Desire: Bastion Road Disc
Stepping inside The Service Course, former pro rider Christian Meier’s swanky cycling emporium in Girona, my eyes were immediately drawn to an exquisite bicycle parked by the wall.
Those titanium lugs, the lines, that gold-lettered logo and, not least, that gorgeous filament-wound carbon tubing – the whole package looked so right.
Meier was test riding this model himself, he explained, although his preference these days was generally for steel-framed machines. Retiring from pro cycling has some benefits, one being able to choose your ride, rather than having to go with team-issue bikes.
He isn’t coming from a ‘steel is real’ nostalgic perspective (he’s not that old, unlike me). Ride quality and comfort is what Meier seeks these days, and I’m with him there.
But this carbon and titanium Bastion was doing everything he would want from one of the equally lovely steel bikes dotted around The Service Course, Meier explained, with the added benefit of weighing considerably less. And a man who is so fussy about his coffee is obviously going to transfer his high standards to choice of bicycle. I wanted to know more.
Bastion managing director Ben Schultz filled me in on some background. He and fellow company founders Dean McGeary and James Woolcock were automotive engineers, working for Toyota in Melbourne, when the Japanese car giant announced its intention to cease manufacturing in Australia in 2014.
“We were all passionate about cars, but also about high-level engineering. Quite a few of the staff went to the US, but the three of us didn’t want to. We had been cyclists for quite a few years and were always talking about bikes.
“I started thinking about what I could do in Australia, and bikes was one idea.
“We learned from the motor industry that high volume wasn’t the right thing. So I started looking at high value, low volume, and where technology, engineering and customisation meet – frames was the natural result.”
His initial approach to Woolcock, a surfacing expert by trade, did not go swimmingly. “When I told him about it he actually accused me of stealing his idea! Luckily, and I guess it shows our different strengths, he had started from the engineering side, while I came from a business side. He already had a CAD model.
“James has done an amazing job. He is a fantastic CAD designer. We knew it had to look good – we are pitching it at the top end of the market.”
Part and parcel of that look are the gorgeous titanium junctions linking those carbon tubes together. They are 3D printed, a first in bike manufacture, Schultz says. He points me in the direction of a short film on their Facebook page showing the process, and pretty impressive it is, too.
Form, function or frippery?
“3D printing was just becoming more viable from a cost and availability point of view,” Schultz says. “A few had been made as design studies, but none had been fully tested, designed and validated to be actually sold.
“The process starts with titanium powder, very fine consistency, 30 to 50 microns, which doesn’t mean much to most people. If you think of talcum powder, it is similar – very fine dust. The machine has a wiper, like a windscreen wiper, that comes across and flattens the powder and then a laser melts the shape.
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“We are about being innovative, but not for the sake of it. We aim to bring the customisation and ride quality of steel and titanium bikes, but using a similar level of R&D and engineering to the mass-produced market, using our knowledge of the automotive industry, to a niche market that hasn’t seen much of that before. That drove our decisions with using the titanium lugs and carbon tubes.”
Asia has proved to be a good hunting ground for Bastion, far more so than the UK or USA, with Indonesia at the top, “surprisingly for us”, Schultz admits.
Newer markets, perhaps, have less baggage and history to contend with; fewer old gits like me, pining for something to remind them of their distant youth and the skinny-tubed frames of years gone by.
“They are emotional decisions to buy something like this. You can’t rationalise it fully. But I think the fact that there’s no weight penalty, and it is using a lot of modern technology, works perfectly. In markets like Asia, there is not the historical connection with steel or titanium. These guys have started cycling as adults.”
Schultz says the benchmark for the Bastion approach was more titanium than steel: searching for that sweetspot of ride quality without weight that impressed Meier. But when all is said and done, if you don’t have a beautiful bike, you are not going to catch anyone’s eye in the first place. Looks go a long way, as Schultz is well aware.
“It is important to everyone. As an engineer, I can bang on about technology, but there are two things that we find sell the bike: one is the look and the second is when people ride it. I don’t think we have a single sale because it is 3D printed. And that’s what we set out to achieve.”
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