10 July 2020
“I love having something unique. I think if cycling is your main recreational passion, why not channel some of (or most of) your hard earned money into having some custom trinkets?”
Henry Furniss is a rider who knows more than most of us will ever know about custom products and their performance benefits. We recently sat down with him to discuss his thoughts on the benefits and future of custom products within the cycling industry.
For those who might not be familiar, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
“I was born and bred in London, but left the capital and my native Camden Town when I had children. I now live in the Surrey Hills, but often find myself back in the big smoke (always on a bike). I started riding a bike from day dot. When my mates were all riding BMX, I had a Raleigh Spider so I could actually get from A to B, and I never looked back. I try to ride as often as I can – it’s all opportunistic these days, squeezing rides into gaps that aren’t really there – riding as hard as I can and using church clocks to make sure I’m home on time.
“For a number of reasons I didn’t do my first bike race until I was 29 and just a year later I was ranked Elite. I still race now when I can and will no doubt compete in some way until I’m much older. I’m really enjoying the Haute Route events at the moment – I surprised myself, they are quite the thing.”
What sparked your interest in custom bikes?
“Back in 2001, I started a company called The Firm - London’s mobile personal trainer’s, and that was the beginning of something very fresh and new. I managed to be featured in the Sunday Times, Evening Standard, then BBC London News, GMTV and eventually C4’s The Fit Farm. It’s a real cliche but at the time, my client list became a who's who of London celebrities, fashion icons, trust fund kids and bankers. It was the latter group who, in 2008, (the very beginning of the renaissance of British Cycling), wanted road bikes and they wanted the best, they wanted custom!
“At the time the only custom made-to-measure carbon bikes available in the UK were American and eye-wateringly expensive. As well as being the beginning of the cycling craze that we see now, 2008 was also the beginning of the credit crunch. That’s when my wife Nasima & I decided to quit Personal Training and turn our focus to making custom made-to-measure bikes instead. Our mission was to make custom bikes, but keep it European, reduce the cost and make cycling less of the furiously male dominated arena that it was back then. We’ve been on that journey ever since.”
There’s quite a few frame builders in the UK now, especially in London. What made WyndyMilla stand out from your competitors?
“We started WyndyMilla as a cycling club in 2008 and it evolved into the custom bike brand in 2009 – hence the crazy name! Back then there were only a handful of traditional steel frame builders in London. We were the only company at the time really pushing Italian custom carbon in the UK. We had a Marmite name and a Marmite logo, not necessarily the safe commercial route, but it got us noticed and the guerilla marketing saw us in the professional peloton, in F1 and across industry and mainstream press from the gun.
“In more recent years the hipster movement has seen a huge number of builders spring up in London – still almost all metal though. The carbon focus continued to give us an edge, albeit the Italian model made it almost impossible to grow beyond ‘direct to customer’ sales. Towards the end of my time at WyndyMilla, the inability to support global growth and my own R&D became more and more suffocating. My feet started to itch!”
So what are the differences between an off-the-shelf frame compared to a custom frame?
“There can be confusion on this point, you’ll see a lot of brands offering custom bikes. What that mostly means is you can choose your frame and your components independently of each other. I prefer to call custom frames ‘made-to-measure’. Simply put, it means that you are fitted and each tube of the frame is cut to your size and custom geometry. Think Savile Row V’s M&S suits, both great products, but very different.”
Have there been any particular favourites from over the years?
“A breakthrough for me was making the bikes for Nigel Mansell’s UK Youth Pro Cycling team in 2012, it really put us on the map and I built great lasting relationships off the back of it. More recently, I have loved our F1 collaborations, especially because of the relationships I formed, particularly in Mexico, which is a place that I have a real affection for – they are MAD for cycling over there!”
What other products can you see custom branching into?
“I think anything really, 3D printing is opening up a lot of doors.”
What are the perks of working in the cycling industry?
“For me it’s the relationships, but you also get those just from being a cyclist too. I guess a secondary perk would be the gear. I am an unashamedly scruffy man off the bike, but on the bike everything has to be ‘just so’, even if I’m on my own on the turbo. I’m very spoiled, I’ve great partnerships with brands within the industry so I am very well looked after with the products I’m able to wear.”
Describe the first time you wore your HEXR. What’s your favourite thing about the helmet?
“I distinctly remember the first time I wore my HEXR helmet when I met you at your HQ in the City. I pretended to force it on my head in your crowded office and said, “My God, it doesn’t fit!” I must have been too convincing, everyone's faces dropped. Needless to say it was a cheap joke – it is perfect and fits like a glove!
“I love everything about the helmet, the list of accolades is endless – the green credentials, the custom fit, the safety, the heat dissipation, the clean aesthetic, the aerodynamics to name but a few. In summary I’d say I just love the fact that my bike helmet is a ticked box. I don’t have to have half an eye open to see what else is out there because it really is in a league of its own, that’s a black and white fact.
“As for my favourite thing about my HEXR, being a massive self confessed bike tart, it has to be the interchangeable and customisable shells. In my opinion, that’s where the tech crosses over to cycling jewellery or art. Marry that up with a custom bike that’s painted the same as the outer shell and you’re in territory that can blow minds.”
What’s in the diary for 2020?
“After a few Covid-19 curve balls, some engineering pals and I have been experimenting with 3D printing to push the technical boundaries of custom frame fabrication. The idea to experiment with 3D printing and UK fabrication was a mixture of conversations an engineering friend of mine and I had on a very wet Mexico City hillside in 2019 and a seemingly idle chat down the pub early in 2020. With the sale of WyndyMilla and a few other factors, this put us in a position to start turning that creative imagination into material innovation to see how our ideas could evolve."
“3D printing technology could enable a huge leap forward in terms of being able to bring a viable business model for custom carbon frame manufacture to the UK. The next step is to see if we could deliver that with world-beating quality and a great customer experience for a global market. Right now, we are very focused on the technology and proof of concept. We’re just enjoying burying ourselves in R&D with no pressure – maybe we’ll take it to market and maybe we won’t. Right now it’s too early to tell."
“One thing is for sure though – my faith, focus, definiteness of purpose and the relationships I have with fantastic brands like yourselves on my continued journey in cycling is unwavering. I have never stood still, and never will. I’m always looking to channel that faith into disrupting and challenging the status quo. Watch this space!"
You can follow Henry on Instagram to find out more of what’s in store for 2020.