South African former pro holes up in cosy railway arch showroom for his Ti-only brand.

Jean-Claude Pretorius, a former pro rider turned mechanic, has been a face in London bike shops for a few years now, but it’s only since opening his own shop – and then renaming it Pretorius Bikes this summer – that he’s putting his bike range to the fore.

Stepping in to the railway arch Pretorius Bikes now calls home isn’t like stepping into a bike shop – it’s more like visiting the den you wish your best mate had. First, you must navigate past the picnic benches in the sunny yard and the Italian-style espresso-bar-on-a-motorised trike (which is parked there when it’s not serving the thirsty coffee hipsters of nearby Old Street). Then, through the doors, negotiate comfy armchairs and a large flatscreen TV, perma-tuned to Eurosport HD… and lo and behold, there’s a fitting studio and a workshop. Oh, and an Aladdin’s cave of expensive bikes. About half are carbon – the shop’s a Scott, Cinelli and Time dealer, and recently added Colnago to its roster – but pride of place goes to titanium, in the form of owner Jean-Claude’s own-brand frames.

Pretorius frames are made from 3Al/2.5V titanium, and come in three flavours, named after mountains in his native South Africa: the Kranspoort (for gents), the Bonnet (for ladies) and the Longtom (for fixed or single-speed folks).
Titanium may be in vogue, but it’s a strange material for a former pro to choose, no? Absolutely not, Jean-Claude says: “The whole brand came from a love for this material. Back when I was racing, there were some Ti bikes around, but they were really expensive. Now though, prices have come down, making it more obtainable.”

Obtainable, in this case, means bikes pitched in the middle of the Ti price spectrum. Less than your Baums and your Fireflies, but expensive enough to be light, sleek and very well finished. They’re now built with Enve 2.0 carbon forks and each one, while theoretically off-the-peg, can be finished with a wide array of decal options, colourful anodized Tune headsets and other high-spec components. The standard price also includes a full bike fit: first a one-hour session before ordering, to talk about riding style and goals, and to decide on factors such as groupsets, cassette ratios, stem lengths and handlebar widths and so on. Then, once the frame’s arrived and the bike’s built, there's a two-hour workout looking at cleat alignment and the foot’s position on the pedals, and to dial in the correct angles and exact position on the bike using the Dartfish computer system. There’s also a full workshop, which has been the heart of the shop business since Pretorius first opened in a shed in Kings Cross in 2008.

Pretorius bikes are characterised by relatively short top tubes, balanced out with longer stems to improve handling, but they don’t follow the traditional ‘sportive’ fit of long head tubes. Neither are the Bonnets simply slacker versions of the men’s frames: the difference is made with women’s specific parts and attention to the fit. They’re not built for balls-out racing, though Jean-Claude stresses the geometry represents a good balance between comfort and performance. And he’s also convinced that titanium is the right material choice for his customers looking for a slightly more comfortable, training-camp and sportive-ready bike – light and stiff, but not as jarring as an out-and-out carbon racer.

For 2012, the company is planning to add distinctive options to the frames – such as a 1.25” straight head tube, matched with a custom Chris King external headset and a tapered Enve fork. And the ever-more-popular BB30 will make an appearance, as will internal routing for Di2. All the options can be talked through on the aforementioned armchairs: “It’s about getting to know customers in a relaxed atmosphere,” Jean-Claude says.

Riding this past weekend, it’s not exactly clear that autumn is around the corner, but once the carbon’s mothballed for the season, titanium is a tempting option. Check back on road.cc for a full review soon.