Big bucks for bicycles
Bespoke bikes are on the rise, but they don’t come cheap.
What’s more expensive, your car or your bike? With the popularity of cycling on the rise, and a new surge in bespoke bicycles, that could all be changing.
When it came to innovation in cycling, Melbourne company Bastion Cycles were ahead of the trend when they kicked off in 2016. Former engineers for Toyota, the founders spent their time playing around with a mix of materials and technologies to create lightweight, agile, and entirely customisable bikes.
Technologies including 3D printing. In fact, they were the first company to develop a commercially available, 3D-printed bike in the world.
“When we worked at Toyota, Lab 22 [a 3D-printing-capable lab from CSIRO] was across the road so we’d seen what was possible with metal,” says co-founder and engineering director James Woolcock. “We’re all into cycling and were pretty convinced we could build a decent bike.”
And that’s what they did, having sold around 130 bikes since their inception. At a price of about $17,000 ($13,000 is pretty much a minimum) and with each bike specified to the customer, that’s no mean feat.
For context, a new Mitsubishi Mirage ES Manual starts from $12,250. That’s more than $10,000 cheaper than Bastion’s most expensive bike sold to date, a heavily customised bike that came to a cool $24,000.
Made from a unique mixture of carbon-fibre and titanium (the 3D-printed elements), Bastion Cycles recognise they’re tailoring a product to a specific demographic.
“Most customers are very experienced cyclists,” says co-founder and managing director Benjamin Schultz.
Who, ironically, doesn’t currently own a bike (although he’s got one in the process of being made. “It’s a special edition.”).
While race bikes have long offered high levels of agility in their frames, they’re typically designed for an athlete’s build and flexibility which riders are unlikely to have (consider how far professional cyclists are bent forwards when riding).
“We can build a more relaxed fit, but with more stability. We want to make the most fun bike to ride.”
Customisations include the size of the frame, the length of the stem – the tubular section connecting the handlebars to the bicycle fork, which holds the front wheel in place – the paint job, you name it.
“Lots of people don’t realise their legs are actually different lengths,” says Benjamin. That’s something Bastion Cycles measures.
Over in Geelong, bespoke bike company Baum Cycles takes this same slow, careful approach to making their products. In charge of front-of-house and the customer experience, Ryan Moody describes the process as almost ‘slow fashion meets transportation’.
“[Our customers] want a hand-crafted, bespoke product,” says Ryan. The process of creating their products is more personal, both with customers and behind the scenes.
“We have more conversation, more in-depth information rather than us saying ‘here’s the bike everyone should have,’ ” and providing various general frames, he says.
The bikes are more expensive than the standard fare, but Ryan says customers are willing to pay for this attention to detail. He draws connection to the process of choosing a car or motorbike.
“You can liken it to wanting a Porsche,” but with a much smaller cost.
Baum Cycles’ prices have a “starting mark of around $7000,” but that moves to around $10,000 to $20,000 when personalisation begins. Despite that, he says it hasn’t limited their customers.
“Our customers are bus drivers to former prime ministers.” He did not specify which one.
“I recently had a customer who told me ‘my skill and ability are probably lower than you’d expect,” he says. “It might only be someone’s second bike [for example],” but “it’s like if you’ve had shoes made, or garments not bought off the rack. People enjoy those niceties, there’s that enjoyment. Increasingly, customers are looking for something made for them, something more individual.”
Mike is one such customer. Having been riding for over 20 years, when he was looking to upgrade his bike last year he knew Bastion Cycles was the way to go. Seventeen thousand dollars later, he couldn’t be happier.
“In my mind, it’s the perfect bike,” says Mike.
Now in his 60s, and dealing with associated ailments (“a dodgy knee”), he was willing to invest more money into his bike in return for the added comfort, “without sacrificing performance”.
“My weekly kilometre output has increased, I’m riding better, and it’s more enjoyable. I’ve got the trifecta,” Mike laughs. “I’ve always seen value in spending more, if you believe there will be a tangible benefit in the long run.
“[This bike] will last longer, it’s more durable… I can’t see there being any need to change the frame in the future.”
Speaking about it with his friends and fellow cyclists, he thinks this appreciation for hand-crafted, high quality bikes will continue to grow.
“There were days where people would ‘umm’ and ‘ah’ over spending $2,500. Now, people will cough up seven, eight, nine thousand dollars without worrying.”