The new year sees a new UK bespoke framebuilder setting up shop. But instead of peddling steel frames steeped in heritage and craft, Craddock Cycles makes unashamedly race-orientated, made-to-measure carbon road frames.
The company founder, Richard Craddock, broke cover at the end of 2013 when he unveiled his light, stiff, traditional-looking, high-end carbon race frame, which he says can be tweaked according to the weight, power output potential and ride preferences of the customer.
The Craddock is race-orientated and proud of it
The 35-year-old, who spent his career working for various brands in the UK, said he had been nurturing the idea of striking out on his own for several years. In that time, he slowly accrued the savoir-faire, workshop and tools to make a go of it. It’s been ‘beta testing’ until now he told, BikeRadar, making frames for selected riders and generally testing the waters.
One of the final pieces of the puzzle was achieving all the necessary EN14781 international safety standards – which he did at the first go, with a frame that had already been ridden hard for six months or so.
So in 2014, he’s taken the plunge. Craddock admits he is targeting a small niche market but insists the demand for fast, made-to-measure carbon frames is out there.
“I still do the local chain-gang and there’re a couple of pros on that, and they look with envy at the short head tube on mine and say ‘I wish my team issue had a head tube because I’ve got to have the downward sloping stem with the 13cm extension on’,” he told BikeRadar.
The short head tube should give pinpoint steering - if you can handle it
And that, in essence, is what Craddock wants to offer: an alternative to the multitude of standard, off-the-peg comfort frames that are stealthily pitched as racing thoroughbreds.
“I thought: ‘there’s a need there – albeit a small one – for performance frames made in the traditional tube-to-tube way’,” he said.
Apart from the boffins at the UK Sports Institute who make Team GB’s coveted track bikes, Craddock believes he’s the only designer and builder of British made carbon frames. And he finds it surprising that other, bigger brands haven’t cottoned on and taken fuller advantage of the UK’s vibrant carbon composites industry. There is of course a notable exception: Specialized’s partnership with the F1 composites and aerodynamics experts at McLaren.
“I went to a [composites] show in November which year on year is growing in the number of visitors and exhibitors. You’ve got F1 and aerospace there and I don’t know why the bike world hasn’t tapped into it really.
“It’s really handy because it means I can get domestic suppliers for the consumables and materials and tubes – and I don’t have to go abroad.”
The tubes are made to his specs in the UK and the carbon recipe – the fibre weight used, the lay-up schedule and even the resin used – can be tailored according to the type of rider he’s fitting.
“I just need to give them all the various data and they make them in a small batch quantity. And if I get a heavy rider or a powerful rider come along I can put an uprated tube in for not much difference in the batch cost really,” he explained.
Still, a naked Craddock frameset – there’s only one model to choose from for now – will cost £3,100. While the frame is elegantly finished with carbon dropouts and co-moulded cable stops to preserve the frame’s integrity, Craddock says the significant outlay first and foremost buys high performance.
“I’ve gone for strength and stiffness above all else,” he said. “When people talk of vertical compliance, I don’t really think that’s the frame’s job – that’s the spokes, tyres, rims and the saddle.
“It’s a stiff frame, it’s a strong frame, it’s very straight and it’s got 1.5in headset, and you get very precise steering with it.”
Craddock is refreshingly unsentimental about his job. He doesn’t trumpet artisan skills or a long apprenticeship spent at the feet of a master framebuilder, which is a common trait among the steel framebuilding fraternity. All he’s doing is building the “best bike he can”.
“For me framebuilding is not an artistic experience. It’s making sporting goods. There’ll be no soulful black and white pictures of me on the website. [The frames] are to be used and ridden hard.”
Whether or not Craddock will find customers in sufficient numbers is anyone’s guess. He was shy of giving away confirmed orders but said interest since he launched had been high. And long may that continue.