Situated in the village of Jackfield, within the beautiful Ironbridge Gorge world heritage site in Shropshire is the workshop of bespoke bike builders Peter Bird and Robert Wade. This duo have nearly sixty years of combined experience of working with bicycles and together they have been offering bespoke steel frames since the early eighties under the Swallow name.
Swallow have never offered a production run of any frame, instead their customers are involved in a lengthy and totally individual experience that offers everything an off-the-peg purchase cannot. Both Peter and Robert have quite a collection of bicycles, many of which showcase both their exquisite attention to detail and the sheer creativity involved in their builds. We take a closer look at Robert’s personal Swallow 953, a bike that he built to both acknowledge his own cycling history and to commemorate his influential father, Harry Wade.
The styling behind Rob’s Swallow was dictated by pro bikes of the ‘60s and ’70s, in particular the combination of rich colour schemes, bright chrome and beautifully polished alloy parts used in this era. Another influence was Rob’s first bike, a flamboyant blue Elswick with shiny alloy parts, it cost £45 and amazingly he still has the original receipt. Rob’s dad also insisted that he had a Brooks saddle, just like the one he rode back in the 1930s and, once again, something Rob also still owns today.
Peter Bird founded Swallow back in 1981 in a shed at his parents house in Essex, but before this he had completed an apprentiship as a goldsmith. What this means today is that each frame from Swallow includes a solid silver hallmarked plate initialled by either Peter or Robert, it’s also signed off with the date the bike was completed. The silver work doesn’t end there though, each frame also comes with a solid silver head badge and customers can even opt for silver soldered construction as used on this frame.
The componentry for this build was selected with both performance and style in mind whilst an effort was made to source from European sources, or where possible from companies still producing in the original factories rather than outsourcing from China or the far east.
As with all of Swallow’s creations, Rob’s bike is made to measure ensuring all contact points are perfectly positioned for fit, comfort and performance. Tyre clearance is generous compared to modern carbon frames and harks back to the days when roads were not so good or unmade, and wider section tyres were used.
Tube dimensions are described by Rob as modern “classic” with 31.7mm down tube and 28.6mm top and seat tubes. The seatstays are 16mm single taper whilst a 1-in steerer was chosen to keep things elegant whilst allowing for the ahead stem and threadless headset.
- Frame and forks tubing – Reynolds 953 stainless steel
- Lugs and fork crown – micro cast stainless steel
- Bottom bracket shell – micro cast steel with stainless steel cable guides
- Brake bridge – micro cast stainless steel
- Top eyes – machined stainless steel
- Frame ends – micro cast stainless steel
- All braze-ons and bosses are stainless steel – the bottle bosses and ‘dead ended’ to prevent water entering the frame
- Headbadge and number plate – solid sterling silver
- Construction – silver soldered
- Weight – frame only approx. 1600g
- Groupset – Campagnolo Athena 11speed including Record threadless headset.
- Handlebars and seat post – Nitto
- Handlebar stem – custom made Swallow
- Saddle – Brooks limited edition Swallow in white – this is the first time in their history Brooks have produced a white saddle
- Handle bar tape – Brooks
- Wheels – Royce Racing hubs, Mavic Open Pro rims (32 hole) with Sapim Laser Spokes
- Tyres – Vittoria Open Corsa Evo SC 700x23c
The polishing involved for many components on this bike took around 12 hours in total