Spend time in the company of cyclists and it’s not unusual to hear individuals voice dreams that reference custom frame fabrication or artisanal coffee. Articulating a desire to swap the morning motorway commute and office desk for a fixie ride to the workshop and welding torch; the café and espresso machine. Earning a living inspired by a particular passion fuelled by Instagram.
That Matt Mears created his own role from the ground up – founding Temple Cycles in 2014 with £5000 scraped together from savings and the generous support of grandparents – perhaps offers proof that these dreams are at least possible. But listen to his story and you soon come to understand the level of commitment and hard work that any new business venture requires to succeed.
‘There’s all the hurdles, upsets and issues that you have to contend with,’ suggests Mears. ‘So much going on that finding the time to do even the simplest tasks can be difficult. And the problem with running your own company is that it’s too easy to take it all home because you love what you’re doing.’
I’ve arranged to meet Mears in his Bristol based retail unit situated on Wapping Wharf; a strip of land separating the tidal River Avon from the central floating harbour. The dockside cranes may be immobile but commodities are still traded on the waterfront with heritage packaged in the form of bars, restaurants and shops that occupy the original warehouses.
Step over the rail tracks that criss-cross the dockside and you’ll soon come upon a series of contemporary retail outlets with one particularly notable for the number of bicycles ranged just outside the entrance. All classically proportioned with a steel frame fabricated using traditional round tubes and finished with brown Brooks saddles and bar tape.
Inside there’s a similarly understated feel to the products on display. Shelves of bells, bags and bottle cages with, along the opposite wall, another collection of bikes. Like those outside, all bearing the same cast badge on the headtube – the word Temple superimposed on a Greek column motiff – and with a vintage styling that belies the fact that they’re all brand new.
With a trim frame and a shock of blonde hair, Mears talks animatedly and with evident enthusiasm about the vintage bike restoration business he ran out of his bedroom whilst studying mechanical engineering at Bristol University; this leading him to consider scaling up the venture and the eventual realisation that what he really wanted to do was start manufacturing bikes of his own design that referenced his passion for a classic ‘look’ but also addressed issues of consumer consumption.
‘The bike industry seems largely geared around bringing in new standards and technologies but this almost encourages a throw-away upgrade culture. I feel cycling should be about owning a beautiful machine that you love and care for. With parts that can be replaced when they wear out so the bike can give you 10 or 20 years of use.’
Launched with a core range of simple, classic-looking bikes and a brand name grounded in the Bristol locality, Temple Cycles has since enjoyed year-on-year growth; helped by a later crowdfunding bid that provided the necessary funds to expand the business and take on more staff.
‘The crowdfunding campaign was a very intense time. There’s such a long build-up – talking to investors, delivering presentations, networking – all in the hope that when you click ‘go’ the money starts to roll in. Luckily for us it kind of snowballed and it was all wrapped up in less than 2 days.’
With such a particular aesthetic, Mears believes the current trend for minimalist design helps drive sales and points to the customer experience as another significant factor. ‘We sell direct so nearly all our sales start with either a face-to-face conversation or a few email messages. An opportunity for you to discuss your needs before we actually start the build. Too often when an individual purchases from a bike retailer they then need to start replacing parts to make their bike work for them.’
With an ethos that Temple Cycles manufactures bikes for life and that changes in design should be gradual refinements rather than an attempt to build-in a redundancy to model ranges, Mears thought long and hard before launching his latest design; the Adventure Disc. Perhaps in part because this model references many of his personal riding needs.
‘It’s as close to my idea of the perfect ‘all-rounder’ that I think we can get. A bike that you can really rely on. Taking rugged terrain in its stride before you swap out the tyres for some slicks and your local club ride. Load it up and off you go without having to worry about things which is why we purposefully didn’t spec hydraulic brakes. You need to have the capacity to fix a problem when you’re on the road travelling. I don’t particularly want to carry a hydraulic bleeding kit if I’m touring and, for the average home mechanic, it’s rather a dark art.’
Describing the design process, Mears begins by questioning how a bike will be used before considering tyre clearance and tubing profiles; believing it false economy to skimp on componentry or the quality of a build. ‘In some ways the bike industry encourages you to feel dissatisfied. That everyone needs performance, aero, super-lightweight carbon. To be like the pros and buy top-end. I hate all that because I want your bike to be serviceable for as long as possible. I don’t want component standards to make your new bike completely redundant and for this to drive consumption of goods and materials for no other reason than profit.’
As all Temple frames are fabricated from steel – handmade by a Taiwanese manufacturer using Reynolds tubing – any environmental issues involving the transportation of finished frames back to the UK can be offset by the longevity of the material but, by necessity, accounts for lengthy lead times.
‘This aspect of the build process can be stressful. We’ve got a super relationship with our frame maker and they’re very professional. But if we could fabricate our frames locally it would allow us to operate far leaner in terms of the amount of stock we need to carry. But we need to balance this with the infrastructure costs, our business model and the price points we set. At present it simply isn’t cost effective.’
Mears is keen to point out, however, that it’s not all spreadsheets and warehouse inventories and he’s clearly enjoyed developing the visual identity of the website and branding: ‘It gives you an excuse on a sunny Monday morning to grab your camera and go out and ride your bike all day. And you can justify it to yourself because it’s for work.’
4 years since the company first launched and with a neighbouring workshop complementing this retail outlet on the central Bristol harbourside, sales that were first driven by passing trade have now broadened to embrace orders from across the UK and mainland Europe. In part prompting my final question whether it’s possible for Temple Cycles to get too big?
‘I want us to grow and we recognise that requires us to look beyond Bristol and the southwest market. But we can’t allow any expansion of the business to compromise the way we interact with our customers. And we’ll still continue with our harbourside shop so people can come in for a cup of tea, have a chat and take a bike out for a ride. To be honest, that’s the fun bit.’
For more information visit Temple Cycles
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