‘I did a lot of competitive cycling and I rode semi professionally, but with me it’s always been about making things and I was always interested in building bikes,’ says Darron Coppin, founder of Sven Cycles.
Coppin finally made the dream a reality when he sold his London flat 10 years ago. That gave him the cash to buy a house in Dorset with a workshop – from which he launched his cycle-making business.
‘I like classically inspired things,’ he explains, ‘So what I’ve always tried to do is take the best of what I like about classic bicycles and make them thoroughly modern.’
To begin with, the company only made bespoke bikes and Coppin was the sole employee, now he has two addition recruits and the firm is expanding its reach.
‘We did some really interesting things,’ says Coppin, ‘and we got a reputation for building really nice bikes. What we found, though, was that people were coming to us with what was basically the same brief. So we thought we’d make life a bit simpler and more cost-effective by having a semi-custom range. Though we still do bespoke.’
There is a solid elegance to a Sven bicycle, the lines redolent of classic British designs such as the E-Type Jaguar car or the Supermarine Spitfire aircraft.
Coppin explains: ‘What we’re trying to do is build a bicycle that won’t date, that is as up to date as it can be but that has classic inspiration and classic lines. I want customers to be still using them in 10 years time. There’s no way you’re going to be riding a carbon-fibre bike 20 years after you buy it, or even 10 years afterwards.
‘We do everything in house,’ he adds, ‘From design, to manufacture, to wheel building, to painting. Nothing is done outside our workshop. That attention to detail is reflected in the way the machines handle, he suggests.
‘Our bikes have a certain liveliness to them. I’m 100 per cent convinced that most people who ride bicycles have never actually ridden a really nice one. You get on one of ours and you realize it’s smooth and manoeuvreable, something you really want to ride.’
The firm sources it’s the majority of its parts in the UK, with reliability and maintainability a key part of its ethos. Every part is replaceable, so in the unlikely event something goes wrong it can be replaced.
Sven Cycles may have started small, the company will only produce around 70 bikes this year, but it has big ambitions.
‘We’ve gone from being a bespoke builder where the average bike cost around £4,000 to £5,000 to doing the semi-custom as well with a price tag of around £1,700. That machine is no less of a bike, but we’ve standardised the build and given ourselves a bit more buying power.’
Coppin’s aim is for his company to become a medium sized bike manufacturer. He has backers in place and he knows where to recruit people with the skillset required to ensure the quality of the product.
‘By the end of the financial year 2018 our plan is to manufacturing 200 units a year,’ he adds. ‘Within five years we want to be doing 1,500.’
‘The European market is something we’re looking at. We’ve sold a few bikes in Berlin, but the key thing for us is to establish ourselves in the UK and be confident with our workflow and processes and then look at other territories. I want to raise our profile here with the brand in the right shops. It’s almost like launching a band, last year we were a bit underground, then this year we’re like an Indie band with a small label, next year we want to become a big player.’
In February Sven will also be launching its first electric-assist bike, which promises to shake up the market with its looks and performance.
‘There are plenty of this type of bike around, but I’ve never seen one that I like,’ says Coppin.
‘In fact, I always think they look horrible; so we’re going to build something very classic that has a belt drive but no chain.’
Coppin also has a particular idea of a potential market for his latest addition.
‘We’ve done a lot of work with stainless steel and I’m thinking of a really nice, low maintenance, electric assist bike that would be perfect on a private yacht. It would be something that was very functional and ideal for using in ports or on islands where cars aren’t allowed. We could make them bespoke to the boat so that the bike is in keeping with the rest of the boat’s equipment.’
It’s an exciting prospect, but Coppin is trying to keep his feet on dry land for now. ‘I’m trying not to get too excited,’ he says, ‘but to stay focused on the reality of where we need to go and how we’re going to get there.’