Picture building bicycle frames in a meager cellar. It’s dingy, chilly, and often the only light comes from a candle. The working conditions are hardly optimal, as you preheat your frames on a bed of coal to encourage the solder and flux to flow evenly round the lugs.
Sound like something from a Dicken’s novel? Well it’s not. It’s the genesis of Ben Serotta, one of the 29 bicycle makers featured in The Elite Bicycle. Serotta got his start by training in the Witcomb Lightweight Workshop in London during the 1970s. From these revered roots came Serotta works in Saratoga: spacious, airy, and almost surgically clean.
The way frames were built and how riders were fit back then hardly resembles the cutting edge technology of today. Innovation at Ben Serotta has led to the sophisticated creation of the FitLab where customers are assessed both as riders and as individuals. What emerges from the process is a custom built bicycle at its finest.
The idea for FitLab came “from a lightbulb moment.” Ben was drinking beer with a doctor friend, poring over a copy of Gray’s Anatomy (staple reading for medical students) in the hope of bolstering his own hands-on expertise with some science. His friend told him this was misguided. “You can’t treat the body as a machine,” he said, “You must look at the cyclist as a whole.”
Serotta believes that, “A comfortable bike will allow any cyclist to perform better. Comfort and endurance go hand in hand. We all have our own vision of the perfect bike based on our memories and our heroes. Whilst it’s still gratifying to build a bike which is balanced aesthetically, the most beautiful thing is actually successful cycling. We build bikes to be ridden hard by whoever, wherever.”
These words still hold true despite the now uncertain fate of the Ben Serotta brand. Its legend will live on in its superbly crafted bikes and in its riders who have known the perfect fit.
This brief portrait of Ben Serotta comes from the new book The Elite Bicycle.
The Elite Bicycle brings together intimate portraits of the world’s greatest bicycle artisans, examining the philosophies, the meticulous workmanship, and the eccentric personalities behind cycling’s most prestigious brands. Their materials and methods could not be more disparate, yet their pursuit is the same: the perfect bicycle.
In chapters featuring some of cycling’s greatest craftspeople, The Elite Bicycle offers up a conversation with the men and women who make the most coveted bicycles. Lavish, oversize photographs and personal interviews invite readers into their workshops to show the melding of old-world craftsmanship with space-age materials in fascinating studios and factories that fabricate superb machines.
The Elite Bicycle is both an homage to the bicycle maker and a collector’s piece in its own right, celebrating the stories behind the greatest bicycles and components in the world.