British steel: Building BMX

An interview with British BMX frame builder Ted James.

Ted James photographed outside his frame workshop in Stroud
Ted James and his finished BMX frame© George Marshall

Ever since Mat Hoffman first moved the manufacture of Hoffman Bikes to the Far East in the mid-1990s, the vast majority of BMX frames have been made in Taiwan. With the exception of a few US companies, such as FBM and S&M, BMX frames are no longer made by riders. At present, there is a massive lack of BMX frames being made in the UK. One man in Stroud, in the West of England, hopes to end that.

Renowned frame builder Ted James is turning his hand to building high-end BMX frames using high grade British steel. We spoke to Ted about his lone venture.

First of all tell us how you got into frame building?
I've been riding bikes from a young age, mainly BMX, though I raced mountain bikes from the age of 11. From those early days, the problem I always found was that the bikes were not able to handle the abuse thrown at them. This led me to build frames.

At 18 I started an apprenticeship in welding. I learnt to weld and played on a lathe in my lunch breaks. I didn’t know how to do it but I knew that I wanted to make bikes. I started by making forks knowing I wasn't using the right steel. It’s been a long time since that first pair of forks but through years of work and my love of riding and engineering I am finally building good frames I’m proud of.

Ted James photographed outside his frame workshop in Stroud
Ted's custom frames are made from Reynolds tubing© George Marshall

What’s day-to-day life like as a frame builder?
I work alone in my own workshop. I build all kinds of frames, some custom for individuals and some for brands. I try to work as much as possible on my own designs.

Tell us about your new BMX frame builds?
So far I have built two designs. One uses Reynolds 853 double-butted main tubes, a Reynolds 631 seat tube and tapered stays. This is a high quality tube made in the UK which is high in strength and low in weight. The closest comparative would be Tru Temper's Supertherm and OX Platinum.

The other BMX design I make is made from another UK-made tube commonly known as the T45. This was originally used in the fuselage detail of the Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft. This tube is widely compared to the 4130, with each one being arguably better than the other.

Ted James photographed outside his frame workshop in Stroud
Cross sword bridge on the seat stays© George Marshall

How much does a frame cost?
I aim to match the same cost as the top American builders [S&M and FBM]. Custom frames are from £550.

I've always wanted to make BMX frames and it’s not easy but it's happening and I'm stoked to be doing it.

What are the benefits of a custom frame?
A custom frame is entirely unique and tailor-made. You can have whatever geometry you want, which is good if you're taller than the average rider. Also the tubing can be changed around to dial in the strength/weight suitable for the individual rider. I will also be offering stock models in the near future.

Ted James photographed outside his frame workshop in Stroud
Ted's unique laser cut out drop outs© George Marshall

What’s the geometry of the stock frame?
The stock frame I will be making soon is 21.25" top tube, 74.5 degree head tube, 13.75" chain stay, 9'' stand over and a 11.65" bottom bracket.

What makes this frame unique from the mass-produced BMX frames made in the Far East?
Let’s face it, there are lots of good frames coming out of Taiwan these days, but we all still want a standard S&M or FBM frame made by rider owned companies, designed and welded by riders, people who really care about the product more than the profit margin. These frames do last longer and you can almost smell the quality over a Taiwanese product, even in the tubing before its built.

Ted James photographed outside his frame workshop in Stroud
Beautiful integrated seat clamps© George Marshall

Are you the only person making BMX frames in the UK?
For years nobody seemed to be making BMX frames in the UK, some things looked promising but then disappeared. Curtis made BMX frames just down the road, but they haven’t moved with the times. These days everybody wants mid BB's, integrated head tubes and removable brake mounts. The tools to build frames with these parts have to come from overseas which adds to costs or you have to make them, so it’s not easy.

Ted James photographed outside his frame workshop in Stroud
Strength in the tube gusset© George Marshall

With the heritage the UK has as a great bike building nation, why do you think there are no companies building BMXs in the UK?
The UK is full of small time builders, generally building road bikes or mountain bikes. Building a BMX is very different. If you want to build a BMX you have to come at it from a different angle. Some people don’t know what tubing to use and it’s not always available from frame building suppliers. This is starting to change and I’m going to help this by supplying parts to suppliers, for example, to build mid BBs or integrated headsets.

The main reason is it is very difficult to make any money. Building a BMX frame is just as much work as any other bike frame and a frame builder can easily charge twice what people want to pay for a BMX frame. The BMX market is different; BMX riders have less spare cash than roadies. I've always wanted to make BMX frames and it’s not easy, but it's happening and I'm stoked to be doing it.

tedjamesdesign.com

Ted James photographed outside his frame workshop in Stroud
Ted's hands show the work of his hard labour© George Marshall