Matt Wilkinson's Story
Matt travelled to the USA to find out about best practise in bicycle frame building.
Having decided to become a professional bicycle frame builder in early 2008,Matt contacted most of the surviving established builders in the UK to ask if they could offer him some training, but to no avail. It seemed that there was no conventional way into the trade through apprenticeships, and British frame builders seemed wary of competition and giving away their trade secrets.
Matt became a cycle courier in London in order to immerse himself in cycling culture and to learn as much as he could about bikes and the people who ride them.
In 2009 Matt finished his first bike frame (which he has since ridden many thousands of miles on). He realised that he needed to gain knowledge from other frame builders in order to improve his skills. American builders were generally more open to sharing information so he applied for a Churchill Fellowship, with a view to writing a report on the skills, techniques and equipment that would benefit both his community and the quality bicycle industry in the UK. Matt visited frame builders across eight US states in April 2011. He met with some very established names like Andy Newlands of Strawberry Cyclesport, and Stephen Bilenky; as well as introducing himself to some of the ‘new kids on the block’ such as Lance Mercado of SquareBuilt. He also booked a place on Doug Fattic’s frame building course.
His aim was to use the findings to provide an overview of the industry in the US and to give potential frame builders in the UK more realistic expectations of customer demographics, build times, pricing and readiness to begin trading.
"Ironically, several of the frame builders I visited over in the States served their apprenticeships here in the UK, when we were considered as world-leaders in bike-making"’.
Since his Fellowship, Matt has given talks about his Fellowship findings to bike enthusiasts in the UK, such as the London Branch of the Veteran Cycling Club, in the hope that he can counteract the depletion of skills in this field.
In March 2012, he won the prestigious ‘Best New Builder Award 2012’ at the UK Handmade Bike Show ‘Bespoked’ in Bristol, for his ‘Wilkinson Mixed Gear’ bike.
To further improve his skills, Matt is currently working at the prestigious Brompton Bicycle factory in London, as a Brazer. Brazing is a highly-skilled and labour-intensive method which introduces less heat to the metal than welding. He also designs and makes bicycles independently.
Matt gets many calls from people overseas who have viewed his blog, or who know him from cycling forums, asking him for advice.
‘I am pleased that there seems to be many people interested in bicycle frame building and I am happy to help foster and develop the interest in any way I can’.
He believes that it is very important to preserve manual skills and industry, and is an advocate for the creation of the UK Frame Builder Collective.