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Custom Frame Building - The Wilson Bike Project

6th September 2016

Wilson Bike Project – Part One

 

Mike Wilson founded Wilson Cycles after years of tinkering and racing bikes. It was a natural progression to have a name and brand behind what he had been achieving for years. He now has over 18 years’ experience in bike frame building with 35 years’ work experience in the engineering and design industry. With this knowledge Wilson Cycles takes the term custom to the next level, not to be confused with boutique frames, Wilson cycles make the frame exactly how you want it. So when the question was posed about a bike project with kiwi manufacturer Wilson Cycles, I managed to raise my hand a little higher than the others at NZ Road Cyclist HQ. In this issue we will cover the fit process when buying a custom Wilson Cycle with future issues following the frame construction and final result.

 

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Being hooked on cycling the fitter I’ve become the more I want to push my limits; not only physically but also by exploring new demanding routes. Recently I’ve become interested in discovering scenic farm tracks and gravel roads that offer little traffic and stunning views. I like that the roads are hardly used and would be forgotten if you didn’t venture down them with your bicycle. However your bike’s capability plays a critical role in handling these rougher roads and significantly impacts on the experience.

 

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Driving to Mike Wilson’s property in South Auckland, I had the urge to ride the rolling country roads that led us to his lifestyle block. Venturing through his multiple garages, I was overwhelmed by the frames, wheels and bicycle memorabilia. However, housed in these sheds, were more importantly, the customised bike building machines that Mike has fabricated himself over the years. Being a tool-making engineer by trade, and one would say a real thinker and tinker, has allowed him to develop some important tools of the trade for custom frame building.

 

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Perhaps one of the most essential roles in having a custom bicycle made is the fit. Over the years it has become more difficult to have a one-on-one fit session with custom frame builders. As the world has become more connected with technology, what we can miss out on is that true personal touch. Wilson doesn’t rely on fit charts or previous incantations of other frames instead he offers a tailored individual fit to every rider. I get the feeling that there’s an obsession with ensuring every minimal part of the process is recorded, calculated, measured and delivered with absolute precision.

 

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After explaining my intended use for the custom bike, Mike listened and immediately had many suggestions for ways to make the frame fulfil all my needs. Mike says “I can make any bike any way you want but I will always advise on the pros and cons of each aspect to ensure the rider is absolutely satisfied with the result”. Mikes got a knack for explaining technical aspects of the build in a practical way, this meant I stayed involved with the whole process and knew what was being done and why.

 

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I jumped aboard Wilson’s custom fit jig and turned the cranks. Mike analysed my position, pedal stroke and proportions whilst discussing the bike’s needs, requirements and capabilities. The aim of any fit process is to optimise positioning on the bike while allowing for greater power and comfort. A conventional fit on an ‘off the shelf’ bike can only take into account touch points, the key standout with this fit was that the bike geometry was being fitted to my body’s build. Mike summed this up perfectly “in a standard bike fit the rider only gets to choose the changes with their seat, stem, and bars, given my process is completely custom we have the freedom to fit the frame itself to the rider and this is the true value of my service”. Mikes customisation not only produces the correct rider position, but it also produces a bike with stem and seat post lengths that improve aesthetics.

 

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Mike’s philosophy on the whole process, from fit right through to the build, clearly shows. I get the feeling, as he chats away with the utmost passion, that his engineering mind is busy working out the frame calculations. I like the way that every single piece of data from the bespoke measurements is recorded by pencil ensuring there’s nothing left to chance with the frame build. Going against the trend of computer-generated recommendations, Mike strongly values a personal approach. In a day in age when everything we do is fast and furious and remote, it has been a humbling experience to be reminded of the beauty of cycling and how important the craft of frame building is. It’s been tough writing this article as I am constantly distracted by thinking about my new frame and what parts I will be putting on to it, stay tuned in our next issue to follow the construction of the frame.

 

 

Wilson Bike Project – Part Two

 

In part one of this feature (NZRC Issue #35) I met with Mike Wilson, of Wilson Cycles, at his workshop to complete the fit and design of the bike. Mike’s knowledge of frame building was eye-opening and with his tool making background his garage was filled not only with custom made tools but also a custom made fit machine.

 

One of only a few Kiwi bike manufacturers, Mike offered his extensive knowledge, expertise and experience when discussing frame materials and the requirements of this build which is to fulfil my search for a versatile bicycle to suit the variety of conditions I enjoy riding in.

