Fitzrovia Bicycles Highland Tour


Highland Route

August saw three of the Fitzrovia team head off on a sleeper train to Scotland for a little touring adventure in the Highlands. Will, Chuck and Darrel packed up a full set of Ortliebs each and rode out from Fort William without any real plan and no return ticket, but two tents, a tarp, an armful of maps and a pessimistically empty bottle of sunscreen.


P1010721sFortified by their worst fried breakfast in living memory, they started northeast along the Great Glen Way, riding gravel tracks along the Caledonian canal and winding up and down alongside the hills of Lochs Lochy, Oich and Ness. Some of the route is pretty technical over rough and rocky footpaths, but the bikes stayed upright and all twelve panniers held fast. They then turned northwest and gradually climbed up over Highland glens, slowly weaving their way around the northwest coast, riding miles of mountain passes, camping wild on beaches and beside rivers and lochs, cooking over a fire (no mean feat when the landscape starts running out of trees), spending entire days only able to travel in the direction of a 40mph headwind, drinking many a single malt and, of course, being eaten alive by midges. They made it as far north as the remote fishing village of Lochinver, before the call of real-world obligations urged them south and Will and Darrel left Chuck to ride down solo from Inverness to Edinburgh to catch the last few days of the festival.

Darrel already had a tourer, but Chuck and Will felt it best to leave building up their bikes until the last possible moment. They just about scrambled together all of their various parts in the days before setting off and all of the bikes held up magnificently. Comfortable, super strong and even fast at times (Darrel clocked 45mph on his Garmin on more than one occasion), all three bikes share certain features – Tubus racks and Ortlieb panniers, Continental Top Contact tyres on Mavic A719 Rims, but each has its own distinct character.labelled bikess

The Beast Mode Beast’s Mode:
Will’s bike is built around a resprayed Omega (the company that went on to become Enigma) frameset built from Columbus tubing. It’s the lightest bike of the three, with slightly smaller tyre clearances – 32c with mudguards, rather than Chuck and Darrel’s 37c – and unusually for a tourer, will has opted for a compact double set-up, rather than a triple chainset. What allows him to do this (other than his impressive legs) is the enormous range of the cassette in his Ultegra 11-speed groupset. He’s the only of the three to use integrated shift/brake levers, as opposed to the more traditional (and supposedly more reliable) bar-end shifters, but Will’s Ultegra 6800 STIs look awesome on his old-school-shaped Nitto Randonneur bars. Finishing these and crowning his Thomson seatpost are Brooks leather bar tape and a Cambium C17 saddle.

The Lapsed Racer’s Stouter:
Chuck’s bike is a Brother Kepler, which is very much a do-anything frame. We’ve built quite a few of these up at the shop in all different guises (including for two other members of staff – not many other stock frames can boast that level of Fitz endorsement) but it was nice to see Chuck build this one up in a classic road-touring mold. Polished silver 9-speed Ultegra triple and XTR components with bar-end shifters and a gutted-out set of Campagnolo Record carbon brake levers roll on Hope Mono RS and SP dynamo hubs, with finishing kit from Ritchey’s polished silver Classic range. The result is functional and understated, though it’s the only bike of the three to have a freehub noisy enough to make itself known to other road users, both human and ovine. Lastly an all important “bike adventures forever” sticker from our good friends at SBC Cycles adorns his top tube.

The Kitchen Sink Weightloss Programme:
Darrel’s bike is the heaviest of the three. It’s a late 90’s Raleigh Special Products frame made from the rather rare Reynolds 708 tubeset. It’s been resprayed with matching Tubus racks and kitted out with Nitto Noodle bars and Technomic tall stem, SON Deluxe front and XT rear hubs. Darrel runs a retro 8 speed XT setup – for durability and ease of repair in far-flung lands – on a beautiful set of Middleburn custom cranks. He’s opted for a traditional square taper bottom bracket for reliability and wide range 24/36/48 chainrings. A couple of particularly cool features of this bike – it’s got a kickstand(!) – the Swiss-made Pletscher Twin Leg – and also a Busch and Muller e-werk – a device to turn that dynamo energy into charging power for a Garmin, phone, USB lights…pretty much anything. He’s ridden it around Ulster and England, to Stockholm and back, but the Highlands were definitely the most mountainous terrain the bike had been hauled across yet. Luckily his low end gears meant he could slowly plod his way up to the top of every climb to find Will and Chuck waiting, taking pictures of the endless good views and enjoying a wee dram.

