A prototype bicycle by Geoff Apps


Gorgeous bike design

A prototype bicycle built by Geoff Apps in 2006, prompted by the availability of the Shimano Nexus Inter-8 hub gear. An article about Geoff appeared in the CTC ‘Cycle’ magazine Aug-Sept 2010 edition. There’s something strangely Valkyriesque about this image, and it’s a beautiful machine. I asked on his blog if he’d mind me reproducing it here, and I’m pleased he agreed (click image to view on Flickr).

The story behind all this is a familiar one: a British visionary inventor unable to achieve worldwide commercial success, the USA or Japan does it instead. Geoff’s brand of bike is Cleland Cycles, a brief history of which can be read on his own website, so there’s no point repeating it all here, but the comparison that has been made between his all-terrain bicycle designs and those from California that began to appear on the British market in the mid 1980s does not appear to me to be too valid. Apps-style cross country cycling is not the same as Marin County mountain biking.

Geoff has a motorcycle trials background, in which the rider is almost vertical as he stands on the pedals, and this influenced the design of his bicycles, with the rider also fairly vertical but sitting on a saddle. This is the Cleland riding philosphy, which again he describes on his website. Mountain bikers you see riding around the British countryside are indeed noticeable for this upright position. But that is not how the professionals do it.

Mountain biker

2002 Commonwealth Games mountain biking competition (my photo)

This racing cyclist on a Gary Fisher MTB adopts a similar position to road riders, leaning well forward with her weight over the chainset, and she is able to reach down to adjust the fork as she rides. The bars are lower than the saddle. This was eight years ago but they are the same today.

Modern mountain bikes with full suspension are ugly contraptions. The Geoff Apps prototype is certainly not, even with the height of the bars. I don’t think it really matters if a bicycle like this remains a one-off, a unique creation, even if Carlton Reid wrote in the CTC mag article that “Apps missed the mountain biking wave.” Geoff’s 1980 Range Rider design is certainly less idiosyncratic and more like a conventional off-roader, but as I remember it, the late 80s and early 90s is when mountain bikes started to become popular in the UK, by which time American bike manufacturers with bigger markets and economies of scale were already churning them out in large numbers.

Meanwhile, thirty years on, Cleland Cycles remain committed to their craft and riding philosophy. The recent AventuraTT, an all-terrain bicycle similar to the prototype shown above, has internal hub gears with roller brakes front and rear, 700c rims and 29er tyres, hub dynamo lighting at the front, the usual full-length mudguards, and of course the upright cross-country riding position. Note also an oval chainring.