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Clandestine Posts

Bespoked 2018

They give you a pass at the beginning, but that doesn’t mean you’re not an imposter. Standing in the massive hall with my friends, building our stands from the old plywood exhibition display for an organic tampon company that we got on free-cycle, there’s no doubt that this was imposter work.

Like a lot of builders all over the country, I’ve been working hard these past few months. Long days in the workshop, sleepless nights organising thoughts and going through plans. And, if you’re a me, lino printing and stamping hundreds of business cards for a few weeks worth of evening entertainment…

So there was this moment when the stand was up, and I screwed my logo into it and stood back. The bike I’d chosen for the show was looking good on my wooden plinth. The stems were arranged, the laser cut signs in place. Maybe not a total imposter.

The three days of the show were a whirl, are always a whirl, sore throat growling and tears. Smiles and anxiety and happiness. Not an imposter.


Thanks, as ever, to Josh and Jacob, the Boneshaker crew, Ryan, Joe, Tammy, Flightrider, Robin.


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It’s a big year for me, personally, this year.

I’ve left the grimy bike shop workbench, traded it for full time brazing work. I’ve moved into a large new space, that I share with Starling Cycles. There’s a sense of transition all around, as we bring big new machines into the workshop, and begin to move Starling processes from hand work to machine work.

I’ve been beavering away for the last few months with my files and torch, with a laser cutter and drills on my own projects. I feel that the fruits of those labours are coming together now, as my first full bike client rolled out of the workshop door today with a smile on her face.

That bike will also be on show next weekend at Bespoked. The final touches to my stand are coming together, with the unusual sensations of  table sawing, routing, and oiling wood making a fun change from the usual. It’s all looking good now, and I’m excited to show publicly the work I’ve been doing.

The times they are a’changing. Or something like that.



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“Coffee is for winners, go-getters, tea-ignorers, lunch-cancellers, early-risers, guilt-ridden strivers, money obsessives and status-driven spiritually empty lunatics. It is an enervating force. We should resist it and embrace tea, the ancient drink of poets, philosophers and meditators.”

– Tom Hodgkinson, How to be Idle


In my workshop, we drink more tea than you can imagine, and it’s power is clear. Every mechanic knows this; every metal workshop has a teapot. It’s a kind of shared ritual, the boiling of the kettle, the quiet prayer against jerky milk hands that can spoil a cuppa at the last moment, carrying a half dozen mugs back to the workbenches in a oner.

Tea is for the calm in the first steady moments of opening up the workshop. Tea is for reassurance when your tap snaps in the threads. Tea is for that moments pause to chat and breathe. Tea is for steadiness as you get weary late in the day.

Sometimes, I reward myself with a cuppa when I’ve been filing tubes for too long, or I’ve chugged my way through an epic batch run. Other times tea is like a hug from a friend when shit’s just hit the fan and you can’t be fucked to go back and re-do something, but you know you’ve got to. Drinking that last sip, spirit fortified, you step back to the bench…

My racks and stems are built with chromoly, brass, and tea.


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Free flowing

I’ve built a lot of bike racks now.

I make porteur racks, pannier racks, things on the front, platforms on the rear, low riders, all sorts and kinds of racks. And it’s still a total pleasure. Each and every rack I’ve made has been different. There is no set form, few constraints beyond the holes on the frame and the fork, the brakes and the wheels. Whole voids of space that can be filled with tubes either straight or curved, structures you can chose how to form, to triangulate, or remove. Each rack I make is a fresh blank sheet.

Making a bike frame feels so constrained in comparison. My general vibe is that bikes that deviate very far from that platonic ideal of the bicycle, those perfect triangles, tend to just look a bit, well, shit. So there’s a narrow range there, it feels to me.

But racks!

Racks are wild, racks can bend here or there, racks can have bonus struts just because, they can have whole sections that can bolt on or off, you can play with radii and form. I love building racks.

This is Jake’s new front rack for his touring bike. A modest platform for a front bag for when he’s just riding around town, space to strap a bag. And then when he heads out into the countryside, he can bolt on low riders for carrying all of the gear. Dynamo light mount with hand formed cable guides, and, as ever, my copper name badge. Banger.

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A few nights ago, the wonderful folks of Boneshaker Magazine, had a wee party for the launch of their latest issue, number 18, in our local community bike cafe, Roll for the Soul. My friend Luke Francis also showed a beautiful film he’s made, Beulah. I was showing the porteur bike I built for Boneshaker.

These things are wonderful and huge and excellent. It was a delight to be invited along. But the thing that gets me, the thing that hits me right in the feels is actually the community.

