Building a British Mountain Bike: Searching for a UK Bike Frame

I’ve had my Specialised Enduro for over 3 years now, having done the first bike build over the Spring of 2008. The bike’s been amazing. I haven’t had to replace a thing since then, and only now are the cracks starting to show, the bottom bracket and suspension beginning to make some ominous knocking sounds.

An example of the ever popular On One Mountain Bikes

An example of the ever popular On One Mountain Bikes - Placid_casual Flickr

Which means, of course, that’s it’s dilemme time. I could head off to ebay, Wiggle or Chain Reaction and buy myself a new set of components, replacing bottom bracket, chainset and cables, and I could send the suspension off to the bike shop to be serviced without any worry (the bouncy bits’ innards are still a mystery to me). I’ve looked into it though and we’re looking at probably £250 in parts and £150 in servicing in total to build my mountain bike back up to fully working order. That’s £400, just to have the bike I already own!

As much as I love the Enduro, that just seems a bit of waste. It doesn’t excite me any more, and, for £400, I want to be excited! So, ladies and gentlemen…. it’s time for the Great British Bike Build 2011/12.

Building a UK Mountain Bike: Choosing a British Bike Frame

“Great British bike build? What are you on about?” I hear you ask. Well, I’ve taken a bit of a notion recently to shopping locally, buying into the local community, blah blah blah. Yep, I’m afraid I’ve become a hippy. Ok, not quite that extreme, but, with all the turmoil going on in the world just now, I’m just into the ‘support our own country’ caper.

A Blank Orange Canvas - richardchild Flickr

A Blank Orange Canvas - Richardchild Flickr

I’m trying to buy stuff from smaller local producers – the independents that struggle to make it, but offer amazing quality and value along the way compared to the big global conglemerates. This obviously applies to food, drink and small products mostly, but it can equally apply to the bigger stuff in life. Such as bikes!

For this bike build I’m going to use as many components as I can which are made in the UK. I’m going to have to stick to my price range, so I may end up with a shimano or SRAM chainset as I’m not sure whether you can buy a UK made chainset for a reasonable cost. But the bigger items, such as frame, forks, wheels, saddle, and as many other parts as possible, will all be UK made. I’ll look into it all though – for all I know there’s a great little producer in the Lake District that makes great value derailleurs that I’ve never heard of. Well, during this project I’ll find out.

But, first and foremost, the important part, my new mountain bike frame.

Choosing a British made Mountain Bike Frame

This is the major part I want to keep home grown and, even better, I’d love to keep small and little known. There are a number of UK mountain bike frame manufacturers and they range from internationally known giants such as Orange, down to lesser known brands such as Cotic. Lets look at them all:

A well used Orange Five Mountain Bike

A well used Orange Five Mountain Bike - Foolstopzanet Flickr

Orange Mountain Bikes

We might as well start with the big boys – Orange. Internationally known and oft-used in the competitive downhill leagues, Orange are the UK boys done good. Some of their lower-end frames are outsources to the far east, but I believe a number of their higher end frame are still manufactured in britain.

I’m looking at a cross country or all mountain bike so if I were to go orange it would be the Orange Five or the Orange Alpine I’d be looking at.

Here’s where I’m looking for some input from you lot out there though. Do you have any experience with Orange? If you were build a dream Orange bike from scratch, what frame would you start with? Please leave me a comment in the comments area below.

Cotic Mountain Bikes

Now, Cotic are a make that seem to be popping into my conciousness on a regular basis lately. I’ve had a number of people mention them when I’ve dropped my new bike idea into the conversation, and the model that keeps popping up is the Cotic BFE. The most recent quote was: “Get a Cotic BFE with 2.5 Tubeless Tyres and 160mm forks and you’ll not stop smiling.” Endorsement indeed, cheers Ross!

Again though, any advice much appreciated. What’s your experience with Cotic?

