This was my
solution to a request to build a frame for a guy who's needs
were quite diverse. Alex needed a versatile bike that he could
use for commuting, off road cycling and leisure cycling - but
his main requirement was to build a frame that could accommodate
his specific physical attributes, namely limited range in the
hips and a height of 4' 2".
After much thought and consideration on various frame designs
and wheel sizes, together with several consultations with Alex
at the workshop, the decision was made to build a frame with
a steep sloping top tube built into a mountain bike configuration.
The use of a 24" wheel maintained proportion and also made
available a good range of tyre choice. This attention to detail
in understanding Alex's specific needs produced a custom fit
bike that met all his requirements.
If you're not roughly the same size or shape as an average person, finding
a bike can be a very tricky business. In my case I'm only a little over 4
foot tall due to a congenital condition, and despite being very interested
in cycling it was very hard to get one suitable for me. There are lots of
shops which will sell you children's bikes, but these aren't a great
option for two reasons - firstly, it's quite likely that for a variety of
reasons a children's bike simply won't fit correctly - and secondly,
children's bikes are generally, to be honest, pretty rubbish.
I used to have a bike which was modified by a family friend, which had
done its job fairly well for many years. I think I was actually very lucky
to have this, because I think a lot of people in a similar position to me
have simply assumed that bikes don't fit them, and given up. So I was
initially quite upset when it was stolen last year. Because I live in
Cambridge having a bike is almost essential, so I set about finding a good
one. I decided to take advantage of my bad luck, and make sure that this
time I had a bike which was really nice, and a pleasure to ride. So, I
started trying to find a custom bike builder.
There are surprisingly few custom frame builders in the UK now. I went to
visit a few, which were all medium-sized companies. They seemed pleased to
have my custom - but none of them seemed to take a particular interest in
the fact that my bike would really have to be different to a normal bike,
and they couldn't just make a normal one only smaller. Because I didn't
really feel that anyone was listening to me, I began to get a bit
frustrated, until I visited Justin Burls, a custom frame builder based
The most noticeable thing about Justin is his incredible enthusiasm. As
soon as I told him over the phone what I was looking for, he seemed really
keen on the project, and when I went to see him he straight away started
talking about different approaches we could take to designing the bike.
And, most importantly, he really listened to what I had to say, and
modified his initial ideas quite a lot.
I decided to ask Justin to build the bike for me, and he straight away got
down to trying to finalise the design, work out what parts would work well
and find suppliers for them, and generally bring the project together. A
couple of months later, and I had a bike! And what a bike too!
I can't overstate how pleased I am with it. It's incredibly carefully and
nicely made - Justin seemed so proud of it too, I don't think he wanted to
see it go! I think it had been quite a pet project, and he had enjoyed the
unusual challenge. So, now I'm zipping around Cambridge again - and quite
a lot more quickly than before!
It really goes to show that there are solutions to quite difficult
problems with things like bikes. I've not really mentioned the problems we
were up against, but there were quite a few - I can't get my legs very
high off the ground, so the bike had to be very easy to get on; getting
quality components in a small size can be difficult; quite a few
difficulties with building things on a smaller scale that I don't really
understand, and so on. But with a bit of thought and someone who really
takes an interest in the project (and knows what he's doing!) a lot can be