As Australia’s key custom bike show, the FYXO Melburn Custom Bike Show was a showcase of Australian boutique builders and brands. In this third and final part to the show, we look at some wildly large wheels from Fikas, speak to a former Boeing engineer turned cycling carbon wizard – and look at an early brand concept that adopts musical theory for ride quality design.
- Australian Custom Bikes - Part One
- Australian Custom Bikes - Part Two
- Custom 3D printed bikes from Bastion
Fikas Custom Bicycle Frames
Based in Queanbeyan, just outside of Canberra, Australia, Luke Laffan creates Fikas Bikes. Building bikes isn’t a full-time gig for Laffan, but rather is something he does between other jobs as a metal fabricator – such as the display mounts he’s creating for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Thirty-six inch wheels! Why? We're not sure
At the show, Laffan was displaying a front-suspendion 36in wheeled titanium mountain bike. Built for a local customer that arrived at his door on a penny-farthing, this bike is certainly different.
The 130mm linkage front fork is a fully custom item fashioned from machined alloy plate, titanium axles and a RockShox XX Monarch rear shock.
Thirty-six inch wheels have a stronger following in the world of unicycles than bicycles – so that’s where the rims are from. As a single rim is designed to take the entire load of a person, they are certainly heavy.
Big rims call for long spokes. To overcome this, Laffan machined some adaptors to bolt in place over the wide-axled (135 and 190mm) fat bike hub spoke flanges, enabling a higher spoke count with a shorter spoke length.
“I’ll build anything really. In the customer order list I have a titanium 29er singlespeed and a Reynolds 953 stainless steel, TIG-welded road bike,” said Laffan when we asked him if there’s anything in particular he focuses on.
A lugged stainless steel crosser is one of Laffan's personal rides
“My personal favourite bike at the moment is my stainless steel cyclocross bike – I just ride that everywhere in Canberra.” Laffan went on, before explaining that the time-intensive machined and polished stainless steel lug construction of this frame means it would sell for about AU$3,600. We’re told, though, that more basic Columbus 853 steel frames would start from AU$2,400.
Beyond his own brand, the bikes Laffan builds most are those for a local street-style bike company – Goodspeed Bicyle Co. These swoopy bikes are commonly found out the front of Mocan & Green Grout, a trendy Canberra espresso bar.
Raoul Luescher of Luescher Teknik has quickly established himself as one of Australia’s true forces in carbon composite knowledge. Given that he's worked for Boeing aerospace, the Australian Department of Defence and more recently the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) for the cycling teams of Athens and Beijing, there’s little doubt this man knows his carbon.
In 2008, Luescher set up his own carbon design and repair business, where he’s since become a regular go-to for Australian bicycle insurance companies to perform repairs. It's not just his knowledge that makes repairs something he’s well placed to do – Luescher also owns an ultrasound machine to see inside the carbon structures.
So what does a carbon repairer and technical consultant have to do with a custom bike show? Well, starting from AU$10,000 he’ll handmake you a carbon frame, though that’s not something he does too often. Instead, it’s his research and consultancy work that grabbed our attention.
Luescher consulted for Bouwmeester Wheels
Most recently, Luescher’s work made an appearance on BikeRadar with the new mountain bike rim from Aussie startup Bouwmeester. “We worked closely together on this rim concept, and the product production is now ramping up,” said Luescher of the Australian-made rim.
There was a wheel-testing jig on display, something that Luescher said was built to be multiple-purpose and test both lateral and radial stiffness of wheels. Additionally, the jig allows exact and repeatable measurement of a tyre’s contact patch through a glass pane.
One of the testing instruments on display (Not ANT+ ready...)
Another testing instrument on display was what appeared to be a suspension data acquisition system. However, speaking with Luescher, he revealed this was actually to test what the ‘tyre face loading’ was during hard cornering.
“Setting up your suspension is critical, but there are other factors involved with the wheel. There’s a lateral component to wheel design that affects traction. Stiffer is not always better,” he said.
Via the use of accelerometers and taking wheel speed eight times per revolution, Luescher is able to derive what the forces are on the wheel – and get a far greater understanding than what computer simulation alone allows.
Lyrebird Cycles (tonewood composite bikes)
Despite the appearance, this isn't exactly a wooden bike
The theory that ride quality is linked to acoustic resonance is an interesting one, and something that led Mark Kelly to start experimenting with tonewoods.
With a father who’s a luthier (guitar and banjo maker), Kelly grew up around musical instruments and found himself in the audio speaker business. More recently, and having already moved onto wine consultancy work, he started building Lyrebird Bicycles as a keen hobbyist in search of a better riding bike.
Wooden and bamboo bikes have existed for many years, and there are a large handful of happy riders out there on these bikes. However, Kelly didn’t intend to create a wooden bike; instead the properties of the woods informed his quest.
“Tonewoods are different to other materials used in cycling in that they tend to increase dispersion as the frequency increases – I think this is where the ride quality is coming from.”
The crossed squares are carbon, from this, the layers of tonewoods, boron and flax are wrapped
Kelly wraps the various tonewoods (five types) in a similar fashion to a toilet roll – up one way, then back the other overlapping in a single sheet. At various stages, the woods are layered with other materials including boron fibres, flax and carbon.
With stainless steel used at the dropouts and bottom bracket sheets, Kelly states his early frames are around 1450g. He hopes, however, to see weights closer to the 1,200g mark in future iterations.
“Some of these woods, such as Eucalyptus grandis, have impressively high stiffness to weight ratio numbers,” said Kelly of the strength of his perhaps overbuilt frames.
Whether you agree or not, Kelly admits it’s just a theory of his that remains without scientific proof – “I don’t know any of this; this is a gut feeling and it seems to be working out – but my certainty for this product is very low. It seems to be that this is part of the picture (for a wonderful riding bike).”
With this, Kelly is having bikes tested to pass standards before he can receive business insurance. And then there’s the sheer time in creating these bikes: “I still have to work out if I can make any money,” concluded the plain-speaking enthusiast.