“What pleases me about my craft is to work with steel, with the material. It is difficult to explain. I love to start with nothing and come to the final result. What excites me the most is to have a client and to create something that corresponds perfectly with what they want. It is difficult sometime, but for now, so far so good.”
Photographer’s notes: I managed to meet the creator of Noble bikes at the MAD Bike show in Brussels last week. I have an immense curiosity about bicycle frame builders. The joy they have when talking about their bikes and the craftsmanship that is brought to each and every frame. Years ago, there were countless frame builders across Europe, and Belgium had its share. But mass manufacturing has decimated the ranks.
The contradiction is that the decline in custom frames has come in an era when cycling has become a massive participation sport, and there are more monied people willing to pay high prices for what is now high priced mass production products. Alongside, the expansion of the athletic life, where people remain competitive in other sphere after their “peak” period, their fastest period, is behind them. Triathletes, endurance, extreme touring have added to the cycling sphere who search for something better.
If someone had asked me about this scenario back in the eighties, a decline in custom bikes as the sport grows, I would have said they were mad. But I have looked for Belgian custom frame builders and they are few and very far between. So In was all the more grateful MAD Bike brought a small handful together under one roof for the exhibition.
This frame builder, Nicolas Noble, struck me as almost young, about three years building as the Noble brand and five years in frame building itself. The bikes seem from a longer period.
On display at MAD Bike were four models. A sleek track bike, a gravel bike (almost cyclo-cross), a super lightweight steel road bike and then the bike above. His personal vehicle. More the randonneur style.
I was fascinated by the road bike. It was so light, under six kilograms, I actually thought it was carbon fibre done in a mould that presented itself as having lugs. But it is a commercially available Columbus tubing. It had a price tag that represented its elite design.
Based in Arlon, Belgium, he wants to limit production to just two bikes per month. Listen to him speak and you get the clear message he wants the bike to be the bike that is needed. Wanted. They run about 1,500 Euros for the frame and forks, as a starting point. How the client customises it with components is another conversation.
If anyone gets a custom made frame, I think they should spend some time talking to the builder. It is the chat about the materials, the difference the tube length and size makes to the ride, how the bike has to fit the owner. Well, if you are getting a custom bike, there is always specific measurement involved. The joy is in the chat about the art form.
Check him out on Facebook at his page here…
Or the website, Noble Cycles, here…