I find it hard sometimes to be in big groups of people, I can feel nervous or shy, slightly clumsy or foolish. That night in RftS, the place was packed to gunnels with a huge cross section of the Bristol bike scene. But despite my occasional total social awkwardness, I felt at home. Here was the place. This was our cafe, these were our folk, these were the things we made. I felt surrounded by people, all of whom I didn’t necessarily know, but all I had an affinity with.

We hear the word “community” often these days. It’s bandied around by politicians and media people almost as a reflex. I mostly disregard these peoples’ use of that word, because I don’t often feel that community, even when they’re referring to a “community” that I’m nominally involved in. But this night in RftS was that actual thing there, that was a community. Because there’s folk who would hold each other up, who will cheer for each other’s achievements, and feel a little bit of belonging. That’s the thing that keeps me in Bristol.  It’s the thing that makes the bikes such powerful objects.

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There’s a slit that’s opened up on one of my fingers. Don’t misunderstand me: this isn’t a cut. My skin, worn thin by oil, and abraded by filing and sanding and scrubbing, has simply opened up. It’s not been able to hold itself together any longer, and now the wound pulses painfully when I hold a spanner or get soap in there.

My fingerprints are engraved with oil, whorls crossed by sharp scratches and skin tears. My nails haven’t been really clean for months. Those black lines mark where my fingers end and my self care has fallen away.

What the fuck’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just put some gloves on, save that skin from contact dermatitis, from being sliced open by nothing less than total fucking disregard? I know exactly why, of course. Because my hands track perfectly with how I really am. Say “Hey, how are you?” and look to my palms to reply.

Turns out, I’m not really ok.

I’m tired and worked and heartbroken. I’m sad and I’m lonely. They’re full of regrets, those hands, they’re scared and want to scram.

But I look at my palms, and there’s more there than sadness too. I see my mountain bike calluses, rubbed in from decades of pulling up on my handlebars, I see the patterns visible from the oil, and I feel happy too. There’s this part of me that smiles inside to see those hands and know the work I’m doing, feel that pride to be making things and fixing things. Those fucked up hands are capable now; they’re strong and learned. My hands tell my whole story, my whole fucken life right there, scarred, burnt in, rubbed out, and painted with grime.

Those are my hands.

Pass me the moisturiser, therapist.

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Our land

It seems impossible sometimes. The endless tension between the respectable and the radical seems to pick at the gut of so many groups and movements.

Mountain biking in England and Wales is restricted to the arcane backways, the brief and rare and disconnected; BOATs and RUPPs and Bridleways and all that. As riders, we clearly have choices to make as to how closely we toe the legal line, how much of the countryside we say is out of bounds to us. Maybe we can sneak our access in, with cheeky furtive rides at odd times of day or night? Maybe we should see the law as something wider than us and obey it diligently?

No. Our stingy access laws are as clear a mark as any of the aristocratic shadow still draped over the UK. Land access is a radical idea. This is not mere playing around in the mud with bikes. Allowing the aristocratic state to dictate our ability to move about our own country, in our own non-damaging way, is kowtowing to an ancient injustice.

Land ownership in the UK is incredibly concentrated, reflecting a history of theft and persecution. Vast tracts of the UK are owned by lords and barons. It’s bloody medieval out there. Mountain bikers shouldn’t be ok with that. The groups that supposedly represent us shouldn’t be ok with that.

The unceasingly gentle approach of all our cycling groups has failed. Not only has it failed, it has done so spectacularly, with pathetic cycling rates in this country. I’m sure our gentle letters and polite campaigns will lead to access rights being extended to us in the next half century. I’m sure quality cycle infrastructure will be built in the next few decades, or the few after that. The CTC have been saying that for years.

That’s not good enough.

So ride where you like. Ignore the label of “trespasser”, created to shackle us plebs. When we ride footpaths, we’re not trespassing, we’re protesting. It’s our land, lets ride it.

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Desire and fear

I’ve never quite managed to get past the feeling. I know some riders don’t feel it at all, and others can’t deal with it in any way, and stumble away from the feeling instantly.

The subtle fear, the tug of concern pulling at legs and wobbling hands. I always feel it when I size up those jumps that are just slightly out of my comfort zone: the lips just that bit higher than my head, the gap longer than I am tall, the speed just a bit quicker than I’d like. There’s always that funny running-up-the-lip thing I do, holding my hands in front of me clutching my imaginary handlebars just to get a feel for the transition. The “Yeah, be a’reet.” Or else indecisively scuffing the lip with a shoe.

