The framebuilder’s art: Kevin Sayles
The bicycle frame, especially in steel, is a thing of beauty and simplicity. Most times, we will only encounter a ‘proper’ handbuilt frame when browsing around a decent bike shop. The range of frame geometries, the presence or absence of lugs, all conspire to tell us that we are in the presence of a special piece of machinery. I’m going to discount the materials that are now commonly used, such as carbon fibre, aluminum and titanium simply because in my personal opinion there is nothing as special as a steel bike frame – forks and all.
My prejudices, or luddite tendencies if you care to call them that, have translated themselves into the bicycle I ride. As you will know if you are a regular reader of this missive, I have a steel framed Thorn Audax which serves me beautifully. I think it is almost the perfect machine.
Few materials can provide the translation of the road’s surface into the rider’s senses as accurately and pleasantly as steel; springy and comfortable on a long ride, but strong enough to know when to cease flexing when ridden hard – and of course it is steeped in history and when painted by somebody with the right ideas, it is a truly beautiful thing to behold.
You may also know that until very recently, Thorn used to offer an ‘under the counter’ range of bicycles known as ‘xtc’ – the difference being that instead of coming from their stock of Taiwan-made frames, these bikes were the cycle equivalent of a bespoke suit – they were made from scratch by Thorn’s resdient frame builder and long-time cyclist Kevin Sayles, based upon your individual specification and measurements.
I don’t personally have the budget for a bespoke frame, and quite honestly mine does more than I could ever wish for (the Mk3 Audax being an amalgam of the qualities, some would say DNA, of its two forbears the Classic and the 853). Its heritage is something of a combination of comfort and predictability crossed with ‘kick hard’ robustness, as designer Andy Blance would no doubt say. I have seen a few examples of Thorn’s bespoke bikes on their forum, but have never ridden one.
And so it was that I recently came across the news that Thorn have taken the decision to close their frame shop and discontinue the ‘bespoke’ frame range due to a drop off in business (no doubt it’s the recession, which I thought was meant to increase cycle sales??). This has meant the inevitable departure of Mr Sayles, although he has his own range of frames and will presumably go ‘out on his own’ now.
He has a very interesting Flickr page with not only some great photos of frames he has built, but also something of a scrapbook of British cycling through the last generation.
Sayles is a man with something of a history in cycle frame building. He worked at hitherto forgotten builders (they are still trading but make frames to order as opposed to the mass market) S M Woodrup of Leeds in the late 1970s prior to joining Thorn.
Some of his bikes then were works of art; these were classic racers as opposed to the heavier touring machines made by Thorn. If money were no object, imagine owning something as lovely as this bike, pictured below.
Researching the subject makes you realise that, even in our post-manufacturing reverie. the British Isles still has an enviable number of bike builders who can rustle up a bespoke frame for you if you have the cash and the inclination. Just take a look at the Classic Rendezvous listings to see what I mean.
So it is that another bit of (Thorn-related) history is made by the passing of their bespokes; we must after all, if you will pardon a little Savile Row-related pun, cut our cloth according to our means. But it will be interesting to see the future output of Mr Sayles and his photo pages are a good way to keep track of this.