I first heard of Robin when I was browsing a cycling forum and could not believe I was only 25 minute’s away from a well known frame builder. I just had to take a look at his website, to see some of his work. After browsing through some fantastic steel and titanium bikes I contacted Robin last September, to arrange a visit to his workshop. He was happy for me to visit, but, this plan took a back seat whilst we developed our vision for a cycling website: Headset Press.
Two weeks into into our launch, I contacted Robin again to arrange a meet. I forwarded the Headset Press link for Robin to browse through, grabbed my camera, packed my laptop and made my way over. Robin’s workshop is located in Upper North Wraxall, a lovely rural area, which reminds me of the country lanes of Kingston Seymour, the first cycling route I rode with my friends. We cycled all year round, the same roads, but the change in weather and direction gives you a new experience every time you use them!
Robin started building bikes in the early 1990’s and began with a recumbent tricycle, for an A level project. He was already into cycling by this point: Robin and his friends used cycling as the best way to get around, living in a small village, out in the sticks, surrounded by countryside, and miles of it. They cycled for hours around the country lanes north of Upper Wraxall and would never see a car the entire time. Out cycling one day, Robin spotted a fellow cyclist riding a bicycle, which he recognised as hand built. He asked some key questions about the building process to further develop his own frame building knowledge. This man happened to be a local teacher, who taught Robin brazing and some frame building basics, they are still friends to this day. Robin is mostly self-taught. What began as a hobby, stripping down bikes and wheels then rebuilding them, evolved into building bikes for friends, then friends of friends. Robins next step was to write to well known frame builders, enquiring about work. He spent time working with Dave Yates, the well known frame builder, of over 30 years experience, based in Newcastle. Robin currently spends some of his time working at Moulton, an English bicycle company steeped in heritage. We recently featured the New Series on the blog, take a look here. After lots of practice, exploring various building techniques, order of build and products Robin was ready to begin his own company.
Since then Robin has created several hundred bikes and at one point, had a waiting list of three years. I spoke to Robin about the challenging aspects of building bikes and he mentioned titanium frames. The construction process of a titanium frame is far more complex than steel frames. When welding the tubes together the environment must be clean and free of oxygen. The tools used to construct the frames are also much more expensive. Another challenging aspect of the work is getting a balance between his desire to create bikes and his love of developing new tools to assist the process. Robin creates his own machines to enable the construction of frames. He is currently creating a machine to accurately cut the mitres on the end of each tube at the correct angle, in phase and at the correct distance from each other.
One aspect of Robin’s workshop that really stood out for me was the machinery. Robin has a Medding Pillar Drill and a Myford ML7 lathe. These vintage machines were all built in England. The lathe being released 1946 and originally sold for £34 without the motor. You can now pick up the same lathe from Ebay at 35 times that amount! Both Myford and Medding are still building new lathes and drills to this day but, nothing can compare to these machines, they have so much character. Robin also spoke of the eccentric people you meet and bizarre places you go when collecting one.
When I was in Robin’s workshop he pointed out a logo above the door, it read ‘BaW’ which stands for Bike a Week. “BaW and what I am trying to achieve – what I’m trying to achieve is to make the best bikes I can and ensure my customers have a good experience. BaW is just a business framework in which I hope to achieve this, get to eat and pay rent as well, it’s not really an end in itself. It is not difficult to make bikes quickly – I could make one a day but they would not be such nice bikes.” I really liked this logo within the workshop environment, acting like a permanent reminder of what he is trying to achieve. Something to drive you forward, to be the best you can.
Rather than a favourite bike, Robin revealed his favourite part of the process: the moment the frame has returned from the painters and built-up is a joyous moment for Robin. Robin’s inspiration is derived from the fine detail and techniques he spots in fellow frame builders work; whether that be the way the seat stays wrap around the seat tube or the type of lug used. These details are what makes one frame builder stand out from the next, the combination of style, craftsmanship and finesse.
Robin as a cyclist has taken part in many sportive’s and touring with close friends. He cycles with friends of equal strength and ability, which enables them to train well together; knowing each others capabilities, communicating without having to talk. Robin prefers to cycle with his close friends rather than clubs, as an escape from all the cycling based chat. Working with bikes and cycling everyday of the week, it’s nice just to take the time to enjoy the wonderful scenery that cycling enables you to experience.
To see more of Robin’s work please click here to view his website. In the near future, we are also hoping to create a video, featuring some of Robin’s work.