Frame building is something most of today’s cyclists take for granted. Just the thought of being able to manufacture your own usable frame isn’t feasible to the majority of people. Yet BikeRadar were recently invited to a frame building course at bespoke bike builders Swallow, and were left captivated by the experience and its relative accessibility.
Situated within the wonderful Ironbridge world heritage site in Shropshire, UK, is the workshop of Peter Bird and Robert Wade. With nearly 60 years of combined experience working with bicycles, both men have been offering bespoke steel frames since the early Eighties.
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.
We shadowed keen cyclist Blackett Ditchburn. He’d paid for a week-long frame building course with Peter and had set out to build an Italian-inspired, lugged steel racer. It’s a bike Blackett intends to ride from Rome to London, and then on to his home in Hambleden, Buckinghamshire.
Both Peter and Robert are keen to let their pupils be as hands-on as possible with the builds, and all students finish up with a frame designed exactly to their requirements. There are limitations, of course – builds are restricted to lugged steel frames, for example – but you’re still left with a whole world of choice.
All work is completed with the patient and immmensely experienced Peter, so every cut, bit of filing and braze is given the onceover. You can therefore leave the course knowing your frame has been built to very exacting standards and quality control.
It’s important to understand that when a bespoke frame is made, the builders literally start with a blank sheet of paper. It’s their time to listen and advise as they work out the customer’s exact requirements. In Blackett’s case, it was a Columbus tubed road bike using pleasant but not overly ornate lugs.
Take a look at our image gallery and follow Blackett's progress as he goes from a box of tubes and blueprint drawings to a beautiful, near-complete frame within the space of one day.
You too could book yourself into one of Swallow's frame building courses. Five days of tuition will set you back £850, with most builds requiring £200 to £300 in materials. See www.bicycles-by-design.co.uk for more information, and read Blackett’s take on his experience here.