3 May 2021
WORKSHOP STORY: EP#2 ENGLISH CYCLES
Looking back, Rob English becoming a custom frame builder makes sense, although it wasn’t a conscious path he pursued. A combination of his passion for bicycles, his interest and education in engineering, and a desire to be self-employed helped pave the way to become an excellent frame builder.
As a teenager, Rob began mountain biking and was drawn to the connection of nature, the camaraderie of fellow enthusiasts and the joy of combining skill and physical fitness. He immediately tampered with new ways to improve his bike which led to many hours in the school workshop learning to machine and fabricate bicycle parts. This early interest in design and manufacturing eventually resulted in his studying of mechanical engineering at Cambridge University.
Later as an elite level racer and qualified coach, Rob had access to a bike factory and wanted to achieve a position and geometry for himself that wasn’t possible with a stock frame. His first experimental custom frame was very successful, and he rode that same bike to seven Oregon Championship wins. Steel has a lot to offer as the material used for a high-performance bicycles and is Rob’s preferred choice. The stiffness and strength is unrivalled and when these properties are applied to a design with careful consideration of tube size, shaping and wall thickness, a bike can be crafted that is equal to any carbon fiber racing machine.
For the first few frames he built for himself, Rob asked a friend to create him some custom decals, and as a result, the ‘English’ brand was unintentionally born and registered as a company in 2009. Currently, Rob designs and builds custom steel frames from his garage workshop in Eugene, Oregon. His work is known for the thought and attention to detail that goes into every aspect of the process. His mantra is function over form. If it ends up looking good, then great, but the ultimate goal is to fully understand the needs and requirements of the rider and to deliver a bicycle that is perfectly suited to them.
Interest slowly grew over the next few years, culminating in the ‘Best in Show’ award at NAHBS in 2013, which also marked the point when English Cycles became a full-time occupation for its synonymous builder. The winning bicycle was a custom time trial machine which really showcased Rob’s design and fabrication, since he not only built the frame, but the fork, handlebar, headset, shifters, crank, bottom bracket, brake and front hub.
A devotion to continuous improvement in both product and process means that there is never a dull day at English Cycles. With a background of designing and building very unconventional machines from folding bikes to record-setting human powered vehicles, everything is open to questions and evaluation of the what, how and why.
An example of tackling unusual design ideas is the Project Right series of bikes. A customer asked if it would be possible to make a single-sided bike design. Rob’s response was, “Probably… let me think about it” and spent some time analyzing the problem before designing a special rear hub that allows the drivetrain to be on the outside of the single chainstay. A further refinement to this design produced a modular hub system, in which the wheels are interchangeable and can be removed whilst leaving the drivetrain and brake rotors in place on the bike. This makes for a very quick and clean reduction in size of the bike, for storage or travel.
With a lifetime of experienced racing across multiple disciplines, touring, commuting and living car-free combined with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Rob is able to elegantly produce unique, functional, carefully crafted custom bicycles. English Cycles remains a one-man operation and clients work with Rob through every step of the design, production, and delivery process of their unique custom build.