Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Meet the Bik Kesmiths; Cycling; London's Bicyclemakers Are Reporting Increased Demand for Custom-Built Wheels. Tom Bailey Meets the Artisans Welding Empires out of Steel Tubing

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Meet the Bik Kesmiths; Cycling; London's Bicyclemakers Are Reporting Increased Demand for Custom-Built Wheels. Tom Bailey Meets the Artisans Welding Empires out of Steel Tubing

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Bailey

WHEN I meet custom bikebuilder James Kennedy outside his workshop under a railway arch in Hackney Wick, he is sporting a topknot and clutching a takeaway lunch of tabouli and avocado. So far, so hipster. But what are those strange grey streaks on his forearms? "My wife and I have got into the habit of buying each other 'skills' rather than useless tat for our birthdays," he says "I got her violin lessons: she got me a pottery class. Anyway, come in" Under a spectacular canopy of freshly painted bike frames, next to a workbench adorned with the artisan-grade tools (strangely shaped hammers long believed to be extinct), Kennedy recalls the origins of his one-man empire.

"I started building bikes for friends, selling them at cost or chucking them on Gumtree," he says.

The inspiration to go full pelt with his "kitchen table" enterprise came after a fruitless trip to a bike superstore.

"I naively looked into whether you could build something better and, unfortunately, I discovered that you could," he jokes. "So I didn't really have any choice -- I had to quit my job."

It proved to be an inspired decision. Kennedy City Bicycles (kennedycitybicycles.cc) now has a three-week waiting list brimming with keen urban cyclists.

If you are one of them, your glistening calf muscles may well be twitching at the thought of a delivery date.

London's post-Olympic love affair with cycling has been well documented -- and it doesn't look like anyone wants to slam the brakes on. But while pedalling an anvil-heavy Boris bike certainly gets one's blood pumping, good luck drawing admiring glances at the lights.

That is where the custom-built bike craze comes in. Last year, the PS200 Rapha jersey -- cycling's equivalent of Prada -- proved to be the ultimate expression of individuality. This year it is made-to-measure bikes.

But aren't fancy, custom-made bikes the preserve of wealthy sprocket-heads and the Lycra-clad elite? Not any more, says Kennedy. He is managing to keep prices affordable -- from PS500 -- by starting with pre-fabricated steel frames. "Modern steel is much lighter than it used to be, so my bikes are about nine kilos -- my nan could pick up one up. Steel bends, and, in a city with roads as bad as London, it's useful to have a little flex in your frame," he says.

Craftsmanship aside, another big attraction is that custom bike-makers have sliced out the margin men.

"We only sell direct, so we can give a level of service that the big boys just can't," Kennedy says proudly.

"And we don't spend money on anything but bike parts and rent. We've spent zero pounds on marketing in the past year. So instead of spending just 20 per cent of your money on parts, we can spend 70 per cent on parts."

Purists might argue that Kennedy Cycles are not "proper" custom wheels. …

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