Aidan Duff and the passionate team at FiftyOne Bikes have a singular goal in their hearts: to build you a bike so epic that it destroys your family when you pass away. “We want a massive family rift – then we know we are making a difference.”
What’s wonderful is they are succeeding. By focusing in on the development and refinement of the process around communicating with their consumers, they are able to push the boundaries of bike build, spec, and styling into that epic territory. Their latest masterpiece, for example, conceived and built for Irish UFC fighter Conor McGregor, is a heart-stopper in gold leaf.
But it isn’t just about fantastic style for FiftyOne. For the past few years, the brand has been cooking up something new and very impressive – their contribution to the custom carbon arms race. We’ll get more in-depth with that process after the show.
BIKERUMOR: What are you bringing to NAHBS this year that you’re excited about?
AIDAN: We’ll have 6 bikes at the show. Most of which are customer builds and have been graciously loaned to us. The headline act will be undoubtedly Conor McGregor’s build. I’m really happy with how it turned out. When you hear 24k gold leaf it’s understandable to run a mile, but I hope we’ve presented that bike in a balanced, distinguished fashion. The ghost paint provides the perfect balance between understated elegance and full-on bling. At least that’s what I think. Of course it’s running his trademark flat pedals. We tried to convert him but when you can’t hide something, you need to make a feature of it, right? So the custom Crank bros platforms are perfect. I just love how it fucks with people’s heads. I’m pretty sure he gets a kick out of that too.
His coach is former road race champ Julian Dalby. He was a mentor and great help to me when I was growing up in cycling. Before the days of the internet, we may have had Kelly and Roche, but none of the racing was televised. Apart from the Tour de France, closer to home we had Julian and some key guys lighting up the domestic scene. They gave me, a pesky 14-15 year old, the time and courtesy to answer my questions and offer some guidance. Show me how to corner faster and training advice. I would pester my parents to stay for the senior race, after the school boy racing was over, to see the senior guys in action. We built a bike for Julian, and the conversation then turned to Conor and his growing interest in not just cycling, but bikes. They use the bike to improve cardiac fitness and as a nice diversion from the gym and pads. Not mega stuff, but 40km spins. So that’s how it came about.
The bikes are A 50:50 split between traditional caliper and disc. We’ve developed our own flat mount rear stay. It’s not something we set out to do, but due to lack of availability were forced into it, and it’s awesome. It’s the most elegant, beautiful thing you have ever seen. Ex-head of engineering at Cervelo, Kevin Quan, helped us with the industrial design, and Jason Schiers helped with the layup. It’s a work of art and I couldn’t be happier. The only problem is I need a name for it… so any ideas: send it on. And it rides so, so well. Plus, we’ve shed some weight on the old caliper model.
For the other models you need to come and see. But we’ve got a jaw dropping tribute to Fangio’s 1956 Ferrari Mille Miglia. Campagnolo equipped of course with matching Silca pump.
What do you get when you mix a passion for team Z Peugeot and brutalist architecture? Come and see. This is probably my favourite build. Ever. The poise and stance of this bike are simply to die for.
Or Blacksmith cycles’ tribute to architect Mies van der Rohe and his declaration of grandeur towards the Toronto skyline. You gotta see this and feel the owner’s passion behind it. The title? “God is in the Details.”
We’ve got a cool gravel bike that we’ve had some fun with. Ride it like you stole it.
And a beautifully classy build for our agent in the US, David Powers. David is a rower, and we’ve brought in several features that have a deep meaning for him. Not to mention. His Boston rowing emblem. This one is classy.
Is that 6? Maybe. I don’t know.
BIKERUMOR: What are your current challenges in adopting and implementing new standards?
AIDAN: I mentioned the rear stay. That was a big project for us and involved research, tooling costs, etc. But it’s done now. And it’s not like we were trying to launch Falcon Heavy into orbit. As I’ve said, it’s a piece of art and rides exactly how we wanted it to. I don’t think we can sum up our build philosophy in a word but we can in a few: balance, comfort, fit, and flow. They’re not designed to be ridden in a wind tunnel or at 12° yaw. They’re built for real people in the real world. Combined with the process we have, it creates the holy grail of what we’re after: flow.
This is our secret weapon and what differentiates us from the biggest bike brands in the world. We get to create that symbiotic relationship between human and machine. And that’s pretty cool. This is the single biggest thing that pushed me to start FiftyOne. I was tired of coaxing and fighting with bikes to get them to go around switchbacks. When I raced and had my custom bikes it was aim for the apex, choose your exit point and bang. Flow.
I think I totally answered a different question there.
