Bespoke bicycles to last a lifetime

Sven Cycles in Britain builds bicycles with "modern flair"  using traditional bike-building techniques, advocating disc brakes and steel frames

A happy customer of Sven Cycles in Weymouth, England.
A happy customer of Sven Cycles in Weymouth, England.PHOTO: SVEN CYCLES/ INSTAGRAM

LONDON • Mr Darron Sven Coppin wants to make you a bicycle. It will take him about six weeks, but it will last you a lifetime.

He will talk to you about what you are hoping for design-wise, explain what is possible within budget and rig up the whole thing in his three-man workshop in Weymouth, about three hours' drive from London.

"Most people I know who cycle have an idea of their dream bicycle," Mr Coppin, 47, said.

"Not necessarily something you can buy off the shelf and it may be an evolving idea you've got in your head. A lot of people have come to us with sketches and scrapbooks."

His company, Sven Cycles, has been in business since 2012 and has produced more than 200 bespoke bikes.

When possible, it works with British parts  and materials such as Reynolds tubing and Brooks saddles.

Mr Coppin adds what he calls "modern flair" to traditional bike-building techniques. He uses disc brakes, which offer more control and perform better in nasty weather than traditional rim types.

Semi-custom bicycles start at £1,700 (S$3,100).

Customers can request small modifications to the frame, specific colours, tyres to suit the terrain and even a USB charger.

A fully bespoke bike can cost more than £10,000.

Customers have had bikes shipped across Europe and to Australia. Recently, a New York chef placed an order. Members of the British Olympic sailing team have been customers.

Mr Coppin uses steel rather than carbon fibre for the frame, the bike's skeleton, because it lasts longer, is easier to work with and can be repaired.

Carbon fibre may be lighter and great for racing, but the weight is not always the most important thing.

"That's where I think people go quite wrong," he said.

"They want the lightest and fastest bike and, actually, building a bike with the correct geometry and correct tubing will feel like a really light bike and be fun to ride, even though it might not be as light as you want."

The most difficult, painstaking part of the process is making sure the frame aligns correctly after it has been welded.

Following heating, the parts can move, even a millimetre or two, and there is an art to building something straight.

Sven Cycles does not employ high-tech methods to guide the production process - no lasers, just a steel ruler and a marker.

The shop makes a lot of its tools.

"This isn't sort of aerospace-precision engineering," Mr Coppin said, "What we try to do is add a little bit more finesse to the bike design and finish, just to give it a little bit more of a special feel."

He realises that customers these days have options that include bikes for less than US$200 (S$270) and produced en masse in a factory.

Most bicycles are made in China and Taiwan, even though the European bike-making industry is flourishing. But Mr Coppin would rather see someone buy a solidly built, second-hand bike for US$400.

"In the past, if you bought a top-end bike in the 1930s or 1940s, it would be a few months' wages," he said. "But you kept it for 40 years and you gave it to your kids. And now everything's so disposable. People buy a bike and two years later, because a new colour's come out, they swop it."

Building bikes is an obsession for Mr Coppin, whose father was a jeweller.

"Every bike we build is my favourite bike at the time and as soon as it's done, I want to build another one," he said.

"It's that fix I get when you take something, you finish it, someone collects it, they're really happy and you just move on to the next."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2018, with the headline 'Bespoke bicycles to last a lifetime'. Print Edition | Subscribe