“I started making bikes because I wanted one myself,” says William Young, founder of Auren Bikes, a custom-built titanium bike company in Melbourne. “At 6 foot 7 inches, I couldn’t find a bike that fit properly. Eventually I realised a custom frame was the only way, but when I saw how expensive they were, I thought surely we can do better.”
In 2018, Young had finished his degree and, yet to find his dream job, was working in a bike shop. He made friends through the shop, young people who were into cycling, and so he got into cycling himself. But fresh out of uni and without a lot of cash, his options were limited – and he saw an opportunity.
Young says that the high-end cycling industry is elitist and boutique, and it’s very hard to access that top category without incurring a luxury tax that makes quality cycle goods inaccessible. “There are a bunch of people in the space who make the frame and the product locally, and they weld and do it all from scratch. Just the frame alone can then cost between $9000 and $20,000 because of Australian labour costs. The other category is working with factories overseas, but then the frames are not customisable.”
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Young’s process falls in the middle ground. He’s developed a good relationship with an overseas firm that can work on a frame-by-frame basis, so he gets the same level of customisability as a local producer but with the prices of overseas manufacturing. “It’s not common to have someone in China do one-offs. I think I was lucky to know the right people. I have been there physically and developed a relationship with them. It’s important to me that the workers are getting paid properly for making my frames, and I went there in person to get an understanding of the processes.”
For Young, a good bike starts with a geometry that suits your body and your riding style, making you faster, more efficient, more comfortable and less prone to injury. “Geometry,” he says, “is the cool part of the process.”
When people come in looking for a new bike, it begins with a dynamic fit in his workshop, “which is my mother’s garage still”, he says. He uses a telescopic fitting jig used for professional racing teams. The client rides it like an exercise bike, and the position of the saddle and handlebars can be changed while they pedal. The jig is connected to an instantaneous power output device which, as the person cycles, shows Young where the power is being delivered in the pedal stroke and where it’s happening more or less efficiently.
The fit and geometry is important because it covers positioning and handling. A bike can feel more stable through the geometry of the angles and the wheelbase. If you want the bike to feel more alive and responsive, that can also be achieved through design.
Since Young can work with any customisation, he can make bikes for any type of rider; a person who likes to ride along Beach Road would need different gear ratios to someone who likes climbing up the Dandenongs, for example.
The build takes four to five months from bike fit to completion. While the frame is in production Young sources the other 30 to 40 parts, which vary according to the customisation, then he assembles it once the frame arrives.
To date, he’s made 99 bikes – and the 100th is for himself. “I wanted to make [this] one special. I hadn’t built another one for myself since the beginning, and the good thing about making bikes one by one is that there is incremental improvement. Every time you build a bike, you learn new things. In terms of what the bike is to look at, it has come a long way. It’s about time I made myself one as well.”