Then the push up and the awful moment when I sit on my bike and look down to the jump, the drop or the chute. When you position yourself there, it’s all too agonising not to ride the damn thing. I always wipe my sweaty hands on my shorts, try and steady my breathing, telling myself it’s only ragged from the sharp uphill push. Then I reposition my foot on the pedal for a few moments, convinced that it’s not quite in the right spot, cursing sticky rubber and sharp pedal pins. More breathing.

And roll. Worry and rolling, and thinking of staying loose, remembering the feeling of the lip, the suck of the transition…

I know instantly if I’ve fucked it up or not, as soon as I hit the lip. The stiff back or the flowing shape…

There’s always a short pause, a sideways contortion where the bike ain’t going where I want it, or else is gliding just so…

Sometimes I can bail really cleanly, ditching the bike in the air and running out on the landing. That’s always wonderful, because then you know the spirit of the jump, you can feel what the bike will do, how to ride, the speed, the pop. Or sometimes, it’s just cleaned nicely, or maybe hung up a little or nose bonked a touch too much, but it’s all ok. But it’s the hard thwack of my body hitting the ground that gives the real feeling. When there’s no air in my lungs to shout that I’m fine to my mate running up the hill towards me, when I feel my body, check it’s all there…

And always that subtle anxiety, the little moments of fear layered at every stage. Big crash or not, the memories of aching muscles and scabs and blood on my bedsheets seep through every time, melting the glories of pinned doubles and flow feelings. I can never quite get past them. I can clean it three, four, seven times, and still it can linger there.

Desire and fear, desire and fear.

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Just make things

I guess for me personally, D.I.Y. is about rejecting a top-down model of culture, where (to use a crude simplification) corporate forces dictate what we watch, listen to, engage with. That can be really bland, homogenous and uninteresting, and certain voices are invariably marginalized. D.I.Y. is about producing your own culture, without the need for middle-people or corporate indicators of success; it’s about engaging directly with people as friends. Within that is an implicit emphasis on inclusivity, safe spaces and rejecting bad shit in general. D.I.Y. is a critique of the corporate culture industry, akin to anti-consumerist critiques of capitalism.

– Nathan, Martha band

I can’t quite remember how it came to be that I was a person who couldn’t make things, who couldn’t draw or take photos or be artistic. But there was surely a point when that became a truth; when I became a Person Who Cannot Make Things. When I was wee, I used to draw, I used to build wooden ramps, make trials courses from farmyard parephenalia and bricks and planks. I used to make patches and sew them on my clothes. When I moved to the city, I found people around me who could make things, beautiful drawings, carved wood bowls, they could paint and photograph and learn to be blacksmiths. Maybe it was at that point that I became a Person Who Cannot Make Things. Maybe that was fear, or embarassment, or just not feeling good enough.

So it’s a new thing now, to scrape at the old punk ethos that saved me just when I needed it too when I was wee, that told me that I was ok, and good, even.

I’m making things again.

I’m not so good at it just yet. But I know (finally) that that doesn’t matter really. Some of my favourite bands seem like they can barely play their instruments.

So I jump up and down, I literally scream with excitement, I do a kind of shiver of apprehension and then have to giggle to just get all of the things out of me, just to MAKE SURE I DON’T EXPLODE AT THE THRILL OF IT ALL!

And I don’t feel hopeless anymore. I don’t feel like only other people can make things, that somehow I’m not that kinda person. I don’t feel so listless and lost anymore. And I’m gonna be able to stand up again, gonna be able to howl at the sky.

I can make things.

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Tall Bike Tour

I’m sure it goes without saying, but I am a massive fan of tall bikes. I’ve got pretty clear ideas about what they represent to me. That’s for another time. This, here, is the Zenga Bros. I feel incredibly lucky to say that these folks came by the workshop some time ago. It was pretty great to see Billy’s modular touring tall bike, the Joy Machine. It’s an incredible hand made construction that can convert from a tandem, to a double tall, to a triple tall. Boneshaker featured the Zenga Bros in issue #11. It’s sold out now, but you can get the digital version here. Reading it, like watching this video, will open your eyes to the wild freedom that we can all claim for ourselves if we want.

I remember most clearly pushing the rowdy St Paul’s kids around on it, in the cold evening Bristol dusk, witnessing the pandemonium and laughing manically. Hoots and howls and smiles all over the shop. That’s tall bikes.  I dare you, I dare you! to tell me that this video doesn’t make you wanna leap up with a huge smile and run out the door and DO something!

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