2011, the first edition of Bespoked. I was 16. I won’t profess to having any knowledge of the show at the time, I had other things on my mind. But now, 12 years later, I can say I have displayed my work at a show which has been in the back of my mind for many years.
Putting something like this at the front of my mind has taken 10 very difficult years. I got estranged from my family, went through the care system, and began to understand gender, sexuality, autism, and how they all affect my life. But most importantly I rode and built bicycles.
Through everything I have always kept the focus on bikes. Both as a crutch and an escape but also as a major driving force behind every decision I have made. I constantly looked for ways to fit bikes into every aspect of my life, whether it was riding my bike to get my A-Level results or writing my dissertation on composite framebuilding, bikes find a way. But I couldn’t escape from the fact that something that was reserved to late nights at work or stolen moments in the hectic theatre of life was not where bikes belonged in my life. So I signed up to go to Bespoked 2022
Unbeknownst to me Bespoked had just changed hands. Times change and 10+ years is a lengthy stint to host one show, fresh faces in the form of Josh and Petor have elevated the show and carried the torch gracefully. This new management brought with it new opportunities, namely the SRAM x Bespoked Inclusivity Scholarship which plays a massive part in what got me to the show. With the vain hope that I could leave my job, build (and presentably finish) a few frames and get myself to London I began 2022 with lots of optimism.
My builds have been covered elsewhere so I will keep it brief. My plan was to take two builds; a classic rim brake road frame to keep grounded to my riding roots, and a no holds barred gravel build with all the swoopy bells and whistles I could design, to try and really show my capabilities. Both frames had major challenges. The road frame was challenging simply because I found myself floundering in the big wide world without access to all of my previous employer’s tools. Nothing humbles you and makes you respect the work the office folk do until you run out of gloves just when you need them. The build process was fraught but I think it turned out pretty well considering I painted it in a tomato greenhouse!
The gravel frame was less of a challenge as I felt in my stride a little more. I had confirmation of receiving the scholarship by this point so I was a little more relaxed about being able to make it to the show and not having to sleep in the car! I built a preliminary frame from my designs thinking that once completed I would have a long while to make another one with some carry over improvements. This was perhaps a little brash. I spent the month before Bespoked grafting like mad as it quickly dawned on me that the frame needed more hours than I expected. But this is what I left the rat race for, putting hours into something that no one around you has any passion for is soul destroying, this work, however, is worth getting up for.
I would be remiss to not mention the experiences along the way. One particularly fun day involved 3 hours sleep, 10 hours of driving and annoying everyone in Richmond Park. Petor had got in touch about shooting some footage for SRAM and the scholarship but the only day all of us could align was just after a wedding, though it did put us geographically closer. Richmond Park became the middle ground for us on this hectic weekend so we met up and did some filming in and around the woods, then Petor had me riding behind him as he hung out the back of a car filming some moving shots. We have all ridden in a bad state before but this was certainly a new one for me. It was a great day out and by pure chance we managed to get to my foster-sister’s house in time for a very late Sunday dinner!
London is a mystical land as far as I am concerned. It exists in a different state to the rest of the country in my mind. If I didn’t know it I could have been convinced that Stratford was London, it seemed big and daunting enough for me! The velodrome is an ethereal sight, especially after 10 months planning to get there, I can’t imagine how everyone who organised the show must have felt.
I have been to a fair few shows before, displaying and as a punter. But the first impressions through the door on Thursday were counter to all my previous experiences; everyone was friendly. People were talking and helping each other set up, admiring work as if the doors were already open to the public. I found my stand in the luxuriously equipped SRAM section (red carpet and Chesterfields is a surefire way to impress) I mingled with the other Scholarship awardees and various people I only knew through emails. Shout out to Grant from Schwalbe who was already knee deep in tubeless sealant.
My partner had come with me to help with talking to people as that is my achilles heel and we both got stuck in helping with set up. Albion needed some hands to help bring their enormous stall structure in and there was some graft required to apply vinyls to the reusable display stalls that had been introduced for this event. Lots of bustling people all around desperately trying to not get distracted by the bikes slowly rolling in made for an enjoyable evening.
Friday was an intense day. Being somewhere new introduces so many challenges and entertainingly the main challenge was finding a coffee. Once that was done we mustered up some well needed clarity and put the final touches on the stand as the press all arrived. So began what felt like 36 hours straight of talking to people who have the exact same special interest as yourself. A sincerely enjoyable space to be in. The press were all super friendly and I think they deserve some respect for being able to cover so much ground so quickly, I didn’t feel like I got to see the whole show in 3 days but they managed to do it in a morning’s work! I don’t know if it was meant to be common knowledge but the press were also judging the awards so after a few hours of public opening the awards were announced. My gravel frame won Best Off Road Bike which is amazing. I should have said a few words upon accepting it but I was in a bit of a state by this point so I apologise to anyone who was there if I seemed in any way ungrateful! Consider this entire write up as my “few words”.
There was an after party at Howling Hops on friday night with food and limited edition beer commissioned and provided by Schwalbe which was super sound of them. I think it’s worth acknowledging how much support some of the big brands gave the show, without getting too handsy and dictating how everything was displayed.
Saturday and Sunday were fairly tough as I think I enjoyed Schwalbe’s special brew a little too much. But the public, press and other framebuilders all had great vibes and created an awesome atmosphere. There were some wonderful talks put on which I think may have slipped past some people as getting the announcements through the hubbub was proving a challenge. I managed to sit in on a talk from Sturdy and Prova about additive manufacturing which turned into a very pleasant recourse about general manufacturing engineering. I missed seeing Zara talk at the Ultra Distance Scholarship talk which is sad but the hours flew by so quickly I hadn’t realised I missed it! The Mike Burrows talk was good fun as well as he is someone I have always enjoyed reading about. A Nice way to honour him, for sure.
My main takeaway is something that is a massive contrast to some of the other industries I have worked in; cooperation. In the simpler things like set up and the larger things like sharing knowledge and expertise. The number of great chats I had with other builders regarding their geometry considerations or carbon layups was fantastic. As a framebuilders forum alone the show was a success in my opinion. I hope the public and the big brands can appreciate how isolated framebuilding can be and how something like Bespoked can draw together such a wealth of expertise and enthusiasm.
I have mentioned Josh and Petor a lot here as they are the two who lead the show. However I think everyone who was involved deserves an enormous round of applause. The photographer grafting away in the depths of the velodrome, the track racers, the volunteers (especially the dude with the ONCE cap and mug on his belt), the velodrome staff, the journalists, and all the people who attended. I tried to take a few pictures of everyone, enjoy.
I have probably let this ramble go on long enough. So to summarise; the show was awesome, people were awesome, I hope to see you at future shows.