Invest in a Selwyn handmade bicycle this Christmas

A conversation with Alexander Plaisted of Selwyn handmade bicycles.

Post by Mary on December 5, 2023

We’re in the run-up to Christmas and top of everyone’s gift list is a new bike, right? If you’re thinking of investing in the perfect bike for yourself or a loved one then we recommend you try a Selwyn handmade bicycle. Last month I asked owner and bike-builder Alexander Plaisted a few questions about building beautiful bikes.

What inspired you to set-up Selwyn Bicycles?

Partly it happened by accident.  After building the first few bikes I began to get more requests from friends and family so kept building.  I just enjoyed building beautiful, functional bikes.  

Where did you learn to build bike frames?  
I did a frame building course at the Bicycle Academy in Frome, Somerset in 2016.  They have since closed down which is a real shame as they were instrumental in reviving the handmade/bespoke bicycle scene in the UK and internationally. 

How long does it take you to build a bike frame?
About 8 full days.   The finishing work takes a big chunk of that time.  Every joint is worked with hand files and various grades of emery cloth to achieve a perfectly smooth junction between the tubes.  It is hard work, takes forever and isn’t structurally necessary.  But the result is worth it and is just one of the things that set our frames apart from the other mass produced ‘standard’ bikes on the market.

What is the most challenging part of the process?
Tyre clearances.  On modern mountain bikes with wide tyres it can be a headache to get enough clearance for the tyre without interfering with the chainring or cranks.  The challenge is to find an elegant solution.  There are plates and yokes available, but they are often pretty unattractive so my solution is to do a cut out on the chainstay.  Again, it is more work but the result is worth it. 

What was the first bike you built?
A classic touring bike for my dad. He rode it from the UK to Mallorca and still rides it now.

What bike are you currently working on?

I have 2 bikes at different stages – one is an endurance road bike which will be built with super light Columbus steel tubes and a custom steel fork to match.   The other is a really interesting commuter bike which will have a pinion gearbox, belt drive and some pretty unique geometry.

What are the advantages of having a hand-built frame?
Where do I start…  There are a lot!:

Every bike we make is completely custom. We are not constrained by models, sizing, market segments, industry trends or other niches/marketing bollocks. 

That means that we can concentrate on making exactly the bike that you need, that fits you exactly, and is designed for where and how you want to ride.  

You choose where you want the cables to go, how many mounting points you need and where you want them on the frame.

You choose exactly how you want it to look.  Every element of the paintwork is up to you.

You choose every single part that ends up on the bike.

From a manufacturing point of view, we start by selecting exactly the right tubes for each client.  We cut and file the tubes by hand to ensure the perfect fit.  Perfectly fitting tubes means a straight, strong bike.  We take our time to ensure that every detail is made as well as it can be.  Then the frame is finished to the highest standard.  This type of finish is just not available with the standard industrial methods of frame building.

When you have a bike that is made entirely for you, to the highest possible quality, you have a bike that will last.  It will last because it is made properly.  It will last because you will not want or need to change it.   If you have a bike that lasts, you will not be contributing to the huge number of bikes that end up in landfill. 

Which leads on to sustainability.  This is a vast topic and there has been a lot of talk about this in the industry.  Here’s a very condensed overview:

Steel is by far the most sustainable material to build a frame from (supported by reports by Trek and Reynolds).  

Our steel tubes are manufactured in the UK (Reynolds) or Italy (Columbus and Dedacciai) so there is minimal shipping. 

If a steel frame breaks it can usually be repaired.

If it is irreparable then steel can easily be recycled.

So you can have a bike that rides amazingly, made exactly for you, using the most sustainable material with traditional manufacturing methods.

Is there a bike you’ve built for a client that you wish you’d kept for yourself?
Most of them!   One that stands out was an XC race bike that has the best paint job I have ever seen. 

Where do your clients ride their Selwyn bikes?
All over the place.  On road, off road, gravel, single track, pump tracks.  Here in the Samoens valley and further afield in the Alps.  On country lanes in the UK and busy roads in London.

Where’s your favourite place to ride your own Selwyn handmade bicycle? 

Our home trail – from the top of the Bourgeoise down nearly 1,000m of single track straight into the workshop.

Where in the world would you most like to ride your Selwyn handmade bicycle? 

Tricky question, there is so much riding out there.  Maybe South America on some Andean volcanoes.

If I wanted to order a Selwyn handmade bicycle, what is the process?

We start with a conversation.  This can be at the Selwyn workshop or at your mountain                     accommodation.  Or we can arrange a video call.  Or we can go for a ride.

Once we have established what you need from your bike we will produce an initial design and quote for the frame. We ask for a deposit at this stage to secure your slot in the build queue. 

You will then visit a bike fitter – we work closely with Scott Cornish in Chamonix.  Or if you are based in the UK we can arrange for you to see a fitter there, either in London or elsewhere.  We then liaise with the fitter to finalise the frame design to your exact specification.

Before we start building the frame we will discuss what components you want to put on your dream bike.  We will then finalise this and source them.  There are no limits to this and you can choose any part you wish.

At the same time you will be thinking about your paintwork.  Our local artist Tony Cepparo will work with you to create a one-off design for your frame.   Using freehand airbrushing techniques and his own custom colours the frame is treated as a canvas to create a unique work of art.

I know that you have recently left your day job to focus more on the bike-building business. What is the future for Selwyn Bicycles?

Lots more building bikes and riding hopefully.   The main focus is to keep building the best frames that I can. 

Otherwise we are busy with all sort of plans – one of the next big projects is to rebuild the workshop which will hopefully happen next year.  I have some ideas for a full-suspension prototype which I am working on.   Also we have some plans for some promotional/events, which I can’t tell you too much about yet but watch this space!

Thanks to Alexander for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re also looking for somewhere to ride your new Selwyn handmade bicycle, we can recommend the perfect trip!

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it!