Great Craftmanship Can’t Be Rushed
I collected my Feather Cycles travel bike from Ricky Feather on Friday. A year in the making and well worth every week of that wait. I should add at this point that you don’t normally wait a year for a bike. Ricky was forced to move his workshop unexpectedly during 2019 and that prompted some delays. Plus I wasn’t in a huge rush for the bike, so it was fine.
Before I go a word further, it’s right to say Ricky’s service is immaculate. His care and attention at all stages are without parallel. Discussing the intent of the bike, your personal tastes in bikes and life in general. A clear specification for the bike, transparent steps in the process. You always know where you stand. Then the frame build, which is sublime. Jack Kingston paint as an option. I took the option as befits this beautifully built bike. Ricky assembles his bikes with great care, no detail is missed. Aftercare is superb.
As mentioned in a previous post on the subject, the original idea was to have Ricky build a Dario Pegoretti tribute bike for me. Then the notion of a coupler framed bike to take with me on my travels entered into my brain, so that was the route we went down. I was very keen to stick with my tried and trusted race geometry, rather than go for the more relaxed setup some global travellers use. The Feather Cycles travel bike I have had built is essentially my normal set up, but with two S&S couplers integrated into the frame.
I also wanted a unique bike. Ricky’s partner in crime, painter Jack Kingston, took one of my wife’s street abstract photographs and turned it into a deep and complex House of Kolor paint job, using their Kandy range. The photographs here don’t do the paint justice, it’s a work of art. Embedded in the paint is the name of the bike, “Sempre II”. The Feather logo on the downtube is applied using a 24 karat gold leaf.
The Challenges Of A Bespoke Genius
Feather Cycles is a fascinating venture. I would guess Ricky is 34 and last year celebrated his tenth year in business. He could weld when he decided to start the business but has self-taught himself the art of bespoke bike building. And how. Multiple awards at the Bespoked cycle show, one of the world’s best-regarded shows for hand-built bikes, show his capability. He’s naturally artistic, this becomes apparent in how he speaks about the world around him. When you see him with a camera in hand, this confirms the thought.
He works from a small workshop near York. His den of creativity contains bike jigs, welding equipment, lathes, milling equipment and a bunch of kit I could not even begin to identify. Some of the equipment is older than Ricky, he pointed out to me a 1960s vintage machine wedged into a tight corner.
Yet it’s a tough road he’s on in pursuit of his primary art of building his world-class Feather Cycles. The cycling boom in the UK has softened, people are spending less. The price of key components, wheels and groupsets rise and therefore the price of a complete bike too. Squeezed in the middle are the craftsmen like Ricky. E-commerce has made bike buyers very price-aware, everyone wants a keen price. Hand-built bikes take a lot of hours to build, a lot of hours. Therefore any price squeeze affects Ricky’s net take-home cash at the end of every build. It’s very tough to make a living in the bespoke bike sector.
This is my first steel bike since my youth. Columbus XCr stainless steel. Weight isn’t an issue as far as I can ascertain. I’m 96 kilograms, so what I have for breakfast is likely more of a factor than whether the frame is carbon or steel.
See above a couple of photographs of the frame in construction. You can see the quality of the brazing Ricky brings to bear. It takes a very steady hand to build a great frame and then cut a 35mm section out of it to fit the coupler. Twice. But the result works and looks good too.
The rubber hits the road via an Enve carbon fork, Knight Composites 500mm deep rim wheels on Chris King hubs and Continental 5000 tubeless tyres. My first use of tubeless tyres, interested to see how that goes. For some reason I’ve wanted Chris King bearings on a bike for a while and now I have them. I know they are regarded as a cliche by some of the observers of the bespoke world; but my dollar, my choice.
Groupset is the sublime Shimano Dura-Ace and the rest of the running gear is largely from Deda. Deda serves me well on my other bikes. Look Carbon Keo blade pedals and a Prologo saddle round it out.
First Packing Day, First Event
As mentioned a key difference with my Feather Cycles travel bike is that the frame can break into two pieces, given the S&S Machine couplers in the top and down tubes. The whole bike fits into a 26″ * 26″ * 10″ case. I’ll need to set aside a decent amount of time to break it down and pack it the first time. I’m not good at jigsaws or Rubiks Cube and it’s fair to say I’ve never packed a bike in a conventional bike case the same way twice. This promises to be a challenge. Meditate, no coffee, no pressing need to be anywhere else, a few deep breaths, start packing. That’s the general strategy for the rapidly approaching First Packing Day. The reality is I’ll be sweating, stressed and cursing.
The first trip for my new jewel of a bike is to Tuscany at the start of April. I’m competing for the prestigious Lanterne Rouge (last rider home) in GFNY Italia. This promises to be a challenging outing for the rider. Starting in Montepulciano the course is as jagged as a set of saw teeth and includes 25km of strada bianche. I expect the bike will be fine. Somewhat fitting that we will be in the home country of Dario Pegoretti. That’s where this whole story started.
Also published on Medium.