It was a phone call from Andrew Denham from The Bicycle Academy that kicked this little trip off.
Every year, TBA and Grinduro Scotland select a small group of UK framebuilders to build some bikes especially for the event. The idea is to show the breadth of possibilities from commissioning a handbuilt bike, to show that it’s not all just lugged 1″ top tubed road bikes anymore. When asked to throw my torch into the ring, I said yes straight away. It’s rare to get a chance to see how different builders might approach building a bike for the same terrain, if not necessarily the same use. Considering the amazing builders who have been asked along before, it felt like a real privilege to be part of. This year it would be Ted James, Andy Carr, and TBA builder Tom Sturdy.
What followed that phone call was a short, sharp flurry of activity: getting in tube orders with Columbus, co-ordinating parts from the other sponsors, and then building the bike in a mad rush to make it to the powdercoater in time for him to paint it before the long, long drive north. I decided to build a special Grinduro edition of my “off-the-peg” model, the Carrier. To my mind, this is the bike that loads of us should be riding. It’s one of those bikes that’s just gotten past all the fast-fast-macho-ego cycling bullshit, and is crashing through the long grass way out there in the cycling landscape, laughing.
With only just enough 10mm rack tubing to make the porteur rack and rear bag support, there was no margin for error with the bends, and hours to go before my powdercoater shut for the night, I was feeling kinda smug when I finished brazing on the last little light cable guide and pedalled over to hand the frame over to him.
“Make it purple please!”
My mate Tom has a massive yellow van, his own Clandestine Carrier, and the kinda can-do attitude required for making this kind of thing into a good vibe time. We left Bristol at dawn. We saw a man cycling up the hard shoulder of the M74. We drank tea by the litre. We watched the landscape wax and wane from pastoral fieldscapes, to lakeland hills and central belt lowlands. Denham had set up a WhatsApp group for the builders, which, I’ll be honest, provided mega entertainment for the drive up to Arran. I was feeling disorganised, but turns out Ted was spraying his clear coat outside at 2AM, and Andy was asking if anyone had a head tube reamer while we’d arrived on the island and were having a absolutely baltic swim in Lamlash Bay…
Years ago, I lived up in Glasgow. Arran was one of my places where I’d escape the city and drift in North Atlantic island life for a few days to get the city out of my hair. I felt like I knew the island pretty well, but Grinduro showed me that there is still kilometre after kilometre of fireroad easing over the hills out there. Our little gaggle of builders set off basically dead last, and we stayed that way for the whole day (Sturdy Rocket Man excepted…) The riding was amazing. At one point I found myself by myself, and I felt like I was just gliding along, rough track be damned. I was floating. And it wasn’t Petor’s LSD; it was just joyriding. We meandered around, put in a modicum of effort in the timed sections and ate prodigal amounts of cake and bananas.
For me, Grinduro pointed at another way we could build cycling. I imagine a whole scene built around events like this, pulling the focus away from Le Tour, or the nut job mountain bikers in their motocross helmets. As you could see from the wildly different bikes that were out on the ride, Grinduro was something else, it reflected something way more relatable to the normal cyclist out there. As you could see from how different all the bikes the bunch of frame builders made, it’s a chance to get wild out there, past the racey stereotypes of bikes you see on shop floors all over the country, a chance to put the focus back on the riding, on the adventure, the fun. Three cheers for Grinduro!
This whole trip wouldn’t have been possible without the masterminding of Andrew Denham and The Bicycle Academy crew. I feel like they are supporting the revival of the UK’s handbuilt bike heritage in a really pragmatic and empowering way.
I want to thank these amazing companies for their support with building up the bikes and getting the whole thing going:
All these photos are by Adam Gasson, who is a total dude, and was razzing about the whole trip on an e-bike with the world’s biggest backpack stuffed with photo stuff and was clearly as stoked as everyone else was out there.
Jack from TBA posted his write up of the event on the Radavist, here.
The Radavist also posted up a more in depth look at the builders bikes, here.
You should probably check those out.