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  • Made in Britain

    Pashley is a British institution, based in Stratford-upon-avon, producing bikes using the skills of local workers and resisting the rush to outsource production to the far east. Velorution visits the factory to find out how the company has stayed true to its roots

    Words & Photography JOANNA DUDDERIDGE

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    On arrival at the Pashley factory, a modest building, sunbathing in the middle of a quiet residential Stratford-upon-Avon street, we take a quick tour of the offices before heading through an unassuming door, like an engineer’s Narnia, into a suddenly very noisy, industrious workshop with high ceilings, separated into workstations by various obscure pieces of heavy machinery. Leading the way is Lee Pillinger, sales director at Pashley, who cheerily calls out above the continuous hiss, buzz and clunk of activity, “Let’s take a look around!”

    Aside from the ‘health and safety’ enforced thick red plastic curtains that separate the welding areas from the rest of the factory, you get the feeling that it’s looked like this for years. Traditional methods, used by the same local people, generation after generation.

    “So, if you imagine we’re pretty much manufacturing this side, and assembly and dispatch this side [indicating the areas of the factory], that’s how it works. What we haven’t got as much of any more is heavy machinery. Where we would have had the hot press, where we do all the bending and stretching of material, quite a lot of it is now done off site, still using a lot of our machines, and still done locally, or as locally as possible, within Warwickshire.”

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    Do you think it’s more economical to do it here?

    “We should move, really, but this is where we are. We need to increase production levels but still keep control of manufacture. It’s a very tricky balance of what we do in-house. We produce around 10,000 units a year. At the moment we’re not making any more bikes for Royal Mail, although the absence of that gives us more scope to make more of our traditional bikes.

    “Pret a Manger is a good example of one of the delivery services; they replaced some of their vans and motorbikes with the delivery bikes when they found after a survey how much more economical using a bicycle is. And not just in fuel – you don’t get parking tickets.”

    We move on to a row of cubicles, concealed behind thick red, plastic curtains, where young men with welding masks are deeply engrossed in their work, while Lee continues to guide us through the ‘birth’ of a Pashley bike. Despite the order and routine, you sense there is a lot of spirit in the room. One man I spoke to proudly told me, “I’ve been working here in the factory since I was 18 years old.” He looks about 35. “I’m 55,” he adds.

    Later, I meet ‘Pete the Painter’, (you’ve guessed his job), who is happily whistling ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ while spraying a bike frame green. I notice on the side of his booth a handmade cardboard sign with a countdown of days left until Christmas, and I make a note to self – if anyone would appreciate a Christmas card this year it would be Pete. (It’s currently May).

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    It was after a ‘lightbulb moment’ while stuck in gridlocked traffic on his way to the Paris Air Show in 1990 that Adrian Williams, whose previous work had been in helicopter engineering, decided that he was going to explore the technology behind electric bikes. This is where his career in the cycling industry began, which later led to him becoming the main shareholder and managing director of Pashley Bicycles.

    “You’ve got to push doors open”, Adrian explains. “You’ve got to be heading in a direction and know what you want to do, and be ready to push the doors open when the opportunity presents.” So when Pashley phoned up in 1992 to talk about applying electric- assisted technology to their bikes, he decided this would be a good opportunity to learn more about the bike industry, and took up a position there, initially as a four day a week contract, leaving the other day to concentrate on his own business.

    “What I saw quite rapidly was that this business needed quite a lot of work, and I saw that the bank were not at all interested in it because everybody was off- shoring manufacture, which is something that Pashley wasn’t prepared to do. I just thought, ‘This is ridiculous. This company can work. It can survive. The phones are still ringing, so people do want to buy the product.’

    “In the time we’ve been here there have been many Pashley equivalents that have just gone by the wayside, and that many people coming out of engineering is just ridiculous. So for me it wasn’t really a money thing, it was an intellectual thing – I wanted to show that I could take this thing and make it work. Fortunately, I’ve got a reasonably supportive wife!

    “So we did a management buyout, in December 1994. It’s been hard work since then,” he laughs, “but it’s also been a pleasure, too. It’s been a journey of survival, but once you’ve dealt with that, it’s about getting the infrastructure in place for growth, too.”

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    Do you think companies that off-shored their manufacturing envy Pashley’s ‘British Made’ branding?

    “Basically they’re all just box shifters now. This is why it’s a bit of a misery to go around somewhere like the Eurobike convention – it’s just so depressing. Where is the originality? Where is the soul of some of these products? It’s difficult to find.

