We took a visit to Bird Cycleworks HQ near Swinley recently, attracted by their progressive geometry and forward thinking bike design we were keen to find out what makes this company tick and where the future lies for the exciting brand.
Hailing from three very different careers, Ben Pinnick, Dan Hodge and Dave Cutts are the brains behind Bird Cycleworks, three guys brought together tenuously by social media with one idea in mind, to create their dream jobs and design bikes they want to ride.
The end product, or products one should say, is a brand comprising a full fleet of capable trail bikes utilising a vision that puts the bikes and therefore their customers first. Everything at Bird is done for a reason which makes sense to the three founders, whether that means doing away with antiquated ‘catalogue years’ and producing new bikes ‘just when they are ready’ or allowing customers the complete choice in every single component of their new pride and joy – if Bird stock it then you can pick it and believe me, squeezing into a stacked warehouse, they stock a lot! As a Bird customer you get a bike designed without compromises from the ground up and if the bike isn’t compromised that means the rider isn’t either.
I’m jumping ahead of myself though, it’s hard not too, walking through the quaint English courtyard at Bird HQ and after being greeted by Dan, we (Adam and I [Rachael]) are immediately drawn into enthusiastic bike talk. With topics covering the up to date geometry that Bird employ to the process of custom speccing your own bike and getting it delivered to your door, it’s infectious and for once done without a hint of scepticism or cynicism that usually doggedly follows participants of the bike industry.
Reining ourselves back in after briefly visiting the main topic and purpose of my visit to Bird, the Aeris 145 (check out Adam’s First Ride here), I question Dan about the Bird founders and just what drove them to create Bird Cycleworks. Dan lays the idea for Bird firmly at Ben’s feet telling me “Ben was a reasonably useful DH rider who used to manage a race team back in the day. He’d left his role as CEO of a software company and was discussing various business ideas with Dave including starting a bike company”. Dan then joined the duo late in 2012 after responding to a message on a FaceBook group from Ben. Without much persuasion, Dan jumped in and as he puts it, “I realised that it was a golden opportunity to have my dream job”.
From beginnings in 2012 the team at Bird are now furnished with an ever increasing lineup, with three hardtails, the Aeris in its many forms (MK 1, 120 and 145) and now a 29er in the making, its safe to say these guys will have been working their socks off in those five years. Simplified on a day to day basis Dan says he designs the bikes, modelling the frames in 3D and 2D, everything including analysing suspension kinematics and of course, test riding – plenty of test riding! Dan used to work in aerospace, energy and defence, he’s modest about the whole thing but this guy has seen more nuclear warheads than you and I will even think about in a lifetime. He says “For me, it's my love of mountain biking combined with my love of designing things. I'm in my element when working on our frames using our 3D CAD package. I get some music on my headphones and really get into the zone, I can work like that for days.” Just in case that isn’t enough of a job Dan also looks after the order and processing of stock, that warehouse of kit I mentioned – that’s all down to Dan. You can tell Dan’s a rider too, the Santa’s grotto of bike parts is stocked full of stuff you’d like to see on your bike, I’m talking 2.5” Maxxis tyres, 170mm dropper posts and wide rims.
‘Oop north, Ben manages a northern demo centre near Hamsterley Forest, he’ll be the one you are likely to talk to if you contact Bird, whether you reside in the north or south. Ben’s in charge of researching new components and suppliers as well as dealing with us media types. Ben’s background lies in running a successful IT business, the directing of which has helped him focus Bird “We all wear a ton of hats at Bird, and it's important to keep a sense of direction when there’s so much to deal with. There’s a big picture to think about, we’ve gone from working in my kitchen to a seven-figure turnover in 3 years. That’s a big achievement but you can’t keep that momentum by sitting still. Everything we do needs to be thought about months or even years ahead of time so keeping that momentum and direction is really important. I spend a lot of time tinkering, testing and thinking about what could be done, maybe too much, but I work on the theory if I’m not testing out something new, be it parts or looking at new ways to improve the business, I’m wasting my time!”
A good example of this happened right in front of me whilst I was at Bird HQ, Dan unpackaged three 185mm Revive dropper posts from Bike Yoke, sought out by Ben, with the intention of testing them thoroughly to see if this was a component that they would like to offer customers. It’s a small example of the consideration to detail you get when you go shopping with a small company and just another instance where three riders design bikes that they want to ride.
