Mason Cycles – Frame Builders Friday
We are happy to bring this article to you on the week of Mason Cycles Fifth Anniversary! We approached Dom the week before Eurobike show, which at the time we didn’t realise they were getting prepped. He was super kind to spare some of his much needed time to go through how Mason Cycles came about and the theory and process that goes into everything they produce.
We hope you enjoy this one; we feel it gives you a massive insight into someone who has received worldwide praise for the bicycles they are producing.
Give us a brief introduction to Dom Mason and Mason Cycles.
I’m a trained engineer, I’ve designed bicycles for around 20 years, and I’m passionate about good design, form, function, detailing and riding [bicycles, skateboarding, snowboarding]. I’m the founder and designer of Mason Cycles, and our aim is to produce the best bicycles in the world.
Tell us about your workshop and how your bicycles came about?
We work from a beautiful 350-year-old flint barn in Sussex, and our workshops are in Italy. 2 in the Venice region and 1 in Tuscany. They are very small and very established, having produced super high-quality frames for around 50 years. I work very closely with them and am often in the workshops holding tubes and getting dirt under my fingernails. In fact, one of my biggest drivers in making the decision to leave my previous job and start Mason Cycles was to work more closely with the tube suppliers, dropout makers, welders, painters etc. I felt I was too divorced from the process before and really wanted to know the people that were making the frames for me. This is something I have achieved, and it has a huge impact on our final product.
The original bicycles came about because I wanted to produce the ultimate, modern, progressive ‘4-Season’, long-distance machine with very high attention to detail and the best in hand-built quality. I knew that the Italians once ruled the world of bicycle frame-making and wanted to work with these highly skilled and passionate frame builders to produce something very special that was based on real design values and long experience of what works. This is where our ‘Ride Driven Design’ ethos was born; we don’t do anything for fashion or aesthetics; EVERYTHING must be there for a functional or performance reason.
What is your background as we understand you designed a lot of the frame parts you use yourself?
I actually trained as an Agricultural Engineer and then taught engineering for a number of years. This included welding, joining, fabrication, materials, design, hydraulics, pneumatics, power units amongst many other subjects and gave me a really good understanding of structures and what can and cannot be done from the point of view of metal bicycle frames! I was then the designer for Kinesis UK for around 15 years and designed the entire range of frames/bikes until leaving and setting up Mason Progressive Cycles in 2014. This was where my fascination for producing the ultimate in metal frame design came from.
What was your decision process to design and tool your forks?
Quite simply, when we started, there was not a fork available that had all the modern features and detailing that I needed for the progressive nature of our brand. I wasn’t prepared to compromise all the work that was going into the frame tubing design and fabrication by dumbing it down with an off-the-shelf carbon fork. It was a major move for a new brand to invest in fork tooling; it’s not cheap! But Mason is all about proper, no-compromise design, so it had to be done. It was totally the correct decision and marked Mason out from the start as being serious about what we were doing. Also, it was the basis of a beautifully riding bicycle! I have now been through the process four times, most recently with the radical new ‘HotShoe’ carbon fork for our new steel InSearchOf ultra-distance Adventure machine.
Could you give us a little more on how your collaboration with Hunt wheels came around and why you felt that collaboration was a good move for you?
Once again, it came about through our ‘no-compromise’ approach. When I was designing our first bicycles, the Columbus steel ‘Resolution’ and Dedacciai Alu ‘Definition’, there were very few performance disc-brake wheels available and nothing aimed at 4-season riding over long distances for larger tyre volumes. Many ‘high end’ brands were using very low-end wheels on their fledgeling road-disc bikes, and I just wasn’t prepared to release our bikes with such a fundamental component compromising the performance. My good friend Tom Marchment was starting his wheel brand ‘HUNT’ around the same time as I was starting Mason, so I said to him “here’s 15 things that I need for the wheels for my bicycles, can you design us a wheel?”, Tom applied his long experience of riding and excellent attention to detail, and that’s where the Mason X Hunt 4SeasonDisc wheels came from. They transformed the riding experience and really helped establish the values of both brands. I also designed the branding and graphics for HUNT in return for their excellent wheel experience! We still work very closely as brands and now have 3 Mason X Hunt wheelsets.
