A couple of weeks ago we took the Bespoked pop up on the road for the second time. This time it was to Ard Rock Enduro. Josh and I loaded up our little yellow bus with our prototype modular reusable CNC ply booth designed and built for Bespoked by Tammy Crawford-Rolt with lighting from RUNLIGHT. Accelerator to the floor, we plowed through the 7 hour drive at our modest top speed of 60MPH, reaching the show at some point in the afternoon where we met Billy of Howler and Tom from Dawley, who helped set up our big white pole tent to the early hours of the morning. The tent itself was at odds with the sea of black inflatable dome tents and flappy fishing rod flags that seem to be in vogue among the cycling industries’ bigger brands. We separated ourselves further from other brands at the show by actually presenting the work on show in a way that made it visible, rather than bringing a mountain of wheel stands and jamming the tent full! It was a weird environment for us, carefully preening the stands, removing fingerprints from the clean, pale plywood with Fenwicks products on an old t-shirt and restocking the little shelves with risograph printed flyers.
It was also a weird environment for us because for the most part, enduro riders don’t ride handmade bikes, so I guess our goal in being there and having a presence as a group of builders, was to be there on a scale that’s visible. Together our Bespoked Ard Rock pop-up had a booth that was comparable in size to large scale manufacturers, presented the work of the builders in a way that was easy to engage with. It was easy to photograph bikes on the stands and was an environment that was fun to be in. Most importantly, we brought arguably some of the most exciting bikes at the show, by some of the UK’s and perhaps, the world’s finest builders of mountain bikes right now. The size, shape and position of the tent allowed for three of the four (and a half) builders showing at the popup to be seen from outside, while the forth resided in a more intimate setting, crudely dubbed “dickhead corner”. As such, each morning when the bikes returned, having spent the night in locked vans, we passed the dickhead to the right hand side, to show new work on the shop window side.
The four and a half builders on show were Dawley, Howler, Ra and Coal Bikes; Rideworks was the extra half having built about half of what was on the Coal Bikes stand. Gav (Coal Bikes) brought his first ever frame, the PONY, a hardtail 29er built in 2020; his personal “84” enduro bike and a shedload of good vibes to the show. While the PONY was for sure a nice bike, there are a lot of nice bikes in the world, so it was underwhelming juxtaposed with the 84. By contrast the 84 was mind blowing, especially given the length of time Gav has been building. Having previously worked as a coded welder, obviously the welds were great, but who cares? Neat welds don’t maketh the rad bike! There were actually 2 84’s on show, one in “Bespoked bus yellow”; Gavs personal bike, which was occasionally switched out for the other in battleship grey, which was Paul (Rideworks) personal bike. In the case of the 84 it truly does take a village to build a bike, Gav having designed and built the frame, using linkage designed by Alex Desmond of Dezmoto Racing and machined by Rideworks, who also manufactured the hubs, stem and headset. Even the headset spacers were machined with Rideworks “bean can” motif. My favorite part was the little linkage spacer, which, although it was basically invisible, had a little bean can texture machined into it too. While I know what I’m looking at enough to have my little mind blown by the bike itself, having never really ridden an enduro bike properly, I asked Gav, ‘Is there anything else I should know about the 84?’
“Yea! It’s Fucking Rad!” Which to be honest, seemed to be the consensus amongst the handful of racers who’d taken their personal 84’s round the 7 stages.
The other big bike at our little pop up, that took the little adjustable metal stands that we had made by BTR fabrications to the absolute limit of their height, was the ever impressive Ra bikes .12, radiant in transparent red lacquer. Having designed and built a number of the trails at Ard Rock, and also marshaling the event, spotting Raffi at the show was like glimpsing a rare bird through the trees. By the time you’ve come to terms with what you’re seeing it’s gone, leaving you unsure about whether it happened at all. I’m pretty sure I saw Raffi cheating a couple of times riding a motocross bike up the hill. Accompanying the .12, with it’s intricately engineered lattice steel interior and distinctive head tube gusset was a .410 hardtail. With the fanciest build kit at the show, featuring an Intend fork and Sturdy crankset enticing people in, the .410 had its brake levers and tyres squeezed by a number of visitors.
Howling Hops brewery, who we’re also working with on the main show, supported us with a massive cooler full of beers. I brought along a couple of my own bikes, a little-tall bike and a long tail, mostly for hauling stuff about and riding around the show. The two things kind of played off each other, as the first night descended into silliness, that mostly revolved around music, beers and wheelies on inappropriate bikes. Nervous teenagers stood watching from a distance as grown men repeatedly failed at stunts, falling off the little-tall bike and a swing bike someone had brought along, before eventually moving on to any other bikes left unattended. Soon kids and old people were indoctrinated into the chaos and what started as a mini bike show began to feel more like a party.
