Heard the one about the jeweller who's also a frame builder?
Caren Hartley, who studied at the Royal College of Art, has turned her attention to the art of bicycle manufacture, after a career working also as a sculptor on large scale public art projects, having fallen in love with the sport through nothing more exotic than a daily commute. The bicycle was deployed as necessity: during her early days in London, Hartley couldn’t afford public transport.
Working from a studio in Peckham, shared with fellow builder Jake Rusby, Hartley’s reputation is spreading rapidly. Next month’s Bespoked handmade bicycle show will feature a recent commission from cycling photographer Camille McMillan: a machine Hartley has styled on traditional French ‘porter’ bicycles, with racks in which McMillan will carry his equipment.
The frame pictured is a show bike, and fashioned from an eclectic tubeset made up of various offerings from Columbus: Spirit for the lugs and main triangle, Life for the seat-stays, and the Italian firm’s flagship XCR stainless tubes for the mirror polished chainstays and rear dropouts.
Hartley’s goal was to create a lightweight and stiff frame, and the tubeset reflects this desire. There is an interesting attention to detail in her use of Columbus’ specialist Spirit for Lugs tubes to create the delicately fashioned sockets that unite the tubes. Its longer butt length means that significant amounts can be trimmed – often a necessity when making smaller frames – without compromise to strength.
The tube diameters are a further nod to her ambition to create a “slim, elegant frame with a slight contemporary edge” – 28.6mm in the toptube and seat-tube, and 31.8mm in the down-tube, a contrast with the increasingly elephantine proportions of carbon frames, but with greater presence than the spindly chassis of yore.
Hartley’s own experience is, naturally, an influence on the geometry of a frame intended for the smaller rider, which anchors on a 72.3 degree head angle and 74.5 degree seat-tube angle. The more notable aspect is Hartley’s choice of 650c wheels, which she believes compliment the proportions of the frame, as well as facilitating an optimum 57mm trail from the fixed 40mm rake of the Prolite Brescia full carbon fork; another 650c-specific inclusion. She identifies the elimination of toe overlap and the benefits to the climber of short chainstays among the other advantages of 650c wheels. Those selected are Mavic’s CXP 32-hole rims, with Campagnolo Mirage hubs at the centre.
A combination of aesthetics and comfort lies behind the selection of Campagnolo’s polished alloy Athena 11-speed groupset. Its classic appearance is entirely in-keeping with its steel surroundings and Hartley didn’t feel at home with Shimano’s 105 levers on a riding adventure in Provence last year. The same concerns underpin the selection of the finishing kit, although the Brooks Cambium saddle now in use is not pictured. The black leather Michaux Club bar tape is a pleasing detail and the Cinelli Dinamo stem and bars have been painted to match the frame.
The finish is another matter that Hartley has handled entirely, applying the subtly metallic midnight blue finish and a clear lacquer in the spray booth at the workshop she shares with Rusby. Her skill as a painter is most evident, however, in the pearl orange details, which include the name on the down tube. Even this, however, is made to look commonplace by the headbadge: one of a number of details Hartley has cut by hand from solid silver and brazed onto the frame, including at the seat cluster and downtube. The art deco motif is echoed in the details of the handcut bottom bracket lugs.