DONARD BESPOKE BIKES IS A RELATIVELY NEW ADDITION TO THE NORTHERN IRELAND SCENE, BUT THEY HAVE A USP – THEY SPECIALISE IN CUSTOM-MADE CARBON BIKES AS WELL AS STEEL
THERE ARE TWO WAYS TO MAKE CARBON-FIBRE BIKES.
One is the mass-manufacturing method, which is to place the carbon in a complex mould, in maybe two or three pieces, and then glue the pieces together to make the bike frame. But small-scale builders like me do what is called tube-to-tube building. You’ve got a set of individual tubes (in this case made of carbon fibre) that are bonded using aerospace adhesives, and then the joints are reinforced with additional carbon fibre and the whole frame goes into a curing oven.
CUTTING AND FITTING THE TUBES
into the frame jig is kind of similar to how steel bikes are made. But before that, I make all the individual tubes. The whole bespoke method allows me to customise the geometry of the frame, as well as properties such as the stiffness and strength of the tubes, so I can change the performance of the bike to suit a particular rider or application.
BOTH PHYSICS AND MATHS GOES INTO THE WORK OF ART,
which is good as I have a PhD in physics that focused on high-temperature superconductors. I studied the way electrical current flows in the material and how it distributes around defects, using optical microscopy and magneto-optics. But most recently I was testing televisions for compliance with international broadcasting standards.
I COMMONLY USE MITSUBISHI CARBON
and Reynolds steel. Typically carbon is smoother whereas steel feels “springier” on the road – that’s down to the rate at which the materials respond to vibrations. That can be tuned on a carbon frame by adding other materials into the lay-up.
CARBON BIKES ARE HARDER TO CREATE
because there are vastly more variables – material selection, fibre orientation, resin cure cycles, tooling… Carbon splinters are always fun, too!
STEEL AND CARBON BIKES
tend to lend themselves to a particular genre of bike when they’re off-the-peg. That said, I’ve never made a carbon tourer – but I’d be interested to as there’s plenty of scope to allow extra robustness to be added in and still be lighter than a steel equivalent. On the other hand, there are plenty of people racing on very nice steel bikes.
I TRAINED AT DOWNLAND CYCLES
and then got stuck in. I spent two years researching materials and processes, making tubes and test joints before ‘going live’. Half of the carbon frames have been cut up for inspection or tested to destruction.
THE FIRST CARBON FRAME
that made it onto the road was monstrously overbuilt – it’s now cut up and the parts are still under a workbench somewhere. The first steel frame was a Reynolds 853 fillet-brazed road bike built down at Downlands.
LAST YEAR I BUILT A BIKE FOR A LOCAL EVENT
called ‘ Lap the Lough’. It’s a leisure bike event that circumnavigates Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the British Isles, and the organisers and some other people involved came up with this idea of building a special bike for the event.
I LIVE ON THE SHORES OF STRANGFORD LOUGH
in Northern Ireland. There are some good routes to cover because I’m a roadie at heart, but I’ve also done a fair bit of cross-country and mountain biking in the past.