The Bespoked Bicycle Show pitched its tents in Dresden in October, bringing with it a large crowd of denim-vest-wearing hipsters, quirky handmade bikes and a punky DIY attitude. Here are some of the highlights from the show, and the interesting stories behind some of the quirkier bikes.
Dresden is increasingly becoming the Portland of Germany: despite a population of just over 550,000, the city on the Elbe has a huge cycling community. In addition to the typical clubs, there are large crews like the SLDRGNG with weekly ride-outs and their own events. While in the past the city was known as the “valley of the unwitting” because their location prevented them from receiving radio broadcasts from the west, today they’re at the forefront of innovation, as the home of an impressive number of bike brands . These include Beast Components, Veloheld, and Sour Bicycles. They also play host to internationally renowned events, like the THIS IS NOT BROOKLYN crit, or the ElbSpitze, a non-stop group ride from Dresden to the Alps. So, Dresden is an obvious choice for the Bespoked Bicycle Show. All the more surprising, however, was the location: Dresden airport. Not a shabby factory hall full of charm and exposed brick; but glass, escalators, and aeroplanes. So, who’s here, what’s new, and what are the ten hottest bikes at Bespoked? We found out.
Bespoked Bicycle Show – Steel is real, and so is the hype
The Bespoked Bicycle Show isn’t about big names, but about small independent bicycle manufacturers. The organisers want to give young and independent frame builders a stage and celebrate the craftsmanship of frame building. The first edition took place in 2011 in Bristol, England. Today, the organisers are Petor Georgallou and Josh Bullock, who are established figures in the scene and have experience in frame building themselves. In addition to the three-day trade fair, which took place from the 13th–15th of October 2023, there was also a comprehensive supporting programme including lectures, social rides, films and, of course, a party!
With just around 100 exhibitors, Bespoked itself is a rather small and relaxed event with a laid back atmosphere, at least in comparison to more mainstream bicycle trade fairs like Eurobike. Smaller events like this obviously attract a completely different crowd. The Bespoked Bicycle Show is characterised by mid-thirty-year-olds in cut-off jeans, with an altogether more diverse, alternative flair. It’s a scene of beards, mullets, painted fingernails, and denim vests covered in patches. It feels like every person here has somewhere between 5 and 19 tattoos. Look beyond the clichés, however, and you can also encounter some stars of the local and national bicycle scene, like Johanna Jahnke, the instacycling great. Towards the evening, more and more middle-aged folks shuffle in; above average fitness, children out of the house, driving electric cars instead of convertibles, and looking for a custom road bike for a 5-digit figure. Besides these stereotypes, you’ll also find many curious onlookers at Bespoked. The atmosphere is friendly, lively, and relaxed. You hear a lot of conversations, see just as many smiling faces, and even more bikes, components, bags, and miscellaneous items.
This brings us to the actual focus of Bespoked – after all, it’s about the bikes, not just the people. There were many small and very small manufacturers offering a vast variety of bikes. Most of them brought one to three bikes to the fair. The frame builders were as colourful as the visitors themselves. Often the brand is a one-(wo)man band, or consists of a small team that does everything from purchasing, to production, to marketing. This is at least as challenging as it is impressive. The brands have names like Chicken Cycles, Alfano Frameworks, or Wunderlich Raeder. In between, we also found bigger brands from all over Europe, such as Veloheld, Festka, and Kocmo. In addition to the bikes, there are many accessories too, including bikepacking bags, and components. Included here were mainstream brands like Tailfin, and Tex-lock, as well as successful newcomers like CYCLITE. But we also spotted start-ups like CYBER CYCLES, who build beautiful steel cranks, but are still at the very beginning of their journey, and do it more as a hobby.
Among the exhibitors were the four winners of the Bespoked SRAM Inclusivity Scholarship. As the name suggests, SRAM launched this scholarship in cooperation with Bespoked to promote diversity within the cycling scene and support underrepresented people in building their brands. 22 people applied this year. The brands that were lucky enough to be selected by the jury received various benefits, such as components for their bikes, and a free stand at Bespoked. But it’s not just the winning bikes that are unique: many of the bikes on display are one-off creations. Some of the manufacturers also offer standard bikes, or both. The price range is huge, ranging anywhere from € 1,000 to € 15,000. The bike categories are just as wide ranging. From road bikes to gravel, kids, MTB, urban, fixie, and cargo; it was all there.
