Quirk Cycles: ‘Your steel bike will outlive you’
I don't want people to see my bikes as rarified or made with blood and tears, the work of an artisan. I want people putting my bikes to task: taking them on adventures, racing the weekend crit and not being scared of using it.
Rob Quirk moved to London to soak up the design scene. An art school graduate who tinkered with cycles on the side, Rob would soon be making bikes full time - and Quirk Cycles would be winning awards, sponsoring cycle teams, and appearing in races all over the globe.
As a discipline, frame building is on its way back up after a generation of decline. Once an industry of several hundred UK practitioners, the number of frame builders wound down to around a dozen.
“People moved away from steel,” says Rob, “smooth welds weren’t enough to compete with new materials such as aluminium, titanium and carbon that were becoming more readily available.
“I heard some framebuilders misread the market and thought people wouldn’t stand for lumpy welds, but tastes changed, prices fell and a lot of companies found steel was no longer desirable.”
It’s only in the last few years that steel bikes have made a comeback: large scale manufacturers are dipping their toes back in and a cabal of independent makers are setting up shop.
“Steel just rides really well,” says Rob. “It's an amazing material: versatile and very easy to work with. It has an immediacy that other materials don't.
“You can more easily cold set steel and repair it after a crash. Carbon just disintegrates. And there's something quite romantic in a steel bike, I don't think anyone expects to have a carbon fibre bike for life, but a steel bike will often outlive the owner.”
Like many of his cycling peers, Rob tried to fall in love with carbon frames as both a maker and a rider. Coincidentally, it was when he finally rejected carbon and sold his Cervelo R3 that he took the first steps into his chosen career.
“At the time I had shelved pursuing bike-building projects and had a period of working and just earning money,” he says.
“Some time went by before I came back to the idea. I decided to sell my Cervelo to pay for a Bike Academy course - just to see what might come out of it. I guess I haven't looked back since.”
With that, two years ago to the day, Rob founded Quirk Cycles. And his plan to get noticed worked almost immediately.
“I understood that for people to buy bikes off me I had to have visibility - and to have visibility I had to have people riding my bikes,” he says.
“I did the usual and made a bike for myself and my girlfriend at no cost, and for a couple of friends who bought at cost.
“All the while though I was looking for riders to sponsor so I was starting to stalk races and events. At one of these I struck up a relationship with members of East London Fixed and we started working together on designing a track frame for fixed gear crit racing. Owen Blandy was the first to prototype and so became the first member of Team Quirk, he's a super strong racer.”
That connection would be hugely important for Quirk. Today, Rob and Owen are firm friends, and East London Fixed are Quirk’s biggest advocates and customers.
Continuing the relationship for this season the team choose steel over aluminium - and Rob got the call: an order for 13 bikes for the women’s and men’s team to be raced all over the world.
“The team is helping to spread the message that steel is a performance material – it’s something you can race. You could drop a few grand on an off-the-shelf bike but that money would be invested in a local builder using custom steel. The ride quality and feedback of steel is like no other material.”
Quirk cycles is growing an international reputation with orders coming in from as far afield as Australia, that success is reflected on the homefront too.
At Bespoked - the UK Handmade Bicycle awards - Rob scooped four wins in little over a year: notably the Brooks Choice Award (on the legendary company’s 150th anniversary year), the Outstanding Design Award, and the prestigious Outstanding New Framebuilder Award.
If that’s Quirk Cycles two years in, the future looks bright. Aside from considering changes to his production techniques and streamlining his process for more batch commissions, Rob hopes that by simply stating his prices he is already offering something different to the market.
“I build bikes so anyone can use them: I want to make custom steel accessible to more people. I'm not one of these people that says 'if you have to ask you can't afford it', which I think is an attitude that puts a lot of people off.”
At Building BloQs we’re huge advocates of Quirk Cycles. Rob’s respect for his discipline, his commitment to process, and his desire to make steel frame bikes available for the many, not the few, we wish him every success in his next Transcontinental race. Watch the video for more!
See more of Quirk Cycles in the BloQs Directory.