daniel pasley pretty much got it right first time. 'riding the road less travelled', more or less the manifesto behind the original concept of the 'rapha continental'. aside from achieving pretty much what it said on the tin, the continental spawned a compact and bijou peloton of handmade bicycles from the likes of tony pereira, ira ryan and richard sachs amongst others. it was an intriguing and well-crafted alternative to carbon fibre and smooth italian and french climbs, far more closely allied to the sort of riding more befitting that of the clichˇd 'weekend warrior'.
adhering to my e-mailed instructions, i took a scotrail train from glasgow's queen street station to uphall, apparently the closest to livingston's houston industrial estate where i was to be collected by steven shand. idiotically, i arrived at queen street's low-level platforms and ascended to the main concourse, only to discover uphall is also served by the lower-level.
uphall station, or should i say 'platform', is something of an oddity. there is no station building whatsoever, yet a large sign asks those intending to travel to purchase their tickets prior to boarding the train. while awaiting steven's arrival, i tried to figure out how i would reach the return platform had i need of so doing, for there seems to be no obvious underpass or bridge. five minutes later, when steven drove into the car park, i asked him the selfsame question. "There used to be an underpass, but when they modernised everything, they blocked it off. Now you have to walk to the end of the road, walk under the railway bridge and then back up to the platform for a return to Glasgow."
that, apparently, is progress.
at the risk of over-generalising perceptions applied to the rare-breed of uk frame-builder, touring frames, this year's road frame and over-sized pipes for over-sized bicyclists might be classified as their stock-in-trade. not entirely accurate, i'll admit in these 'steel is real' days, yet not entirely unfounded. but for a scottish frame-builder to style his business as 'an adventure bike company', is perhaps to bring the art of the brazing torch into a more defined focus.
steven shand is the man with his name applied in an attractive script to the downtube of stoaters, stooshies and skinnymalinkies. russell stout is the fellow who puts it there. collectively, they are shand cycles, based in nasmith court in houston industrial estate, livingston, near edinburgh. if they were in portland, we'd refer to their premises as 'a nice space', though the surroundings are, by definition, a tad more industrial. i'm no engineer, so the variety of machinery neatly and geometrically occupying a sizeable floorspace meant little to me. and if i'm honest, none of it was being employed during my visit, so on departure, i was none the wiser.
steven has has been building bicycle frames since 2003, but sometimes only for six months or so at a time "I used to take work as a freelance computer programmer in between times. There was rarely enough bicycle work to make it a full-time occupation." a chance conversation with russell stout, whose background is similar to my own, involving graphics, fonts and design, and who fancied a change of direction eventually led to the current partnership. he'd contacted steven with a view to talking through some ideas. "There was initially no intention to become a part of the business", said russell. however, the two shared similar views in relation to bicycle frame building, the result being that both invested in new tooling and larger premises, making shand cycles a full-time affair.
having been more used to hand-crafting custom frames one at a time, the decision was made to augment the custom work with a range of three 'production' frames that straddled the line between custom and marginally less so. the stoater is the most flexible of choices, currently available in three different flavours and their most popular model to date. the stooshie is a no compromise cyclocross bike, something of a niche market at best, despite a healthy scottish cyclocross series. and the road bike market is served by the skinnymalinky, but providing messrs shand and stout with something of a conundrum.
"We built the Skinnymalinky to accept mudguards, wide tyres and deep-drop caliper brakes (or maybe even discs)", says shand, "But most of its customers have looked upon it as the steel substitute for carbon." a bit like big bang theory's sheldon cooper exclaiming "they're having fun wrong" you'd think folks speccing the 'skinny' as a full race bike would hardly be of great concern. but doing so rather undermines their 'adventure bike company' stance, and that, to steven and russell, matters a lot.
though it might have taken the pair a while to come to the now (with hindsight) obvious conclusions, shand cycles may be about to make the transition from offering semi-bespoke frames to that of complete bicycles. "Though we currently offer build-kits for all three current frames, that seems to be taken as more of a starting point. One customer had even drawn up a spreadsheet with all the options he was considering for his frame." said steven. "It would be simpler and quicker to offer complete bicycles with the option perhaps of around four different colours. That way we could shorten our lead times and provide an end product that we know will work satisfactorily."
in essence, it seems like the ideal compromise. it would also, i might suggest, make it easier to market their 'grey sky thinking'. the skinnymalinky might just become the very bicycle it was ever destined to be, riding the (scottish) road less travelled and distancing itself from any pelotonic affiliations.
meanwhile, handcrafting continues apace at livingston's nasmyth court, with three other employees carrying out the hard graft of filing sanding, polishing and assembling those immaculate fillet-brazed steel frames. the shand models i have had the good fortune to ride have all exhibited a liveliness in excess of their business cards and a smoothness of construction that can really only be achieved by steven's preferred method of joining tubes. these are complemented by stout's immaculate paintwork, including the frame logos; there are no decals in evidence, all the lettering being applied with paint under the clearcoat.
sat on the workstand at one end of the workshop was a bright orange stoater plus, almost at the end of its assembly stage. harbouring a son front dynamo hub ("It was a struggle to fit a disc brake with its wider flanges") which also offers usb charging at the stem cap, a carbon belt drive and a rohloff 14 speed rear hub gear, it's as close to this particular state of the art as it gets. though no doubt any framebuilder worth his salt could do likewise, the highlighted build seemed precisely what the stoater was made for in the first place.
there may well be other scottish framebuilders (though none that immediately spring to mind), but none that have achieved such a high national profile in such a short space of time. and almost certainly none that have the scottish weather, temperament and road surfaces at the heart of their existence. though 'grey sky thinking' may be the scottish bike rider's birthright, it's comforting to know that there are bicycles to fit such an ingrained national philosophy.
friday 20 june 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................