First Look: Morph Cycles' Prototype Steel Full Suss

Oct 29, 2019
by James Smurthwaite  
Morph Cycles
Photo: Simon Hird

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)

Morph Cycles
Tom wanted quality steel and went for Reynolds 853, the first choice of most British steel mountain bike makers.

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.

Morph Cycles
Tom settled for a simple, robust, single pivot design. The suspension curve is almost totally linear.

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.

Morph Cycles
Morph Cycles
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.

Morph Cycles
The geo switching flip-chip.

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.

bigquotesThe world probably has enough aluminum bikes

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.

Morph Cycles
British designed, French made.

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?

Morph Cycles
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.

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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.

Morph Cycles
Morph Cycles

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.

Morph Cycles

Author Info:
jamessmurthwaite avatar

Member since Nov 14, 2018
1,770 articles

  • 50 1
 This is so cool, a guy who had a dream and is going with it. The bike looks super good and there's most definitely a market out there for steel that is not going away! Good on you Tom and best of luck out there!
  • 1 0
 frame 002 please Big Grin
  • 22 0
 I enjoy honesty in a company and it was nice to here “I was designing it for myself really” as a answer as too how the bike is designed for
  • 14 0
 Have seen this progress on the forums. Tom went out of his way to give me advice and comes across as an awesome guy. I’m definitely not in the market for another bike but I hope this works out for him
  • 13 2
 Very nice looking bike. Always liked that simple look of steel... but am I the first to note that this looks very similar to the starling cycles?
  • 3 7
flag vhdh666 (Oct 30, 2019 at 10:06) (Below Threshold)
 No you are not the first one, looks like a 100% copie
  • 5 0
 Looks more like a session to me, or even a bike.
  • 7 0
 ‘Steel bikes built near the south coast of England haven't had the best reputation of late’

Starling, BTR, Curtis (and possibly Swarf!?) are all South Coast, no? Well south England at least
  • 16 0
 I thought that too, but they're probably referring to Sick
  • 10 0
 @JonBoo: Oh, yeah - Sick. I forgot about them. Shame one company has to tarnish the lot.

I'd say south of England is doing pretty well considering the lack of vertical there.
  • 6 0
 @dubod22: With all those great British manufacturers out there, I would forget about Sick too. I personally definitely associate the UK with great steel bicycle frames.
  • 5 0
 Bit of a weird comment given that we are the home of steel! Steel bikes have never had such a good reputation as they do now. My next full sus will be steel. No doubt.
  • 7 0
 Starling are from Bristol, BTR are from Frome, Curtis are from Glastonbury, none of which are south coast, Swarf are from Dorchester which is close.
  • 5 3
 I need another single pivot steel frames like I need a 5th girlfriend.
  • 3 3
 @djm35: " built near the south coast of England" Everything is close to the South coast of England for PB. And those places are - compared to the rest of England.

It's all relative, no need to get your knickers in a twist.
  • 1 1
 @nouseforaname: Yes, the word "near" is very relative. But the British author of this article has already implied the range. This bike is from Toulouse so if that's near the south coast of England then surely the aforementioned brands are too. Heck if Toulouse is near the UK south coast then Cotic is too.
  • 1 0
 @djm35: btr came out of Worthing I believe and love to Frome
  • 5 0
 Could we please get a shot of that brace below the shock mount on the rear triangle?