P1010515sDarrel says: It was undoubtedly some of the most spectacular scenery of anywhere in the UK and to be honest, it was a pretty gentle pace – there was a lot more camping than riding, but that was really a necessity given the intensive nature of our drinking schedule. Our late nights around the campfire meant late starts the next day and, somehow, no matter where we’d camped, each day seemed to start with an enormous climb before there’d been any chance to warm up. Accordingly, we weren’t accomplishing huge numbers of miles each day, it was nice to just take it easy and appreciate how beautiful it all was. I couldn’t recommend the northwest coast enough, some of the most amazing landscapes I’ve ever seen, let alone ridden. I think the highlight for all three of us was definitely Bealach na Bà (The Pass of the Cattle) over Sgurr a’Chaoracahin and the incredible descent down into Applecross. The pass winds its way slowly up from the coast for nearly 6 miles of gradients up to 20% (it’s the largest road ascent in the UK), each turned corner revealing yet another breathtaking view of the surrounding hills and mountains across the sea on Skye. After a few final agonising switchbacks up to the summit, you’re greeted with the full panorama and then by far and away the most fun descent I’ve ever ridden. I still remember hearing Will cackling with glee as he went down. It’s steep and twisting, but treeless, so you can see far enough down the mountain to be able to tuck into the drops and take it at full speed. So much fun on a fully loaded tourer, you gather incredible momentum but always feel rooted to the road.

Apart from the bikes, here are few bits of kit we wouldn’t want to be without (most of which we stock or can supply if you’re gearing up for a tour):
Hilleberg/Easton tents – super-strong/super-light
Merino baselayers and socks from Endura/Rapha – always keep you the right temperature and they stay amazingly fresh
Ortlieb panniers and Tubus racks – absolutely the best in the business – totally waterproof and amazingly strong. Tubus’ five year warranty includes a two year mobile replacement guarantee – if yours breaks out on the road, they will FedEx out a replacement to you immediately, anywhere in the world!
Tarpaulin – superb bit of weight to use-value kit for being able enjoy the outdoors around the fire in all weathers (we had a couple of lengths of lightweight rope and a number of bungees and carabiners with us too)
A newspaper – great for starting fires where we only had wet wood
Exped inflatable sleeping mats – luxuriously comfortable and warm, they pack down light and small
Optima heat exchange gas stove – boiled a lot more river water for tea than it got used for other cooking but still an essential item
Toe-straps/bungees – endlessly useful both on and off the bike
Shimano MT91 SPD touring boots – rugged, waterproof and comfortable for both riding and hiking. Mine are almost worn out after about 6 years and I’m going to get the same again to replace them
Ortlieb bar bags – Will didn’t have one but Chuck and I swear by ours for having everything that you might need ready to hand and including an attachable Ortlieb waterproof map case for easy navigation on the move
Hip-flasks/Sigg aluminium water-bottles – you can’t afford to carry the weight of all that glass up and down those steep climbs – decant your whiskey!

Bicycle Portraits Book Launch

Last night was the UK launch of South African produced book trilogy; Bicycle Portraits, which takes a beautifully shot and up-close look at everyday South African people and their trusty steeds. Authors and photographers, Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler, travelled the length and breadth of the country, searching out people who choose to ride a bicycle in the face of cultural and social stigma, crime and dangerous roads. The journey became a three year project, spanning 10,000 km.

The launch was a way to showcase these amazing books to the UK, exhibit some lovely photographs, and show off some South African bicycle craftsmanship.

The books look awesome, and the printing is second to none.

The lads, Stan Engelbrecht (left) and Nic Grobler (right)

The books have actually been on my radar for a while, after seeing them on a trip to Cape Town to take part in the annual Cape Argus Cycle Tour. Coincidently, my brother got to know Stan and Nic while working in Woodstock Cycleworks in Cape Town, which lead Stan getting in touch with me to get involved with the launch, or more specifically, to involve my South African built Hansom track bike!

My lovely Hansom, which I brought back with me from Cape Town, in all it’s glory.

As with the UK, South Africa has had a boom in appreciation for old steel bicycle frames, and few people are aware that South Africa once rejoiced in its own industry of hand-made bicycle frames. It was a trade that was once rich in South Africa, and has now all but disappeared: the age of the master frame builder. In that era, a group of highly skilled, specialised South African artisans practised the art of bike-making. Builders like Gotty Hansen, Francois Du Toit and Bill de Lange, to name a few, were part of this group, and their beautifully handmade frames are now well sought after. As the UK has seen an encouraging growth in young frame builders, South Africa is also seeing the emergence of builders like Mercer. Stan brought his custom built Mercer with him, and I was blown away by how awesome it was, take a look for yourself…

Note the S&S couplings, amazingly awesome custom paint job, and a handmade front rack that attaches via the bolts on the Thomson stem.