Finally, Dave looks after the pennies, importing stock and keeping tabs on what Dan and Ben might be spending! Dave also looks after shipping, UK, abroad, wherever. Given that Dave’s background is in corporate finance he’s as well placed here as his bikes are on the trails. Dave says “With a background in project management and accountancy, I ensure we don’t overstretch ourselves financially as we grow. I also provide ‘level head’ when the guys are getting overexcited about a new shiny product! I spend a lot of time at Gravity Enduro races both promoting our bikes and watching both my teenage sons race.”
The other integral piece to the puzzle is Tomas, the full-time workshop manager, he builds all the complete bikes before shipping to their eagerly awaited new homes. He keeps the large demo fleet in good working order and deals with customers who demo frames at the weekend. During race reason you’ll see Tomas ripping up the trails on an Aeris 145, if you missed him that’ll be because you blinked.
Background investigated, I got the Bird guided tour, crossing the courtyard into the workshop I noticed a sign in the opposite door, directing customers to the office where Dan and Dave hangout. The sign said “We’re in Unit 7 – behind you!”, now unit number aside, the unassuming sign got me thinking. Bird Cycleworks is a company that is not behind in any sense of the word, in fact they are striding well ahead of the pack in a race to trail bike utopia. A race where the benefits of being a small manufacturer bestows them with an agility that sizable firms just can’t manage, Dan tells me why this is important: “For example, when a new product is launched by one of our suppliers, we can import it and start selling it on bikes right away – we’ve never believed in model years, it’s an outdated hangover the bike industry can’t seem to shake. We don't have to wait for the new model year to come around, meaning we always have the most up to date kit on our bikes.”
Bird are also able to build bikes one at a time, delivering exactly what the customer wants, right down to a ready-to-go tubeless setup. As much as this sounds like an expensive commodity, it only takes one look at the prices of complete bikes and you’ll be wondering where they have shelved that cost. Dan said “A lot of that is down to how we decided to build the business rather than our size”. Bird wanted to treat customers as they themselves would like to be treated; provided with a bike that was ready to hit the trails immediately, after all that’s what we are all itching to do, right? Dan also says “We think that’s a scalable model no matter how big we get. Customisation at a really competitive price point and customer service will always be our primary advantages over other companies and we intend to grow that with our business.”
The cost offset comes in the direct to consumer business model, removing middle men and passing the saving to customers. Get this – a Medium/Long Aeris 145 frame with Rockshox Super Deluxe RC3 Debon Air and genuinely class leading geometry (Head Angle – 65.5 degrees, Reach – 481mm, Seat Angle – 76 degrees, Wheelbase 1230mm and Seat Tube – 440mm) for just £1,100. That’s geometry, spec and a price that you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else, and trust me, we’ve looked!
Dan said the concept owing to the long and slack geometry was simple – “We tried it and we liked it” – so they kept it. From the small amount of workshop chatter I took part in at Bird, they’re not going to be resting on their laurels either, Dan says “We're always looking to push things further. I'm sure that there is a limit to reach and effective top tube numbers out there but I don't think we have found it yet. We do however design all our bikes with low stand over so generally unless you’re really tall or really short you could ride at least 2, or maybe even 3 of our model sizes. That gives the choice back to the customer of whether they want a compact or long frame. Trail bike geometry is always a compromise - you want a low bottom bracket without too many pedal strikes, a slack head angle but without it handling like a barge on tight slow speed turns, and chainstays that are long enough to climb well but short enough to give snappy handling. I'm really happy with the current generation of Aeris frames, they each offer something different - not all riders are the same and I think that it's important to remember that.” It’s a statement that is great to hear from a company offering an answer to the question of choice on a budget that we’d put money on being a lot tighter than other more mainstream brands out there.
Tea and chat over we got kitted up for a razz round Swinley Forest on an Aeris 120 and 145 clinging onto the rear tyre of Tomas, avoiding the spray of loam as we did so, more on that over here... Leaving at then end of the day, after being persuaded by an excited Dan to carpark test the latest prototype that we can’t tell you about, it’s obvious as you cast your eye over the showroom of bikes that this is an ever evolving line up. Bird Cycleworks is company that is growing with demand, one that isn’t afraid to step out into the open bringing not only progressive geometry to the table but a forward-thinking ethos as whole. Beginning with an idea, life experience, three dream jobs, an open mindset, a love for cycling and a drive to create bikes that they and others want to ride with no compromises, Bird has a very bright future, moving steadfastly ahead of the curve.
You might also like: