Tools not jewels, with Quirk Cycles
Robert Quirk, the man behind Quirk Cycles, believes bikes are built to be ridden
By Tom Owen
Robert Quirk doesn’t like to talk himself up, but he does love to talk about bikes. Since starting out as a custom frame builder five and a half years ago – while much has changed – his passion for building remains undimmed.
“It seems like a lifetime ago. I was really lucky when I did my first Bespoked show, I came away with three awards – one of them being the Brooks choice – which was really good to get, to get the support of a company as old and as famous as Brooks and so tied into what cycling and means throughout the years.”
Awards and early recognition notwithstanding, it took a couple of years before he gained enough momentum for the business to start looking after itself.
“That first year of operation was a really tough one because to start in this business you need a reputation. The first two and a half years of operating, there were a few touch-and-go moments where it felt like, ‘Oh no, I might have to get a job turning spanners in a bike shop’.
Participation in the Transcontinental Race, a long-distance ultra race from one side of Europe to the other, provided a key moment in the Quirk journey.
“A few months after my first Bespoked I did the Transcontinental. It was my first introduction into the world of bikepacking, of ultra-racing, which ignited a love of the ‘sport’ of bikepacking.
“I was just aiming to finish and the impact, the feeling was amazing. And of course designing bikes for these events has become a cornerstone of what Quirk Cycles is about. So subsequently for the Transcontinental I designed an endurance road bike which became the basis of the Durmitor model.”
Quirk Cycles can produce any bike a customer might want, with tandems and time trial bikes occasionally popping up on the order sheet. However, the most common builds are encompassed by a selection of models: the long-distance racer, the Durmitor; the Kegety, named after a pass in Kyrgyzstan and suited to more extreme off-road riding; the Mam Tor, a road bike named after one of the toughest climbs near Quirk’s hometown of Sheffield; and the newest, the Overland, tested in the Atlas Mountain Race and described as an ‘adventure bikepacking rig’.
Regardless of what they individually want, it’s when he talks about the relationship to his customers that Quirk becomes most animated.
“It’s always, always a thrill when we get an order through. People often pay their deposit through our website without having any contact with us first, which is always a really nice feeling to know that there’s enough trust in you as a builder, your reputation is good enough that people will even pay a deposit for getting a bike off you without even exchanging any words.
“And then of course, after that deposit is paid you start the process of learning about the person you’re building for. That’s a really exhilarating part for me as well, to meet these people. Because you learn so much about what their hopes and desires are for the bike.”
Some customers even confide in Quirk that they have been dreaming about their bike.
“That’s a pretty epic thing. ‘Dream bike’ is a term that gets used a lot, but this is literally making someone’s dream bike. Any frustration that you might feel at the process of developing the bike completely disappears when you hear that your customer is literally dreaming about the thing you’re going to make them.”
The steady increase in demand for Quirk Cycles bikes is, in part, due to a disaffection with the modern way of buying and using products, says Quirk.
“I think one of the main reasons is that they want to be part of that conversation and be part of that process of designing and making something, and having input in how it’s made. A lot of things that people buy for use these days, they’re completely separated from where that item comes from. Whether that’s clothes they buy or the food they pick up in the supermarket, there’s definitely this disconnect from where these things that we use in our lives are coming from.”
A custom bike, born from a collaboration between rider and builder, is an antidote to this feeling of disconnection. What it is not, Quirk insists, is a bauble intended as a decorative accessory or a trinket.
“People talk about bikes being adult toys, when actually if you look around the world bikes are very utilitarian, very integral work machines. They can really change the way a person functions in life and society. And that idea is something that I just think is absolutely amazing.”
This philosophy extends into the look of a Quirk Cycles bicycle.
“John Woodroof [another ultra cyclist] says ‘a bike is a tool, not a jewel’. It’s designed to do something, perform a task not necessarily to just look pretty. This is why on my bikes you don’t necessarily see a lot of ornamentation of superfluous designs or cutaways or things like mouldings, because I like the function to be something that really leads the design process on bikes.”
And the function, of course, is what makes Quirk’s own riding so fulfilling.
“If I just think about all the places a bike has taken me under my own power, like around Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, across Europe to Turkey, the Faroe Islands, it’s just such a liberating experience. I love it.”
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