The launch and exhibition also served as a means to promote Stan and Nic’s other baby, The Tour Of Ara; A L’Eroica-type event which is held in Cape Town over six days… “The Tour of Ara, named for the Southern Hemisphere constellation of Ara, is a prestige race that is ridden on vintage South African built steel bicycles in the proud tradition of the early Italian multi-day stage races.”

As with L’Eroica, there are rules. As mentioned, the bikes have to be South African, and all parts (bar saddle and pedals) have to be pre-1999. Having heard stories from last years event, the first one, and how the unusually extreme cold had sent some of the riders into a state worse than delirious, I know this is an event not for the faint of heart. As the boys say themselves, “The Tour of Ara is ridden entirely at your own risk. Know your abilities and limitations.” That’s you told then.

A shot of Stan’s Alpina, mid-race somewhere.

They had some woollen jerseys made, for that authentic touch. Nic’s Le Jeune sits below.

Beautiful landscape pictures taken en route.

Stan Engelbrecht

@bicycleportrait (Twitter)
@stanengelbrecht (Instagram)

Exhibition Dates
Thursday 14th May – 14th June

Sale Road Bikes

Our sale is continuing, and will continue while stocks last. We’ve still got some pretty tasty bargains left though, here’s a few choice picks…

Full carbon monocoque frameset, with Campag Athena 11 speed group and Fulcrum Racing 3 wheels.
£1,800 (from £3,000) 40% off
De Rosa Merak

GENESIS VOLARE 10 853 58cm
Reynolds 853 frame, tapered carbon fork, Shimano 105 group and Shimano wheels.
£1,225 (from £1,750) 30% off
GENESIS VOLARE 20 931 54cm
Reynolds 931 stainless steel frame, tapered carbon fork, Shimano Ultegra 11 speed group, RS61 wheels.
£1,800 (from £3,000)
Genesis Volares

Aluminium frame, carbon fork, 105 10 speed group.
£600 (from £1,000) 40% off
Aluminium frame, carbon fork, SRAM Apex group.
£720 (from £1,200) 40% off

Swipii Loyalty Cards

We’ve just introduced a new loyalty card scheme here at Fitzrovia Bicycles, through new company, Swipii, who provide an award winning and easy-to-use loyalty program you can find and use at all your local businesses with a single card or phone app. The benefit to you, is that you can do away with all the little cards you get, and have one card for all the places you visit.

The cards are free, we have them in the shop now, and a minimum spend of £5 will allow you to scan your card in the shop and start collecting points. These points can then be used in the shop. Here’s a list of what’s on offer to start with…

25 points – Puncture kit
35 points – Water bottle
50 points – Fitzrovia Bicycles t-shirt
100 points – Standard Service
200 points – Enhanced Service
300 points – Premium Service

Read more about Swipii here, and visit our Swipii profile here.


jan sale copy

We’re clearing out a lot of 2014 bike stock, and so have reduced every bike in the shop. There’s high end road bikes from De Rosa, Van Nicholas, Genesis and more with 30-40% off, and even some full carbon Raleighs with a massive 50% off. Commuter bikes from Bobbin and Ridgeback have discounts of at least 20%. We don’t expect all these to hang around for too long, so pop in and grab a proper bargain.


Doing the whole Black Friday thing on, errr, Friday.
20% off all bikes, parts and accessories (does not include workshop labour), including a further 20% off already discounted items.
This is for one day only, we’ll be open as normal from 8am – 7pm.
See you Friday then, don’t forget to mention the Black Friday sale.

A Special Van Nicholas Build

Yep, this one was special, because I was building it for my dad during the summer. He wanted to add a titanium road bike to his stable, and the Van Nicholas Chinook was perfect; a (more or less) horizontal top tube would give the classic positioning he was used from his steel bikes. He’d already bought himself a lovely NOS Dura Ace 7800 groupset, which was undoubtedly going to look great against the bare titanium, this along with a wheelset with old school Hope titanium hubs. So I brought the frame and remaining parts up to Wales, and built it in his garden on a lovely summer’s day.

Gotta love that Dura Ace packaging.

The lovely frame in question; the Van Nicholas Chinook.

Ritcheys ‘Classic’ bar and stem combo were a great match for the groupset, along with a polished silver Chris King headset.

Love these old titanium-bodied Hope hubs, the matching skewers finish them off nicely too.

And where would we be without some gratuitous shots of that lovely Dura Ace group.

The finished article. Needless to say, my dad is super chuffe, who wouldn’t be?