March 16, 2018
Photography by Billy Turvey
Saffron Frameworks has been creating custom-built frames and bikes since 2009. The man behind the London-based workshop, Matthew Sowter, had long harboured a dream of becoming a frame builder, and after spending some time training and working for Enigma Bikes, he opened up his own workshop in central London within in sight of the River Thames.
Some readers may remember Lee Atreed’s road bike that that was featured in Bikes of the Bunch in 2016 — a bright yellow whip made from Columbus XCR, just one of the many steel road bikes that Saffron’s sterling reputation has been built upon. In that instance, Lee was a local customer located just a few miles from Matthew’s workshop, but Saffron has been taking orders from customers from around the world.
One of Saffron’s more recent customers, Andrew, placed his order from Williamstown, Massachusetts. “I was interested in buying a stainless steel bicycle because I like the lively ride of a metal bicycle,” said Andrew. “I have a titanium bicycle but I find riding in wet conditions challenges safe braking, so I wanted disc brakes. I waited until there was some manufacturer experience with road disc brakes before deciding to purchase the bike.
“I researched many American builders but was most impressed by a Cyclist magazine evaluation of a Saffron bicycle. I was also impressed by the cordial but knowledgeable correspondence with Matthew as well as his familiarity with cutting-edge components, use of innovative technology, and the gorgeous pictures of his builds.”
There is more to commissioning a custom bike than simply finding a technically proficient craftsperson, though. A meaningful connection with the frame builder is often just as important, and for Andrew, Saffron was the perfect fit. “Matthew’s written description of his builds indicated to me a concern for his customer that went beyond merely producing a product.”
Andrew’s titanium bike, a Moots Vamoots, served as the starting point for the project. He wanted a steel bike that could match the weight of his Vamoots because he spent most of his rides in hilly terrain. He also wanted a bike with similar handling, and with a love for raw metal, a polished finish.
From Matthew’s point of view, the Reynolds 953 stainless steel tubeset was the perfect choice for the frame, but he hesitated at Andrew’s request for a full polished finish. “It’s one of the most challenging finishes out there,” said Matthew, “because stainless steel is such a hard material, so polishing it is quite a challenge.
“Our workmanship is on complete show, too, and there is nowhere to hide any imperfections. We needed to take great care when working on the frame, because any little scratch that was made in the metal during the fabrication process would have to be polished out.”
Once Matthew agreed to the polished finish, the rest of the decisions for the new bike were easy to make, except for the brakes. “The process of building the bike was rather straightforward as I tried to duplicate the fit of my titanium bicycle,” said Andrew. “There was significant e-mail correspondence about the pros and cons of Shimano versus Campagnolo disc brakes, but it was the availability of each that eventually determined which groupset would be used.”
For Matthew, though, he was venturing into uncharted waters, designing a frame around a groupset that had yet to be released. “We were a bit nervous making the frame before the components had been released to the market,” explained Matthew, “but thankfully we have a really good working relationship with Campagnolo. They were really helpful with explaining all the tolerances and clearances that were needed for the build.”
Andrew’s goals for the final weight of the bike guided his choice of parts, hence the carbon cockpit, seatpost, saddle rails, and clinchers. All sit comfortably against the mirror finish of the frame, and Saffron was pleased with the final result. “We were super delighted with how this bike turned out,” said Matthew. “It kind of follows what we feel is a truly beautiful bicycle with it being very clean and slightly understated.”
Frame: Saffron custom Reynolds 953 with silver brazing
Fork: Enve road disc
Headset: Chris King
Groupset: Campagnolo Record Disc Brake
Wheels: Bora One 35mm Disc Brake
Seatpost clamp: Carbon-Ti
Saddle: Fizik Arione
Power meter: Stages
The end result also satisfied all of Andrew’s desires for his new bike. “I can only describe the polished finish as jewel-like,” he said. “It’s quite practical, too, because I can use metal polish to maintain the gloss. I am grateful that Matthew agreed to the finish as I love the look of the raw metal.
“I’m also very pleased with the Campy disc brakes, which kept me from crashing on a rainy ride in Tuscany where the rider following me crashed. The bicycle rides like a dream and it always brings a smile to my face when I am getting it ready for a ride.”