First ride: Malcolm Custom Bicycles

A first look and brief first ride on a brand new custom frame hailing from London

by David Arthur   April 10, 2014  

The framebuilding business is in vibrant health at the moment with lots of new builders producing frames. one of the newest is Malcolm Custom Bicycles, headed by ex-professional Australian cyclist Ashley Malcolm. Now based in South East London and running Brockley Cycles, Ashley built his first frame in 2011, and is now starting to gain widespread appreciation in the custom framebuilding world.

The decision to work in steel was an easy decision for Malcolm. He grew up in an era when steel was the frame material of choice, and his experience of having custom frames made as many racing cyclists did back in those days, has shaped the direction of his own framebuilding business.

That’s the background, now a closer look at the bike. I got the chance to spend a short time riding the latest Malcolm demo bike. The frame is made from Columbus Gara tubing with Llewellyn Custodian lugs, with oversize seatstays and rifled chainstays. Ashley uses this tube and lug approach because he feels “it is the best way to construct a bicycle frame. Putting weight to the side for a moment steel lugged frames have the best properties for strength, comfort and longevity when compared to other materials commonly used to construct frames.”

The frame is a thing of beauty, packed with elegant details. The head badge is a nice homage to Ashley’s racing roots, actually based on a photograph of him racing on the track. It’s made from pewter and is mounted to the head tube using either bifurcated rivets or stainless screws.

The combination of the traditional geometry with a horizontal top tube, lugs and skinny steel fork give the frame a pleasing classic look that echoes some of the most beautiful steel frames from years gone by, such as the Colnago Master. The cables are all routed externally but you can choose to have the rear brake routed inside the top tube if you prefer. The frame is very nicely finished, and the decals are subtle and pleasing to the eye.

The beauty of a working with a framebuilder like Malcolm is that a frame can be built specifically to your dimensions and requirements and riding style. This frame measured up as a 56cm with parallel 73 degree seat and head angles, so it just happened to fit my quite nciely, and there was certainly nothing surprising in the handling department from those numbers. Of course, get a frame from Malcolm and it'll be built to the exact numbers you want so it'll fit you like a well tailored suit. 

The frame can also be built up with any parts you like, in this case it was a Shimano 105 groupset, Chris King headset, Deda stem and handlebar, both alloy, and a Madison Flux saddle. The wheels suitably match the frame, Shimano Ultegra hubs laced to Mavic Open Pro rims and shod with Continental Supersonic tyres, and handbuilt by Malcolm. Again, they'll build a frame to any specification you want, to suit your budget and riding style. 

So, the ride. In a word, it’s silky smooth and flawless over my regular roads. Even with the technological advances offered by aluminium and carbon fibre, a well designed and built steel frame still offers a fantastic ride quality that makes you wonder why you’d want to ride any other frame material.

Granted, the traditional aesthetics of the Malcolm aren’t to everyone’s tastes, harking back to a bygone era of cycling when racers didn't wear helmets and jerseys were made from wool. But any notion that the bike is slow and ponderous are dispelled the moment you hit the road. The handling is sharp, the straight bladed fork producing very direct and fast steering. It’s an exciting bike to throw around the road, into corners and through sweeping descents.

Yet it’s stable and composed when cruising along. The steel frame and fork remain settled over rougher roads that usually have stiff carbon frames jolting offline. This poise and smoothness were the perfect match for my local Cotswolds lanes and roads.

The short but often steep climbs handled with ease, the descents with grace and the more poorly maintained country lanes proved no problem, the frame and fork, plus the handbuilt wheels, providing a noticeable amount of forgiveness.

My time on the Malcolm was all too brief, and even though the frame wasn’t built for me, the fit was good, and the ride impressions were favourable. I’m already a steel fan so don’t need any convincing of the materials worth, but riding the Malcolm was an exciting and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

A frame and fork costs from £1,600, though the actual cost depends on the frame tubing and any extras you opt for. You can find out more info at www.malcolmcustombicycles.com

You’ll be able to get a closer look at this actual bike at the Bespoked UK Handmade Bicycle Show in London this weekend from Friday 11th April to Sunday 13th April. More details at http://road.cc/content/news/108344-tickets-sale-2014-bespoked-uk-handmade-bicycle-show

25 user comments

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It seems the frame is too large for the rider Smile That seatpost is not to exposed!

