Interview: Phil Taylor of Bespoked Bristol

UK handmade bike show takes place this weekend

The second Bespoked Bristol handmade bike show kicks off tomorrow after a successful inaugural event last year. Matt Skinner, editor of What Mountain Bike magazine, caught up with organiser Phil Taylor to talk about the beauty of handmade bicycles, the importance of independence, and his favourite frame materials.

On creating Bespoked Bristol

"It was in gestation for two or three years and all started when I began researching frame building because I wanted to build my own frame. My wife Tessa and I have experience of organising art shows – we set up the Brighton Art Fair, where people get to meet and talk with the artists – so we decided to do the same with frame builders. 

"For me it's all about the personality behind the work. Being able to have a chat and discuss ideas with the person making your bike adds to the whole experience. It took three attempts to get the first show off the ground., it very nearly didn't happen. But the support of the exhibitors and me breaking my foot at just the right time produced the first amazing show!”

The inaugural show had plenty of interesting bikes to admire and drool over

On his hopes for the first show

“To get as many frame builders as we could who were interested in meeting the public to show their bikes and to meet and discuss ideas among themselves. For the general public, it was to come and have a good time chatting and looking at all the beautiful bikes.”

On the first year's success

“It couldn't have been better. The feedback during and after the show was amazing. A quote from Brian Rourke summed it up: ‘I’ve been going to bike shows for about 50 years now. This one, for me personally and for this type of show, has been the best ever, not close but by miles.’ Also, the fact that all the exhibitors from the first year have signed up again for this year’s show is fantastic.”

On the interest in this year's show

“From both the industry and public it's been quite amazing. Our Meet the Maker short films [you can watch one episode below ed] have had a huge following. The show has been full for some time but we've been getting inquiries from across the world from people wanting to exhibit. Eric Estlund of Winter Bicycles in Oregon is flying over for the show and the only space we could find to squeeze him into is a couple of window sills.”

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On passing on his passion

“Our two girls (aged two and five) are able to discuss the pros and cons of TIG, fillet or lugged welding!”

On why handmade bikes capture the imagination

“It's a bicycle that's been made especially for you, not the 95th percentile. Until you commission that frame, it doesn't exist. Only after discussing your needs does that frame come into creation. When you take your finished custom build for its first ride and push on the pedals with the wind in your hair, you'll feel the reward."

On the importance of independence

“It's not about market forces, it's about being able to choose. To be independent allows the maker freedom to meet the requirements of the customer without compromise. The exhibitors at the show aren't salespeople, they design and make everything that you look at. So, yes, 'independent' is an adjective that has great significance at the show.”

On why people should visit the show

“See the most beautiful crafted bicycles in the world and meet their makers.”

Last year's show offered the chance to sign up for a frame building course with Brian Curtis

On his own frame building process

“It's slow – this show is really getting in the way! I'm loving my 'cross bike more than ever. Tessa's and my five-year-old daughter's frames just need painting and my new road frame is nearly finished. Making bicycles takes a long time and has given me a new admiration of the exhibitors, whose attention to detail and finish is really something to aspire to. I feel like I'm sitting proud in my mud hut admiring the cathedrals all around.”

On the differences between UK and US frame building culture

“We have an amazing tradition here of building bicycles but with a few exceptions, the handmade scene had seen little in the way of new builders since the days when every shop had one. Within the past few years this has really changed and the number of exciting new builders is clearly evident. There's a resurgence in frame building in the UK at the moment, which in turn is inspired by the handmade bike scene in the USA.

"Cycling in this country is promoted by and large as a sporting activity, and thus bikes are for sport. Most quality bike shops have a predominance of stripped down super-light  road bikes and race-ready mountain bikes. In the US, however, especially the  Oregon scene, bicycles are seen as more than sports items, with modern utility bicycles being more common. 

Frame building in the UK has seen a revival over the past few years

"Many of the new UK builders are following suit and offering more than the traditional, road, touring or mountain bike options. They're going back to more traditional designs but using modern hub/belt drives and disc brakes. This is exemplified by last year's Best in Show winners, Donhou Bicycles. Later in the year we'll be running the Bespoked Constructors' Challenge focusing on utility bicycles.”

On the impact the global economic situation is having on the handbuilt scene

“Many highly skilled people are looking at alternatives to the 9-to-5, and for those with an interest in cycling and/or engineering the thought of frame building may have entered their minds. While it may seem counterintuitive that an increase in frame builders will help matters, I feel, collectively, the profile of frame building in this country will benefit as a result. People are spending money more wisely and looking for value, and are looking to support the community around them. Also, a frame builder is able to fix a broken frame – we must make do and mend in these austere times!”

On his favourite frame building material

“I'm still learning and while I have Reynolds 631 splinters in my hands at the moment I’m looking forwards to replacing them with the new stainless Reynolds 931 shortly. I've just shot a new Meet the Maker film at Enigma where they had some lovely examples.”

Join Phil for the second Bespoked Bristol show this weekend

The Bespoked Bristol Handmade Bike Show takes place this weekend (23-25 March) at Brunel’s Old Station, Temple Meads, Bristol, UK. See www.bespokedbristol.co.uk for more.

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