Rudie’s special Islabike

With an in-house frame builder at our workshop in Ludlow we are able to offer our staff their very own custom-built, made-to-measure Islabikes. However, this isn’t just a fun perk for our employees. It’s also a great way for us to learn new things about different types of bikes. Here we chat to Islabikes’ supply chain planner Rudie Weaver about his new hand-built custom Islabike, which has some very special features hidden beneath the surface.

“I started at Islabikes about three years ago, just as our in-house custom-build process really began in earnest.

The whole idea is particularly interesting for me because a custom bike is made to fit a rider perfectly and I have a really strange body shape. I have a long torso and short legs, so my bikes have always had to be a bit weird. But with a custom bike I liked the idea of having a frame that would fit me without needing a ridiculously long stem or a short seatpost.”

“Over time my idea of what I wanted from this bike changed. Initially I was just going to have a road bike made but then I realised I’m quite lazy when it comes to cycle maintenance. Instead, I decided I wanted my custom bike to be designed around specific componentry that would mean I wouldn’t have to spend too much time maintaining it,” Rudie laughs.

“I wanted my bike to have an internally geared hub and belt drive, so I wouldn’t have to worry about chain or derailleur upkeep as much. Being quite a big and powerful rider the increased resistance from the belt drive would not be an issue. This was also a no holds barred bike build for me when it came to cost; I plan on having it for a long long time.

Essentially my bike has been designed so that I can go out for a ride, get home and put it back in the shed and carry on with life. That’s what I really want from a bike: minimum of effort,” Rudie explains.

Creating a bike that is almost maintenance-free is easier said than done, though. So here Rudie guides us through the stages from that initial dream to his prized finished product.

Rudie's special bike

Stage 1: Designing the frame

“Isla did the ‘fitting’ part of my bike design and made sure I would have a frame that would fit my body really well. I’m quite a big guy and I’m quite tough on components, so Isla knew exactly what I would need from a frame. The intricacies of the frame she left to me and Islabikes’ custom frame builder Keen because we have a lot of experience between us. However, there were some important considerations we had to bear in mind when designing the basic frame. For example, if you have a belt drive bike you need to break the frame somewhere to fit the belt through, because a belt can’t be split like a chain. Little things like that Keen and I sorted, Isla worked on making it fit perfectly.”

“Isla did the ‘fitting’ part of my bike design and made sure I would have a frame that would fit my body really well.”

“In terms of frame shape, my bike is very much what you’d call a touring road bike, it’s certainly not a race bike. It’s a fairly relaxed road bike shape. It has a very shallow seat angle more like you’d see on road bikes common in the mid-20th century rather than more modern ones which have a steep seat angle and very low aggressive positioning. That’s not what my bike is about, my bike is about comfort and long miles. It’s meant to be a pleasure to ride. I suppose in a way, it’s quite an old-fashioned frame shape, but it’s got lots of modern touches to it as well”

Rudie's special bike

Stage 2: Choosing the tubing

“We used a mixture of Reynolds 853 and 631 chromoly tubing, but we’ve used some really interesting versions of those tubes. Because I’m quite a large and strong rider, we’ve used double-zone butted tubing. Most of the tubes used on bikes are double butted, which means they are a certain thickness at the end, they taper down to thinner in the middle, and then taper up so they’re thicker at the other end again. But for my down tube we’ve used a double-zone butted tube, which means it goes from having a 1.1mm wall thickness at the head tube end, then tapers down to 0.9mm, then tapers down again to 0.6mm, then tapers back up to 0.9mm where it joins the seat tube. This very thick section where it joins the head tube means we don’t have to add any extra gussets and we can keep the lines very clean but we get the extra strength of that thicker piece of tubing at the head tube join.”

“for my down tube we’ve used a double-zone butted tube, which means it goes from having a 1.1mm wall thickness at the head tube end, then tapers down to 0.9mm, then tapers down again to 0.6mm, then tapers back up to 0.9mm where it joins the seat tube.”

“The seat tube is also very interesting. It’s not just double butted, the entire seat tube is tapered. It has a 30.9mm internal diameter where you put the seatpost in but the entire tube tapers out so that at the bottom bracket it has a 33mm internal diameter. A wider diameter tube has much more of a beneficial impact on the strength of the tube than the thickness of the tube. In fact, if you double the diameter of a tube, you increase its strength by a factor of four.

Another interesting area involves the chainstays, which are ovalised and absolutely huge. Whereas the normal chainstays Isla would use are something like 15 or 14mm diameter, mine are 19mm. So these are all really interesting tubes that we’ve never needed to use before.”

Rudie's special bike

Stage 3: Building the frame

You can see the full process behind how our custom frames are built by Islabikes’ own in-house frame builder Robert ‘Keen’ Burns here. However, in the case of Rudie’s bike, there were some unique details.

“We’ve never attempted internal cable routing before on a steel frame, but I really wanted to try. We did a fair bit of research into the best way to do it and what we came up with was quite a nice and very clean solution.

We used very thin brass tubing running inside the frame, with an internal diameter that is almost the same as the outer casing diameter of the cables we’re using. That means it’s a nice snug fit and there’s nowhere else for the cabling to go other than out the other side. The brass tubing runs the length of the tubes and it means the lines of the frame stay clean and smooth, there are no extra bosses or anything on the outside. We put a lot of time and thought into the internal cable routing, because the more cables you route through the frame, the more you weaken the frame. Up to a point it doesn’t have too much of an effect but once you start drilling seven or eight holes in a frame it becomes quite important.”

Rudie's special bike

“The brass tubing runs the length of the tubes and it means the lines of the frame stay clean and smooth, there are no extra bosses or anything on the outside.”

“The Rohloff geared hub my bike uses has two cables running to it and there’s also a brake cable, all running to the non-drive side dropout. It would look quite strange having three cables all running along that chainstay. So the way we’ve done it is to internally route the brake cable down the down tube, out and around the bottom bracket, then in the chainstay and back out by the dropout. The two cables that go to the Rohloff shifting mechanism both run externally along the underside of the down tube, under the bottom bracket and then we’ve made special cable guides to run underneath the chainstay. It’s a really clever solution. From the saddle you can’t see any cables at all except the ones coming out from the handlebars.”

“Other than that, the belt drive is an interesting feature which has required us to put a stainless steel splitter into one of the seatstays. That is a really lovely piece of machinery, which has come from a company called Paragon Machine Works. Paragon makes a lot of our custom frame components. The splitter is a really satisfying bit of equipment; it fits together just perfectly and to see it working is very, very impressive. The dropouts are rocker dropouts, also from Paragon Machine Works. We’ve used them for a long time on a lot of our custom bikes because they’re so practical as you can run them as singlespeeds or with derailleurs.”

Stage 4: Implications for future Islabikes

“Of course I was very excited at the prospect of having my own made-to-measure bike with all of my own specification choices, but there are wider implication for Islabikes, too. While a lot of the things we’re doing on my bike will never end up on production models, they will definitely help us make choices with future design challenges. We can think: ‘How did that work when we did it on Rudie’s bike?’

Every time we make something new or different it’s an opportunity to learn.  As with everything we do, all the little things we learn add to the sum of years of experience and help us to intelligently design bikes that give children a better experience of cycling. It’s nice that I get a fantastic bike out of the process, too!”

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