    “What we have at Pashley are real people, as you’ve seen, who have real families. We buy from as many companies as we can: 95 suppliers in the UK with 85 service sector people supplying into us. The whole aspect is of community, and actually putting something back into the local community, as well as making our product, which is what manufacturing is all about really; trying to inspire people, but also serving the community.” But manufacturing in the UK is expensive.

    “It’s true, and I’m not blaming the likes of Raleigh. It became incredibly difficult for them to compete with the Far Eastern suppliers. So I’m not blaming them for doing what they’re doing because it was difficult. I think if it wasn’t about money they would have kept the Special products division in the UK and offshored other things.”

    Over the past four years Pashley’s percentage of export sales has grown from 15 per cent to about 45 per cent. Is that because the demand is for ‘Made in Britain’ products?

    “It is that; I think it’s also people wanting individuality. If we were 90 per cent export, I think I’d be a lot more keen to lift our prices. We’ve only put our prices up a little bit, and from what I can see the market can stand that.”

    In Holland 40-50 per cent of journeys under three miles are made by bicycle, compared to roughly 2 per cent here. What do you think we need to do in Britain to change that?

    “I think it’s a combination of things. The whole cultural environment has to change – and this has started to happen. Ten years ago, when people asked what I did and I told them ‘bike making’, it was a bit of an off subject, whereas now people listen. A cultural change is happening in London; you have the incredible ‘Boris Bikes’, as they’ve been dubbed, which are really changing people’s perception. And what’s interesting is to see the American take on it, where their whole infrastructure is so car-orientated. It’s picking up now. They’re lagging behind us, but it is happening.”

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    Do you think your typical customer is changing?

    “Yes, I do. We sell predominantly to women, and also the typical age group is coming down. Also, other people coming into cycling are slightly more mature, but do have disposable income, and while we don’t do racing bikes, there are those who are looking for something a bit distinctive, different and with style.”

    How do you think your product and design team will change to accommodate this new customer?

    “I think doing classic bikes to a certain extent is fine, but I think it’s good that we now look at the more contemporary sort of product with a classic feel to it. The thing about Pashley is that what is important for the future is design and innovation, but obviously paying respect to where we’ve come from.”

    And given your background, would you ever consider making any electric-assisted Pashleys?

    “We’ll look at doing a few electric things. We’ve got a couple of items that I’d like to see come into use, but we can wait on that. We did do a bit of work with electric assist in the last year, and I was rather shocked to see that the technology is still pretty rubbish in certain areas. After all this time people haven’t developed it. So I’m being cautious on the electric side, as far as Pashley is concerned. There are some potential applications, but remember we are a company that does consumer bicycles too. We’ve also got tricycles and work bikes in there, so we’ve got other areas that we can apply technology to. We’re a reasonably small team, so we’ve got to focus on one area, then the next, then the next.”

    Are you on the design team yourself?

    “I like to have a say. I listen to what people want, and the way that works out is Lee will say, for example, ‘We really need a red bike,’ and that red bike will turn into a range called the Britannia, offering red, white and blue. There is a rationale behind these concepts.”

    So there is a meaning behind the names of the bikes? Am I right in thinking that the Guv’nor is you? 

    “Well yes, that came about because I needed another bike to ride to work, and because we moved just three miles up the canal from here. I really liked the idea of a simple bike, and so set about creating it with the team. Then people saw it, and liked it, and it sort of took off by itself. I loved the whole creative process with it. It’s not just the creation of the product, it’s everything else that goes with it; how is it going to be presented to the market place? So the imagery that went with it.

    “The name came about because we were sitting in the office bouncing ideas around, and it was John who said, ‘What about the Guv’nor? You’re the Guv’nor!’ Each name has a reason behind it. This is the sort of ‘soul’ that goes into our product.

    “With the Poppy, that was different in that Pashley had just turned 80 and at an exhibition we displayed a tongue-in-cheek ‘birthday cake bike’, which had pink in it. I was surprised how many people liked it, as it’s not the sort of bike I’d think of selling. We were very traditional – mostly black at that stage. But three years later people still remembered the pink bike. So I found a pink and a blue that worked together. I could appreciate that this appealed to a younger audience. This also came around the time of the credit crunch in the UK, so we decided, as a kind of counterintuitive sort of thing, let’s get this into the market place at a lower price point, and actually lighten up things a bit. Let’s say, ‘Don’t worry’. It’s a statement. It just felt right.”

    Having spent the day at the factory, practically hugging our new friends goodbye, I thought to myself, ‘I really will send a Christmas card to Pete the Painter, and I really must buy myself a Pashley.’ It’s not just bikes they’re selling, but a real piece of history, tradition and heritage. A bike that will not only stand the test of time, but says, ‘This is England’.

  • Searching for the Saddle Satori

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    Words ANDY BLACKMOORE.

