Menu

Leodis Forum — 3

The Business of Cycling

Having focussed on a variety of topics in previous forums, most recently Leeds’ independent food and drink, we decided that this Leodis Forum would focus on the cycling industry as, in the wake of the Tour de France and anticipation of the Tour de Yorkshire, it felt like the right time to tackle this topic.

We were delighted to have the privilege of hosting five people that occupy a variety of disciplines within the cycling industry. Beginning with talks from two prestigious, local frame builders in the form of Harry Harrison and Marek Szczeplek who founded, own and operate Field Cycles and Aurelius Cycles respectively.

As well as constructors of cycles, we also heard a talk from Nathan Hughes, the founder of cycling accessories manufacturer Restrap, who currently sell a range of cycling straps, bags and clothing, with plans to increase this product range in the near future.

We were also taken, by Martin Stanley of Leeds Cycling Campaign, on a guided tour across the landscape of cycling in cities around the world, and shown how Leeds measures up to the inner city cycling standards set by the likes of Copenhagen, who have successfully developed a cycling culture.

Finally, Stefan Amato told us the story of Pannier; a company that provides an online resource for the travelling cyclist. This includes an online journal, shop and ‘routes’ application which allows users to plan, plot and upload cycling routes and points of interest along these routes to share with other cyclists.

“I adore beautiful bicycles. When I see one that inspires me I don’t think about owning it, I think about the experience of making it.”

Harry Harrison (Field Cycles)

With a line-up of speakers that occupy so many different facets of the cycling industry, and an audience armed with a multitude of questions for them, there were a lot of points for discussion. However, the beginning of the evening revolved around the techniques and nuances involved in frame building.

With two nationally respected frame builders from the local area talking, the passion and experience of Marek and Harry was evident in the way they spoke. After recalling how his family had supported and encouraged him to follow his dreams and his passion from a young age, Marek told us about how 15 years ago he began working at a bicycle shop - within two weeks of being there, he had decided that he would be building his own bikes in the future.

Harry spoke of his background in the the arts and how he became somewhat disillusioned, despite a healthy career, and talking himself out of making the things he actually wanted to make. Slowly he found himself drifting away from the ‘white wall’ and eventually made the decision to a bike; an object that he has always been in love with.

Harry also touched on his ‘10,000 hour rule’ whereby he believes that to be a master of a craft, it requires a minimum investment of 10,000 hours to achieve a level of mastery that satisfies his perfectionist nature. It is because of this rule that he also highlighted the importance of collaboration and how he works with people who possess complementary skills. Through working with experienced and talented graphic designers and painters, they are together able to pool their talents to create an end result that is far superior in terms of build quality, braising and finish.

But what really sets Harry and Field Cycles apart from other frame builders was revealed in what he told us about one of his special head badges. Not only was it handmade by Harry himself, but he travelled into the woods in Sheffield, dug up raw iron ore and refined out the iron manually and poured this into a pre-made cast to create the head badge.

Although this was something of a one-off experiment, it is exemplary of the traditionalism, dedication and patience exhibited by the founder. This anecdote was just one of many stories he retold that instilled into the minds of the audience the true measure of his passion: not that fact that no expense was spared, but no time.

Investment of time into one’s passion was something of a motif throughout the evening and this also came across in the words of Nathan Hughes, founder and owner of Restrap who retold the story of how and why he started his own business.

Recalling a time before Restrap existed and when he was part of the rise in fixed-gear cycles, Nathan remembered his frustration at the poor quality of pedal straps that were available on the market which led him to begin creating his own,.These were to become the prototypes for Restrap’s first products — created in his bedroom with seat belts from old cars and stitched using a discounted sewing machine from Aldi.

Even at this early stage Nathan was a realist and understood that, in its current form, he didn’t have a business working out of his bedroom, so he set out to secure funding. At this point he was only 17 and stood little chance of acquiring a bank loan, however he found out about the Princes Trust (an initiative setup by the Prince of Wales designed specifically to fund young entrepreneurs) and pitched his idea to them. Having won the investment, he then set about producing the first straps the company would sell.