 

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My road bike copes in some situations and I have ‘muscled’ through gravel sections, however in a perfect world I’d like something that handles like a road bike but chews up any rough terrain that’s thrown at it.


Bikesmith Wilson makes absolutely beautiful frames from steel, titanium and aluminium. As frame material is a major part of the equation when it comes to bike characteristics, for this bike steel was the best option and comes at a great price point. Steel is a long-time favourite with frame builders and has seen a resurgence in recent times due to its comfortable ride quality, strength, durability and its panache!

 

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The frame’s engineering was the next piece of the puzzle; tyre clearances, wheel base and head stack were some of the key points nattered about over a biscuit and coffee. The bike’s intended capabilities were for both road and gravel so having different tyre width options was a critical part of the frame build.


Being able to talk with the frame builder offers untold advantages as every little detail comes together with the rider in mind, you really don’t have to compromise on any of your needs.


“I love to get to know the rider and their needs to then come up with the frame to match,” says Mike. “Every bike is different and in all my years of building the joy of getting every detail correct has never dwindled.”

 

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For this build, Mike suggested a compact or mid-compact chain set to allow the chain stays to flare out, which allows for a greater tyre clearance. I hadn’t given much thought on how the chain set would affect this but when explained clearly it made total sense.
Plus the added benefit of the compact chain sets would be the ability to stay seated, spinning up rougher terrain rather than standing, grinding over the top of the gear – potentially giving the rear tyre more chance to slide. With a wider clearance also needed for the front tyre, Mike knew the best fork for the job and factored this into his measurements too.

 

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As our coffee cups emptied, the thoughtful approach – and passion – that Mike brings to the fabrication process was clear to see. Sketching the frame by hand in his notebook, Mike talked about extending the wheel base length to aid stability. My concern was that I didn’t want it to handle ‘like a boat’ so we ended up somewhere in the middle. This is the best part of the frame build process - as there’s so much opportunity for buyer input.


Mike measured my road bike head stack height and talked about bringing it up for the project bike. This was designed to ensure greater comfort on farm tracks, being able to admire the view but still evading the wind when needed. Again, with both of our inputs the measurements were finalised.

 

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I really liked the way we allowed for a 10mm head stack spacer to be placed either way. So for scenic rides I would lift it higher and for faster slogs I would be able to slam that stem.


As Mike is currently spending hours hand welding and perfecting the frame I am dreaming of putting the frame through its paces! Stay tuned for our next issue to follow the build-up and ride impressions of the frame.

 

 

Wilson Bike Project – Part Three


In part two of the custom Wilson Bike Project (NZRC #36) we covered the construction our custom made steel frame and the eye opening experience of working with Mike Wilson throughout the process.

 

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Mike of Wilson Cycles is clearly passionate – not a week went by without a phone call or text from him updating us on the current status of the build. This genuine approach was welcomed and the conversation often went over the frame and then into other aspects of cycling culture. I feel this has created a great bound between rider and frame builder.

The frame has been designed to venture further afield; so the components would not only need to live up to the frames fantastic finish but also needed to be robust, versatile and easily serviceable if you happened to be stuck beyond the back roads!

 

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With this in mind the touch points of the bike needed to be comfortable and carbon would aid ride quality so we went with Pro Vibe Components. The Fabric ALM saddle was selected for the perch – the company collaborated with airbus to bring new comfort qualities whilst still being feather weight.

 

Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2 drivetrain was enlisted for its superior robustness and flawless shifting. Stopping duties were left to Shimano Hydraulic R785 fitted with 140mm rear and 160mm front SRAM Centerline disc rotors from their Mountain Bike range to increase stopping power when packed to the hilt.

 

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Completing the puzzle; Hope Pro 4 Hubs and WTB Frequency CX rims would do the job of keeping the bike running ultra-smoothly whilst still having the toughness of a Mountain Bike wheelset. As we’re not too fussed on weight aluminium was the best choice for the rims and kept costs down.

  

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In the next issue we’ll have an extensive review of the frame and outline the capabilities of componentry when tested in the field. We’re already dreaming about the upcoming overnight bike pack adventure planned for when the build is completed! Stay tuned….

 

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Words: Liam Friary
Images: Darryl Carey & Cameron MacKenzie

 

Orginally published in NZ Road Cyclist Jul/Aug, Sep/Oct & Nov/Dec Issues. For more in-depth reviews and exclusive articles grab the latest copy on-sale today!