STANTON BIKES TOUR
Words Robert Johnston | Photos by Joe O’brien
Our Eurowolf Rob was recently given the opportunity to visit the HQ of Stanton Bikes – a UK based bike company who have a range of hardtails and full-suspension bikes constructed from steel or titanium. We were excited to learn that Stanton have recently made steps towards moving all production in-house, allowing for endless customization possibilities and a finer control of their final product.
Rob was given a tour of their small operation, nestled in the tiny village of Tansley, on the edge of the Peak District where he had time to sit down for a big chat with the bright mind behind the operation – Dan Stanton. They even let him try his hand at some powdercoating and welding – a pretty special experience!
You can find the full set of photos from the factory tour, along with the uncut interview containing some extra detailed answers from the Dan, on our Patreon site.
Dan introducing his new tool, the marchetti multi-axis tube cutter. WIth one of these, the tube profiles can be cut to a high accuracy in much less time than other techniques.
What were you doing before Stanton?
My degree is in social theory. I was on the path to do a doctorate and be a lecturer; or theorise on future projections of society and create white papers on how you should deal with certain situations relative to your particular avenue of thought. I’m still well into it, my wife is a theologian and we both study hometic tests together – pretty geeky!
She suggested I do something fun as we were about to start a family, so I decided to start a bike company. I had to get a job in a bike shop first to see how the industry worked, because my only experience with it was as a consumer. I was just well into bikes – riding four or five times a week; I used to do street trials; had a set of A38 jump trails. I was just mucking about all the time on bikes. I got a job in a bike shop, the kind of shop where the owner doesn’t have a clue, and relied on the staff to be knowledgeable, so this gave me a great intimacy with all the different distributors, and I used to quiz them. I taught myself how to use the basics of 2D CAD, found some good frame fabricators in Taiwan, threw some designs together and it basically all went from there.
There were four prototypes before I produced the first frame that was production ready, and that production ready product went to DIRT Magazine. That year it was voted the best all round hardtail in the cycle industry. Then we were in the DIRT 100 four years in a row; won superbike in MBUK; best of the bunch in Wide Open mag; and kept on winning stuff and getting all these accolades.
Why Stanton Bikes then, and specifically, why aggressive hardtails?
Hardtails to start with because that was literally all I’d ride. Well, I owned a Santa Cruz Bullit, but essentially I was chasing the ideal hardtail. There were two categories of hardtail in DIRT Mag – “bomber” and “razzer”- and I’d owned both. The razzer was really good for nipping around trail riding, and the bomber was really good for nailing a downhill track and hitting jumps, but you couldn’t go anywhere on the thing because the seat angle was so slack and there was no breathing room. So, I conjoined the two together and, other than the DMR Trailstar, which was a little different, created the slackest, lowest slung 26” little play bike on the market that you could ride a proper distance. That was the starting point for it all really. I was one of the pioneers of the aggressive hardtail mountain bike movement, I guess. Then with the larger wheel sizes [that become prevalent in the market] you could be a bit more extravagant with the designs because the inertia was higher, and the axle points were higher, giving greater bottom bracket drop.
Getting to sit down and interrogate the bright mind of Dan Stanton for an hour was really special for me. His passion and knowledge is incredible!
What benefits do you seek to achieve by moving frame production from Taiwan to in-house in the UK?
What has happened over the last 15 years is we’ve experienced the value of the British pound going from being worth 2 USD, down to 1.18 USD at its lowest. During the first 5 years [of Stanton Bikes], the market dropped down to roughly 1.60$, and the industry was hurting at this time but was still able to sustain. Put it this way, for every £100k I was spending I would sell $165k, then the day that Brexit was announced it dropped to $130k, which obliterated margin.
It’s why big companies like Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles became conjoined and lost lots of staff. With the education I’d had, I realized that there’s a dramatic situation occurring – and I’d experienced the financial hit of it – so I waited to see if the currency would change at all. I went to Taiwan to see if I could get the prices reduced, but they asked me to compromise on the product, which I wouldn’t do, so I had to transfer some of the cost to the customer.
I realized that the price I was having to pay for the frame produced in Taiwan with the currency change – If I kept the same rates of sale, I would be able to bring the production over to the UK and pay everybody’s wages with that pricing structure. So that’s effectively what I did. The benefits that it has given me is that I don’t have to have one particular size or color in stock, and I literally have control over the whole process, so I can see any of the mistakes that are occurring in the system and rectify them at the source.
The intention is to bring everything in house, the whole lot. The CNC-ing and everything. And the biggest advantage is that it changes the way that customers interact with purchasing a product. At the minute, the mental framework that is created from the production system that is currently laid out is a design company designs something, then organizes for its manufacture, and is then under the constraints of the factory and their production rules. There is often a minimum order of 3-400, say 100 in each size, and a choice of three to four colors max, so then the customer gets an experience where they get to choose between three sizes and four colors, if you’ve even got them in stock – you may not have ordered X amount of a certain model or size. Whereas in this situation, it changes the cognitive framework that people can purchase within – the way that they can think about buying a product. So they ring up hear and say “ I’ve got a 30 inch inside leg but I’m 6 foot”, and I say “There’s no wonder you struggle to find bikes to fit you properly, well here you can have the seat tube from a 15 inch bike with the reach of a 19 inch, so your bike properly fits you.” This is a massive bonus for the customer, and they can have it in any color under the sun, there’s no limit. It helps me in terms of not having to hold colors and sizes in stock, and helps the customer in having free reign of the product. They get the intimacy in the fit and the exact color they desire.
So what makes a Stanton bike special?
I know our tolerance standards are extremely high, we’re working to aerospace tolerance standards. It’s where Jordan (engineer) has come from, and we pay more for production to be that quality and standard for each and every bike we produce. But it means we don’t see anything back. It’s going to sound big-headed but I seem to do quite well designing bikes – I’ve won accolade after accolade. And everyone who’s swung a leg over the full sus has remarked how pedal efficient it is. When it comes to bike kinematics, the basics are not good enough – I need to dive right into the project and know intimately, exactly what the hell is going on.
Then there’s the intimacy in that the customer has the ability to customize the bike. There’s no corners cut in the material choices. We use the industry leading Reynolds steel tubing, and all the machining is done to a very high standard by my mate who owns a machine shop and is an absolutely brilliant machinist. We also hired Gav who has 15 years welding experience on oil rigs, a job that warrants your welds being x-rayed, and he has all the accreditation as a “best super master welder” and all that. So I’d say we’re a collective of people that all have come from different industries and bring the relevant knowledge – I know the geometries, the kinematics, the insides of the industry; then we have Jordan who’s into bikes a little bit but brings the skills in from the aerospace industry; Gav’s been into riding and he’s a fully accredited welder. So you’re getting super high quality products out of this place.
Everyone in the company exuded a real passion and enthusiasm for their job. Here Si is pointing out the tricky bits on the frame to get powder in to…and then watches me do a terrible job. Nice colour, though!
Through your different models and iterations, have you focused on maintaining the same Stanton “feel”?
With the original Stanton Slackline 853 that won Dirt 100 in 2011, the chainstay length and bottom bracket height is the same as the Switchback we currently make. Literally all I used to do is piss-about on bikes riding street trials, dirt jumps and 4x then going trail riding, so that underpins every single Stanton product. Even our Sherpa XC 29er, you’d be gobsmacked how playful it is – it has that same four-crossy intent.
Where do you see Stanton bikes in 10 years?
This all started by me borrowing seven grand off a mate, and I just built it up and built it up. So with that same driven intention, it’s still the same dream as in the very beginning, which is to own a farm. This place is great, it’s dead cool, it’s right at the foot of the peak district – so we want this, but we want to own all the land that it’s on. Imagine, cattle sheds full of CNC machines and welders; and then a whole powdercoating area in a different cattle shed; a demo shop where you can purchase a whole range of Stanton products and whole line of demo bikes outside; and then a line of camping pods where you can stay the weekend and take a demo bike out; and there’s a map of all the routes around the area; and there’s a 4x track out the back where you’ll find me. My wife wants a small holding as well. So you could bring your family and stay in a camping pod for the weekend, kids could go and see the chickens and everything else, and you’ll be out on a demo bike smashing a guided ride. That’s the dream, that’s what we’re moving towards.
