It's always a pleasure working on bespoke builds for customers. We're not frame builders over here, we don't get to genuinely create something from scratch. So the ideal custom builds for us are the ones that have very specific needs, ones that challenge us & create unique problems that can only be overcome by methods we don't usually get a chance to exercise. It means we're given a chance to create in order to solve problems, be it by fabricating a custom piece or just re-purposing an existing part. It's also very important for us to solve these problems with finesse, not simply by finding something that does the job, but by creating something as good as if it was made for that purpose.
So, although we can't offer made to measure frames, what we can do is build genuinely unique bicycles using classic frames built by master frame builders that are mostly not around anymore. These can never be replicated for that reason, so you know you are literally getting a one-off bike that can never be re-created, and at the same time you're reviving a piece of cycling history. Not a bad thing to do right?
In November last year, a previous customer of ours, Tim, bought a lovely 1960s Bontekoe bicycle we had for sale. Bontekoe hail from The Hague, NL. Established in 1925 by Gerrit Bontekoe, a successful cyclist of the time who was was forced to quit his career by a terrible crash. With a little help from his friends, the shop was born and is still going strong today. Unfortunately Gerrit passed away in the early 60s, but his sons took over & made the shop the succcess it is today.
These bikes are very rare, and Tim's new acquisition was a particularly early example, with stunning Nervex Pro lugset & Reynolds 531 double butted tubing, it was a fine lightweight machine. The Bontekoe had received a re-paint & had some parts updated in the late 1970s, so we decided this was the perfect candidate to create Tim's perfect bike: a Dutch lightweight utilitarian speed machine (Tim is Dutch by the way).
There was absolutely no rush with this build, which was very refreshing as we're very used to working against the clock. It was all about a carefully considered mix of practical yet stylish components, however long it would take to source them, and wherever in the world they need to come from.
Tim's a photographer, so as you would expect there is always an aesthetic consideration when choosing even the most practical of components, which is exactly how we work, so it was great to constantly be on the same page. There were no strict rules when it came to the origin of parts used, but after introducing Tim to one of our favourite books, The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, naturally we went on a René Herse / Alex Singer tip. So the build became loosely based on the famous constructeur bicycles of the mid-century, but we wanted to maintain some of the original parts as to not loose track completely of the heritage & originality of the bike.
The biggest change to the bike came in the form of new wheels. Based around the Son Delux dynamo front hub from Schmidt, the german light experts. These hubs are incredible. Not only do they match the aesthetics of the build, they also have barely any drag and are designed to give the rider at least 50,000 km before they need servicing.
The hub effortlessly powers their matching Schmidt Edelux II LED head light, which is not only a wonderfully engineered piece of kit but also one hell of a light. The Son Delux powers this light incredibly well. Boy does it light up.
Lighting at the rear comes courtesy of the simple yet supremely elegant tail light courtesy of Compass Bicycles of the United States. This beautiful little blighter was the first to present a problem. Tim really really wanted this light, but the Compass tail light is designed to mount directly onto the seat tube of a frame with the designated braze-on. Of course the Bontekoe didn't have this, that would be far too easy.
The outcome was a rather nifty bit of problem solving from Tom, our workshop manager who's responsible for all of our custom built bikes. A combination of a simply adapted clamp to attach to the braze-on of the Velo Orange Campeur rear rack, with an ingenious re-purposing of a V-brake noodle to conceal & protect the wire routed into the back of the light. Problem solved.
Sometimes we have a tendency to make life hard for ourselves. Numerous times we showed Tim some parts or processes that he fell in love with, only to give ourselves the difficult task of trying to source these obsolete parts or mastering a new technique. Bullet in the foot number 1 came in the form of reverse brake levers. The steering combo we decided on was the classic combination of the Nitto B603AA Promenade handlebars & the beautiful Nitto Tallux handlebar stem. Naturally this led us to suggest the perfect match to this set up: reverse brake levers. Obviously none of the offerings from modern brands were up to the job aesthetically, so we showed Tim the iconic inverse levers from the likes of Mafac & CLB used in the 50s & 60s & they went on the shopping list. We've had these levers in the past, but at this time we were caught without any in stock, and boy are these tricky to find unless you have the a budget of 200 euros! Eventually our ever reliable suppliers in France found these externally clamping CLBs. Score.
Meet problem number two. After the relief of acquiring this wonderful set of levers, we were confronted with two issues; the clamp size was way too big for any modern bar & more importantly they require some kind of cable stop to allow them to work, and this wasn't present. Yikes.
Fear not, one meeting with our ever trusty frame builder & fabricator, James O'Sullivan of Haiku Bikes & the issue was resolved. James machined up a pair of handy handlebar shims with cable stops brazed inside. Another problem solved.
Originally we had the Velo Orange hammered steel mudguards on the bike, but after seeing them in situ Tim decided they were too showy, and we agreed. So in came the Honjo fenders, which we have to say are the perfect choice for the build. Subtle but with enough character to be sympathetic rather than showy.
This brings us on to the final part of the build, which was quite aptly the icing on a well sugared cake: harlequin bar tape. Something Tom's been meaning to master for a while, and after showing Tim a few examples he was given his first opportunity. It's a time consuming procedure, but it's certainly worth it. The tape was classically Velox cloth tape in a black & orange combo. The colour choice we were uncertain about at first, but with Tim's Dutch pedigree it made sense, so we asked no questions & got on with it. Needless to say we were pleasantly surprised, so hats off to Tim for that choice. Not sure what colour we would have gone for but that's irrelevant. Black & orange looks great.
So there it is. An expertly crafted custom built bike, and one very happy customer. Tim's exact words were "She's a beautiful cruise missile", and that she is. Thank you Tim.
If you're interested in getting a custom built bike from us, please get in touch. You can find more information on our custom builds page, but the best option is to give us a call, drop us an email or better still, pop in for a chat to discuss your specific needs.
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We're incredibly excited to see you all at this year’s Eroica Britannia, this is our first year at the new site in the heart of the wonderful Peak District.