Argos Racing Cycles started when Tectron Engineering, of which Arthur Needham, a life long cyclist, was Managing Director, decided to diversify into the manufacture of custom made cycle frames. The first tubes were cut at Canons Marsh, Bristol premises in November 1973. Today they’re based further out of the city when they moved in 1990, until that point they had been a lovely fixture in the city centre (and a safe haven for a cyclist to get a bike made).
The steady rise from the 1970’s saw them build more and more bicycles and working on some very interesting projects, including TT bikes for the former National champion Stuart Dangerfield (and generally a legendary British TT rider). The work they put into aero bikes at that point was at the forefront of the racing bicycle market and they stayed there until the early 2000’s when carbon finally took the lead in terms of bicycle manufacturing and especially in the aero department.
All wasn’t lost and Argos Racing Cycles had already started offering renovation for classic frames. That fact is probably what kept them going to this day and they now have a book full of work for renovation and paintwork. This really wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the fact that Garry, the owner and Martin who heads up the painting, between these two there is over 60 years of experience. If you want a steel bike made or a restoration, these two are probably some of the most experienced craftsmen around that can turn you a bike around in a reasonable period of time and be perfect. That period of time can still be measured in weeks though and Headset Press believe that this level of craftsmanship shouldn’t be hurried.
When we arrive we are kindly greeted by Adrian (mechanic) who shows us over the premises and introduces us to the team working that day. There are four full-time staff and another two working part-time. It’s incredible to think how many bikes and restorations this small and tight knit team has output. When we arrived the amount of bikes in various states is fairly astounding and your eyes light up when you spot various pristine classic bikes ready for their customers. Like most small engineering works in England, they are mostly on fairly modern industrial estates these days but, inside a place like Argos Racing Cycles it’s a cyclists paradise. We immediately felt at ease around these bikes and the guys working on them, all of them more than happy to talk about the place and the work they do.
But the two main characters are Garry and Martin (that is not to say the others are not characters!). We begin with talking with Martin, who joined as an apprentice after leaving school and has been with Argos for over 30 years. He is responsible for all the painting that arrives and leaves the premises. The work and output from Martin is outstanding. Martin takes us through the process of how a bike arrives for a repaint or restoration and how they keep track of it all. It becomes apparent fairly quickly, once a steel frame is stripped back and naked steel, from a distance they all look the same, so without some stringent housekeeping it can soon go astray. All the details are rolled up and kept with the frame, neatly rolled up paperwork in their bottom brackets, it’s quiet a sight really. It’s involving work, from frame prep to finished paint but, it sounds a simple process of in and out but it’s so much more than that. Argos Racing Cycles customers are a discerning bunch, and Argos have earned the right to be proud of their work. Martin showed us some of the more intricate jobs that might come up from lug lining to pin-striping all of which is done by hand, his hand.
It can feel like a place where time stops still but really it doesn’t. Bikes always evolve and they have to keep up with that and whilst they work on traditional steel bikes a lot, they paint modern carbon bikes a plenty too. We end up on the subject of paint, in the obvious place the paint store. The way modern paint works has changed over time too, today applying paint is a lot more involved than applying and baking dry, almost a mini chemistry lesson when it comes to the application process. Some paints, some colours are better than others and again that takes time and experience to pick up. I asked Martin if steel or carbon was better to work with than the other but, it’s all paint at the end of the day and Argos Racing Cycles are happy to paint any bike – testament to that is some of the machines waiting to get custom paint jobs in the place – new or old.
Martin’s work is amazing and over the years he has painted bikes for the famous, the fast and the discerning. In terms of experience and ability he is one of the best bicycle painters going. Best thing is he doesn’t see it like that, he just takes pride in his work and makes sure the job is right and what the customers wants. You’re in safe hands!
Next we meet Garry. Garry took over the business when his father, Arthur Needham, retired but he was working here long before that and the cycling seems to run in his veins not just from his father but further back than that (with a picture of his great uncle hanging in the office). Garry is a quiet unassuming man – considering the talent in his hands and the knowledge in his head – it makes for a very nice relaxed person to chat about bikes with and he never baulked at our questions and could always find a good answer for us. Even if our questions were daft!
Garry is a master frame builder and that should not really be in question considering the decades of building bikes, bikes that propelled champions to victory and travellers around the world, that should speak for itself really. Even though the bulk of the business is now restoration Garry still builds bikes on their lovely custom designed jigs. His workmanship is stunning and if you want a quality steel custom bike built, Argos Racing Cycles is up there with the best and when I say best, I mean in the world. Trouble is not enough people are ordering and in the boom time before carbon took that away, this place was sending out hundreds of frames a year (across the globe). Now it can be anywhere from 12 – 20ish a year (a far cry from should be coming out of the premises). It really does seem a shame to me. But Garry doesn’t see it that way and is very happy with things the way they are. But really, if the money was on the table I would be buying one immediately. Today most of the time Garry and his staff expend is on frame restoration and it’s booming. On the wall of the worksop is dozens of bikes for restoration from Raleigh’s to Mercian’s and a few more exotic bikes from Bates and Hetchins in the mix. They receive bikes in all states and bring them back to life, each and every bike that leaves the place is immaculate.
As far as restoration goes, Argos Racing Cycles could be considered the best in the world, certainly as a real operating business. Testament to that is the fact is that a huge proportion of the bikes are shipped from the USA and Japan for restoration, you have to have some reputation to ship a classic bicycle halfway around the world at your expense! That really speaks volumes for the belief that Argos Racing Cycles are the best going and looking at the vast amount of bicycles in there there it doesn’t take much to work out they are the best!
Everyone who works there loves what they do, from Craig the apprentice to Adrian the mechanic (and all the other worker we didn’t meet) it’s infectious and by the time we left we were so happy to have spent the time there and to be honest we didn’t want to leave. We gained a huge amount of respect for Argos Racing Cycles, as it’s not some huge factory churning the stuff out, it’s a group of passionate craftsmen caring about what they do and making sure it’s perfect. As we were leaving, they were packing frames up for shipping, even that was perfect – you don’t want to receive all the hard work in a battered state. Sure, no one or anything is perfect but, Headset Press thought it was one of the most perfect places to be.
For more images please visit our flickr page here.