper on each and it seemed to work alright” says Cliff.
This September they reached 76mph in Arion 2, securing them the British land speed record. In the ladies’ category they added 22mph to the standing record.
“It’s good being involved with these people,” says Cliff, “they’re so enthusiastic. I’ve been asked to be involved with Arion 3, I said ‘Yes please!’” Cliff is hoping to borrow one of the Arion cars to display at Bespoked 2017.
Tom Donhou’s Experiments in Speed is another interesting project - Royce made the huge chain ring, drive gear, hubs and crank arms. “That was the 104 tooth chain ring made from aluminium. When you’ve got that much torque going into something it’s got to be stiff, so we built it for stiffness not lightness,” Cliff explains.
But Cliff’s true love is pedal car racing – the endurance sport where teams of drivers race round a track about 1km long for up to 24 hours in a pedal powered car. You may have seen one that Cliff built on his stand at Bespoked. Royce has two teams that compete nationally, and Cliff helps to organise the New Milton Pedal Car Grand Prix.
“We finished third in the British championship this year for pedal car racing,” he says. “It was a fight right to the end. With three races left we were seven points behind third place so we had to do all the races and in the end we pipped them by two points to get third place. We’re talking a seven-hour race at Kirborough, two five-hour races at Black Bush, and it was tight. It’s a lot of hours for you to be pedalling and it can be a bit of a demolition derby sometimes.”
Royce will be exhibiting at Bespoked 2017.
Photos by Augustus Farmer www.augustusfarmer.com