    Take a walk at the weekend and you’ll no doubt encounter a whole host of cycling buffs aboard a mind-bending assortment of racing cycles. However, you might be lucky enough to spot an even rarer tribe. Riders in search of a whole different vibe, undertaking a trip down memory lane, on a machine that’s more tour de force than Tour de France.

    We are talking of those hardy souls whose choice of bike is a leather and steel masterpiece, and no better example exists than the Pashley Guv’nor, a Thirties-style Path Racer that Pashley Cycles released in 2008 as a single-speed and three-speed bike. While its styling may be from a bygone age, the components and their performance are not. It’s very much in-tune with the modern world, but has its feet in the past.

    People just adore the Guv’nor, to such an extent that it’s even sprouted its own appreciation society: The Guvnors’ Assembly (GA). Free to join, there are about 450 members and 1,470 followers of @GuvnorsAssembly on Twitter.

    Adam Rodgers, devotee of all things Guv’nor and founder member of the GA, explains how his love affair with the bike began: “I’ve always had a bike and cycled. About four years ago my wife started caring for her mother who lived a few miles away, so I suggested she get a bike. My intention was to suggest she get a modern light hybrid with lots of gears; we got to the bike shop and a Pashley Princess was in the window. ‘I want that one,’ she said. I tried explaining that it would be heavy, only five gears, etc. ‘But it’s got a basket’. We went for a few successful rides together for the first time ever; Gill on her Princess, me on a 6” travel 27-geared cutting-edge machine. Six weeks later the Princess was due for its complimentary service. When we walked into the bike shop a Guv’nor was on a six-foot high pedestal; this time Gill said, ‘You need that’. I went for a test ride and came back smiling like an idiot - I don’t think I’ve ridden my MTBs since.”

    Adam goes on to explain the ethos of the club and it’s approach to the sportive: an organised, mass-participation cycling event. “For the GA it’s an opportunity to get together and ride a fairly tough ride in a part of the country we wouldn’t normally go. It’s not competitive, it’s not about the time, but about getting around as a group, and we pride ourselves on not ever having left a man behind. Riding on a Guv’nor completely changes a sportive; the bike rolls well when up to speed, but even the biggest fan admits a modern bike is sprightlier. But when the emphasis is not on personal bests, it completely changes your attitude.”

    Throughout the year, the GA participates in various rides, including popular retro-inspired events like the Pashley Picnic, Tweed Run and the Velo Vintage. However, even if no organised event is on during the summer months, they try to get out at weekends. Usually hosted by someone from the GA, these ride-outs focus on seeing the world at a leisurely pace; plenty of café stops and pub lunches are on the itinerary, and most are about 30 miles in length.

    Part of the charm is the fact that riding the Guv’nor makes you anything but inconspicuous, as Adam says: “When riding on a modern bike people ride pass, they may say hello, give a small wave or shout ‘On your left’, but on a Guv’nor they slow down and talk to you about the bike, what sort of club you are and why. We rode the Manchester 100 last year and at the finish line a bloke came up to us saying he couldn’t believe we’d done a hundred miles ‘on those’. Riding a Guv’nor is always an event, nipping to the shops or riding a sportive.”

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    Pashley Cycles offers a large range of classic bike styles to suit all cyclists. Some of the more recent models include Countryman, Aurora and Speed 5. The Countryman and Aurora were introduced to fill a gap in the range; customers were asking for an elegant, lightweight town and country product that would be suitable for commuting or touring. The Speed 5 was also the result of customer feedback, as the demand grew for a Guv’nor-styled path racer with a wider range of gears. We speak to Pashley Cycles’ Managing Director Steven Bell to find out more.

    Do you have a particular customer in mind for each of the new bikes?
    The Countryman is aimed at the discriminating urban gentleman, who appreciates the best and wants to ride to work at speed and in utmost style, but would not be adverse to longer adventures at weekends. The Aurora is the delightful partner of the Countryman, offering the sprightliness of a traditional mixte frame, but with modern components suited to longer rides and a quick commute. The Speed 5 is aimed at much the same market as our Guv’nor: largely chaps who enjoy the feeling of speed on a bicycle, but would rather not wear Lycra.

    How did the names of the models come about?
    The Countryman and Aurora were both named to evoke the possibility of splendid adventures powered by the wide range of gears and helped along by the narrower high-speed tyres. The Speed 5 was inspired by the Bentley Speed Six, the infamous six-cylinder 180bhp racer of the 1920s that won the 24-hour Le Mans races in 1929 and 1930.