Best of Bespoked Bicycle Show – The 10 hottest bikes
With the abundance of curious, wild, and beautiful bikes at Bespoked, it was no easy task to pick just ten favourites. We were pretty impressed by the four SRAM Inclusivity Scholarship winners and the philosophies behind their bikes, which is why all four have found a place in our top 10, and we want to introduce you to the winning brands and their bikes first. Also included are frame builders from all over Europe. Although the absolute majority of the bikes on display were made of steel, there was still plenty of variety in design, manufacturing processes and cable routing, which you’ll see in our selection.
BCB – Boucif Custom Bikes
At home in Leuven, Belgium, a small town near Brussels, the guys at Boucif Custom Bikes build new bikes from old frames and components. This is true re-cycling, so to speak. For Bespoked, the frame builders deconstructed an old ladies’ bike, and reconstructed it in a slightly different order. Equipped with a SRAM Rival drivetrain, Zipp 454 wheels, and a convenient stand, the result is an unusual and extravagant gravel bike. The team builds bikes according to the individual requirements and character of their customers. It’s all custom and they aim to make it affordable for everyone. That’s why they can offer their custom bikes for less than € 1,000, depending on the availability of used components. For more information about the bikes, visit their Instagram page.
Tore Jørgensen – Starfish Bicycles
“Soft bikes for soft people” is the motto of Tore Jørgensen and Starfish Bicycles. Based in Sydfyn, Denmark, the bikes from this brand have one priority: comfort! That’s achieved through flex in the frames, fat tires, and relaxed geometries. Above all, the bikes are designed to make you want to go out and have fun and not to set any wattage records or fastest times. The bike on display at Bespoked is the best example of this approach. The beautifully detailed frame is paired with 48 mm wide 650B tires and the new SRAM Apex drivetrain. It doesn’t just look easy going – it should feel it too. The hand-woven handlebar tape is another real highlight. For more information about the bikes from Starfish Bicycles, check out their very sparkly homepage.
Swanee Ravonison – Atelier Pariah
At home in Nevers, near Burgundy in central France, the bikes from the Atelier Pariah by Swanee Ravonison are made to age with their riders. True to the wabi-sabi concept: accepting transience and imperfection. The frames show signs of use as they rack up kilometres, and that’s how it should be. Just like we get wrinkles and scars over the years. Swanee applies the handmade lines, signs, and letters with minerals from Madagascar, her birthplace. So far, she’s only made custom bikes, but that’s set to change next year. There’ll be a standard single-speed/fixie and an all-road frame, as seen in the pictures, on offer. At € 800 to € 1,000, they’re surprisingly affordable for frames from such a small frame builder. All information about the bikes can be found online on the Atelier Pariah website.
CJ McGovern – CMG Bicycles
CMG Bicycles makes individual frames and all-steel builds for all kinds of adventures. CJ McGovern’s home base is in Southampton, on the south coast of England. Her customers’ needs are the top priority when building and designing bikes. Accordingly, the bikes usually end up being just as unique in terms of shape, function, and colour. CJ taught herself the whole process, which she says took all of three frames. The bike on display at Bespoked is her concept for a bikepacking bike, built up around a Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset, a SRAM Force drivetrain, custom luggage rack, and frame bag. You’ll find more information about the frame builder and her bikes on her website.
The division of labour at Amapola Cycles is clear! One person builds the frame, the other is responsible for the paint job. It all takes place in Overijssel, in the Netherlands, although the duo originally hail from Spain. The two frame builders are very particular about making fully custom bikes. Every bike is tailored exactly to the customer’s specific needs and preferences. A standout feature of their frames are the internally routed cables, something which isn’t all that common on hand-built steel frames. In addition to road and gravel bikes, Amapola Cycles make all kinds of two-wheeled vehicles, such as cargo bikes. However, the bike on display exemplifies their brand: a colourful paint job with a cleanly designed frame, and high-quality components. It’s also remarkable that it tips the scales at just 8 kg, priced at € 7,000. For more information about the brand and their bikes, check out their website.