Six years and 12,000 pairs of straps later the company is growing. Diversifying their catalogue of products in the form of their latest creation, a magnetic camera strap, launched off the back of a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.

Although there were many successes in the history of the company, the journey wasn’t without its difficulties. Nathan retold the issues he had faced in getting his product into retail stores. The problem, he explained, was that retailers like to get different products from the same place. At the time, Restrap manufactured only one. With this hurdle to overcome, Nathan and his business partners got in contact with cycling multi-tool manufacturers, Full Windsor and together founded Union of Pedallers, an online cycle accessory distributor. oday they successfully distribute not only Restrap’s products but a wide range of cycling related goods in one place.

This attitude of problem solving was continued in an altogether different form, outside of the entrepreneurial framework, by Martin Stanley who represented Leeds Cycling Campaign (LCC) at the Forum. Coming at the concept of cycling as a utility and day-to-day transport, rather than merely recreational Martin used his talk to discuss the shortcomings of Britain’s approach to cycling when compared to that of other European countries who have successfully developed a cycling culture.

Having run through figures around the UK cycling economy, the key take-aways were that despite the cycling industry being worth around 2.9 billion per year and employing over 25 thousand people,
this could be vastly improved if we truly begin thinking cycling first in the way we operate, build, design and live; a true cycling culture.

“Back in 2009 I struggled to get products of the quality that I wanted… So I set out to make my own.”

Nathan Hughes (Restrap)

This attitude of problem solving was continued in an altogether different form, outside of the entrepreneurial framework, by Martin Stanley who represented Leeds Cycling Campaign (LCC) at the Forum. Coming at the concept of cycling as a utility and day-to-day transport, rather than merely recreational Martin used his talk to discuss the shortcomings of Britain’s approach to cycling when compared to that of other European countries who have successfully developed a cycling culture.

Having run through figures around the UK cycling economy, the key take-aways were that despite the cycling industry being worth around 2.9 billion per year and employing over 25 thousand people,
this could be vastly improved if we truly begin thinking cycling first in the way we operate, build, design and live; a true cycling culture.

He also talked about the shoots of hope we have in recent political developments, particularly around ex-competitive cyclist Chris Boardman. Chris has campaigned for better road design with respect to cycling from the very top level. He has helped to push through a new bill which ensures a compulsory consideration toward cycling and walking in all road builds and building developments.

Martin also touched on positive developments in Yorkshire, specifically the new cycle route from Leeds to Bradford which will see the introduction of segregated cycle lanes. However, the challenge we will then face is keeping these lanes clean; formulating and implementing a proper maintenance plan and not neglecting cycle lanes, as we have seen happen historically in other Uk cities.

“It’s a lie to say we can’t
generate a cycling culture because other countries have done it. But it takes a lot of time and effort.”

Martin Stanley (Leeds Cycling Campaign)

Stefan Amato also picked up on his experiences of cycling across the UK, but from a more positive perspective - the immersion in amazing places and the freedom cycling gives you on the open road. It was this feeling of wanderlust and the ability to travel that led to the conception of Pannier, the company he represented at the Forum.

Stefan summed up Pannier as an open resource and community for traveling cyclists. For him, cycling isn’t just about the bike but about the adventures it can take you on and the journeys you can experience. Stefan recalled some experiences on his cycling exploits which included wild camping, late night whisky drinking and tartan fancy-dress.

“For me it’s less about the bike itself and more about the journeys and adventures it can take you on.”

Stefan Amato (Pannier)

Explaining exactly what Pannier is, it was clear that it is closely linked in with these experiences, splitting into several services including an online journal, shop and ‘routes application’ the latter of which dominated the conversation during Stefan’s talk. The routes application is a mapping tool which allows cyclists to plot their expeditions. There are plans for the future to expand this application socially, allowing cyclists to upload and share their own routes and download ones others have made, and contribute to existing routes by recommending points of interest along them.

At the conclusion of an informative Forum, the audience were keen to inspect the products that the speakers had been talking about, with Aurelius having arrived on his own cycle and Restrap showcasing a number of prototypes. Conversations, discussions and debate around subjects raised throughout the forum continued late into the evening. LB