On-One Mountain Bikes

On-One are a bike brand I’ve been looking at for a while, but don’t really know all that much about. They always seem to attract fanatical fans who build up super crazy bikes, such as an On-One fixie intended for suicidal mountain training riders. They have a few frames that look interesting, including the Inbred and the Whippet, but the inbred seems to attract the most attention – could be a good choice.

An On One Inbred mountain bike at work

An On One Inbred mountain bike at work - Placid_casual Flickr

Over to you – what’s your experience with On-One?

Whyte Mountain Bikes

Whyte are a bigger brand, probably second only to Orange in sheer number of bikes-on-trails. Whyte always seem, to me, to follow a bit of an Orange philosophy in terms of chunky frames and helluva sturdy looking bikes. I really like the look of the Whyte 146 and it’s point and shoot design seems to be picking up some great reviews. The Whyte 120 is possibly more suited to my normal type of trail use though. Decisions decisions. Then again, I had been ambitiously contemplating a cheeky titanium model – how could I resist the Whyte 19 ti?

Tell me what to do! Let me know what your experience is with Whyte in the comments below.

Pace Mountain Bikes

A smaller outfit, and probably, as far as I can tell, the least known of the companies I’ve mentioned, Pace have a range of hardtails and full suspension mountain bikes that cater to pretty much all trail riding tastes. They’ve even released their own 29er recently, joining the herd on that particular bandwagon. But hey, choice is no bad thing! I’m liking the sleek, curving lines on their Pace RC204. The spec looks good too – a super light mountain bike with an agressive geometry – all the ingredients for a fantastic ride. Their original Pace RC405 looks a bit more set up for a comfy ride around the rough stuff though. What to do…

Pace are one company I haven’t really heard anything about – no reviews, nothing. I need some experienced Pace riders, let me know what you think in the comments.

There are a few others that I haven’t mentioned and a number I’ve missed I’m sure. Makes such as Pinnacle or Mercian aren’t included here simply because I’ve never even looked at their range. If you know a bit about them, though, or of a brand that I’m missing out on and shouldn’t be then let me know. It would be great to get more folks on local bikes and give the UK bike industry a bit of a boost.

I Need Your Help – Help Me Build Our Dream UK Bike

The header says it all – I’m asking you guys to get in touch, share your knowedge and help both me and other readers and potential bike builders out. I’ll be waiting with baited breath for your comments and emails. I’m going to base this bike build on feedback from you, the all important readers of this site, and hopefully create an amazing steed with your help.

So, send it in – tell me what to buy and we’ll create a fantasy UK bike to be proud of!


Colin started mountain biking in the early 2000s and has haphazardly, and with barely increasing skill, dragged his bike around the majority of Scotland's trail centres since then. Colin has oodles of hard earned experience in how NOT to do things - listen, be warned and don't repeat his mistakes...   More about Colin... Google+ Colin

15 Responses

  1. David Hood says:

    Too proud to walk into halfords?


  2. Kenny White says:

    Orange 5 heard lots of good things about them, only downside is frame is quite heavy, upside it’s single pivot so fairly simple to maintain. Would make sure you have shock with pro pedal to reduce bob. You going single or double ring up front? If single look at Renthal make decent, strong chainrings. Looked at Saracen? Seem to be making decent bikes just now.

  3. Colin says:

    David, quite right – I hadn’t even considered Boardman Bikes! Great reviews they’re getting too so it might be worth having a look at them. Any idea if they do frames seperately or whether they’re just a complete bike seller?

    Kenny, you and your downhill fetishes – triple ring up front for me, I gotta pedal up too many hills 😉 Unless, of course, I’m totally missing something and you reckon double chain-rings would suit cross country in some cases? Let me know if so.

    Cheers for the Orange five info though – I suspect I’d be leaning more towards the five than the Alpine right enough. And thanks even more for the Saracen Bikes pointer – I’d never come across them at all before. Just had a quick look at their site and I like their style. Which one would you say suits cross country the best?