BIKERUMOR: What new or upcoming standards are you excited about?
AIDAN: Standards. I’m not really excited about any. I mean, I can count the genuine innovations in the last 20 years on my hands. A lot of the new “innovations” are actually to clean up the mess left by recent “innovations.” We exclusively use T47 BB’s now. Because, like Communism, press fit works great in theory, but… So that’s cool – that I never have to have that awkward conversation with a client who has just ridden their new bike for three weeks, and the BB is knocking and ticking. Apart from that, discs are here and will go for world domination in 2018/19. I’m reminded of how people used to debate globalization back in the naughties. Like we actually had a choice. Face it, all your wheels and bits lying around are on borrowed time. I’m not predicting a full-on 26″ MTB wheel cliff dive, but it’s happening. Sagan winning Flanders and Roubaix on discs, and it’s game over.
BIKERUMOR: What type of bike have your customers requested most in the past 12 months?
AIDAN: We’ve seen a big increase in eTap builds and the demise of mechanical shifting. At our price points anyway. We build the frame around the transmission so there are no grommets or unwanted holes. I think people appreciate those details and the clean lines. But apart from that, it’s wider clearance. 28’s seem to me the new 23mm in terms of tires. Again, we’re glad that our clients share our obsession with the small details. So we spend a lot of time on seat tube extensions, headtube length and possible extensions, and (on larger frames such as my own) top tube slope angle. Getting that perfect poise and stance.
BIKERUMOR: What is the next bike you’re building for yourself?
AIDAN: My next bike is the one we just built in December. It’s the flat mount disc version, and I got to ride it in Adelaide at the Tour Down Under in Australia. It’s fantastic. I went with a slightly slacker head tube and longer trail than normal. That’s because I’m gonna double it up as a mid-size gravel bike and thrash it about. It’ll run 34-36mm tires. Higher head tube and riding position also. I missed the more nimble cornering of my usual head tube on the descents, but it’s going to be a more versatile bike in the long-term. It’s running eTap hydro and Zipp 404s. I’ll probably talk to John Jones at the show about getting some old school 32 spoke Mavic Open Pro discs for her. See what we can do on the lacing to make them bomb proof.
We were under pressure to get it built so didn’t have the luxury of going crazy on paint. So we went with a British racing green and put a hint of black and gold on top. It actually was the bike that got most attention over there.
BIKERUMOR: …and if someone else were building your next bike for you, which builder (of all time) would you choose and why? What would it be?
AIDAN: This is a hard one. I would love a Demon from Tom [Warmerdam]. I tried to ply him with beer to try and skip his 287 year waiting list, but to no avail. Just when you think we had seen everything about steel frame construction he comes out and blows the doors off. His stuff is breathtaking.
Whilst we coexist in different spheres, I don’t wish to draw a parallel. There is this notion that a piece of our souls goes into every creation and that we are creating something that will transcend both us and the client. My goal is that when our clients eventually pass away, the family members fight over the inheritance of the bike. We want a massive family rift – then we know we are making a difference.
BIKERUMOR: What is your “blank check” bike?
AIDAN: Lotus 108
Graham Obree’s Old Faithful (I could run a pursuit around my house)
Tafi’s Mapei C40
I would use the remaining funds to pay someone to break in to both Brad Wiggins’ and Johan Bruyneel’s collections. Between the pair of them they have a big slice of cycling’s legendary bikes.
BIKERUMOR: If you could exist in another period of framebuilding, what would it be and why?
AIDAN: Oh no. This is it. Here and now. Custom frames that weigh less than a bag of sugar but have ride qualities that have never before been seen. Plus you gotta look at the entire process and experience. We are using classic frame building techniques (for the most part) on machinery from the 1970’s that built frames for the Russian and polish Olympic squads. That built bikes for the film American fliers!
And then, we are combining all that with modern composite technology. Digital solutions such as Pinterest to help clients articulate what they like and desire. And psychometric testing to allow us to create rapport and forge relationships with people on the other side of the planet. This is it!
BIKERUMOR: If your shop was burning down, what one or two tools would you grab to save? Why would you save them?
AIDAN: We acquired our workshop from Italian frame builder Mauro Sannino. During the summer I came across a TT bike that was built by Mauro on the machines that we continue to use today. It’s in stunning condition and was built circa 1985. It’s got the 24″ front wheel. No aero bars. Record group set. Rear disc.
So today that sits in pride of place in the workshop, looking down on all the current frames being built today. Keeping a watchful eye and making sure we take the same care and attention that Mauro did.
The North American Handmade Bike Show will take place from February 16th to 18th in Hartford, CT. For more information, visit the NAHBS website.