Bespoked UK: Ted James and his Ti MTB Tourer
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As part of our ongoing Bespoked UK coverage, we’re taking a look at Ted James Design’s plus-tyred titanium bikepacking steed, just back from an off road tour through the Scottish Highlands, complete with quad fork, mud splatter, Crocs, and a handmade leather front bag…
Bikes, no matter how expensive they are, are meant to be ridden… and this MTB tourer arrived at the event freshly mud-splattered from a bikepacking trip through the Scottish Highlands. Where most specimens at Bespoked were prim and pristine, it even came half hidden by all the owner’s gear, including a well-loved Tubus rack, a pair of Crocs, and a leather handlebar mounted up front, adding a real sense of down to earth character to the distinctly high-end bike.
It’s made by Gloucester-based Ted James Design, a one made band that’s been going since 2010; Ted does the welding, machining, and building, using chromoly, stainless steel, and titanium.
As for his background, it’s rooted in BMX riding with his brother. “I did my first 30-mile charity bike ride when I was nine. I was riding with De Laune MTB club and racing XC from around 11 years old, with my brother and friends. I always liked trying tricks and jumping and kept breaking stuff… always watching my dad fixing our bikes and rebuilding wheels. My brother and I were always tinkering too, polishing brake levers then painting them again. I got more into BMX at around 14 and built my first BMX wheel when I was 16.”
Ted’s interest in making his own gear also stems from BMX-related experiments. “After school I did a welding/fabrication apprenticeship. At the time I was really into BMX, so I started thinking about building frames. I played on a lathe in lunch breaks and made some stainless pegs (aka trick nuts or axle extenders for grinding on). I started making a fork, but only having mild steel to hand, I knew it would be too heavy, so it never got finished. It wasn’t till over 10 years later I built my first frame with Dave Yates on one of his courses. I started with just a few files, gas setup, a torch, and a small lathe on which I made my first jig.”
As a father of two – his eight-year-old son’s sweet hardtail was on show too – he says “most riding these days is with the kids. I also like to go out for some adventures on the mountain bike, exploring, whether it’s local or going places. I ride a road bike too, but I’m definitely not a roadie if you know what I mean. I prefer to use it for a journey somewhere rather than training or fitness. Mostly, I’d rather be off-road. If I’m not riding BMX, I’m riding the mountain bike like a BMX.”
Also part of Ted’s biking timeline was his time sponsored by Charge bikes for fixed gear trick riding, as well as a fixed gear ride to Paris for what he calls a “Nike shoe thing.” And over the years he’s honed his talents working for 14 Bike Co in London, building prototypes and designing a fixed gear bike for tricks. All of which suggest Ted knows how to make a strong bike.
These days, each frame he makes is fully custom, which brings us onto the bike you see here, which was designed for Tracey Slade, an Elite GB Duathlete and gold medal world age group triathlete. The bike was built to satisfy her love of off-road cycle touring and bikepacking, and is made from titanium throughout: Grade 9 (3al2.5v) tubes and Grade 5 (6al4v) machined parts.
As such, the geometry is closer to a tourer than a modern mountain bike, and tailored to fit Tracey perfectly, with help from ace bikefitter Tony Corke of Torke Systems. It’s built for 27.5 x 2.2-2.6″ tyres with handfuls of space for mud – remember, we’re talking UK riding here – but also fits 27.5 x 2.8″ with plenty of room to spare too, like the 2.8″ Nobby Nics pictured here. Built primarily for travelling, the frame has a larger front triangle than most mountain bikes to accommodate a frame bag; this one is made by Wales-based Wildcat Gear. The chainstays have a bend to drop them down, offering extra clearance for the brake caliper between stays, whilst also helping to prevent chain slap. Speak of which, did you spot the mucky chain? It’s lubed with oil from a tin of anchovies, as Tracey forgot the official stuff at home!
The distinctive fork – which Ted has nicknamed a quad fork or 4ork (“a lot of people call it a squidfork, as there are some guys in the States giving that name to this sort of design”), is certainly very eye-catching and, aside from its triple pack eyelets, can be used as a brace for gear. “Titanium is more flexible than steel, so a fork can need quite large diameter legs, or four of them! Using four legs makes a triangle structure to give that stiffness, whilst still holding the shock absorbent properties that Ti can offer.” All this translates into a lightweight, practical, and comfortable fork.
Believe it or not, Ted machines all the parts, including the bottom bracket, headtube, bolt through dropouts and axles, mech hanger, brake mounts, and tapered steerer from solid titanium. Hidden under Tracey’s bags is his brand logo, “The skull has a hammer and brazing torch instead of crossbones, and a moustache because I used to have a big moustache.” Both frame and fork currently have an all-over brushed finish, but there are plans to add some blasted or anodised logos now in the odd spot that isn’t covered by bags.
Despite the high-end material and high price tag (£4000 for the frameset), there’s a no-nonsense sense of practicality to the bike, encouraging it to be ridden as hard as it was admired, a sentiment that was captured perfectly by the crowd of bikepackers who’d gathered around it…