A couple of rooms off the main hall at Bespoked Bristol were dedicated to new builders – the start-ups and out-there manufacturers trialling crazy designs and new concepts. There was Woodelo, offering performance road bikes made of Irish ash and Oyster Bikes, who had done away with derailleurs completely by building a frame that took a jackshaft transmission. Up against one wall, however, cloaked in panniers and a frame bag was something far simpler.
It was the Element, a 29er designed for the tough discipline of bivvy-biking, or off-road, unsupported touring where the rider has carry all they need for days in the saddle and nights under canvas. Reliability, obviously, is key.
Strip away the accoutrements of bivvy-biking and as the name suggests the bike beneath was the essence of simplicity: no suspension, a single gear and disc brakes. It was elemental in another way too, being the first and so far only bike to come out of Olly Webb’s garden shed, which doubles as the HQ for his new company, DMO Frameworks.
Despite being Webb’s first bike building attempt, the workmanship is top drawer. The fillet-brazed junctions in the Element’s air-hardened Reynolds 853 tubing are fettled exquisitely and the custom-rolled top tube and bespoke chain and seat stays give the frame style and flair. Clearly the time Webb spent practicing bending B&Q tubing before getting to the real stuff paid off.
Even the headtube has been eccentrically turned – a nicety no doubt, but a flashy piece of lathe work nonetheless. As an ensemble, finished with second hand headset, cranks and seatpost, the lines are clean and smooth. The Brian Rourke Cycles paint job in titan grey shows the frame’s workmanship at its best.
The project had its painful setbacks too. When Webb was brazing a joint, he pulled the torch away and somehow managed to set his shed roof on fire and drops of molten tarpaulin plastic rained down on him while he worked. Another time he stuck a red hot brazing rod to his lip – “the single most painful injury I have sustained whilst building the Element frame,” Webb said on his blog.
For a first time build, the Element is extraordinary effort and one that caused a stir at the show. Less than a week after, Webb, from Chippenham in Wiltshire, said he has been fielding numerous enquiries and interest. “It’s been absolutely mad,” Webb told BikRadar. “People have been emailing me with links to where the bike’s been discussed – it’s made some crazy ground and I have had about five people interested I think.”
So far, he has one confirmed order.
Webb, who spent a year in the prototype department at Williams Formula 1 learning to weld, fabricate and machine after flunking his A-Levels first time around said the process of building had been a rewarding one.
“It’s fulfilling. It’s such a rollercoaster building your own frame, and I don’t know if anyone who builds a frame experiences that?” he said. Well, Blackett Ditchburn who we followed as he built his own bike at Swallow in Shropshire earlier this year concurred - he described it as an "experience unlike any other".
The proof of course will be in the ride. And that, as yet hasn’t happened. As a bivvy biking fan which demands riders spend days in remote regions areas carrying all their supplies and camping equipment, Webb’s bike will need to be tough.
That maiden voyage happens shortly on the 104 mile Trans Cambrian Way and after that, the 430 mile Highland way in the Cairngorms. The bike has its work cut out.
“You can spend ten hours a day plus on the bike so it’s got to be comfortable,” said Webb. “At the same time, if you’re sat on a bike for ten hours a day and you hit a really nice piece of single track you want to hoon it down there, so you don’t want it to be like a piece of spaghetti. You want it to be agile enough to enjoy and at the same time compliant in the right directions.”
We’re looking forward to hearing how Webb and his Element fare.