The bespoken word: Best niche road cycling brands


03.12.20 at 11:20 am

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Right then…Spot the difference between these two lists of cycling brands:

  1. Cannondale. Rapha. Shimano. Pinarello. Bianchi. Mavic. Castelli.
  2. Moots. Enigma. Royce. Mercian. Filament. Hexlox. Parlee.

Well done if you nailed it. Yes, List 1 comprises some of the big guns of cycling. The establishment. Les patrons du peloton commercial.

List 2 are the upstarts, the smaller guys doing their thing, in their lane, but maybe yearning for a shot at the big time. Maybe on their way there. Or maybe content where they are. The premium niche. Who knows…

But if you’re keen to go a little off-piste, here’s a few of them. (Note: the focus here is road cycling/racing. Maybe another time we’ll explore the realms of gravel/X, fixed wheel, folding bikes, touring bikes, e-bikes MTBs, city bikes, clothing, accessories etc…)

‘Improve things’ with bespoke carbon

niche cycling brands

Filament Bikes (formerly Craddock Cycles) offers 100% bespoke carbon frames made with a whole lotta love by owner Richard Craddock out of his Worcester base. You can tell that by the way he can take 30 weeks to build a custom frame and proudly spells out his carbon frame craft.

Filament offers road, road disk, track, MTB, gravel, tandem and other builds that let you choose (online to start with) every aspect from the exact size best suited to both your height and weight, to cable routing, bottom bracket, disc options, colour/design and more.

“The first step we use to plan your custom geometry is to look at your current riding position,” says Filament. “Your body will have adapted to this riding position so we take it as a starting point and carefully consider how to improve things.”

A road bike frameset with forks, headset and seat collar will set you back £3500.

‘The finest Reynolds steel tubing’

custom steel bicycle lugs

Derby-based Mercian has been making, as it puts it, “beautiful bespoke bicycles” out of steel since 1946.

The British fashion designing, bicycle-loving guru Paul Smith is a fan and collaborator despite him crashing heavily on a Mercian as a 17-year-old aspiring pro, breaking “lots of bones” and ending his cycling career ambitions to the benefit of the fashion world.

Today Mercian uses “the finest Reynolds steel tubing and stove enamel finished to give the highest quality finish and durability.”

niche mercian bicycle

Mercian offers bespoke frames and full-build bikes, as well as ‘off the peg’ options. A ‘Pro Lugless’ frame and forks setup starts at about £3000.

American titanium: ‘true lifetime bikes’


Stateside, Colorado-based Moots is probably the ‘ti’ daddy since switching exclusively to titanium from steel a few decades ago because “no other material allows us the ability to finely tune every single frame…”

With a ‘Zero BS’ motto (literally), the 40-year-old firm builds a range of handmade road bikes using US-made titanium with bespoke tube diameters and wall thicknesses it says are “true lifetime bikes”.

A road bike like its Vamoots RSL retails at about £4000.

Moots works with nine English partners that can facilitate fittings and more.

Parlee vous 😬? American carbon

Bob Parlee set up his eponymous bike brand in Massachusetts 20 years ago because of his belief carbon “wasn’t being utilized to its full potential.”

Carbon’s innate fabrication flexibility meant too many carbon stylists had entered the scene and committed the design crime of putting form before function. “It’s akin to putting fins on a car,” says Parlee. “They may look cool, but they don’t make the car faster…I never use unnecessary shapes in the name of design.”

niche cycling brands

The £5,900 customised, fully-built Parlee Z-Zero disc made Cyclist magazine’s 100 Best Cycling Products of 2020.

These carbon obsessives boast the Z-Zero contains just 20g of metal in its all-carbon set-up that customises even carbon filaments to the individual rider’s requirements.

Fully bespoke options exist for many Parlee models, each made with in-house carbon tubing that comes in five tube sets to accommodate different rider weights and demands.

Diving even further down the carbon weight cutting rabbit hole, Parlee just released a 31g carbon bidon cage.

Parlee has an international network of retail and bike fitting partners including a few in Britain.

If you’re looking for other British bike/frame brands, this list might be helpful.

Most of these bike makers also offer less expensive versions than those quoted here.

Royce shoots for bike component gold

Royce opened shop in 1980 with engineer, cyclist and car pedalling enthusiastic Cliff Polton behind the counter in his Hampshire facility.

The firm soon gained a reputation for making some of the finest drive train and hub components going. When Chris Boardman won individual pursuit gold on the track at the 1992 Barcelona Olympiad, his Lotus bike featured a Royce bottom bracket axle. Other former pros like Sean Yates and Nicole Cook have won races on bikes featuring Royce components.

niche cycling brands

Royce gear is not cheap. A nitride, gold-finish titanium Racing Gold Bottom Bracket Axle with a “lacquered Carbon Fibre Spacer” costs 360 sterlings and is available by “special order only”.

If you want to turn the exclusivity dial all the way up to 11, consider a pair of Racing Gold Carbon Road Hubs. These specimens mix carbon, titanium and stainless steel to deliver a Shimano or Campag-compatible hub set weighing just over 300g and glittering like a precious golden thing.

But be prepared to pay £1500 and wait two years before you can join your local group ride feeling like some newly anointed ancient Grecian pedalling God among mortals. But two years? Even the Gods may not possess that much patience.

A regular titanium hub set Royce describes as “virtually indestructible” will only lighten your wallet or purse by £500. Bargain!

Asked what types invested in Royce components, Cliff Polton told us “enthusiastic cyclists” did.

British titanium

14-year-old Enigma Bicycle Works is devoted to the “art of British craftsmanship” especially when it comes to titanium and steel bikes.

It builds both bespoke and ready-to-ride bikes and framesets from its East Sussex base which features a ‘Fast Road’ selection of steeds that includes high-end titanium builds retailing at £2000-£4000.

enigma - niche cycling brands

Its ‘Signature Excel’ road bike can be customised to include full mirror polish with satin bead logos, names and inscriptions, anodisation or any individualised paint scheme.

Subtle bike security

If you end up Royce-ing up your chariot, you might want to invest in the kind of innovative bike security tech offered by Hexlox.

Berlin-based Hexlox offers coded locks that are inserted into already existing hex bolts and can only be opened with their corresponding key. They protect saddles, saddle post and handlebars on those occasions you might need to leave your bike somewhere public and unguarded by your good self.

Hexlox offers universal thru-axles and skewers for about 70 sterlings adapted to the Hexlox system to protect against those miscreants who might seek to nick your precious carbon clinchers. More basic setups begin at about £30.

From custom bicycles to commuting bikes, Yellow Jersey can cover you and your bicycle for theft, damage and public liability.

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