  4. Kenny White says:

    Reckon double ring is the way forward especially with a ten speed set up, saves a bit of weight, and how much do you actually use the ‘granny ring’? I run a single ring (36 tooth) with 9 speed (11-34) ratio, coupled with racking up the front and rear compression gets me up most hills with minimal muttering and swearing.
    Saracen Ariel looks not a bad trail bike, but won’t take a coil shock and seemingly has a fair amount of flex in the rear. For an all out xc whippet the kili ti looks nice.
    Plus you going 26 or 29?

  5. David Hood says:

    Don’t think you can , think you’d be looking second hand market. I think it is quite popular to strip them of the shiny bits then just sell the frame on as they are a pretty good deal.

    something like this

  6. Colin says:

    That’s a nice bike David, great price too. Pity it’s so far away from me! I’m going to start looking around for Boardman bikes too, cheers for that.

    Kenny, know what, I’m gonna look into that. I hadn’t even considered 2 ring, but you’re right, rarely do I get into the bottom 2 or 3 gears, or even the top 3 or 4. 2 chain rings would make it stand out a bit too – bit different from the norm!

    That Kili ti looks damn nice – I had been considering a titanium frame. The kili is possibly a bit out of budget though… I wonder if there are any on eBay…

    I’ll be going 26″ for this bike. I’d considered a 29er, but from all accounts they just aren’t as fun on the downhill. I’m not sure the advantages are quite worth it, especially as I’ll probably be doing quite a bit of this on second hand parts and the 29er stuff just isn’t a widely available yet.


  7. Trip Gender says:

    I don’t know the second-hand market in the UK, but if you want to see a crazy hardtail, check out Paulus Quiros.

  8. Chris says:

    How British are you wanting to keep this? I’m 99.9% sure that Whyte, Saracen, Cotic, On-One, and Boardman don’t manufacture anything here, I’m not even sure Pace do nowadays either but I’ll let them off just for being pace.

    I’ve ridden the Whyte T120 and found it to be a bit dull. I also rode a top of the line 146 which was lighter and much more fun but that simple back end flexes like a helix ruler. It’s so bad that riders behind me commented on it. Despite it’s wandering chasis it still rides really good and is a whole heap of fun once things get bad. Not ridden the 19 steel yet but I’ve heard many a good word.

    Orange frames are a tad backwards technologically but once fitted with a decent shock ride like bliss and only have the one major pivot to service. You may find the shock needs more attention over the years as it’s got to provide a pedal platform for XC use and so will have more internal moving parts.

    I have mates with Cotic Souls and they just love them. I’ve never heard a bad word about them. Charge also do a nice hardtail and the Genesis Core 26.5 is also a great frame. Ragley are getting some good reviews too. Sadly I think they’re all made overseas.

    One left-field contender I’d look at is Bamboo Bikes, especially if xc is your bag. I was lucky enough to ride their demo bike and despite it being mechanically ****ed it did ride really nicely, like a good carbon frame. It was really stiff laterally but took the edges off the bumps quite nicely. Geometry felt a tad steep but that should make it a great xc whippet. You’re very unlikely to find one second hand though and they ain’t cheap at a grand a pop.

    It’s really a shame that the only people I can think of that make off-the-peg frames here are (possibly) Orange, Pace and Bamboo. There’s always custom…

    As for the chainset there is only one choice – Middleburn. Really nicely machined and UK made. This doesn’t come cheap which could mean that you don’t get to try a 2×10 setup as it’s too new to be on the second hand market. 2×10 is the mutts nuts for XC/trail use – all the ratios you need, bags of ground clearance, better chainline and a small weight saving, what’s not to like (apart from the fact you have to learn where to find your old favourite ratios, which is actually harder than you might think).

    Good luck with the build and keep us all posted on the progress.

  9. Colin Gray says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks very much for that feedback – really comprehensive, and damn useful!

    In terms of how British – you’re right, most of the supposedly British frames are actually made overseas. I suppose, short of your custom build idea though, that I have to accept that as the range is too limited otherwise. I’m happy to settle on a British company at least, even if they outsource the manufacturing.

