Steel bikes built near the south east coast of England haven't had the best reputation of late, but Tom Bugler, 23, is hoping to turn that around with his new brand, Morph Cycles. Tom may seem like a relative newcomer to the bike industry but he has actually been involved in bike development since he was 16, when Specialized sent him a prototype dirt jump bike for feedback.
Since then, he has had his mind set on becoming a frame builder and Morph Cycles is his first brand. Tom first started working on this bike as part of his Year in Enterprise while studying at Loughborough University but now that he has graduated he wants to make it into a proper bike business. Without the money or tools to build a frame himself, Tom has designed this bike using Linkage X3, CAD programs and 3D printing. The idea behind the prototype (and the brand) is to have a 142mm steel full suspension bike that will be a mild-mannered British trail bike with a 140mm fork and a burly, all-day lapper when set up with a 160mm fork. A flip-chip can be used to switch the geometry of the bike to suit the fork it is using.
Morph Cycles Prototype 29er
• Wheel size: 29"
• Travel: 140/160mm front / 142mm rear
• Steel frame
• Head angle: 65.8° (140mm), 64.5° (160mm).
• Reach: 470mm
• 441mm chainstay length
• Sizes: 1, customizable
• Price: £2,000 (frame, shock, seat clamp)
• Weight: 3.55kg (frame and shock)
Unlike most small British bike brands, Tom won't be fabricating the frames himself but instead has outsourced that to Gael Baudou, a young builder in Toulouse, France. He has been testing his first prototype on his local trails and will now start working towards a second prototype that will include cleaner cable routing, a slacker seat tube, increased tire clearance, longer reach, and he will allow the frame to work with smaller chainrings. After that has landed, Tom plans to start taking pre-orders for five custom geometry frames and work towards building the brand further from there.
We caught up with him to talk through the bike, how he got this far and what his plans are for the future.
What's your background with bikes?
I started riding when I was about 10 years old with my dad locally and then increasingly I started to get into dirt jumps and that sort of thing. I singlespeeded my Diamondback Beta, got a DJ III on there and was loving life at that time.
When I was 16 I was super into geometry and frame building and I reached out on Pinkbike to Aaron Kerson, who was a product developer at Specialized at the time. I sent him all these ideas I had and he said, "Would you like to be involved in prototype testing?" I literally couldn't believe it. I remember showing my mum and she wouldn't believe me that someone was actually going to send me a frame to test from California.
What ideas did you send him?
I wanted to make a dirt jump frame that was more street-friendly and BMX-y. Dirt jump frames at that time, I'm thinking DMR Drones and things like that, were so long you could put your hand between the rear tire and the seat tube. I thought these bikes could be so much shorter and maybe even have a higher bottom bracket to make it feel like a BMX and spin that much easier.
They had definitely been thinking along the same lines because the turn around was so quick sending the frame out. It was super cool because I'd made all these suggestions and all these things I thought would be good and then I got this bike that was so similar.
Tom's prototype (left) vs the P.26 it became (right)
How did that go to building your own bike brand?
At university I was studying sports technology and my focus was always building and designing bikes. I was determined to do my year in industry at Specialized because I knew people who worked there, but it turned out logistically way too complicated. I found out I could do the Year in Enterprise placement scheme where you could pitch your own business idea to the university and if they liked it you could spend a year at university trying to start your own business.
I pitched Morph Cycles and managed to get a place on it. I wanted to do an adjustable geometry bike frame and it took tonnes of twists and turns within that year. What I've ended up with isn't quite what I wanted at the start, I was thinking of changing wheel sizes and much crazier adjustable geometry.
How did you go about building the bike?
The first thing I did was researching geometry by looking at every bike on the market that was in the trail and enduro category. I was probably in Linkage X3 for a month entirely just doing that and then I went from Linkage X3, which is 2D software, into CAD, which is 3D software.
I'd quite often 3D print a part and just kept refining it and doing it again and again. I was doing a lot of prototyping virtually, I wasn't making loads of frames and learning from each one.
Did you ever feel like you needed a physical prototype to test?
It would have been nice to have feedback sooner, but I sort of knew how it was going to ride because in Linkage 3D you get all the suspension parameters. The geometry I was going for also wasn't going to be so out of the norm. I knew it was going to work and I knew it was going to ride pretty well, I was just trying to nail down the assembly and how I was going to make it.
Was it always going to be steel?
Yeah from day one, definitely influenced by the dirt jumping. I've just always loved the way that steel looks and the world probably has enough aluminum bikes. It's cool to do something a bit different and the benefits of steel are really good so I was really happy to go with steel from the start.
Was it always going to be single pivot?
I did look at doing 4 bar and linkage driven single pivot but I ended up just liking that I could get really good suspension characteristics out of single pivot. I loved that it was so simple, I just thought it was going to be a really robust and refined bike with good characteristics and easy to maintain.
Did you have a certain type of rider in mind?
I was designing it for myself really. At home, what you want is a 140/150 trail bike but when you go to a bike park, it is nice to have more travel. It would be cool to have a bike that in one configuration was really well suited to my home riding but then you could adapt it into a more capable bike.
Although the rear travel is fixed at 142mm the frame can be run with either a 140 or a 160 fork. 140mm Pike vs 160mm DVO Diamond shown here.
How often do you expect people to switch?
If you want to just leave it in 140 or 160 that's cool, you don't need to change it but if you are handy and can change your fork travel internally by moving spacers, or changing the air shaft out then you can do it as often as possible. I think for most people it makes sense to run it as 140 and then for an Alps trip move it up to 160. It's not something you're going to do between rides.
What's the plan going forward?
I'd like to do small numbers of these frames. I've put a lot of effort into these designs, I think they're really good. Maybe like 5 bikes in early January 2020, they'll all be customizable geometries within boundaries.