Looks way too much like Starling for me although I love the optics of this type of frame
  • 1 0
 Should be photos on my website and Instagram Salute
  • 2 0
 @james smurthwaite. The first sentence has me intrigued: “ Steel bikes built near the south coast of England haven't had the best reputation of late,” . As I live under a rock can someone please enlighten me what it’s referring to.
  • 6 0
 probably sick
  • 4 3
 "I knew it was going to work and I knew it was going to ride pretty well...." Aside from the kinematics, the rear is going to be flexy and also put a lot of side load on the shock which will reduce bushing life. With a linkage driven single pivot he could have put a in rocker link to stiffen it up. It looks like a good candidate for a flex stay since steel can be designed for infinite fatigue, but that would require some R&D.
  • 3 0
 It's got some bracing from side to side beneath the shock mount. I'd bet the next version has a welded piece there that would stiffen the rear end up.
  • 2 0
 The "bushing life argument" is something that Joe from Starling answered awhile ago. i cant remember where i saw his answer to this but maybe someone here can help me out. there was a reason he is not stiffen it up.
  • 2 0
 it will also compromise shocklife, i own a starling and it ate 2 shocks to date. could be coincidence but this only ever happened to me with the starling and my old beloved gt dhi, which is basically also a non linkage singlepivot.
  • 2 0
 @optimumnotmaximum: I ride an PP Shan No 5 and it has an alloy rocker link to stiffen it up. no problems so far...
  • 2 0
 @optimumnotmaximum: Bike's probably out of alignment, just like that demo bike he sent to PB.
  • 1 0
 Does anyone have any info on how the DVO Topaz T3 Performs on a single pivot design like this? Looking at it for a heckler, but I'm a bit concerned about the pedal bob even with the climb mode. Anyone have any experience doing this?
  • 2 0
 The Topaz is great. Right out the box it's super plush. Single pivot frames tend to have a very linear leverage ratio, so you'll want to add volume bands it to provide the required progressivity. It's very easy to do, you don't even have to remove the shock from the bike to do it. I've been trying out different setups and I've settled on 4 volume bands in mine. The shock comes with 5 bands so there's space to go even more progressive if you wanted. The climb switch has 3 positions - an open, less open and way less open position. I find my frames pedal well even in open, but for a long fireroad or long non-technical climb I often use the climb switch and it works very well. The middle setting kills of most of the movement but it does still track a little. In the most firm setting it barely moves at all. I recommend it highly.
  • 3 2
 Just a tip- you need to redesign your shock mount/gusset or you will collapse your downtube if you bottom out the shock. The load is too concentrated, and will kink right in front of where the gusset ends. I know from experience.
  • 3 0
 23 too, sick looking bike. Come test em out on Canada's West Coast...or are you busy in the south of France.
  • 15 14
 It's pretty much a copy of Marino full suspension.. and if you don't know who Marino is he's the dude that got fucked building sick bikes frames, been building steel frames for 10 years so this is really nothing new
  • 7 3
 You're totally right. Why you got a negative I don't know. The kid's done well but Starling and othets are pretty much identical too. I made one a couple of years ago that was drawn up 10 years ago but then work and house got in the way. Slack front, but steep seat for suicides, also looks like this and all the others. The linear suspension rate is the let down with these bikes. I saw a homemade one in Whistler this year, looks very similar again but this German guy had designed in a clever super tidy rocker linkage activating the shock and it was much better. 853 forever
  • 25 2
 The single pivot had been around for decades before Marino existed, so your argument could be applied against Marino as well. It's a silly argument, either way. Marino is an established frame builder, while this is a young man who made a frame to suit his needs, and may sell a handful in the future. It's not hard to appreciate both. I think this guy designed a damn good looking bike.
  • 3 1
 possibly a copy, but there's no reason a single pivot bike maker couldn't be in every corner of the world following a design that works. Moving forward it may be better to buy local steel than to ship from overseas, especially vs carbon bikes that then go out of fashion. Starling do a great job but their demand meant they had to get more made in Taiwan, so there's clearly demand.
  • 2 0
 It does resemble a Marino. The Marino Full sus bikes has sexier rear ends though IMO. Mine is being shipped to me this week :-D
  • 4 0
 Try Santa Cruz Tazmon, 1994, though Heckler 1996 was more similar. And, this being Pinkbike, someone will chime in with a better match from 1923.
  • 18 1
 A copy? And you tell that from a picture? It’s a single pivot for Christs sake. Have a go at designing one and let’s see how far it will land from virtually everything else.
  • 1 0
 If this ends up being commercialized, it'd be interesting to see a back to back review comparison with one of the Starling Cycles bikes. If they ride very similarly, then that'd be a bit akward.
  • 2 0
 I’m sure they do to some extent, they’re both single pivots with similar tube sets. Don’t see why that’s a problem, there doesn’t need to be a limit of one steel single pivot frame company any more than there should only be one brand making carbon Horst link frames. It’s not like starling is the only brand making steel single pivot frames now anyway.
  • 1 0
 @srstudent: Good point. I was thinking along the lines of Starling's innovation being respected, but it doesn't seem like Starling was particularly innovative.
  • 1 0
 @cedrico: don’t get me wrong, I love what starling is doing, but I think of the Murmur as just executing a fairly straightforward concept really well, if that makes sense. Of course the gearbox and 5s hsp enduro bikes are a different story...
  • 1 0
 @srstudent: Right, yeah they are dabling with gearbox bikes as well. Cool stuff.
  • 6 3
 If you're charging big bucks for a boutique bike, you better braze on a bitchin' beauty headtube badge.
  • 1 0
 I feel that it is often neglected on some bikes. Love the headtube badges
  • 2 0
 @morphcycles: Full respect to you sir. Helluva badge, and I tip my hat to you taking the time to respond some 3 months later. Now THAT is attention to detail.
  • 2 0
 @morphcycles: She's a beauty
  • 1 0
 @T4THH: @cerealkilla Thanks guys! It was always the plan to do a headtube badge - but when the prototype was finished I didn't have anything ready and so the sticker had to do!
  • 8 8
 You are Not a Frame Builder, until you build your Own frames.