Big Forest Frameworks
It really doesn’t always have to be discs! Konrad’s cyclocross machine from Big Forest Frameworks comes with good old cantilever brakes, which suits the bike exceptionally well. This adds the perfect finishing touch to the retro cyclocross look. The small fir trees add a bit of classy Big Forest branding suitable for an off-road bike. However, Big Forest Frameworks are more than frame builders, primarily functioning as a frame building school for anyone that’s interested. Anyone who has always dreamed of welding their own frame can learn to do so in Potsdam at a multi-day workshop. For € 2,000, excluding material, interested craftsmen and women are guided through the entire process and can ride home on a bike they built with their own hands. All information about the bikes and the frame building workshops can be found on the Big Forest Frameworks webpage.
Jaegher Custom Bikes
Steel only custom bikes from Belgium: Jaegher custom bikes. Each bike from this manufacturer is a one-off, and can be designed by the customer from the ground up. From the geometry to the tube shapes and the paint job, the possibilities are virtually endless. Jaegher Custom Bikes’ most prominent customer is the classics legend Tom Boonen. You can expect to pay about € 4,000 for a fully custom frame. However, they also offer complete builds. One example of these is the road bike displayed at the fair, consisting of Campagnolo components and Columbus tubing. For more information about Tom Boonen and the Belgian manufacturer’s bikes, visit their website.
Rob, the founder, owner, and jack of all trades, is no secret in the world of custom bikes. We’ve already had one of Quirk’s bikes in for review back in 2019. Rob builds custom bikes from titanium and steel, and has been experimenting with 3D printed parts for several years. The bike displayed at the fair represents a quantum leap for him and Quirk Cycles. The Durmitor ULTRA is the first 3D-printed steel road bike! You can still see the transitions between the individual parts of the frame. Add to that some of the finest components from SRAM and ENVE, and it’s no wonder that this masterpiece costs a whopping € 14,000. The incredibly beautiful paintwork alone costs € 2,000. If you want to know more about Quirk Cycles and the bikes, have a look at their website.
St Joris Cycles
As everyone knows, the Netherlands is a completely bicycle-crazy country. So, it’s no wonder that the land of tulips and dikes is home to many bike brands of all sizes. Based in Eindhoven, St Joris Cycles is a long-time maker of custom bikes. Alex de Kraker has been in the custom bike business since 2010 and builds road, all-road, and gravel bike frames from steel. Jacco, a prominent custom painter from the motorcycle scene, is responsible for the paint job. The bike on display is built up with exclusive components from Campagnolo, ENVE, and Darimo. The Chris King headset is mandatory, of course. We’re particularly impressed with the integration of the seat post clamp. For more information and photos of Alex de Kraker’s creations, visit stjoriscycles.nl.
Custom, speed, and minimal weight are the cornerstones of Yaad Cycles, at least on their road and all-road bikes. The small manufacturers from Stuttgart can build everything a customer wants, from road, to endurance, gravel, and fixed gear bikes. At Bespoked, the jury awarded the brand’s small city runabout with the title of “Best City/Utility Bike”. However, we were also very impressed with the road bike they had on display. It weighs just 6.2 kg, including the pedals, and was built exclusively with super-lightweight components from Germany. They even paid attention to the weight when applying the delicate clear coat. Everything you need to know about Yaad Cycles can be found here.
Bespoked Bicycle Show – Conclusion, trends, and outlook
Bespoked was a great opportunity to marvel at some breathtakingly beautiful, wild, and cleverly designed custom bikes, all within just a few square metres.. The most popular exhibits were of all-road bikes, cargo solutions like special luggage racks, and everything custom and handmade – from frame bags to cranks. With its laid-back atmosphere, Bespoked manages to create a real sense of community for those outside of the mainstream bike industry, so while it might be a small show, it has a big impact.
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Words: Martin Staffa Photos: Martin Staffa