Most bicycle lovers will recognise the iconic three-digit logos that differentiate the products of Reynolds Technology, but how many will know what they really mean? We went along to meet the fine folk at one of the oldest companies in the cycling business.
Until the 1990’s many bikes (the majority of those in the UK) would feature the iconic graphics of Reynolds at the base of the seat tube. The beautifully crafted logo was a signifier of the type of steel that had been used to construct the frame.
The company had a long and illustrious history since it was founded in it’s current form in 1898 by Alfred Reynolds and J.T Hewitt. (Although it actually started life in the 1840’s as a nail manufacturer) Indeed, for many decades most steel bikes used the tubes that they produced.
However, the 90’s would prove to be a dark period. The introduction of aluminium and then later on carbon fibre, all but spelt the end of steel bikes and almost Reynolds themselves.
During their peak they ran a factory 24 hours per day, shipping around 10,000 framesets worth of tubing to a single customer alone (rumoured to be LeMond). However, those levels of activity didn’t last.
During the next decade current CEO Keith Noronha bought the cycle tubing business from American company Coyote and slowly began to grow the product list Reynolds could offer.
In hindsight it seems like an inspired decision. Steel bikes have made a resurgence in the last ten years thanks to the growth of the custom bike market and the small independent frame makers that are supplying this demand. Many of which are using Reynolds tubing.
Reynolds Technology have now increased their already sizable range of steel alloys; each with their own characteristic, manufacturing process and ultimately ride quality. They also offer titanium products that can be found in some of the most expensive bikes on the market from the likes of Festka, De Rosa and Passoni.
Reynolds Technology 953
Steel itself has evolved over the years and Reynolds have been at the forefront of this development. At the top end of their product range sits Reynolds 953; a stainless steel that has a very high strength. This enables it to be drawn (the process of making the steel into a tube with varying wall thickness) to a very thin wall. This in turn making it very light and very stiff, yet with the same smooth ride qualities associated with steel. It is however, a time-consuming process that makes the product more expensive.
Reynolds 953 is often found in race-ready road bikes due to their weight savings and stiffness, resulting in responsive frames. Genesis famously introduced a 953 Steel Volare back into the UK pro-peloton with their team Madison-Genesis.
Their latest stainless steel; 921 reduces the inherent strength, which enables it to be worked more easily by frame builders. This means that a wider variety of bikes are now possible in stainless, such as MTB and gravel. It also means that due to the lower stiffness they can be more comfortable to ride over rougher terrain and longer days.
It is easy to appreciate the work that goes into producing Reynolds Tubes on a visit of their factory. The precision involved in producing tubes that have such fine tolerances; which in turn determine the ride characteristics of the bikes they become, is incredible.
It is also a pleasant experience to witness an activity like this still taking place in the UK; when most assume these things to be carried out in Asia. The heritage of Reynolds is visible around every corner of their facility. From a factory floor that evokes emotions of a grandfathers shed with all the smells and handwritten labels that go with it.
The heritage also extends to the people who work at Reynolds Technology. Many members having held jobs for a number of years. Including Emma who was photographed using their first ever computer in 1989. We couldn’t resist recreating the same shot almost three decades later!
It seems that history has taught Reynolds’ a lesson. Once upon a time, their business was almost lost due to an inability to keep up with the trend in materials. Now, they are at the forefront with a technology they are developing in collaboration with Independent Fabrication and Renishaw.
3D printing is revolutionising many different industries and cycling will also feel it’s effect in the coming years. The parts of a bike frame that offer the most scope for optimisation are the joints, especially area’s like the bottom bracket and dropouts. These are exactly the areas Reynolds are working on.
Look out for a very special Podia project that will feature the Reynolds 921 tubing. You can also catch-up with Reynolds at some of this year’s bike shows like the Fahrradschau in Berlin and Bespoked in Bristol where you can see samples of their latest innovations.