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Bickerton: 'We no longer shape tubing between two truck tyre levers' - BikeBiz

Bickerton: 'We no longer shape tubing between two truck tyre levers'

Mark Bickerton tells the story of the original production and how the new generation are shipping worldwide
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Words by Mark Bickerton, Owner of Bickerton Portables

Just over 40 years ago, my father designed the first truly portable folding bicycle. The patent was filed in 1971. I was 12 at the time. Then started a roller-coaster ride of making the first three hundred bikes, firstly in the converted stable at our house, and then subsequently at a workshop in Codicote about four miles away.

It involved using knife and fork methods to fabricate all the frame parts. Some of the techniques used before we could invest in proper tooling were things like squeezing the alloy tube between two truck tyre levers in a vice to get the correct flattened shape for the chainstays. Then we had to put them in the bottom oven of the family Aga overnight with the door nearly closed to allow a little heat to escape, yet maintaining an even temperature. This was our version of heat treatment or accelerated age hardening to take the material from a TB (soft) to TF (harder) condition.

Some of the first 300 bikes weighed as little as 17 lbs, and riding them was a bit like riding a horse… In that the bike moved with you. And to this day people remember with mixed fondness and amazement that a bicycle could be so constructed, not to say ridden, in such a configuration of tubes and components. I grew up with the early Bickerton bikes, spending weekends and school holidays helping in the early workshop, and subsequently not following my other career choices, was press-ganged into helping my father run the business.

One of our first adopters, Steve Rowlinson, decided there was a future in these funny folding bikes, and bought the licence. His company set about getting proper tooling made and full scale production started. Sadly the holding company hit tough times in the late 1970s, but for the next couple of decades, the Bickerton Portable was manufactured all over the world and many of those bikes are still used to this day. 

In 1982 my father formed a new company with Steve Rowlinson and brought the manufacture back to Welwyn Garden City. We even extended our activities by importing some early mountain bikes (remember Shimano 200GS?) and to get to lower price points, we brought in some early Dahon bikes. The relationship with Dahon started at the Cologne show in about 1984. That relationship has continued more or less continuously with the Hon family through to today. The time at Welwyn was a lot of fun until we finally closed up shop in 1991, partly due to the recession and partly due to another rather good folding bike emerging. 

In 2011 Dahon went through (how shall I put it?) a global re-organisation. While this was going on Josh Hon and I saw an opportunity to re-launch. 

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With Josh’s support I pulled together a team of my friends and colleagues, with whom I had been working over many years, to design and re-launch Bickerton for the 21st century. That was in 2011 and I am pleased to report that we are just about to start 2015 model year with distributors in ten countries and a further 15 potential partners. We have a range that is growing and are working on two new frame designs, the first of which should be available for the 2016 model year.

We revisited all the good, the bad and the ugly from the earlier Bickerton period. We found there was a lot of very good stuff… great inspiration for the re-launch. We also looked at the 1971 patent which had forged the way for folding bike design. Of course, we discovered some of the factors that contributed to the demise of the first age of Bickerton, so we quietly left those in the memory bank.

We borrowed quite a lot from the technology that the team had built up over the years, so within a remarkably short time we were able to produce a new range that looked great, performed well and, importantly, were competitively priced.

The next stage was to get the bikes into production and find the right distribution partners. We started making the bikes in Taiwan and Thailand, but soon we moved production to China and Vietnam. That gave us a seriously advantageous position with regard to quality and value for money. 

Bringing back the Bickerton brand has been a fun exercise, and the start of a whole new chapter for the Bickerton Portable Bicycle. Sales are growing strongly and everyone seems to like what we have done.

Bickerton Portables are available via 2x2 Worldwide, who are contactable via 01827 331099.

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