The Frame Game

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Andy Waterman

We go to a lot of bike shows in this business. Mostly they are a chance to meet and greet, schmooze and press the flesh. Rarely do we actually spend any length of time looking at the exhibits. And rarely do we see anything that gets the pulse racing.

Bespoked Bristol was different on both counts. Brunel’s Old Station was jam-packed with beautiful objects of a two-wheeled nature. Everywhere you looked, something gorgeous drew you in and left you drooling, even a confessed non-techie like myself. Mostly, the person who had actually created said object of desire would sidle over and chat – not in a high-pressure salesman kind of way; just a chance to take you through what they did and why they did it. Framebuilders are an engaging bunch of people, so it was a genuine pleasure to be on the receiving end of some sales talk.

The other big difference from my point of view was I am in the market for a new frame, a daunting decision that has been put on the backburner more times than Jamie Oliver’s skillet. The sun is shining, the temperature rising, and still no bike has been ordered. With no schmoozing to be done, Bespoked seemed like the ideal opportunity to get it sorted once and for all.

First stop was Mercian and happy memories of the very first lightweight frame I ever purchased, made by the Derbyshire craftsmen but bought in Overburys, just down the road from the bike show in Bristol. Too retro, I decided. There’s no going back now.

Then it was Ricky Feather’s rather sumptuous collaboration with Rapha that caught my attention. A stunning machine and worthy winner of the Best Road Bike award. That’s a maybe. A bit black, though… Or the great Dario Pegoretti, perhaps? Crazy guy, crazy paint jobs, crazy wait for delivery, maybe?

Rouleur photographer Ben Ingham mischievously pointed me towards his fave rave, Donhou, another relative newcomer to the field and a class act. The Donhou frames were lovely, but Ingham was too pushy.

Condor’s Super Acciaio was already on my radar and ticked all the right boxes: steel, none too heavy, damned attractive and a bloody good deal. Ben from Condor nearly had me there.

But my heart was already set on an American import, something I’d seen in construction on a trip to Portland (coming up in Rouleur 31) back in February with photographer Andy Waterman. We visited Chris King to talk about the Portland scene generally but all they wanted to talk about was their Cielo framesets – a funny little story about King knocking up these frames back in the day then forgetting all about them, discovering a container-full in a corner of the factory years later. It turns out they are rather good, but then you would expect nothing less from a man of his talents.

And so Chris King – a man who looks for solutions to problems with the eye of an inventor; a company renowned for those parts of a bike we try not to think about too hard – became a manufacturer of frames. Lovely frames, as it happens. I’m smitten. Our friends at Mosquito bikes happened to have a couple of examples of the finished article on their stand. That was all the confirmation I needed.

Cielo may not quite be the one-man operation, totally individual, made to measure frame of my dreams, but it is affordable, will hopefully be built up in time for the summer and I’m happy it suits my purpose. As for the other head-turners in Bristol, it was great to be swayed. Don’t be surprised if I’m back next year asking more inane questions, probably about ‘cross frames, mud clearance and disc brakes.


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