Why Handsling Bikes?
Handsling Bikes was set up to fulfil two aims: firstly to provide reliable frames for the Handsling Racing team and secondly, rather selfishly, to satisfy my own personal ambition of having a complete stable of matching bicycles...
When I raced more seriously, riders would always complement me on my bikes; how clean and well presented they were. I didn't see this as anything special, as it seemed normal to do all of my own bike maintenance and set-up my bikes myself. I figured that if I am going 50mph down a hill, I want to know my bike is right!
I only won a few races on the road and the track, but I did win a lot of bunch sprints and I did break a lot of kit along the way. How much? Well, just about every frame I raced on in those days! For example, I had a frame's top tube peel apart between my thighs, mid-sprint; I had numerous chainstays snap; I cracked bottom bracket shells; and wheels broke, even bars, seatposts and cranks snapped under me! I didn't realise it at the time but my bike maintenance skills combined with my ability to test a bike to destruction, were going to come in useful later when launching Handsling Bikes.
In those days, I made sure I always had two identical race bikes. Of course, I also had a track bike, a mountain bike, a training bike, etc, but they were all different, not just different makes, but different sizes, shapes, materials, and so on. But my two most important bikes were identical. Same bars, stem, Dura-Ace groupset, pedals, etc. That way if I crashed one, an inevitable part of any road racing season, the other was there to keep me racing. A lot of riders could do with this approach but the high cost of quality frames is restrictive.
In 2006, when I got back into racing via working at RoadCyclingUK.com, I took my two old Evans team bikes - a Cannondale CAAD3 and a Roberts 853, both made-to-measure - and resprayed them up as WHITEN frames. I'd soon done the same to an old custom Argos of Bristol frame and I even commissioned a carbon WHITEN, from Billato of Italy. I was tempted to keep going and launch a full range of bikes but the bike industry was a bit different then; it would have been a very expensive undertaking. Now though, most of the industry has shifted production to the Far East and the costs involved are therefore much lower. All I needed was the right motivation.
I had started the Handsling Racing team in 2012 to promote my consultancy, Handsling Media Ltd, and we rode Trigons, stiff and comfortable, no-nonsense frames of exceptionally high quality from the company that, at the time, made Pinarellos. Trigon and other Taiwanese companies like them, were producing most of the world's carbon frames for just about every big brand you could name, whether Italian, American, French or whatever, so it's no wonder their own brand bikes were so good. And that got me thinking about my own bike range again.
So in 2015 Handsling Bikes was born, a range of top quality, carbon frames that are designed to perform for real riders competing in real world races or training on real roads (which let's face it, are rarely the smoothest) at real prices. I wanted durable frames that go fast and therefore emphasised two areas: toughness and stiffness. I am not a pro, you are not a pro, and no one is going to jump out of a sponsor's team car and give either of us a new frame if we smash up our best bike. The frames are made from tough, no-nonsense carbon using Toray 700 and 800 series carbon for all our frames. They are reasonably priced to make them more accessible, and importantly are available in custom colours, personalised to (or to match the team kit of) each rider - after all you only live once so you may as well ride around on something customised to you.
Via a recommendation from a Taiwanese contact and, totally coincidentally and independently, the same recommendation from an ex-pro rider, I use an OEM in Shenzen Province, in China, the place to which many of the big Taiwanese companies had moved their production facilities to take advantage of cheaper labour costs, and over 90% of the world's carbon frames are now produced. This reputable factory is willing to work closely with me, adopt my rather strange business model, make small changes to the frames for me, and supply both wheels and fully finished frames.
Initially the intention was simply to kit out the Handsling Racing team riders, but once we had all ridden the bikes and the feedback was "the bikes are simply astounding", people started asking where they could get one.
Working in the bicycle press, I get to ride a fair few bikes now and then. Over many years I've built up a good idea of what makes a decent bike frame and it's no secret that carbon is the ideal material for making a performance frame. Having started racing in the days of steel frames and been through the reign of aluminium, and broken both, I know that no other material can be manipulated in the way carbon can to produce such positive performance at such low weights. Don't get me wrong, I still love riding steel frames; I have a huge soft spot for aluminium frames; plus who doesn't love a titanium frame? It's just that carbon is by far the best material if you want to ride fast, whether that be racing or setting that gold time in a sportive. And don't let anyone kid you otherwise, as that's why every pro rider on the planet rides carbon.
Therefore, Handsling Bikes is a collection of carbon frames that I own myself, my team (see the team bios a few tabs along from here) have ridden and rate, and that will allow you to perform at your best, while not letting you down and being totally customised to you.
I now have three factories that produce frames for the range, and only sell the items I really rate and my team are willing to ride, race, do sportives and train on. Feedback from the experienced team riders is very important in allowing me to choose only the best kit. I also sponsor a number of riders from other teams. The RR1, for example, has finished a number of Belgium Classics this year, albeit the junior versions, including surviving the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix under British squad rider, Fred Wright.
So the Handsling Racing team have their bikes but did I fulfil my second aim of a complete stable for me personally? Well so far, I have a general road race bike (the RR1), an aero road race bike (the A1R0), a cross bike (the CXC), two track bikes (both a TR1 and a TR2, though one will no doubt have to go), and a winter training and commuting fixed wheel bike (the F1X). No mountain bike yet (available as MTB29 or 27.5), no disc braked cross bike (the CXD), and none of the new frames we have introduced in the shape of another aero frame (the A1R2) and a new general road frame (the RRSL). But I still have time...