Sam's first steps into the writers world are all about the wonderful bikes made at Field Cycles.
Field of dreams
With handmade in Sheffield, Field Cycles brings bespoke artisanal craftsmanship to a process more associated with mass production. Attention to detail along with an exploration in craft see only limited numbers of frames leave the workshops yearly. Riddle finds out more.
Harry Harrison was remarkably calm when I met him. I wasn’t the only wide eyed visitor he was expecting that day, his first child was due too. With a shrug, he said it would be alright, his wife had swum a mile yesterday and he gave me a warm welcome as I squeezed past the heavy, unnamed door wedged half open letting the late summer sunshine into the Field Cycles workshop. In this workshop good old fashioned Sheffield industrial alchemy happens. Harry and his friends turn bits of steel into beautiful, handmade bespoke bicycles. When I say beautiful, I mean gorgeous, stunning, breathtakingly beautiful bicycles. These things are works of art!
It’s understandable really because before making bicycles Harry was a successful artist with galleries in London and Zurich exhibiting his work. And looking around the workshop its clear he hasn’t lost any of his artistic flair. Harry explains that the Field bicycle frame-sets are created by a group of friends who set out to make the most beautiful bikes they could. He believes the secret of their success is that each of them brings a different skill set and craft to the table and they all have total confidence and respect in each other. Ian Broom works alongside Harry in the workshop at the business end of their tooling machines. Tom Smith is the graphic design genius in charge of everything visual and it’s John Burke’s imagination and steady hand that brings the colour that gives the life to these incredible metal sculptures.
Each of the 25 or so frames that come out of the Field Cycles workshop every year is individually tailored to the unique size and requirements of their new owner. This is a lengthy process, a labour of love rather than mass-production. Over several fittings, Harry will design and shape the frame to the customer’s size and shape. Building in invisible adjustments to the perfectly balanced geometry, maybe eking out a little more speed or easing the ride for a stiff back.
He chooses to build the frame-sets out of steel for the ride quality of the finished bike and to work with a versatile material that follows the strong heritage of the small workshops that were once abundant in Sheffield. He has nothing against ‘plastic’ carbon frames but can’t see anyone bringing one of those round in 20 or 30 years like the classic Colnago’s or Jack Taylor’sthey are occasionally asked to restore. The whole process can take four to six months with countless hours spent by these craftsmen pouring lovingly over every minute detail. Much like the tailoring of a Savile Row suit and it will cost about the same too, but, in Harry’s opinion, ‘it’ll be more fun!’
Harry started putting ‘Handmade in Sheffield’ on his bikes simply because that is how and where they are made. He never imagined the resonance it would have with customers around the world who want something that combines exceptional quality with a proud industrial heritage. Fans from as far afield as Japan are ordering Field frames. Many as the centrepiece of their dream bike, a growing trend for uber cycle nuts who go on a global shopping spree hand-picking the best components to build their personal cycle-fantasy. The majority are road bikes but they do occasionally get a request for a mountain bike. Lomas Wefing is currently setting the field alight in the German Mountain bike Championships on his Field cycle. Some celebrity names are also starting to appear on the books too. While we chatted, Harry fastidiously filled away at a weld on a frame for the Keane drummer, Richard Hughes. The weld looked as smooth a babies behind to me but Harry said it had a ‘blip’. It could be hidden when painted but he would know it was there and that simply wouldn’t do. It was not going to be allowed past his own, personal exacting standards of quality control. I wonder if I’ve stayed longer than I should on this expectant day and Harry is finding distractions from something, or someone, else he should be focusing his attentions on. So I drain my mug of tea and wish him and his family all the best for the coming days. I can’t wait to return in a few years to see the latest Field cycle, which will no doubt be the greatest child’s balance bike ever made!