    What are the key features of the Aurora that will get female cyclists excited?
    The development of the Aurora went hand in hand with the Countryman and is perfectly suited to the discerning female rider who wants the benefits of a step-through frame, but with the speed and quality materials more often only used on gent’s performance bicycles.

     

    The Countryman is described as both a unique proposition yet an all-rounder. How does it imbue those two distinct qualities?
    The geometry of the Countryman frame is relaxed and upright for the high street and yet still sporty enough for the country lanes. The choice of flat bars and a wide-range hub gear system means you can ride in a high gear around town for nippy city rides and shift into any of those eight weatherproof gears for hills. The Countryman is practical fellow capable of whatever you ask if it. It’s not limited to urban streets like some, but just as happy in the open skies on towpath and trail.

    The Speed 5 in racing green and gold looks beautiful. Who do you see it appealing to?
    The key inspiration was the era of speed and luxury embodied in the Bentley Speed Six. This car was a sporting version of a luxury car, being capable of racing in and winning events like Le Mans, but still being comfortable and beautiful to look at. The Speed 5 pays homage to this more gentlemanly era, with the British Racing Green and gold paintwork making this clear. The Speed 5 man is style personified – it’s a quite simply a stunning head turner.

    How important is it that Pashley bikes continue to be made in Britain?
    ‘Made in Britain’ is what Pashley is about. Since 1926 we have been making beautiful premium-quality bikes and we have an ambition to keep this precious heritage safe. Traditional techniques and having a factory here means that all our cycles are made to the highest standard and we have control over every part of the process. Pashley is not a volume operation; we specialise in hand built high-quality bicycles and tricycles, and we know our customers value this very highly.

    What’s coming next for Pashley Cycles?
    At the recent Fredrichshafen bike show we revealed our new Pathfinder products. First, the Urban in an eye-catching citrus designed to be a quintessential quality street bike equipped with disc brakes and Alfine hub. Its big brother, the Pathfinder Tour, is our first step into the growing commuter/tour hybrid bike, targeting the adventurer who enjoys exploring.

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    Pashley SPEED 5 3Quarter Speed 5

    The Speed 5 is a tribute to the heyday of gentlemanly British cycle racing. This was a time when riders would come together in the noble pursuit of record-breaking times with only the satisfaction and thrill of success for reward. It embodies all that was great about this era, allowing you to follow in the footsteps of these men in your own exciting cycling endeavours.

    The British racing green and gold colour scheme hints at this heritage, as does the frame-mounted number plate, and the traditionally slack frame geometry gives a dynamic riding position for maximum speed and performance. The frame is hand-built using 100 year old traditional methods and legendary Reynolds 531. The Speed 5 is not simply a revival of path racing tradition but an advancement of the sport, embodying the principles of the early pioneers with a refined design they would be truly proud of.

    Countryman Wooden Door_2 Countryman

    Hand-built from the very best Reynolds 531 steel tubing, the Countryman is a truly versatile and high performance bicycle suitable for all aspects of your life. It is an ideal companion for your daily commute, with wide ratio Shimano Alfine 8 speed gears to tackle even the toughest of hills and full length stainless steel mudguards to keep you dry and clean no matter what the weather.

    For weekend jaunts into the great outdoors, the combination of narrow, lightweight Mavic alloy rims and flat, swept handlebars with a slight curve has been specifically designed to give an efficient and comfortable ride quality at whatever pace suits you best. The Countryman is even suited to long distance touring, adorned with a classic Brooks B17 leather saddle that naturally shapes to your form, high performance dual pivot brakes and braze-ons for
    a rear luggage rack.

    It is this huge adaptability that makes the Countryman a unique proposition, being both versatile in its design and unrivalled in its quality; a true all-rounder that will give you many years of reliable and pleasurable cycling.

    Aurora Aurora

    The Aurora is a hugely versatile and unique ladies bicycle, offering a dynamic ride that is suited to all sorts of pursuits. The stunning mixte style frame is constructed from legendary Reynolds 531 tubing that is lightweight and stiff, built completely by hand to offer a swift yet elegant riding position.

    This sense of refinement is completed by the classic Old English White paintwork that carries with it an understated beauty that complements the rich honey colour of the Brooks B17S saddle. As head-turning as the Aurora may be, it also excels in the choice components it is graced with. The 8 speed Shimano Alfine hub gears allow you to tackle even the very steepest of hills whilst requiring little maintenance; and the narrow Mavic alloy rims with Panaracer puncture protected tyres give you the chance to ride at speed without unwelcome interruption.

    Whether in busy city traffic, on winding country lanes or anything in between, the Aurora is a true all-rounder that can stand up to the rigours of modern life without losing the elegance and reliability for which Pashley’s bicycles are renowned.

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