The frame building and racing career of Rob English began at an early age. Having built his first bike as a teenager for a school project, his passion for bikes, racing, and engineering drove him to build his first branded bike, a time trial bike, when he could not find any available to work for his unique fit requirements. While he always knew he would work within the bike industry, it was outside interest in his approach and process that really drove him to break out as a frame builder.
BIKERUMOR: What is your origin story? How did your company get its start?
ROB: Bicycles fascinated me from an early age. At 15 I built my first bike as a high school project, then went on to study Mechanical Engineering at university. I spent a few years racing and travelling, doing some freelance bike design work, before landing at Bike Friday in Oregon as their engineer and production manager. After a couple of years of building my bikes in the evenings, I had enough interest to allow me to make the leap to self employment.
BIKERUMOR: Why did you first decide to build your first bike? Who did you build it for?
ROB: Technically I built my first bike in high school, but the first bike that ended up with ‘ENGLISH’ on the downtube was my time trial bike. This was built for myself because I could not get the position I wanted on a production frame – having long arms means I am one of those folk who needs a custom frame. It was very satisfying to then go faster on the new bike – and to show that steel is still a very viable material for performance bikes.
BIKERUMOR: Why did you decide to make a living out of it?
ROB: I was always going to end up working in the bike industry somewhere. I didn’t actually set out to be a custom frame builder, but after building for myself and friends, there was a lot of interest in what I was doing so I decided to see if I could make it work. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this full time.
BIKERUMOR: How has your style changed from your first year? Are you still building what you initially set out to build?
ROB: Looking back at my builds over the last seven years, I think my ‘style’ has remained fairly constant – I definitely take an engineering approach to my work, so my bikes are designed for function. The resulting form reflects this methodology, which perhaps gives me that consistency in style.
BIKERUMOR: What got you excited about building bikes when you first started out?
ROB: I have been a bike nerd since I was thirteen and picked up my first bike magazine. As a teenager I couldn’t afford all the fancy parts I wanted, but I had access to a machine shop at school, and I discovered that I could make custom parts myself. It is super satisfying to ride something you have built yourself. That same excitement continues today – I now have more education and tools, and the fun is in figuring out new ways to build and improve.
BIKERUMOR: What gets you really stoked about what you do today?
ROB: My customers! Working with them to figure out what their needs and wants are, and translating that into a design that will solve their problems and improve their cycling experience. Knowing who I am building for when I step into the shop keeps me excited and motivated.
BIKERUMOR: What’s the cool thing you’re bringing to the show this year?
ROB: Well, this year it is mostly customer bikes – I think it is pretty cool that they have challenged me with a diverse variety of builds, and have been willing to wait a bit longer for their bikes so I can show them. There will be some new and exciting bikes, but I’m saving everything to reveal in Sacramento.
BIKERUMOR: What advice would you give someone wanting to do what you do?
ROB: I guess the same advice I was given – the actual bike building ends up being the easy bit. All the other aspects of running the business take a lot of time and organization. If you want to do this as a one-person operation, be prepared to be busy and work hard!