I'd build it up with either silver Athena and Deda finishing kit, or with older SRAM Rival, or even Silver 105. Can't help it, I just like the colour of raw aluminium.

Looking forward to the full review.

Nice to see a laced (open pros!) wheelset, esp. since I've learnt that a friend of mine has record hubset laced with 2-1.5-2 dt revos on open pros with alloy nipples, and weighs in at 1540 grams Smile

2ryd

posted by Vejnecske [23 posts]
11th April 2014 - 4:56

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Looks normal to me pal, you're just too used to seeing compact frames I think.

image.jpg

posted by Nick T [805 posts]
11th April 2014 - 6:17

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that is a beautiful bike

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posted by Northernbike [127 posts]
11th April 2014 - 7:10

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droooooolllll Smile

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [698 posts]
11th April 2014 - 7:35

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Seat post looks fines, just not a compact bike. Many of us liked a tall but short bike. It brings the bars closer to the seat height.

posted by mattsccm [248 posts]
11th April 2014 - 7:42

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No, most of my friends ride vtg steel frames (just as I do) and I have 19cms exposed from the seatpost. something like this:
http://kepfeltoltes.hu/140411/680499_599032890187338_6590931045656016257...

and my legs are always bent, and the riding position is pretty relaxed with my body type.

2ryd

posted by Vejnecske [23 posts]
11th April 2014 - 8:01

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Aesthetics completely spoiled by that black lump of a chainset - a polished alloy Record chainset would be far more in keeping.

Make mine an Italian with Campagnolo on the side

posted by monty dog [362 posts]
11th April 2014 - 8:02

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Classic frame.

I love seeing these steel bikes with modern components - old bikes were pretty, but cottered cranks, dodgy old BBs, and threaded headsets are miserable. So I love my KHS steel bike.

But after getting used to compact frames, and running a 400mm seatpost and 130mm stem on my commuter, the trad geometry and small diameter tubes do look very odd!

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posted by PJ McNally [586 posts]
11th April 2014 - 8:06

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The old "hidden 5th arm" chorus or record square tapered cranks are veeery sexy indeed. They are pretty decent with weight and stiffness with origin record bb or even with the tifosi campag BB-s. Smile Would love to build a steel frame (Merényi, just to be patriotic..) with 10spd record or chorus gruppo with alloy shifterz.

2ryd

posted by Vejnecske [23 posts]
11th April 2014 - 8:20

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Vejnecske wrote:

http://kepfeltoltes.hu/140411/680499_599032890187338_6590931045656016257...

and my legs are always bent, and the riding position is pretty relaxed with my body type.

Don't get me wrong, I have a pretty substantial amount of saddle to bar drop on my bikes too, but there's no way anyone riding the bike you've pictured is going to be "relaxed" when in those drops. To my eye, that much seatpost with a horizontal top tube suggests a frame that is too small. Hey, if it works for you then it works, great looking bike by the way. I just hope you aren't riding it with elbows locked straight gripping the middle of the tops like those hipsters on track bikes Big Grin

posted by Nick T [805 posts]
11th April 2014 - 8:45

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I'm usually on the hoods with bent elbows tcked in, or in the drops. Though my back almost paralell with the TT. I just found it more easier on the back to bend forward than to ride with straight back, so it's comfortable for me Smile

2ryd

posted by Vejnecske [23 posts]
11th April 2014 - 8:47

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http://road.cc/sites/default/files/DSC_0069.jpg

My drop, not quite as extreme as yours. I thought I had long arms! Big Grin

posted by Nick T [805 posts]
11th April 2014 - 9:07

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Pre mountain bikes, it was impossible to get long seat posts. They were all about 20 cm long.

The Malcolm looks spot on for about 1985

posted by Huw Watkins [54 posts]
11th April 2014 - 10:44

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Yeah, that's similar to my saddle / bars drop too.

I think the head tube looks quite long for a 56. Is it 56 c-c rather than c-t perhaps?

