While it is still possible to buy bikes that have been partly British made, the big question remains as to whether or not you are wasting your money.
Bikes that were owned in the UK before the 1980’s were usually made in Britain, however when you buy a bike today, the chances are that it was manufactured abroad. Once, Britain was the driving force behind global bicycle design – home to the innovators and inventors of cycling, however today’s picture is very different. It seems a shame that the UK no longer has a strong bicycle manufacturing industry, especially with the recent increase in bike sales and the suggestion that many people would be happy to pay more for a British made brand. Yet, if you look hard enough, you will find that there are still factories that make bicycles based in the UK.
UK Owned Bicycle Production
Today, there are still UK-owned bicycle making factories in Brompton and Pashley, and of these, Brompton has the biggest volume of any bicycle manufacturer in the country. However, both of these manufacturers produce uprights and folding bikes, so how about if you are looking for something different? The good news is that there is a growing industry of British frame-building that has started to develop during the previous 5 years, and their British-made status has led in a large part to their success.
Ted James has a frame-building workshop in London’s Brick Lane and uses Reynolds steel tubing produced in Birmingham. He believes firmly in the fact that his customers are not only purchasing a high quality product, but are also investing in their own piece of British history. Another frame-producer based in Scotland is Shand Cycles, who used to make steel frames to order, however in recent years they have begun creating all-road stock frames designed for commuting and touring. Originally, they planned to source these from Asia, however after some surveys of public opinion they realised that there was a strong desire for UK-made bicycle frames and, as this fitted in well with the company’s own philosophy of bringing cycle manufacturing back to Scotland, they changed their plans. Making their frames in the UK has led to an improvement in their quality control and has also allowed them to customise the finish of their made-to-order products. Both Shand Cycles and Ted James Design exhibited their products at the UK handmade bicycle show, known as Bespoked, which was held in Bristol. This event has proved popular with old school frame-builders like Lee Cooper as well as modern start-ups who have just entered the industry. Phil Taylor, the organiser of the Bespoked event, believes that the growth in the industry has been primarily influenced by the USA and the increase in popularity of track bike designs as well as the fixed-gear movement, however he also cited the desire of many people to switch careers to one that involves using their hands to construct things rather than following a more traditional path. However, he did point out that working in the bicycle construction industry is more about the love of the job rather than the financial rewards, and expressed his opinion that this choice of career is especially difficult for those who have to support a family and pay off a mortgage.
What are the Benefits of Buying British?
Of course, it is easy to see that one of the primary benefits of purchasing a UK made bike is supporting the British manufacturing industry as well as reducing your carbon footprint, however are there any other advantages for the consumer? One of the greatest benefits, according to Phil Taylor, is that you can choose a bike that perfectly fits your individual sense of style. A UK-made bike can be created to perfectly fit your size and therefore, it will ride better in mechanical terms. Even though a bespoke bike will cost more than an “off the peg” model, it is guaranteed to be a much smoother ride and give you much greater enjoyment during your commutes or riding experiences than any shop-bought bike every could. Many people who buy a British made bike also express their joy at owning something truly British, which is quite rare these days, and while it is safe to say that these artisan bikes are certainly not cheap, and are therefore out of the reach of the rare or novice cyclist, experts are keen to point out that it is possible to buy a custom-built frame which has been optimised to perfectly fit your individual body shape and tuned especially for the kind of riding you prefer for only a fraction more than the cost of buying an exotic mass-manufactured stock frame from a shop.
Yet others say that buying a British frame is completely pointless since the many other parts of the bicycle are produced overseas as no UK manufacturers are now producing these components. At the end of the day, the choice is down to the individual. You must decide for yourself whether it is worthwhile to invest in a British made frame and help a little towards to UK manufacturing industry, or whether the whole thing is a pointless exercise. At the end of the day, it’s up to you.