Flowing from the Covid pandemic and resultant international trade disruptions have been calls for more products to be made in Australia.
When it comes to bicycles and related parts and accessories, the vast majority of products are imported, but what our local manufacturers lack in scale, they make up for with passion and true craftmanship. This could be seen on every one of the ‘makers’ stands at the 2022 Handmade Bicycle Show Australia, held at in the historic Seaworks wharf in Williamston, Victoria from 3rd – 5th June.
“To our minds the show is still very young, but it seems to be evolving into something that mixes consumer facing with industry networking and collaboration, so we’re quite excited about where it’s going,” said Michael Hands, who co-founded the event with his Corporate Cycling business partner, Nathan Lorkin.
“It’s nice to be doing it out of Covid. Last year we missed lockdown by one week but we were having to send people out of the venue if they came from hot spots and the like. It’s a much simpler year this year!
“We started in 2018 with 20 exhibitors at the (historic Melbourne) Meat Market… 63 this year and we’re full in this venue as well. We did have a waiting list. We also want to expand some of the offerings around talks, education and entertainment.”
While exhibitors included larger wholesalers such as Shimano, SRAM, PSA, Fox Factory, Group Sportif, FE Sports, Bike Box and others, this article focuses on some of the smaller, niche products you may not have seen previously or, at least, not heard much about.
When James Woolcock co-founded Bastion Cycles in 2015, he and his partners had just been made redundant by one of Australia’s last car makers.
“Ben, Dean and myself are all ex Toyota engineers,” he explained. “When the automotive industry came to a close in Melbourne, we knew we wanted to do something with those skills. We could have stayed with Toyota and gone somewhere else globally, but we wanted to prove what could be done here in Melbourne.
“We have a team of 12 now. That’s really satisfying. The reason we started the company was to provide a place that does exciting engineering and cutting edge things in Melbourne. It’s nice that we have a group of staff having fun doing high tech engineering in Melbourne. We’ve got a couple of apprentices, we’ve got graduate engineers, we’ve got senior engineers as well.”
“We’re still at 412 Heidelberg Road, Fairfield. We built that facility in 2018 along with Prova Cycles, Velocraft and riderfit and we’ve all outgrown the space. Velocraft recently moved to their own factory. Prova is hoping to move out to his own factory later this year. If we continue on our trajectory, then in the next two years we expect to be in a purpose-built facility as well.”
Despite its relatively large scale for Australian bike manufacturers, Bastion is focused upon making small quantities of very high-end bicycles.
“For a complete build with a Shimano or SRAM groupset and a nice set of wheels, people are typically spending $21,000 to $23,000,” James reported. “But if you start adding some more exotic upgrades like gold leaf paint, it’s not unusual for us to hit $30,000 builds.”
Despite these super-high price points, there’s no lack of demand, with bikes being sold not only in Australia, but worldwide. In fact, there’s about a 200-bike waiting list that James estimates will take a year to fulfil.
“Last week Ben sold bike 650 and we’re still building bikes in the 400s, so there’s quite a few bikes in our build queue,” he said.
But the backlog has not stopped Bastion working on new products, including one that had its public debut at the show.
James explained its back story. “We did do cranks for the (Tokyo) Olympic program, so some learnings there, but during the large lockdown when we were all working from home, we kicked off the crank project in earnest. The whole team has had a role in getting these prototype cranks to where they are now.
“In the future it will be available as a stand-alone purchase but we envisage that the initial customers will be existing Bastion customers looking to upgrade their bikes. Then for people who are currently with us, as part of the build process we expect them to swap out their Dura-Ace or SRAM or THM choices for our crank. Then once we’ve satiated the existing Bastion customers, we’ll make it available, because it’s compatible with any bike.
“The crank arms, spindle and associated hardware we’ve made in-house, then we’ve partnered with SRM for the power meter. We have the flexibility to do a non-power meter crankset in the future but the build kits that people spec on our bicycles – everybody wants a power meter.
“It’s 3D printed titanium with a hollow inner structure. The outside skin takes most of the load. On the inside we use our structural lattice plus some other tricks. Then the raw print needs to be machined for the tapered spline interface, the pedal thread… we take that raw print through a number of steps to get to the finish you see now.”
