Tim's NorthRoad Quest

For some folks, buying a bicycle is a very traditional transactional affair. You tell us what you want, we give you what you want, bobs your mothers brother - etc.

For others, the purchase of a new bicycle can be a deeply personal experience. We love it when we spend time with customers working out what's best for them. One of the reason we continue to build to order is because of how evident it is that we all have such wildly different requirements that fall so far outside of choosing just a "gravel" bike or a "road" bike.

Tim collected his bike just before Christmas and a few days ago, we received the following via e-mail. We've added some pictures but the rest is unedited.

I wanted a gravel bike, I ended up with a family

It all started about 9 months ago when London started opening back up office wise and the weather was turning. I wanted to get a gravel bike because a mate and I went graveling once and I had my trusty carbon racer with me with the widest tyres it could handle, but I still felt relatively uncomfortable with going over some of the bigger rocks and gravel in the southern green belt of London. Of course, I was well faster up the hills, and we limited ourselves to less ‘technical’ trails.

I researched gravel bikes and wanted one in steel because of its tough material and somewhat retro qualities. But I also wanted something not as ‘stock’ since I’m just not a stock kinda guy. So after some extensive research, I decided to click buy something that was ‘Made in the UK’, hipster enough for my work credentials and what I thought was enough of a do-it-all bike for what I was looking for. Yes, there were little niggles that bugged me, weight, the lack of customer service, and a relatively underwhelming 1X crankset, but at least that was the best I had found for a couple months of research. Four weeks into the twelve week purchase process, I was sent an email that was titled “Important information about your bike order…” Opening it with dread, my worst fears had come true, an indefinite delay due to frame production being halted… After about a week of contemplation, and a lack of any real customer service from the manufacturer, I decided I would cancel the bike as I had just reached the end of my tether around not being able to customise or talk to anyone regarding my bike. It felt just faceless, and I was wanting more from the beginning, especially since I was looking for something that was a do-it-all that fit me.

Enter Google and a fourth page search result to the query “Custom gravel bike.” An unknown company based up north. The snooty American Londoner in me initially sneered and chuckled at the thought of clicking on the link. Six months later, I feel stupid for having being that snooty.

I wasn’t expecting a call back quickly (reference previous customer experience) but within a day or so, some softly accented gent named Stephen calls me to find out exactly what I was looking for in a bike. I mean, exactly. He asked me questions I had no answers to and I had questions that he had all the answers to (including about the Campy Ekar – which he had already ridden). I kept asking – you mean I can have that option too? The answer returned, Yes, every single time. The price of things started to mount, and we had to pare back a few things including my enthusiasm, but every step along the way, I was made aware of what I’d gain and lose by choosing what I chose. The knowledge of componentry, why I would or would not need that, and continued questions of what I’d be riding and a recommendation thereafter where it wasn’t always about the most expensive option was a breath of fresh air for someone who did want something custom to what I wanted and needed it for. Even the colour of some of the components to match my already polarising frame colour was a surprising debate about how much mud would show on it and how much it could look a bit too much like a flesh coloured bike (yes, I am the guy who specced Northroad’s most polarising bike).

All the way through the process of the purchase, Stephen would call me to give me an update on what’s happening with the bike, and when options needed to be decided. There were a couple of times, we would have significant debates about componentry, wheels or even the colour of the handlebar tape. A couple of other times, I was called to be given a massive surprise suggestion that really made my heart sing (like copper decals of the Northroad logo instead of painted ones). However, every time, it was carefully considered, and professionally approached. It felt much more like I was starting to develop a friendship with a bike store (Insert mindblown emoji). Nearer to pick up day, I was getting regular updates on timing and needed final decisions as components were being set up and final touches to the bike confirmed, and the anticipation was palpable.

Pick up day rolled around and as I opened the door to the workshop, I was greeting with the most beautiful and customised bike I have EVER seen is sitting in front of me, just screaming RIDE ME! The gents also know what it’s like to introduce the bike to you, all it’s quirks that you need to know about as you break the bike in, and what you’ll need to be aware of for maintenance and the like. It certainly felt like an LBS with friendly existing customers stopping by for a nat and to pick up other items. I was also invited to a customer day ride, which unfortunately I couldn’t attend, but it certainly felt like I was already a part of this exclusive family of Northroad owners. Now I ride this amazing screamer of a bike that represents everything I absolutely wanted in a gravel do-all bike, is an incredibly nimble, fast and fun ride on the road and in the mud, but also everything that tells everyone else about my personality too. Now of course, to some, the number of options will be overwhelming, if not daunting. If you’re looking for a relatively stock bike, then this isn’t quite the place to look, but if you’re looking for a bike that really fits you, is everything you want, and to have professional and knowledgeable bike manufacturers, then look no further than Northroad.

I can only thank COVID for the initial delay at the previous bike shop, because if not for that, I would never have found Northroad and will be riding something similarly coloured, but nowhere as close to as fun, nor at all made by or in time when questions about servicing comes helped by the family of Northroad that I’ve gained through the process. Thanks gents. By far, my most favourite bike EVER.

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