'Made In England' is a big and beautiful book that showcases the frame builders, artisans if you will, behind the British hand-built steel bicycle.
The book is co-authored by Matthew Sowter and Ricky Feather, both of whom are award winning frame builders - Matthew, who now welds under the Saffron Frameworks moniker, won the best mountain bike frame award at Bespoked Bristol in 2011 when he was working for Enigma - and Ricky, who won best track frame at Bespoked the same year, and then best road frame a year later for his collaboration with Rapha. So you could say they know their subject.
A hefty hardback tome at over 200 pages, 'Made In England', as the title suggests, only features frame-builders that make all their bikes in England.
The authors want to show that British frame builders are creating quality products that are up there with the best in the world.
The book concentrates on a dozen British frame builders, from the old boys like Ron Cooper who's been making bikes for 66 years, all the way down to young guns such as Jon Aston with a mere 4 years torch experience, and the book suitably kicks off by looking at the raw material with a special chapter on Reynolds and their tubesets.
After a short introduction to each frame builder the main body of the text of the book takes the form of a question and answer session, gleaned from conversations with each craftsman in their own workshop. Every frame builder has a different story to tell; their backgrounds, their reasons for building, influences and inspiration, building techniques and skills, favourite tool, tea - it's an engaging insight into the passion that makes them stick steel pipes together into pretty bike shapes.
It makes for fascinating reading, with each builder revealing both precious nuggets of information and prompting frequent chuckles. But with only about 2,500 words dedicated to each builder the book isn't bogged down with copy, it's the pictures that help tell the real story.
Kayti Peschke has poked her camera around the dusty swarf-tangled corners and captured perfectly the character of each frame builder's workplace, which is mostly grubby, it's fair to say. Photos of workshops, men at their craft, tools, lugs, drawings, plastic tubs of bits, details of bikes, both finished and rough hewn, and all the other random ephemera that make each frame builder's space and bikes both interesting and individual.
At the end of the 16 page section allocated to each frame builder all that mess and filing and dirt and steel and ideas and effort come together in a final double-page studio shot of one of their finished bikes. That you want to buy because you've been captivated by its story.
Matthew Sowter and Ricky Feather clearly have a passion for English frame building because it absolutely oozes from this book; it feels as crafted as a bespoke steel frame.
'Made In England' is a sumptuous chronicle of what's going on in workshops around the country with the current renaissance in custom steel bikes. The words give a pleasing insight into each frame builder's character and how that translates into each frame.
But you don't have to read the words to enjoy the book; the pictures are a handsome and vital part of the story, and seeing the dusty tools and messy workbenches that give birth to beautiful frames is enough reason alone to own the book.
'Made In England' doesn't preach and tell you to buy a steel frame over any other kind of material, but just seeing the craftsmanship involved might just sway you. Whatever your bike is made of you should buy this book, better yet get someone else to buy this book for you; Christmas, birthday, the cat's birthday, find an excuse, any excuse. It's lovely.
A passion for frame building absolutely oozes from this book.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Made In England The artisans behind the hand-built bicycle
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
There's a declaration on the contents page that 'Made In England' wants to present the reader with a snapshot of the current frame U.K. building industry sixty years from its halcyon days, and it was Sowter and Feather's aim for the book to show why British hand-built bicycles are some of the best in the world. It does all that, and more. If you don't want to buy a home-made handbuilt frame after reading this book then you're probably a little bit dead inside.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The insight into each frame builder and the photography, but mostly the photography. And it smells nice.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes. Definitely.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, and I'd recommend it to their partners as a gift idea.
About the tester
Age: 42 Height: 180cm Weight: 73kg
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he’s not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he’s not doing either of those he’s pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he’s agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours doesn’t. He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.