HAS there ever been a better time to be British and a cyclist? The nation that brought the world the Raleigh Chopper, and stuck lollypop sticks to its spokes and streamers to its handlebars is now cheering on the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, David Millar and Chris Froome.
Is it possible to feel more proud? More nostalgic? More inclined to get on our bikes and feel the wind in our hair, the cramp in our thighs and the scabs on our knees?
Of course, Raleigh bikes are now made in the Far East, so it was partly that sense of patriotic nostalgia that prompted Steven Shand to build his first bike, by hand, in a little workshop attached to his home. “I bought some welding equipment and built a bike from scratch,” he says. “Then I raced it.”
How did he do? “Not very well,” he laughs. “But it’s the taking part that counts, hadn’t you heard?”
That first bike led to orders from friends and fellow competitors, and before he knew it he had packed in his job and was building bikes full time.
Now 42, Dumfries-born Shand would love to see the romance of it all – from his childhood cycling around the Galloway countryside on his “little yellow Raleigh Boxer” to single-handedly resurrecting the British bike-building industry. “But I probably didn’t cycle any more than most kids,” he admits. Where I grew up was a very small town, close to the countryside, so I used to get away on my bike. I would love to say those memories inform what I do now but I don’t think they do. Cycling was about getting out with your pals. I grew out of it, then when I went to university in Edinburgh [he studied electronic engineering] I got back into it in a more serious way – if you can ever call cycling serious.”
When he wasn’t studying or cycling, he had a Saturday job in a bike shop in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge. He eventually dropped out of university and started a successful company importing high-end kit and components from the US. However, after a fall-out with his business partners, he took the “sensible option” and became a computer programmer for a few years. Then there were stints doing sports marketing for Nike and Gore. “I had been cycling and racing all this time,” he says, “and, almost as a hobby, decided to get into the manufacture of bikes.
“A lot of the industry was moving to the Far East, away from steel to carbon fibre and aluminium. I was much more interested in the old steel bikes.”
He built his first bike in 2003, then last year took on a business partner and moved to an industrial unit in Livingston to enable them to contruct more bikes faster. All are still custom-built by hand from raw materials – lengths of metal tubes of various sizes, thicknesses and weights, depending on the bike and rider. “From unpacking the metal tubes, it can be about a week to build a bike.”
The frames come with good, solid, Scottish names like Stoater (a go-anywhere bike), Skinnymalinky (narrow-tyred for roads and long-distance) and Stooshie (for cyclocross and mountain biking), but one of their main sources of business is still custom-built frames. “To buy just a frame and forks it costs about £1,200, not including wheels or components, and that’s a lot of money,” concedes Shand. “But what you get is exactly what you want.
“Our customers want something special – a pink bike – or maybe off-the-shelf bikes don’t fit. We sell a lot to people who race or do long-distance touring and want something specific that will last. It might be someone who has been left money and they say, ‘My grandad was in a cycling club in the 1930s, he would really appreciate it.’ They’re not just buying a thing, they’re buying an experience.
“We sell a lot abroad but a lot of our business comes from people who want bikes made specifically in Scotland.” Hence those Scottish names. “We are from Scotland, we’ve lived here all our lives and wanted to reflect that.”
And hopefully they might soon reflect some of the current fanfare around cycling. “We had the Tour de France on in the office,” he says. “It’s really special and I hope it does spark enthusiasm. It won’t trickle down right now – if you want a full bike from us you’re not going to get anything for much less than £2,000 – but we’re definitely seeing more people interested.”
Shand, meanwhile, has been too busy with the growing business and his two young children Jack, six, and Martha, three, to race in more than a year. “I still enjoy bike-camping, though,” he says, “getting away for a bit of peace and quiet.”
So maybe he’s actually a bit of a nostalgic romantic after all.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North