Leaving sizing aside, my favourite bike is an all steel frame and forks, I prefer the ride to my bikes with carbon forks.

posted by Chris James [182 posts]
11th April 2014 - 10:56

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Vejnecske wrote:
It seems the frame is too large for the rider Smile That seatpost is not to exposed!

The old rule of thumb for seat height/frame size; there should be enough seatpost exposed to be able to grab a fist full.

Compact frames put an end to that.

--

Alan - That British Bloke

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posted by ThatBritishBloke [16 posts]
11th April 2014 - 11:59

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Beautiful.

mingmong's picture

posted by mingmong [191 posts]
11th April 2014 - 12:25

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Nick T wrote:
http://road.cc/sites/default/files/DSC_0069.jpg

My drop, not quite as extreme as yours. I thought I had long arms! Big Grin

Now that's a nice bike!

posted by Nixster [73 posts]
11th April 2014 - 12:43

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Needs a different crankset/derailleur, the black 105 is too dull and modern looking...totally at odds with the frame (IMO)

The_Kaner
FREEEEEEEEDOM!

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posted by The _Kaner [411 posts]
11th April 2014 - 13:00

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dammit I want that (just like every other boutique steel frame I see)

Off to Bespoked tomorrow, I'm going to have to leave my credit card at home or I'm likely to go on an unaffordable spending spree on every bit of bling that catches my eye.

posted by sps137 [14 posts]
11th April 2014 - 13:57

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I found Brockley Bikes a couple of years back to get my stable of bikes maintained and wheels built etc. Ashley and his partner in crime Ian are great guys. Super helpful, full of knowledge and people you can totally trust to do a great job. When Ashley approached a number of his customers to take part in a prototype build of his frame building business I jumped at the chance. My Malcolm frame is fantastic. In metallic orange it looks amazing. I have always bought steel bikes and couldn't resist a custom frame. Being 6ft3 is a pain when buying off the peg so having a custom fit was a great opportunity. I learnt loads from Ashley about the build process and found a new respect for how bicycles are made. My frame was also worked on by the late and great Ron Cooper which made it all the more special. I moved to Danmark last year so won't be dropping by to ask Ashley question about bikes anymore but he still gets my emails!!

Malcolm.jpg

posted by neilgri [1 posts]
11th April 2014 - 16:23

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Agree Athena wd look better, but work better?

Btw why 'the most beautiful steel frames from years gone by, such as the Colnago Master'?

Many British frames equaled the Colnago Master. This slavish adoration of Italian marques is getting old.

harman_mogul's picture

posted by harman_mogul [121 posts]
11th April 2014 - 17:51

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harman_mogul wrote:
Agree Athena wd look better, but work better?

Btw why 'the most beautiful steel frames from years gone by, such as the Colnago Master'?

Many British frames equaled the Colnago Master. This slavish adoration of Italian marques is getting old.

I think Athena would work differently, not necessarily better or worse!

I agree, in fact most British bespoke frames probably beat the Colnago, some of them are very poorly made in bulk, though they had beautiful finishes.

Was talking to a frame builder a couple of months ago who had just repaired a Master and found more paint than metal in the lugs and had to rebranded it his opinion on Colnago is 'hundred pound frame/ thousand pound paint job'

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [529 posts]
11th April 2014 - 18:43

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To echo a few posts earlier, yes Athena would look nicer on that frame, Shimano is too chunky in the chainset and shifters.

This may of course have been built to a customers spec. like this

Plus, yes with the horizontal top tube, ( like I ride myself ) yes the bike is, if anything, possibly verging on being too small for the rider photographed.

Nice that such frames are still being made, they last a genuine lifetime if looked after. My most regularly used frame was grazed up in 1953, albeit its on its 3rd re-enamel.

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [529 posts]
11th April 2014 - 18:43

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For this kind of money you could buy a Columbus spirit frame by a custom Casati or tommasini who have been making steel frames for a bit longer than 2 years and look much,much nicer than this.

posted by Cervelo12 [78 posts]
12th April 2014 - 11:20

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Classic frame...beautiful bike!

posted by Petr [1 posts]
12th April 2014 - 13:01

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