Billy from Howler brought one enduro bike and one other rigid bike, that would at some point have just been a mountain bike, but I guess would be called a monster cross or adventure bike now. As a base line, it was indeed a bike. The bike was built for Grinduro, the week before, and had some cool little details, like an internally routed fun little wishbone, and manufactured in house bullmoose style bars. The enduro bike was sensible, functional and smart with impressive finishing for a powder coat.
Tom of Dawley bikes brought with him two raw frames, an Eponym and a Rallye. In the carbon fiber context of Ard Rock the stacked dimes of toms loose but tidy unfiled filets drew a lot of attention. Being raw they were the first bikes that visitors engaged with, with an understanding of being steel, which brought about weird discourse that began to get to the root of why we wanted to be there. Enduro in the UK has more than its fair share of middle aged white guys making dick jokes and doing “dudebro” stuff. At some point all of those middle aged dudebros were kids and when they were kids they rode steel bikes, so when they look at modern steel bikes like Tom’s or Gavins or Billy’s or Raffi’s they say one of two things:
Either “I used to ride steel bikes” or “how much does that weigh?” and from my oddball bike dork perspective, neither one is important or really leads anywhere….
I’d ask ‘why don’t you ride steel bikes any more?’, to which they’d answer either “because I can afford carbon now”, or “I’ve always ridden steel, so I wanted to try something different”. Both are irrational approaches for different reasons, but glaze over any kind of potential for understanding steel as a medium. They imply that steel is the material of choice because it’s inexpensive, and that the steel frames of their youth bore any resemblance to modern steel enduro bikes. The fact is that while “carbon fiber” is as broad a term as “steel”, in modernity, steel represents a highly suitable material for a mountain bike, for a thesis of reasons that I’m not going to begin outlining here. To say that a steel enduro bike now, is the same as a steel enduro bike was 20 years ago, is like saying that a carbon enduro bike now, is the same as it was 20 years ago. They’re just entirely different. But the perception that one is better or more appropriate than the other, is as problematic as the idea that the weight of a bike has anything to do with anything beyond the rider’s attachment to their front teeth and the builder’s ability to design something appropriate.
Aside from the builders at the popup, some other fun people popped up. It was great to catch up with Burf from BTR, who’s far more positive in real life than his instagram would make you believe, along with his old partner in business Tam. Burf was riding his Pinner, and there were also a number of other BTR riders in and amongst the ubiquitous Santacruises. One guy I saw riding uphill on an orange Ranger that worked so well with his outfit that it couldn’t have not have been planned. We also met for the first time SRAM scholar for this year’s show, Viola of Sideways, who brought three frames for us to look at; one of which was made entirely from scrap fishing rods as an experiment in “how flexy is too flexy”. I had a go riding it down a grassy slope, and while it was weird as hell, it was also comfy and stable as hell, although I wouldn’t have wanted to ride it back up. In that respect, it was pretty close to a lot of the bikes at the event. I made the error of lending Burf my Dynaplug racer, which would have been fine because as a Dynaplug mega fan and friend of the meerkat, I have four. However, somehow word that I was super endowed with the best/only functional tyre plugs going, spread like wildfire and the generosity of my lending saw me return plugless.
Enduro riders are not the usual crowd when it comes to handmade bikes. In the UK we have a huge number of frame builders building super high end, incredibly well thought out and put together bikes domestically. For the most part, the bikes are even comparable in terms of cost to equivalently high end, mass produced frames built in Taiwan and shipped around the world. In the UK now, buying a Coal or a RA that can be built for you, around your body and your needs, seems like a no brainer over buying something generic that works, for more or less the same price. Supporting builders is supporting culture and pushes the sport and the makers to improve, however at Ard Rock, which is one of the UKs biggest enduro events, there were only a small handful of riders who invested in a handmade bike. It’s especially strange in the context of enduro bikes, because the frame is such a small percentage of the cost of the whole bike, but makes such a big difference to the ride quality, usability, suitability and feel of the bike, AKA how fun it is. While for right now, handmade steel enduro bikes seem to be a very small percentage of what’s going on in that field; I see that changing significantly over the next few years given the geopolitical state of the world and the quality of the offering that builders are bringing. We’re stoked to have been there and privileged to be able to work with, and help promote the work of such incredibly capable, deeply interesting, hard working and inspiring people. Thanks to all who came and everyone who helped make it happen. Happy trails and we hope to see you again!
Dawley, Howler, Ra, Coal Bikes, Sideways and Rideworks will all be showing at this year’s Bespoked at the Lee Valley VeloPark in London. To see the bikes and meet the people behind them in person, get your tickets here.
Photos and Text by Petor Georgallou
Click on the photos below for the full gallery!