Like any other obsession, cycling slowly gets itself under your skin until it becomes part of your life. Ever since those early rides the bike has progressed from a mode of transport to a means of fulfilling my need for freedom. As the years passed my initial focus has shifted from where this machine could go under my power, to the engineering behind what goes into the making of a humble bike. There’s supposed to be nothing equal to the ride of a handmade frame, with the long hours spent by the builder resulting in some of them being left in it. A certain part of me is interested in putting my own soul into a frame, which would hopefully result in more fun from riding it. In October I stumbled across a new enterprise being set up in the UK, which takes the process of learning the skill of frame building to a whole other level.
The Bicycle Academy is the refreshing idea of Andrew Denham (organiser of the world famous cobble wobble), who contacted renowned frame builder Brian Curtis to realize the project. Andrew explained, “Brian wanted to pass on his frame building skills to future generations, after feeling that the art of making a steel bicycle frame is starting to be lost. We thought about starting a frame building school to teach people the skills, but saw that in their traditional sense, they were somewhat lacking. Once the student has finished the course there is little or no provision to continue to build and develop their skills without investing large sums of money in the equipment needed. This puts pressure on them to make sure that the frame which they learn on is the frame they end up with. We decided to take things a step further.”
This is one of the many areas in which The Bicycle Academy is different. Brian continued, “We want frame building to be as accessible as possible; once the students have learnt their skills they can come back and rent a space in our workshop to continue to build future projects, either for their own use or for sale. On hand will not only be myself and Andrew, but also our jigs, an extensive library on frame building and the raw materials needed. Let’s say that the Bicycle Academy is a frame building deli with everything on-hand to develop your skills.”
It is not all give at The Bicycle Academy. They balance this relationship out by giving frames to those for whom the bicycle is their lifeline.
“In Africa many people depend on a bike to get the necessities for survival. Already knowing two charities in the UK that help, (Re-Cycle and Hans Ray’s Wheels 4 Life ) both Brian and I wanted to set up The Bicycle Academy to help,” Andrew explains. “The first frame which our students build is a stock design by us which will be donated to those in need in Africa. As cyclists we can be a bit selfish, focusing on ourselves and our own machines; we feel this is nice addition to the Academy, whilst increasing the awareness of those in need.”
As Ted King, supporter of Wheels 4 Life, said in a email about the Academy, “Saving the world with bikes: perfect!
We all know how financially challenging the times are for us all at the moment, so how do you go about putting all the above into a business plan to get the £40,000 needed to set up the Academy? Simple, choose a route which does not need banks: community fund the project!
“The Bicycle Academy is officially funded by cyclists and its future students. Using a crowd funding project (peoplefund.it ) people could pledge to support the project; either those who wanted to take the course, or those who wished to donate to something which they felt was worth it,” Andrew happily told me.
November the 1st saw the project launched on www.peoplefund.it . The funding was targeted to be raised in 40 days; 6 days later, after massive support from the cycling community, the Academy was 104% funded. The £40,000 for all of the equipment needed was pledged by people from all over the world who wanted to support this interesting project, taking it from an idea to a reality.
“I am so thankful to everyone and excited by the support. As soon as we went live there was huge interest and the pledges rolled in extremely quickly. Now the hard work begins! The first students are due in February so both Brian and I are going to be busy.” Andrew concluded.
The Bicycle Academy is a really refreshing venture. Part frame-building school, part workshop for rent, helping those who need a bike for survival, and all community funded. In a time when consumers are losing faith in big business, it shows that cyclists are aware of where their bikes come from and where they could be used for the best. Who knows, this support for the cottage frame building industry in the UK might even unearth the next Dario Pegoretti!