We came across the beautiful touring/city bikes of Clandestine when we saw the round-up of this years 'Bespoked' where they came away with two awards for their 'Carrier' bicycle. THE GRIT CX CHOICE AWARD and THE BIKE RADAR CHOICE AWARD. We talk to Pi more about his company and where it all came from and what drives him when building custom bicycle frames.
Introduce us to Pi Manson and Clandestine
Clandestine started as the Clandestine Clunker Club, after the Groucho Marx thing of not wanting to be a member of any club that would have someone like me as a member. It was Clandestine because I was buried in my workshop teaching myself, somewhat obsessively, how to build bikes. It's grown now into a profession, but Clandestine still captures something of my approach.
Clandestine bikes are understated, simple, and integrated. I believe in the truth to materials, so I leave all my fillets unfiled so that everyone can see my process. I believe in practical bikes, so rare is the bike from me that won't take a big old tyre, a big old mudguard, and a bright dynamo light on the racks.
Tell us about your workshop and how it came about?
I'm onto my 4th workshop now, having just moved to my new space. My good friend Ryan from Ryan Builds Wheels, and I decided we wanted to get a workshop, years back now. I'd been knocked off my bike by a driver just under the drink-drive limit, and the insurance company paid for my first year's workshop rent. That's how it all began. Workshop spaces come and go in a city like Bristol.
You've built a broad array of bicycles for entirely different purposes. However, you seem to have a passion for touring and cargo style bikes, is this the case?
I had a well-spent youth riding BMX and weaving mountain bikes through the woods, but for a long, while now I've pretty much focused on touring and knocking around town. Bikes for me have always been pure escapism from, or, more accurately, immersion into the world. Touring bikes are the best for making a deep dive out into the world. There's nothing like having everything you need and disappearing down back lanes and tracks, whether for months on end or just a weekend.
We love your fillet brazed bike racks, what brought you round to making and selling them and your other components?
In many ways, rack building kind of came first for me. I had certain ideas about how to carry weight on bikes, and couldn't find racks that fit with that. That led to a deep dive into the intricacies of load-carrying bicycle geometry, and I fell down the frame building rabbit hole.
The stems and cranks I also build are just part of my belief that the best bicycles I can build are ones where things are integrated, where everything fits seamlessly, where the aesthetic is consistent.
What is your favourite part of the process of creating a frame?
This is probably common to a lot of builders, but the best bit is seeing my customers pedal off on their new bikes with a smile on their faces: that and the moment where the frame comes out of the jig, and it looks like a bike.
If you weren't a frame builder, what would you be doing?
Probably in the back of a bike shop, wielding Allen keys and spanners.
Do you have any plans for displaying at different cycle shows soon?
I'll be at Bespoked next year again: that's always an excellent show. Bespoked always gives the year it's rhythm for me.
What are your plans for Clandestine moving forward? Do you ever see yourself having a range in stores?
I can't see myself stepping away from all my bikes and components being handbuilt by me. That's so much of the joy of it. I'd like to get to the point where my stems and other bits and pieces are in select shops, but not at the expense of those one-on-one personal interactions that make building something custom for someone so cool.
Name a brand that you admire in cycling and why?
Rivendell Bicycle Works. There's a company ploughing their own furrow, making a case for what they believe. In some ways, my bikes couldn't be more different (fillet brazed, through axles, disc brakes) but I feel a strong affinity with the Rivendell ethos and approach, their focus on the experience, not some arbitrary performance measure, some macho VO2 max gram counting.
Do you have anything in the works that you are excited about and can share with us?
I'm about to take Clandestine full time after years of it being part-time while having a day job building frames for another Bristol bike company. My new workshop is coming together, and I'm hopefully going to be working with some other cool makers on exciting things. Watch this space.
If you'd like to follow or learn more about Clandestine, please check out the following links: