Inside Stanton Bikes' Return to UK Hardtail Manufacturing

Dec 23, 2019
by Tristan Tinn  


Tucked away in Matlock, UK is a small unit designing and manufacturing mountain bikes. This is proper UK production and it's quickly gaining momentum. Last December I visited Stanton bikes to take a peek at the manufacturing behind the newly released Switch9er FS and Switch FS full suspension frames but Stanton are renowned first and foremost for their hardtails so when I heard their hardtails were also coming home, I just had to return.

The unit remains very much the same, with a greater buzz of activity. Staffing has seen some switch-ups; the most notable addition to Stanton's quiver is Ollie. Ollie comes from an aerospace background and was brought on board for his impeccable skill and knowledge. He has a keen interest in titanium welding, making him perfect for the job as Stanton bring both Ti and Steel production back in house. Long story short, Ollie was first acquainted with Dan through mutual friends attending the local bike shop where Dan was then working, while their paths diverged Ollie built up his skills in aerospace. A chance meeting reunited them in this mutually benefitting agreement. The fabrication is overlooked by long standing team member and local lad, Jord.

To make this insight into Stanton's manufacturing a little more interesting I wanted to compare and contrast the production pathways for both the steel and titanium frames, focusing on the Switch9er hardtail - with aspects taken from the Switchback and the Sherpa, the Switch9er is the evolution of their modern geometry. It’s a super aggressive 29er that bares all the hallmarks of being a Stanton to the core.


Tubing kits

Steel

Ti

Let's start with the most obvious difference. On top is a Birmingham manufactured Reynolds DZB tube sets (not pictured the 631 used for Switch9er manufacture). On the bottom a custom drawn triple butted 3AL2.5V tube set imported from Taiwan, the UK lacks anyone producing titanium tubesets from raw material to fit Stanton's custom specs.

The two materials differ considerably in their physical properties; hardness, weld point, weight and tensile strength, resulting in differing ride properties but both materials share a more forgiving ride than aluminium. Because of the differing properties, the tubesets required for each frame have unique cross sections. Steel tubing is circular, whereas Ti is ovaloid.

The Yoke is CNC'd out of steel or titanium; a design taken from the Switchback to maximise power transfer

Other parts are also CNC'd out of the appropriate material. CNC work for both Ti and steel is currently outsourced, with slight adjustments made in house to ensure perfect fits.

Cuts - Steel

Fabrication at Stanton Bikes is led by Jord. Jord is responsible for finalising fits prior to assembly and undertaking critical cuts and adjustments. During fabrication there are similarities and differences in the two production pathways.

Steel is much more forgiving to work with, while also being considerably cheaper. Thus making it the perfect material for prototyping and experimentation.


Calibrate.

Lubricate.


Cut.

Rider owned; rider built

Cuts - Titanium


The final cuts to titanium tubesets are done in house. Beside the tubing being custom produced for Stanton, doing it in house gives them ultimate control over the accuracy of fits. Cutting titanium is more clinical than cutting steel. A full clean down is needed prior to cutting or working with Ti and tools must be specific to titanium to prevent contamination. The Ti should also be handled wearing gloves to reduce oils from our skin touching it.


Final checks are made by Jord and the team prior to making the ti cuts. With the ti being ovalised as opposed to round, the orientation of the cuts is much more challenging.



Titanium is a much harder material, therefore it's cut at a much lower RPM to prevent wear to the cutters and risk of fracture.


Material costs are significantly higher should anything go awry. Measure thrice cut once for ti?

Pre Jig Preparation

Prior to the tubes being seated into place in the jig, there are a number of preparative tasks to complete. There are similarities and differences here for steel and ti.

It's never a bad time to check the blueprints...

Set the jig according to plan




Both the BB and head tube need holes drilling to allow welding gases to escape



Both metals are cleaned and polished to remove any contaminants or impurities; this process is more important for titanium but still good practice with steel

Ti parts are cleaned with solvent

The welding rod is also given a good wipe down with solvent, despite being new out of the box - the contamination is visible

Sharpening the tip concentrates the arc

The front end is assembled in the jig

Fits are checked

Welding - Steel

Steel is then tack welded

Once tacked the front end can be removed from the jig. This allows inspection and better access for the final welds

Heat sinks are fitted into the frame

Before the final welds are made


Practice makes perfect


Once done the fits are checked


Adjustments made

Before being finished and checked again

Rear end is tacked


And then the steel frame is complete. Ready for paint or raw finishing.

Welding - Titanium

Welding titanium frames has its similarities and differences to steel. In general, the process is more time intensive with titanium being welded twice along each join following tack welding. A lead weld is followed with a fuse weld, this ensures thorough penetration into the joint. Welding titanium is more technique sensitive, requiring a highly skilled operator.

The welding sequence remains the same, in this sequence of photos we begin with an already welded front end - 'here's one we made earlier..'

Again finalising fits

The whole frame must be made airtight with space tape. This process means argon gas can be pumped through the frame during welding. Using this noble gas reduces oxidation and thus discolouration - this would have negative implications for weld integrity. Oli aims for aerospace standards regarding weld discolouration. Light straw discolouring is ok for MTB; but Oli will strive for no discolouration.

Aerospace titanium welding done in 'tanks' of argon. Access and cost limitations prevent this in most MTB applications as it’s impractical. At Stanton care is taken to minimise oxygen exposure when welding Ti.


Going airtight


Argon is pumped through

Tacks are placed


Followed by lead welds

Finished with fuse welds


Voila

Finishing - Steel

The finishing on the steel frames is relatively straight forwards - they either go to be ED coated for rust protection followed by a powder coat and vinyl decal finish, before being lacquered...

Stanton offers 'standard' and 'elite' colours for powder coating (pictured). Or you can just pick any RAL code you like!

Hot and fresh out the oven

Si applies a 'heritage wrap' to this frame

...Or they can be finished raw, showing off the heat stains around the welds and craftsmanship. The raw finishing process is a trade secret. Stanton are forthcoming in informing customers that as the finish wears then the frame will need to be returned for a 'second life service' where the frame is ED coated and powder coated.



A raw finished steel UK Switch9er

Finishing - Titanium

Painting titanium bikes is a faux pas, the material should be visible and celebrated. The 'standard' titanium finish is brushed raw with polished decals, titanium does not corrode so therefore does not require protection from the elements like steel does.


Brushed Ti

Prototype of the polished / brushed decal

The 'elite' titanium finishing offers bespoke titanium anodised decals and allows personal customisation. This process is outlined below:


First the area is polished for anodising to create a uniform surface




Once polished an initial color coat of anodising is created

Before being masked and 'splashed'

Anodising is retouched to place another layer of colour

Some alternative ideas

A sign of things to come


Once the masks are removed the base coat shines through

Edges are then masked


The final finish on employee Si's Ti Switch9er, the first of the UK manufactured frames. Si opted for a heritage wrap with a bronze base overlaid in purple


The UK Ti baby back on the table where it was created!

Check out all of Stanton's frames here



Supplementary images by Joe O'Brien


90 Comments

  • 61 3
 Maybe I should call a doctor...this erection is sure to last more than 4 hours.
  • 14 3
 calibrate, lubricate, fornicate...
  • 4 0
 especially for this hardtrail category specific bike.
  • 39 0
 Let's give some credits to the photographer. Absolutely beautiful! All these images really helped me to understand and appreciate the frame building. That's how to tell a story.
  • 13 0
 Thanks for taking the time to appreciate the images. The real talent is in that manufacturing though!
  • 2 0
 @tris400d: Stunning work Salute
  • 26 0
 Cool article. The most impressive thing to me is the razor blade shot. The welder that made that is more magician than man. Maybe he can manipulate metal like the X-Men guy (I'm old and can't remember his name). Very thin, high carbon, great color in the weld, small heat affected zone. These frames welded with this skill means you won't find a better welded frame out there. Definitely will be looking at a Ti frame from these guys.
  • 20 7
 Meh, not to discount the quality of their work but welding razor blades isn't hard for a decent welder. You see the same thing with aluminum and people welding soda cans together. This won't make much sense to people on PB but what's more impressive is a tube to tube weld in the 6GR position meeting the AWS D17.1 aerospace specification. Also titanium is not 'harder' than steel it just offers a much higher strength to weight ratio (just google a brinnel or rockwell hardness test of steel and titanium). Before you down vote I've been working as a certified aerospace welder and weld inspector for 14 years.
  • 1 0
 HA dido (razor thing)

yeah --- really cool read and pics

2 thumbs up
  • 2 1
 @coyotecycleworks: Now do all that in a mirror, opposite hand. Haha, meh, D17.1 is just a rehashed MIL-STD-2219 and 1595. The Navy's been welding to that for 40 years. I am sure I can round up some welders that can perform this just fine. It was my, obviously flawed, attempt at a colorful compliment. Not sure what the hardness comment is from. Don't remember citing rockwell values.
  • 5 0
 @mfronk: I'm not citing any values it's written in the article "Titanium is a much harder material, therefore it's cut at a much lower RPM to prevent wear to the cutters and risk of fracture." Titanium can be work hardened by machining and maybe that's what the author is trying to convey but it is by no means harder than steel and any hardness test would show that.
  • 5 0
 Magneto
  • 22 0
 Are those cutter-blade shurikens available for purchase (asking for a ninja friend)?
  • 3 0
 That would be the first ninja friend who asks his opponent to please throw them back.
  • 12 0
 So here's one thing that baffles me. How come Stanton charges almost made-in-Taiwan prices on a frame using top of the line Reynolds tubing made completely in-house but yet American hipster frame builders will charge you an arm and a leg for a similar frame with run of the mill chromoly? You can get a Sherpa 853 in pretty much any color you want for less than $1000.
  • 2 0
 Because making America great again. Seriously though, if I was capable of surviving on a hardtail it's down to three builders for me - Stanton, Kingdom, and then if either of them didn't want my money a cdn built chromag.
  • 5 0
 Is it because of the amount of production/competition and popularity of quality hardtails in the UK vs North America? In other words, perhaps the UK has broader experience in this market?
  • 9 5
 The value of the pound has plummeted with all the political chaos from Boris. That might be a reason!
  • 1 0
 It wasn't so long ago that top of the line fully made to measure UK steel frame was under 300 gbp. The list of possible makers was also long. Its nice to see the old industry popping back up again even if costs have rocketed.
  • 6 2
 @DannyOC: I mean the pound is well up from what it has been now that boris has won an election, so im not sure where you got that from?
  • 6 3
 @TenBurner: View the currency trend from the day the UK voted to leave the EU, that is a sorry sight for the pound, the short uplift after the vote on the 12th has also retreated back to where it was in the weeks and months before the election.

*I am not a Boris fan.
  • 6 0
 First of all of course Taiwan is going the direction of Japan (if they manage to keep their independence from China). That is, their products are so good and they also have the engineering skills that just like "made in Japan", "made in Taiwan" is becoming a sign of quality.

Then of course the maker industry in Europe (including the UK) may not have seen such a dip as the US may have seen. Possibly because Japan (the early "low wages" country) and later Indonesia, China (east coast where all the production happens) etc are still closer to the US (by boat) than to Europe. So "far east production" is just more of a logistical nightmare to European brands than it may be to US brands. In particular for smaller brands who may not be able to afford a permanent "fixer" on the spot. This was definitely a good reason for Superstarcomponents to take more production in house. Speaking of which, of course modern automation removed much of the reliance on cheap manual labour. And having made these investments, I they then also offer their CNC services to other brands. I know of a few but as they choose to not disclose their customers, I won't either. Same goes for Nicolai. They don't weld aluminium just for their own brand products. Companies are nearby so it makes sense to cooperate and sell your skills and production capacity.

Other than that, I think the cycling audience in Europe is just bigger than in North America. That has helped a lot. But more notably, at least from what I get from the responses on Pinkbike is that until not so long ago the North American audience had this "no carbon, not interested" vibe. Whereas in Europe people have always seemed willing to invest in Halifax or Nicolai aluminium or British steel, Intense had to quit US production of aluminium frames as their audience wasn't willing that kind of money for an aluminium frame. So yeah, it is a cultural thing too.