How big would you want Stanton to be? Is there a roof to it?
I’m not going to stop its growth – I’ll keep it going and see where it goes.
Why have you introduced a full suspension range after your success with hardtails?
I always had intention to design full suspension bikes. You know, I’m going to make electric bikes… Structuring a company like, “We started on hardtails so we’ll only make hardtails,” is self limiting. If for some reason mountain biking goes down the pan, it’s all electric bikes and then electric motor bikes and the next thing it’s a personal Tesla machine, then that’s the way we’ll go.
Do you think the hardcore hardtail market is saturated?
I think I would feel like the market was saturated now if I was new into it. If we look back eight years ago when I started, some of the people that were playing aren’t playing at all.
We sell about a thousand hardtail frames a year, and I see some of my competitors posting that they’re on their 200th frame after 4 years, so I know that we’ve already got the market. I don’t feel that it’s saturated at all. It’s the bread and butter of this entire company, and the full suspension project has been supported by the sales of the hardtails, and the intention has been to produce to that level of quality.
Better than fresh baked cookies.
What design goals did you have for the full suspension range?
I’ve ridden a lot of enduro bikes, and some of them felt absolutely brilliant on the downs, but some of them just suck to climb. In my opinion if you’re doing distance like that, you need the bike to be standing up and make sure it feels really good on the pedal stroke. My intentions were to design something that is incredibly pedal efficient, and reduce as much of the lateral flex as possible.
Some companies are going down the route of adjustable geometry using flip chips etc, is this something you see the value in?
I see the value in a little flip chip to change a bit of the geometry, but because we own the production of the product, we can be more intimate with the way that we manufacture the product, so we can be more intimate with the way we offer change to the customer. Say you buy a Switch 9er FS now, with the change of two sections you can change it into a 140mm 27.5 bike, and with the change of a link you can change the amount of travel. Just like a RC car, you can change bits and bobs to go from a 140 to a 160mm 27.5 or 29er from the same front triangle. We might do some flip chip ideas in the future, but the way we’re doing it makes it feel a bit more intimate.
You’ve gone down a slightly different route to other steel full suspension bikes, which have a great amount of flex in the rear, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Have you still designed some compliance into your frame to aid with tracking and comfort?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with flex. I think there’s something wrong with too much flex, and I think it’s about where it flexes. This is why it’s about bracing that entire area to ensure the shock doesn’t undergo any flex. I think a dual link system rides the best, but the downside is there’s a lot of bearings and you need an extremely high tolerance held through the assembly. And you need to make sure the customer isn’t servicing this all the time. We’ve used sealed SKS bearings with a secondary seal added on the outside of the bearing before the linkage is assembled so it’s a really weatherproof system – a dual link system for UK weather.
Paint man Si inspects a freshly painted frame with incredible attention to detail. If there are any imperfections present, he’ll re-prepare the frame to make sure you’re getting a perfect finish.
What’s next in the pipeline for Stanton?
We’re currently tooling up to make all hardtails in house. Once we’ve done that, you’ll see no end of silly things coming out of this place. Like any hive of minds where everyone is thinking and interested, and highly qualified to come up with ideas in their specialized areas, you’ll see all kinds of wacky things being made. Once we’ve tooled up to make one hardtail, we can make a pub bike, a dirt jump bike – you name it.
Once the hardtails are moved in house, we’ll be moving on to the Sherpa and Slackline full sus models. That’s our platform for those four models. So far we have four models of hardtail in steel, four in titanium, then we’ll have four full suspension models in steel with alloy rear ends, four in titanium and carbon, then also in electric. Then there’ll be fun stuff like dirt jump bikes and 4x bikes.
We had a great time visiting the passionate crew at Stanton Bikes and can’t wait to see what they unveil in the future. Local production is something we truly value at The Loam Wolf and we wish the best to Dan and the entire Stanton team. Stay tuned for some more reviews in the future.
For more info visit, stantonbikes.com
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