I hope this young fellow rapidly progresses to doing just that.

I assume the South of England remark is about that debacle that was the S*** saga? From the very start, it was a hyped up circus, which ended in disaster, for most customers.

I've made bicycle frames since 1974 - my first Suspension single pivot frame in 75. I still make Single Pivot bikes in preference to multi pivot, though I've designed quite a few prototypes for 'other's- it's a Good money earner.

Single Pivot designs can look simple, but it's far from simple to make a good one - well, it's the same among the multi pivot genre, too. Single Pivot frames look "all the same", to the general public, and, indeed the majority of baffled by BS MTBers. Indeed, the main reason / benefit to the multitude of multi pivot frames, is to establish 'difference', or the ubiquitous 'USP'. Fair enough, and now, the majority of them work well.

I hope this fellow learns to Cut, Miter, Machine and Weld, Himself. Then he'll become a Frame Builder. Good luck to him, when he does.
  • 1 0
 Wise words
  • 3 0
 You have any pictures of that bike you built in 75?
  • 1 0
 Imagine the featured bike or a Starling but painted in orange metaflake and the rider's wearing flared jeans and has an afro. @BobbyHillbomb:
  • 1 0
 Looks fantastic to me. And a good contender for a "slalom hack" ie: down to running 27 wheels on the 29 frame (as others are doing nowadays). Like a trail version of my Terraplane frame (Nor Cal). Pretty down gusset to boot.
  • 2 0
 Must be baked. Why is increasing the travel with the 160mm DVO lowering the BB height? Please explain.
  • 8 0
 There's also a flip chip at the rear shock mount.
  • 3 0
 @toddball: Thank you. Sorry for derp.
  • 4 0
 Good work!!!! @tom666
  • 3 0
 pretty cool! hope he can be succesful!
  • 1 0
 That jump frame looks killer. I only ride skateparks and street so a short, higher BB Geo sounds amazing! Where can I buy!?
  • 2 0
 Very nice.
(Get a better head badge though!)
  • 1 0

Yes!!!!! Nice one!
  • 2 0
 How does the shock cope with side loads?
  • 1 0
 Steel high pivot medium travel Enduro bikes are the future. Imagine the traction.
  • 2 0
 Timeless beautiful frame shape.
  • 2 0
 Thanks so much Salute
  • 2 0
 Very neat and tidy looking bike.
  • 1 0
 When and where can I demo this beast, so keen for that British steely goodness through the loam
  • 2 1
 Dvo always killing the game
  • 1 0
 Looks like a Marino But seriously, good luck and nice work
  • 2 1
 Looks great,but not 2000£ great.
  • 1 0
 Beautiful frame. Can you run a small 26-28 chainring on the front?
  • 3 0
 You will be able to run a 28t on the next prototype Salute
  • 1 0
 Cool, my next bike will be steel and now i have another choice.
  • 1 0
 Amazing frame. Just a shame it took me so many brands to find this.
  • 3 3
 Looks like most other steel bikes
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