Bespoked UK 2019: Pi Manson and his Clandestine Carrier
For the first of our reports from the Bespoked UK Handmade Bicycle Show, we zone in on a few makers and their bikes. To begin, we’ve dedicated a post to the all-in-one Clandestine Carrier from Bristol-based frame builder Pi Manson…
Pi Manson is a 31-year-old frame builder working under the name Clandestine, based in Bristol, UK. When I asked Pi why he started building bikes, he replied: “Essentially, because I began to read about different ways of carrying cargo and weight on bikes, and I couldn’t find the kind of racks I wanted. I got hit by a car and the insurance money I received paid for my first year’s workshop rent. I began with the rack building, things escalated, and I began building bikes too as I fell down the bicycle geometry rabbit hole…”
Pi began his professional biking life as a mechanic. He’s been a mountain bike guide and also describes a well-spent youth riding bikes in the woods and BMXing. He’s written for Boneshaker Magazine, worked at Roll for the Soul, a community-orientated bike cafe in Bristol, and spent time at the Bristol Bike Project too. He’s also been involved in the UK bike co-op community and ran ‘Bespoked fringe’ in 2017, which he called ‘Besmirched‘. It’s a free, grassroots event that serves as a counterpoint to the meticulously made, the artisan, the art-bikes. “Besmirched was a fringe event like the Edinburgh Fringe: freak bikes, bike co-ops, DIY mig welded bikes, like a bike made from a radiator.”
But onto the bikes at hand. Recognising that space can be limited, the Clandestine Carrier offers a variety of bikes rolled into one, thanks to clever design tweaks that encourage quick reinventions, whislt maintaining a strong aesthetic thread. Day to day, it’s a commuter and shopping bike with the capacity for front panniers and a large rear saddlebag. For weekend jaunts, it’s simply a case of removing the front pannier support and it becomes an audax bike, complete with mudguards, lighting, and a front platform rack for a porteur bag. Strip it down further, and it’ll likely give club road riders a run for their money, thanks to its comfortable but fast rolling 47c Terravail tyres. And, when there’s time for a week’s tour on the rough stuff – I can picture it exploring the drovers’ roads of the Scottish Highlands – it can be quickly transposed into a more dirt road-friendly steed. The rear light can be easily repositioned off the saddlebag support and onto a dedicated frame tab, whilst the internal cabling can be neatly tucked away with the frame itself. Perfect for running a seatpack.
In fact, shortly after the show, Pi was off with his partner for a tour of the Orkney archipelago, off the northeastern coast of Scotland. The porteur bag pictured will be coming too, and may be heading into production subject to further testing. It’s a prototype made by his friend Josh from Purple Patch Workshop. Constructed with waxed canvas, it has a 25-liter capacity and includes a tough Cobra buckle. It secures with a slip over the rack ‘tombstone’ and four velcro straps, sized to fit the Carrier perfectly.
The Carrier features clearances for 2.2″ tyres with a tubeless ready rims and a rigid-specific geometry that accommodates a large framebag. For the show, it was built to reflect two possible examples: a drop handlebar, roughs stuff tourer, and a comfortable, utilitarian city bike.
There are details galore to feast the eyes on, such as the beautiful, handmade, high stack stems. Pi likes upright, comfortable ride positions. It’s perhaps no surprise that I spotted a verse on his stand, professing: ‘The higher the bars, the closer to the sky, the more you are a bird.’
And he’s a BMXer at heart too. The all-road version of the show bike even included handmade, BMX-style three-piece cranks that can be specced to length, which are well worth dissecting further. They’re cut from Reynolds fork blades, capped with copper plate at each end, and work with a Profile 48 spline axle and a Profile Spline Drive sprocket (36+ teeth), or a Profile 4 or 5 arm spider – the sprockets interface directly with the axle splines. Pi’s versions take Profile’s external BB, which has high-quality enduro bearings. He can make them to any length, catering well to people who are really tall or at the shorter end of the spectrum. “Plus, seeing copper flashes as you pedal is really fun and gives the BMXer in me a thrill. They’re mega simple to service and take off too, with no special tools, so that’s a bonus,” he says.
The Carrier’s fire road incarnation boasted some clean arms from White Industries. Other key specs included a White Industries rear hub, SON front dynamo hub, Salsa cowbell bars, Brooks Cambium saddle and bar tape, White Industries cranks with a Sram Force 1x groupset. Tyres on the show bike were Continental X-Kings. The bike also sports a custom wheelset from local wheelsmith, Ryan Builds Wheels, using Blunt SS rims. Other trimming include a hand turned brass stem caps made by Pi and a wooden one fashioned by a carpenter friend, both of which are available in his webshop.
All Carrier frames are made from a size-specific mix of Reynolds 853 and Columbus Zona Tubing, and there’s a choice of simple powder coats to choose from. The colours on the showbikes looked really good, the red being a tinted lacquer over a white base coat, the grey drop bar bike coated in a RAL 7021 livery. The bike also features thru axles, it’s 1x specific, and accommodates 47c/2.2″ tyres. But as gorgeous as it is to look at, the Carrier could also be described as a very candid bike. Referencing his desire for truth to materials, Pi doesn’t polish up stainless or file fillet braze joints. This allows his customers to see the building process. It also saves him time, which means a more affordable, UK-made bike. “A raw fillet is honest, beautiful as it is. My bikes reject the macho racing culture that permeates cycling, the simple powdercoat shouts “it’s just a bike, get over it” and the racks howl for having a picnic or building supplies or firewood thrown on and pedalled off.”
Indeed, it’s not just about looks. Versatility imbued with a deep-rooted sense of practicality is the name of the game with Clandestine. Pi describes the Carrier a “fat-tyred, 650B go-getter: an audax and fireroad pusher, a touring bike, a grocery shopper extraordinaire. A bike for life.”
While the ‘low trail’ framesets have a set geometry, sizing is completely custom. Customers can also choose between a Carrier suited for running drop bandlebars (shorter top tube) or straight bars (longer top tube). The £2100 price includes everything to get you on your way to a super stylish, integrated steed: the Carrier frame, fork, stem, front porteur rack with removable lowriders, saddlebag support, Berthoud mudguards, and Supernova lights (including internal routing). Just add wheels, a drivetrain, seat, and handlebars, and you’re good to go. Last but not least, the Carrier even throws in a lovely, UK-made Lion brass bell that should patina in the UK climate nicely…