Could you explain a little more about the team you have around you?
As mentioned before, we have an incredibly experienced team of frame makers and tube/component makers behind us; we couldn’t be who we are without their amazing work. Mason started with just me and my wife Julie working from home, with our two young boys [Seb and Harv] helping us apply head badges and fill up small parts bags! We are now a team of seven working from Mason Barn. The who’s who is below;
Julie Mason: My wife and Co-Director. Luckily she understands money, which is not my strong point! She also puts up with my ‘creative moods’.
Callum Nicklin: Employee #1. Cal came on board when I started to realise it would kill me if I continued to try and do everything myself. He is now ‘Brand Manager’ and is behind everything from running photoshoots to keeping the site updated and running smoothly and helping organise incredible events like the recent ‘Further’ rally in southern France.
Alex Hill: Al came on board to help us get things out of the door fast enough. He now organises all the builds and shipping, and I call him ‘Manager of Customer Expectations’! Actually, he is on the frontline of responding to customers and helping them achieve their perfect build and making sure they get it when they want it!
Matt Nightingale: Matt is our head bicycle builder and tech guy. He was building all our bikes for about two years [working for excellent local bike repairer/assembler South Coast Bikes], and so he was the obvious choice when it came to employing our first full-time bike builder as demand grew.
James Bloomfield: James is our most recent employee and is also an excellent bicycle builder. He is building our bicycles alongside Matt and also assists Al with email responses; he’ll be helping us with our parts and store management too.
Andy Bascombe: Andy is ex RAF Harrier pilot! He owns 3 Masons [Bokeh, Definition and Aspect Ti] and helps us with all things Mason to keep himself busy in retirement.
What is the most significant decision you think a rider should make when purchasing a new frame?
Sizing and fit are, of course, important, but it’s important to think hard about exactly what they need it to do and where it needs to perform. We spend a lot of time talking with customers about their riding styles and planned adventures; we like to let the ‘bike choose itself’ after discussing exactly what it’ll be used for. We also like to look at our bicycles as an investment, so I think people need to look at the adaptability and durability of their planned purchase, so it can become their riding friend for many years to come.
On average, how long does it take you to design a new model of a bike? Currently, you have five different models?
We have six models actually: Resolution2, Definition2, Bokeh2, BokehTi, Aspect and InSearchOf. From concept, through design, prototyping, sampling, ride-testing, ISO testing and into production, it takes around 18 months to two years. The Aspect and ISO [InSearchOf] were particularly difficult to design and develop.
Have you looked at the Additive Manufacturing Process for your bicycles?
Yes! We worked with Reynolds Technology to develop the ‘3D Printed’ Titanium dropouts that we use on our BokehTi and Aspect models. We also developed small 3D printed nylon parts when they weren’t available. Such as our BB mounted cable guide and special MultiPort part to allow internal routing of dynamo wires alongside hoses.
It’s obvious you design your bicycles and look at every single component you use throughout the build. What brands do you look up to in cycling for what they do and why?
HUNT Wheels for their intelligent, informed and progressive wheel design and their excellent business sense. Cy at Cotic Bikes for his excellent understanding of engineering and what makes a bike just work right. Isla at IslaBikes for her foresight, she was the first in the world to design a range of bicycles that actually fitted children and worked for actual riding! Also, her incredible business sense and valuable advice over the years. Lots of other ‘non-bike’ brands I look up to too, such as Jones Snowboards and Patagonia.
Do you have anything in the works that you are excited about and can share with us?
We’ve just had a big push to introduce the Bokeh2, Aspect and InSearchOf. Lots of new projects and new bikes planned. Nothing I can share with you yet, though!
One last question, a bit of a curveball. If you were a cheese, what kind of cheese would you be?
Of course, they must be Italian. If you are talking about me personally – Pecorino Toscano: Deceptively simple-looking, but there’s lots going on underneath ;] Oh, it’s from Tuscany too, where our Ti frames are made. For Mason Cycles – Parmigiano-Reggiano: Hugely adaptable, robust and reliable and works well in many conditions. Clean looking with remarkable complexity once you get to know it.
If you’d like to follow or learn more about Mason Cycles, please check out the following links: