According to the Department for Transport, cycle traffic has risen every year in the UK since 2008 and in London, the number of journeys made by bike in 2013 went up to 0.6 million, a leap of 58.5% from 1993.
But there is one group of two-wheeled fanatics that regard their steeds as much more than simply a device to get from A to B: the competitive cyclist. Be it the lithe racer looking to set club records, the weekend sportive competitor or the determined track rider who just can’t keep away from the velodrome.
It is these two-wheeled enthusiasts that Mark Lyon caters for with his burgeoning company Elite Bikes.
The business, which is based in the beautiful surroundings of Melton Mowbray, delivers bespoke, beautiful, handcrafted carbonfibre bicycles to the discerning rider.
“I design every bike from scratch,” Mark explains. “I want everything on the bike to be totally unique, so the buyer doesn’t go away and change anything. That’s why I sit down with the customer over a coffee and find out exactly what they want and what the bike will be used for. We then discuss the finishing products, brakes and wheels and finally, the bike is hand-painted in a colour scheme of the customer’s choice.”
Mark is one of only a handful of bike-builders in the UK that painstakingly crafts bespoke frames from the notoriously expensive material. “All of the designs are created on my CAD machine but I wisely invested in a factory in China after leaving the Forces. I send the designs to the factory and they come back to me a few weeks later. It makes it more affordable.”
A high level of flexibility means Mark has been able to design bikes that are not only competitive but also comfortable over long distances. “Off the shelf designs are great but they don’t fit everyone,” he explains. “I’ve been able to craft bikes for those with bad backs or even Sciatica.”
This super high-quality carbonfibre (T1000, if you’re interested) is light, strong and extremely durable, while Mark’s designs are pieces of art in their own right – aerodynamic frames, high-performance wheels and small flourishes that draw appreciative nods from those that lay eyes on them.
“I’ve got a great reputation in the local area thanks to my attention to detail but I also wanted to offer good value for money,” he explains. “Other companies will charge twice the price of my bikes just because of the brand name but my customers know they are getting excellent quality at an affordable price.”
“Mark claims that most clients spend around £3k on a complete bike, which may sound like a large chunk of change, but his bicycles are good enough for British champions and internationally renowned cyclists.
“Charlotte Broughton helped me test and tweak a lot of my designs,” Mark explains. “She is nine-times British champion and she won both the Youth A Cyclocross National Champs in 2014 and broke the British 2K Individual Pursuit record on an Elite Bike at the 2014 British Track Championships.”
Charlotte now rides for Ford’s new EcoBoost team and is destined for great things but the Elite Bikes roster still includes Keira McVitty, Tom Seaman, Adrian Dent and Mark’s daughter, Eve.
“The business started because my daughter wanted a good bike to race with when she was 12 but there just wasn’t anything on the market,” he explains. “I decided to build her one and it just mushroomed from there. People kept asking me to build them one. I didn’t think it would be a career.”
Mark is a humble man and tends to play down his achievements. Since being medically discharged from the forces he has garnered qualifications that include a Level 3 cycle mechanic BTEC, a Master Frame Builder certificate and Shimano accreditation. On top of this he has a BTEC in aeronautical engineering and he is an RAF accredited carbon fibre technician.
“I knew I was coming out of the forces due to injury, so I went on as many courses as I could,” he says. “I had to lean new skills to succeed in civilian life and I was lucky that the Forces supported me in this.”
But it hasn’t been a completely smooth ride and Mark has turned for help in various stages of his business’s development. “I used to be in charge of lots of guys in the military and now I am on my own. It can be hard,” he explains. “My injuries also mean I can’t work sometimes and I had no experience in setting up a business, which is why the help from Heropreneurs has been invaluable.”
Mark teamed up with mentor Peter Mountford, who has offered advice and support throughout the process, while Martin Runnacles assisted with a website overhaul and helped oversee a rebranding excercise.
“Heropreneurs have been amazing,” he says. “They came up to visit and talked me through the website and how it needed to change. I have no business expertise, so the advice from the guys has been invaluable. You couldn’t pay for that sort of help,” he adds.
Elite Bikes is currently delivering a bespoke carbon fibre bicycle to a new customer every week, demand is on the increase and the business is going from strength to strength. “I didn’t think I wanted to expand but we have now outgrown our original site,” he explains. “I am looking for a new workshop with a showroom. It’s crazy how busy it is.”
To see more of Mark’s work head to Elite Bikes or visit his fantastic workshop for a coffee and a chat.
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