    That flexy Whyte 146 sounds really interesting. I’m thinking super-light with this build, so that could fit the bill, and, for some reason, I like the idea of the tail whipping around as I ride, as long as it doesn’t affect the handling!

    Now, the Cotic Soul is one I haven’t looked at yet, but I’m finding myself drawn more and more towards Cotic. I just like the brand, and the bikes get such good feedback, as you said.

    Bamboo bikes eh? I had honestly never heard of them until you mentioned them now. I’ll have to go and educate myself! Especially if they actually manufacture in the UK. Thanks for that tip!

    And thanks for the chainset advice – I’d come across the Middleburn products, but that’s the first bit of feedback I’ve had on them. Can’t argue with that endorsement!

    Cheers again Chris, great to get feedback like that on the site, and glad you found the project interesting. I’ll have to get an update on the site very soon as I’ve been through a couple of frames so far that didn’t quite meet what I was looking for, including an Orange Crush and an On One Summer Season.

    Thanks for visiting!

  10. alistair says:

    Hi, I’ve just built up a whyte 146. Bought an “S” as couldn’t get my paws on a frame only but bought it unboxed and sold the parts it came with. Fitted xt shifers and mechs, and an slx double and bash for a 2×9 setup. Not sold on the extra skinny 10sp chain ! The back end feels like a steel frame, ie: nice bit of twang when you push it, but it tracks really well and feels super stable. Just make sure the suspension bushings are torqued up correctly, mine weren’t and it felt a little loose until I checked and corrected it. I also put a set of 160mm lyriks up front, bit weighty, but really make the difference over the standard fox 32’s. I had a set of pimplite rims on hope hubs and a quick change of spacers in the back and on with a set of conti rubber queen 2.4’s. Kept the shiny easton bars but put a 40mm stem on to sharpen the steering on that super slack front end. I swapped the avid elixir brakes for formula k18’s and dropped a reverb seatpost in. Last but not least, my brooks colt. It may look a little out of place on such a modern looking bike but my bum requires a brooks for those longer rides. Sure I could build it lighter, but this is a bike that suits me down to the ground, the light frame means I can put some heavy components on there without ending up with a bike too heavy to pedal uphill.

  11. Paul says:

    I’m looking into this myself and came across this site

  12. Jeremy says:

    Have just picked up this thread and wondered how you were getting on with the build as there has been no news since june 2012?

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  14. Daniel Tabor says:

    Hello [email protected]

    My name is Daniel Tabor.
    I am a huge fan of Mountain Biking and especially Downhill MTB.

    Up until recently when I left the Armed Forces I partook in riding every week as a way to unwind.

    I have recently left the Armed Forces after serving 7 years in operations all over the world including an 8 month deployment to Iraq. I now suffer with stress and anxiety and really think getting back into biking will help so much.

    I really want to start riding again as this was the only thing that made me feel less stressed and help me be a more positive person and was the release I needed.

    I have a young family and would love to get back into Mountain Biking but i had to sell my bike when i left as i had more important things to get and it was pretty hard to adjust to normal civilian life..
    I really would love to ride again but can’t bring myself to spend so much on a bike when I have a young family who’s needs comes first.

    This is not a sob story this is me asking the big companies who sponsor and help MTB riders and professionals would they be able to help myself and my plight. I would be so grateful even if I had a used or second hand or ex demo bike or a used frame so i can slowly add parts as and when i have the funds.

    Just something so I can enjoy the sport I love and the feeling and satisfaction I used to get from bombing down some local trails.

    I understand if you cant help and can guess you must get request after request for free stuff all the time, but i was always taught when growing up that if you don’t ask you don’t get.

    Thanks so much for taking the time reading my email.

    Kind regards
    Daniel Tabor

  1. October 8, 2014

    […] fact that I’ve been toying with a new bike build for a couple of years now, particularly at a UK project, using as much home grown kit as possible. It seems ridiculous that it’s been that long, but […]

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