Trailblazing Eastbourne woman becomes first on bike building course

Claire Hitchcock with the bike frame she made

Claire Hitchcock with the bike frame she made

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A day out at this year’s London Bike Show turned into a fantastic achievement for a 56-year-old trailblazing woman, writes Sheena Adesilu.

When Claire Hitchcock, from Eastbourne, attended the bike show at Excel London in February, she spotted an advert for the Enigma Bikes’ Frame Building Academy.

The idea of building steel bike frames from scratch sparked her interest, so she contacted founder and director Jim Walker.

“After the Rio Olympics in the summer, people have developed a big interest in cycling,” said Ms Hitchcock.

“In the UK, bike building has increased, and more people are interested in building their own bikes.”

When Ms Hitchcock explained she was interested in building her own bike, Mr Walker said he would love her to build a frame because she would be the first woman to do the course.

“It was brilliant,” he said, “The bike turned out wonderful. There’s no reason why a woman can’t build a frame.”

Enigma Bicycle Works is a steel and titanium bike specialist company based in Hailsham. It produces bikes independently, including the designing, welding and finishing.

Ms Hitchcock said, “From start to finish, you are taught how to tube, measure, braze and cut.”

Mr Walker, who lives near Heathfield, has worked in the cycle trade for 40 years and has always had a passion for bikes.

He was surprised it had taken so long for cycling to become such a popular sport and credits the Olympics for inspiring more people to get out and about on their bikes.

Mr Walker said, “In the last few years there’s been an interest in cycling. It used to be seen as a second-rate sport.”

He added Ms Hitchcock did a “super job” building her bike frame and had a firm idea of what she wanted from the beginning.

The result was a classic style with modern components.

Ms Hitchcock’s teacher was Geoff Roberts – a master frame builder and expert, as well as the founder of Geoff Roberts Frames.

Mr Roberts, 58, from Bexhill, said, “Claire was very enthusiastic. She did very well and made a lovely bike.

“I think that the bike turned out to be the best frame we’ve ever had.

“It’s almost better to teach a woman, maybe because of their gentler hands. Men can sometimes have bigger egos and rush into the project.”

Ms Hitchcock designed the paint scheme and the Hitchcock badge on her bike, which is her family crest.

The five-day course she completed consisted of eight hours of bike building a day.

She admitted it usually takes people a few years to learn how to build a bike frame. However, on the Frame Building Academy course, under expert guidance and support, it can be learned within five days of intense craftsmanship.

Ms Hitchcock said, “They take into consideration your height, shoulder width and sit bone measurements to make sure the bike is the right fit.

“Geoff helped me every step of the way, including with the brazing, measuring and handling welding torches.”

She said it took a long time to paint and order the parts, but the satisfaction of creating her own bike was reward enough. She would recommend the course to others, especially women. Other women have joined the course since Claire led the way in the male-dominated field.

Ms Hitchcock now cycles regularly on her new bike in Eastbourne receiving compliments on the ‘eye catching’ design of the cream and brown frame.

Her surname, Hitchcock, emblazoned on the frame, also receives a fair amount of attention. Although passers-by seem to think it refers to Alfred Hitchcock, the late English film director.

For more information on Enigma Bikes’ Frame Building Academy, visit www.enigmabikes.com/services/frame-building-academy or @enigmabikes on Facebook.