Interview: Yorkshire design boffin Brant Richards

Shed scientist and founder of On-One

Brant Richards' designs for On-One gained cult status. Now, after 10 years, he's left to set up his own company, Shedfire. We spoke to him about his new products, how he got into frame designing and his forthcoming appearance at BikeRadar Live.

BikeRadar: The first product from your new company has just hit the shops – the £200 Warhead titanium handlebar you've made for Nuke Proof. Have you had any feedback?

It's possibly one of the most arrogant things I've ever made! I won't try to justify its existence but it's a really nice thing. I wanted to make the best titanium handlebar I could, and I wanted something that showed off [US titanium specialists] Lynskey's work.

I don't for a moment think everyone's going to buy one – I can fully understand people thinking it's a travesty! But some people were really cross. I think it's funny to get angry about a handlebar! It's one of those things that will be loved by everyone who's bought one. I've always wanted to do stuff that's a little bit leftfield.

Brant designed the 227g Warhead titanium handlebar for Nuke Proof

How about your new bikes?

The bikes were going to be sold under the name Tweak but because of trademark problems I've decided to call the brand Ragley, which was going to be the model name. Ragley is the name of the woods I ride in.

The titanium bikes will be shipping at the end of next week, the steel ones at the end of the month and the alloy ones will be completed by the end of next month.

They've all got slack head angles and steep seat angles so they go up hills really well and are good on the downhills too. They've all got exactly the same geometry but because of the different material used on each one I've tried to highlight the properties of those materials.

They're all quite different. The titanium bike is light and quite springy, but not 'noodly' springy, and the steel frame is similar but heavier and £1,000 less. The alloy bike uses a 1.5in headset which gives a really stiff chassis and means you can use an integrated headset so the bars aren't too high.

It's all moving ahead at pace, and we've got a bunch of other stuff in the works – bars, grips, headsets, seatposts, seatpost clamps and saddles. It's all going to be stocked through Hotlines, so it will be available in shops, not just direct.

The Ragley Mmmbop alloy hardtail has already been crash tested by Brant

You're coming to BikeRadar Live in two weeks' time. Tell us more...

I'm going to be there talking to people [ed: Brant is taking part in a panel discussion about how to become a cycling journo with John Stevenson, editor-in-chief of sports titles at BikeRadar's parent company Future, and Cycling Plus's Paul Smith]. Ragley haven't got enough products yet so we won't be showing there.

These days you're best known for your work at On-One but you used to be a bike journalist on our sister publication Mountain Biking UK. How did that come about?

I was working at a bike shop in Leeds with John [Stevenson] when the first few issues came out. John started writing for them, I did a few reviews for him and it went from there. I was technical editor at one point.

How did you go from bike journalism to frame designing?

I went through various magazine and web editing jobs, and then met up with Dave Loughran from Planet X, who used to sponsor races with Powerbar. He had a really nice frame hanging up on his wall which was the first singlespeed On-One. I offered to help him with a website in return for the frame and that's how it all started. From test riding lots of bikes and analysing what works, taking the leap to designing bikes isn't terribly big. I actually made my own custom frame when I was about 18 in the bike shop I used to work in.

How does it feel to have left On-One?

I'm feeling energised about design. I’ve always had more ideas than time to realise them, so leaving On-One to set up Shedfire has given me that time. I’m missing On-One but I’m more excited about the future and my new projects.

Last year, the On-One 456 Ti scored a rare perfect 10 in its What Mountain Bike test. With results like that, to an outsider it might seem like an odd time to leave...

There’s never a good time to break up a party. That bike was a signal to me that I really am as good as I think I am at designing products that blend functionality, performance and affordability. The bike getting the response it did was the signal to go.

  On-One's 456 Ti was the first bike to score a perfect 10 from What Mountain Bike magazine

You’re back in the garden shed in Todmorden, hence the name Shedfire. Does that make you a design agency working for other brands or will you go it alone with an ‘On-One mark two’?

Oh, Shedfire is definitely a design agency. I want to team up with other free-thinking designers to turn a few old ideas upside down and take a fresh look at some of the rules that, for a long time, have governed the bikes we ride.

The public latched onto the On-One products very strongly and many felt a synergy with the off-beat brand identity. Is this a theme that you might carry on with your future products, or does the challenge of competing in the mainstream market have any attraction?

I don’t want to go mainstream. I mean, Trek and Specialized have vast teams of engineers dedicated to working day and night on just one pivot, but at Shedfire it’s just me, so I have to think smart and continue to look for demand in niche areas.

That said, I’m working on some full-suspension projects that, while off-beat, might make some mainstream players take a second look. Plus, I want to make a bike in Poland.

If you had control of the design at a major brand for a year, which one would you choose to ‘Brantify’?

[After a long pause] Reliant, the maker of the Robin and Rialto; the three-wheeled car company. After years in the wilderness, having folk poke fun, the concept of cheap, easy-to-drive, possibly electric-powered vehicles is about to happen. It’s a company whose time has yet to come. Having said that, is it still even in business? 

Brant Richards will be appearing at BikeRadar Live at 11am on Saturday, 30 May. For more details, visit the BikeRadar Live website.

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