When Connor Swift soloed to a surprise victory at the British National Championships in July, Madison-Genesis set about ensuring their rider looked the part.
That started with Swift’s beautifully intricate custom Genesis Zero SL and extended right through to the newly-crowned national champion’s personalised 100% sunglasses.
“Madison contacted me to commission three sets of glasses in GB colours. They’re all unique, with three designs using the red, white and blue of the Union Jack,” says Tim Allen, a 21-year-old Oxford Brookes University undergraduate whose company, HydroVision Optics, has offered a customisation service for sunglasses and helmets since November 2017.
In that time, Allen has secured more than 100 orders from riders around the world, including another national champion, the Irishman, Conor Dunne, as well as amateur racers, juniors and sportive riders.
Allen has relied on the company’s Instagram account and word of mouth to fill a fast-growing order book, alongside studying for a degree in Business and Marketing Management. “I’ve had customers from all over Europe, Israel, America,” he says.
Cycling is an increasingly fashion-conscious sport, with riders and clubs designing their own kit, wanting to wear particular brands or matching apparel from head to toe, and Allen says HydroVision is a natural extension of that desire to look the part.
“This is a way of expressing yourself and standing out; showing a flash of colour or personality,” he says. “And who doesn’t want to set of custom glasses?”
HydroVision uses a process called hydrographic printing, or hydro dipping, whereby a printed design can be applied to a three-dimensional object using a water soluble graphic. Allen offers 450 designs, from graffiti and pop art, to pink camo and leopard print – a selection of which will be on display at the Rouleur Classic on November 1-3.
“The customer tells me roughly what they want, or sends a picture of something they’ve seen as inspiration, and then we give them a range of options,” says Allen, who also offers a hand-painted service. “Even if you use the same pattern as someone else, it won’t be the same design because of the way the graphic is applied. It’s always a unique and bespoke look – no-one will ever have the same set of glasses as you.”
In founding HydroVision, Allen has combined his love of cycling with a blossoming career in business. He started riding as a teenager, first on mountain bikes before racing BMX. Allen then got his first road bike for his 16th birthday having borrowed a bike for a summer ride with his cousin.
“I loved it,” he says. “I started training with my local club, Didcot Phoenix, and got into racing. I did my first [ten mile] time trial – it was a long 28, I think, so I wasn’t very good – but now I’ve been racing for five years.”
Allen rides for Spirit Tifosi Racing Team and has turned that long 28 to a short 19, and this year set a new PB of 48:25 minutes for a 25-mile time trial. He’s ridden Premier Calendars in the UK and UCI races in Turkey, the Czech Republic, Belgium and France. It’s been a ‘great experience’, he says, but also provided the inspiration for HydroVision.
“I’ve seen there’s a huge demand for custom kit, glasses, helmets, all sorts,” he says. “A lot of guys have bespoke kit, especially if they are national champions, but no-one is offering a personalised service for accessories like sunglasses.”
HydroVision’s growth has been ‘organic’ to date but Allen plans to expand by offering pre-dipped Oakley and 100% glasses – at the moment, customers send their existing eyewear to be dipped.
There’s also the small matter of completing a degree, of course, but after graduating next summer, Allen hopes to go full-time with HydroVision. “I would love to have a shop or boutique,” he says, “and my dream is to be the biggest custom glasses business in the world.”
Business aspirations aside, however, Allen’s driving force remains a love for cycling.
“It’s my passion,” he says. “My whole life revolves around cycling and has done for the past five years. I love seeing people wear products that I’ve done. It’s a real buzz.”