About Rob English and English Cycles

Rob English

BUILT BY HAND – short documentary film about English Cycles.

What is it about the bicycle? Something about the freedom and sheer joy of the supreme efficiency of the marriage of man and machine. Something about the zen of the meditative state during riding. The ability to mentally ‘switch off’ during long road rides. The intensity of concentration when being absolutely ‘on’ riding technical singletrack. Going fast, with less than a square inch of rubber connecting you to the road. The private world of pain of hillclimbing and time trialling. And even the simple ability to cover ground and haul stuff around town.

I had bikes like most kids, and started riding to school on a 24″ wheeled 5-speed at age 11. At 13 I got my first ‘proper’ bike, an early ‘mountain bike’ that was too big for me, but which introduced me to what became my first love: off-road riding. Two years later I upgraded to a much more competent machine (a 1991 Specialized Stumpjumper Comp – which I still have!), and entered my first race. The ’90s were the years of exotic machined components in crazy anodised colors; as a kid I couldn’t afford the fancy parts, but having access to machine tools at school I started making my own. Some were successful, others not, but I learnt a lot, and wanting to learn more, I went on from high school to study mechanical engineering at Cambridge University.

Four years later I graduated with my Masters, and despite sending applications to the big bike companies (no doubt like a lot of graduating bike nuts!), I wasn’t making progress towards working in the industry. I took a job with a company in Cambridge – great people and I liked the work but had no interest in the product. A year later an opportunity arose to work with a recumbent start-up company in Massachusetts; I ended up as the product manager as well as the designer for a future line – unfortunately after a year the funding fell through and we weren’t able to capitalise on the good start we’d made. That led me to spending the next five years as a somewhat itinerant bike bum – I worked in bike shops and built wheels to fund travelling each winter to avoid the bad weather. I spent six months working as a mechanic and guide in the Canary islands, and picked up some contract design work doing all the design and geometry for a Danish bike company. I lived in Japan for four months, I toured across the US, New Zealand, Australia and Europe. And I raced a fair bit, with a reasonable amount of success. Highlights include four 12 hour mountain bike wins (3 in the UK, 1 in New Zealand), 7th in the British National Time Trial championship, 4th in the Hillclimb championship, podiums in France and Italy. But I was still holding out for that ‘perfect’ job: I wanted to find a company where I could be involved with all parts of the process, from design to prototyping and testing to manufacturing. This means a relatively small company, and there aren’t many that size that are hiring! Just as I was thinking I would have to settle for not working full time with bikes, I was offered a job with Bike Friday, makers of performance folding bikes in Oregon. And after sometime to figure out getting a work visa, I duly packed up and shipped myself off to Eugene. In a small company one must wear many hats, and from 2006 to 2013 I was involved and had been responsible for almost every part of the process at Bike Friday, culminating in running the production line and being in charge of all engineering and development. During that time I was also fortunate enough to meet my wonderful wife, and I now have a green card and am well settled in Eugene.

English Cycles started officially in 2009 after I had built a few frames for myself and friends. I went part-time at Bike Friday in 2011 in order to focus more on my business, and then left there in 2013 to be a full time independent custom bike builder.

Time trialling is a big deal in the UK (one can – and many do – ride four or five a week all season), and I have been fairly successful at it, but also had some ideas of how to go faster using bike design and position. So the first bike with my name on it was my TT bike – which did make me faster (and has won seven state championships to date), but I enjoy building all types of bicycle, and especially helping customers achieve their dream bike.

More about my various travels, projects and race results at: rob.bikerevuk.com