And the price? As they say, if you need to ask, you can’t afford it! But in case you were wondering, it’s $4,500 for the cranks with SRM power meter.
Most hand makers specialise in a particular style of bicycle but Luke Laffan of Fikas Bikes (named after Luke’s dog … it’s a long story) is happy to make one-off bikes of whatever style a customer asks for.
He was displaying a front-loading cargo bike at the show which was the first and only one so far he’s made of this style.
“A fellow I know was going to buy a Dutch-made bike, a Bullitt I think, but couldn’t get one at the time,” Luke recalled. “So he asked how much it would be for me to make one and I think I came in at about the same price of about $11,000.
“I generally make a lot of one-off bikes. The one I made before this was a longtail cargo fatbike with a belt drive and Rohloff hub and a trailer on the back with a stand. That customer has been touring on that since October last year (nine months) but he’s almost home I think.
“I make road bikes, mountain bikes, fatbikes, 36ers, whatever. I’ve been building bikes for 15 years. It’s part of my metal fabrication business. The other part is called Laffan Metalworks where I make anything from museum object mounts and machine parts for interactives through to front gates for people. Furniture, car parts, whatever! People just keep showing up and wanting stuff, so I keep making it for them.
“I’m from Canberra. I grew up there and never found anywhere else that me and my partner wanted to live. It’s really good for riding half an hour out of town and you’re in the mountains.”
MAAP is another Australian start-up that has become a global brand in just a few short years.
Luke Parker, MAAP’s Asia Pacific Sales Manager, announced another new chapter in its growth.
“Our new MAAP Lab opened today at 33 Wellington St, Collingwood,” he said. “That’s our new showroom store. It was in North Melbourne but we’ve upgraded. We’ve also grown out of the office, so we’ve moved to Port Melbourne, so now we have two separate spaces for the office and the showroom.
“We have a London office now as well. We’re yet to have a MAAP specific store over there. Over time we’re hoping to expand the MAAP Lab elsewhere. We’re still in Harrods in London, that’s been great.”
“We have probably around 20 (Australian IBD) stores, mainly Victorian based but we do have representatives (IBDs) in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland … we always have a spot where people can buy MAAP. And then throughout Asia we have quite a solid representation.
“It started with Jarrad, one of the co-founders, shipping stock out of his garage in 2014. When I started, we were in a shared office space with another company. We design from scratch. We seem to be growing pretty rapidly. It will be exciting to see what the next year or two brings.”
On their stand at the handmade bike show, MAAP was displaying a jersey with some pretty unusual names on it.
“Pam is a Melbourne fashion brand,” Luke explained. “A lot of the branding is ‘PAAM’ it’s a cross over between the two brands and using both of the logos. It’s a good collaborative effort between two Melbourne fashion brands.”
Brent Dawson’s DSG (Dawson Sports Group) is importing a new brand to Australia, South Industries, that comes from a country not normally associated with bicycle product manufacture.
He explained: “It’s all handmade in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s a small up-and-coming carbon manufacturer – a couple of guys who came across from the aeronautical industry.
“We do a South Industries mountain biking rim – the XC rim, a gravel rim – the GX and an RX road rim. It’s some of the best carbon I’ve had in the warehouse in 10-plus years.
“A few years ago we used to do Praxis carbon MTB rims, but Praxis didn’t own the factory and couldn’t control production so they stopped doing the carbon.
“Now this is something new we can offer with Industry Nine (i9) hubs as a carbon rim, aftermarket wheel. They’ve got a lifetime warranty. They’ve got a really nice build and it’s a point of difference. It’s not an Asian-made rim. We retail the wheelsets with i9 hubs for about $3,400 a pair.”
Brent had one pair of the wheels that had been hand painted by a well-known South African artist and shipped over especially for the show.
“When they’re sold, the wholesale price will be donated to a charity in South Africa called Ladles of Love. It’s a homeless shelter in Cape Town,” he explained.
Goon Wash was started by Reuben Vella just eight months prior to the show.
“Goon Wash is an all-in-one product, highly concentrated,” he said. “It has some light degreasing agents. It eliminates up to 12 single-use plastic bottles.
“It’s all made in Melbourne and the brushes are made in Brisbane from post-consumer (recycled) plastic.”
Reuben has initially been selling direct online but is also looking to wholesale to IBDs. Goon wash retails for $49.95.