I met Tom for the first time about 9 years ago. He came to interview me in my second workshop in Camberwell. We had a great time together and he was fascinated by every detail of frame building whilst interviewing me. It must have been about 3 years later when he visited us at Bespoked where he told us ‘there are 3 custom frames I am going buy in my life time and you’re going to make one of them for me’.
Our first discussion about that bike was a steel time trial frame which was going to be raced competitively. We decided not to go ahead with this build as his then sponsor Trek was able to create a far more aerodynamic frame than we could. The second conversation must have happened about 2 years later when Tom approached us again with the idea to build a steel road race bike, and this is the one we eventually designed and built.
Tom is a prolific researcher and had a very fixed idea of what he wanted but what surprised me most was is curiosity to learn about how things were made and why. This was to be his ‘nice weather only’ bike so rather than building it with stainless steel which was his preferred tubing we decided to build it with a mix of Reynolds 853, Columbus XCR, Spirit and HSS tubing.
Stainless steel is a wonderfully stiff and light tube to work with but as Tom wanted this for dry roads a corrosion free material wasn’t so necessary. We still wanted the down tube to be as stiff as possible so used HSS; HX Down tube. Reynolds Pro 853 was used for the top tube and seat tube and we managed to squeeze in a bit of Columbus XCR for the chain stays which remained exposed. We also fitted a stainless steel bottom bracket to safeguard internal rotating parts from corrosion from any moisture and the pinch bolt used for the clamp and seat post created a clean profile.
Tom liked the feeling of mechanical gearing as opposed to Di2 so the bike was fitted with Dura Ace 9100.
The paint design was another specification and used House of Colour Organic Green Kandy with a graphite base. We added a matching Silca frame pump to the mix which is camouflaged nicely under the top tube.
No matter how quirky your body geometry may be a custom bike is fitted to you and you only and we couldn’t say it any better than this:
‘Regarding the bike itself; there really is little to say. It looks exactly how I wanted. It rides exactly how I wanted. It feels exactly how I wanted. While still exceeding my expectations, which is a little contradictory but absolutely true. But that’s what a custom bike is. I won’t tell you how verbally compliant or great over gravel or whatever my bike is, because it’s tuned to my preferences and foibles. And at least with Saffron you know your bike will equally be meticulously tuned to yours’.
I first encountered Matthew Sowter back when I worked at Cyclefit. He was relatively ‘new to the game’ yet already making a name for himself and his beautiful frames. We became friends and I promised him that ‘one day’ I’d have a Saffron steed in the stable. True to my word, I managed to summon the requisite funds in time for what I wanted to be a very special bike- for my 30th bday.
I am already a bike nerd and have a fairly solid grasp of frame building and the technologies available today. I can safely say, however, that Matthew’s knowledge surpasses my own by some lengths. Despite this discrepancy between our respective knowledge bases, and divergent personal feelings on what a bike ‘should’ feel like, the design process never felt like a battle. It was a fruitful and memorable collaboration that hugely enhanced the entire ‘custom bike’ experience for me. The spirit of my dream bike was steadfast, and justifiably enriched by Matthew’s contributions where he felt it was required- and he was never wrong.
When I first read that Saffron would be handling the frame painting themselves I was initially dubious and felt I wanted an ‘expert’ to handle the paint. This concern proved to be completely unfounded though. Matthew was at pains to lead em through every single stage of the process and indeed the attention to detail and painstaking testing of this aspect of my bike was one of the highlights of the process. I was fortunate to have a very clear idea of what colour I wanted and we (or rather he) actually ran multiple tests on tubes so we could see different results in different lights.