Finally I think "far east" mass production only makes sense if you are in the position to take chances and invest in large quantities. After all you'll only see your money back once the product is sold. So that's a few months if it is sold shortly after production and if you've produced too much, that's over year or more at a discount price. If in Europe you're making excess stock because a product isn't being sold, you just cut back on production. And if you realize the design needs a minor tweak, you make the tweak. Cotic, Stanton and Superstarcomponents may be brands that only recently dragged more production back to the UK but of course Hope has always managed to do so and be competitive.
  • 10 0
 Been running a Ti Switchback for a couple of years. It's replaced every other bike I own including some ridiculously expensive Evil bikes and a Chromag Samurai. All fun, amazing bikes but the Stanton just puts a smile on my face every time I ride it. Last December I was shuttling Hale'akala in Maui and the shuttle driver accidentally drove over my Switchback. I was devastated! Everything was destroyed after being dragged under the trailer for 30 feet. Frame didn't have any noticeable damage so I stripped off all the smashed components and brought it into the shop to see if the frame was salvageable. After checking all the welds and alignment they said it was more in alignment than most new bikes straight out of the factory. Been riding it for a year since with total confidence. Amazing bikes, I'd recommend one to anyone wanting a hardtail.
  • 7 0
 Some people complain about the price of bikes, but when you see a company like this putting so much effort and expertise into building them, it’s actually surprising how little they cost!!
  • 9 0
 As an engineer... Nah just kidding.
  • 5 0
 Do you also sometimes see that poll on the PB front page? "How long before you buy a new bike? One, two, three or four years?" No option to mention that you intend to keep your bike for (much) longer than this. f*ck that. A bike built with this level of care and attention you're going to keep for decades if not the rest of your life.
  • 5 0
 This is true. I also believe that quality steel/ti hardtails are somewhat held back by the mainstream (big) bike companies trying to sell fanboys a new squish bike every year. Squish bikes have there place, not discounting that, but hardtails are way more capable than the mainstream companies want to admit, and they basically last forever. Not to mention we have probably reached a consistent place in geometry. So basically a quality hardtail in ti or steel today will be relevant in 5 years, maybe (hopefully) much longer.
#hardtailbychoice
  • 2 0
 @JDFF: Yeah probably. It also depends on what kind of preferences you have. If you like to go for extremes like having the lightest, longest, most efficient pedaling, largest gear range, whatever then you'll always find yourself being unhappy after one year. Always looking for what next is new. If you already know what you want. What geometry, color etc then it is fine to just invest in that as your preferences won't change overnight. The frame I had built by BTR is exactly what I wanted for well over a decade. Low top tube was the main priority but back then I could never get the length to suit me. But if you just safe up (so just not get a new bike every four years) you can even get custom geometry exactly to your spec, get your favorite color, get your name on your bike all for less than the price of that full suspension frame that might only see dirt once a week. Modern bike builders are willing to discuss your needs, give you feedback on whether your ideas (of what you'd like to see in your new frame) are going to get you what you want and they aren't afraid to blow apart any silly idea you might have. Once you've gone through that there is no just no point getting a new frame in well over a decade. But then even if you don't go fully custom, you can probably get what you want out of what's available now.

I do agree on how much can be done on a good hardtail. I run 120mm travel up front and I still feel like my arms are getting more of a beating down the rockgardens than my legs do. Upgrading rear suspension (or getting rear suspension in the first place) isn't quite top priority then. If I'd like to balance this I'd be better off just getting higher rise bars (as the builders already suggested) instead. It is funny to see how in those ad videos most hardtails see harder riding than most full sussers with 140/130 F/R suspension.

But yeah nowadays there is no point "upgrading" to something you aren't 100% happy with or expect to not be happy with five years from now. Unless you're competing and need to be on the bleeding edge, which may actually be a good reason to second-think your mindset to compete (and be competitive). But for general JRA if you already have a bike then it is probably already half good for your purpose. And you likely also have an idea of what you want to see in your next bike. So if you want to pursue that then either get that and stick with it or get nothing new at all. Would probably safe the world a lot of litter if people would only buy new gear with this mindset.
  • 2 0
 @vinay: yep, all makes sense and relatively describes my situation. I'm on a custom ti frame with geo I thought about over many years and frames previous. Long(ish) with low top tube and short seat tube with 180mm dropper (which allows back end to get wild and stay tucked away). Deliberately running a 160mm fork, as I probably ride trails steeper than most and also adjust to ride nose heavy. However, bike sees dirt at least 4-5 days a week. Weight is preferred at about 31lbs with meaty tires and a rear Cush Core. And not my only bike, my "DH bike" is a Stumpy Evo, which I say jokingly, but by spending most time on a hardtail then going to the Stumpy Evo , it is pretty couch like. Oh, and many years of racing come and gone, not too worried about little advantages year by year. So, yep my hardtail is pretty future proof, and a comparable production steel frame would be very attainable for folks that didn't want to invest in custom ti.
  • 1 0
 @JDFF: Yeah, hardtails are beautifully simple in this respect. I just decided I wanted to have my top tube so low that I would still have my knee about the top tube even with the cranks level. And I decided a 400mm seat tube was more than enough even if I wanted to raise the saddle all the way up to XC height. So that's the only thing where I deviated from stock geometry. There is the option to install a dropper seatpost but until now I haven't really felt the need to ever raise the saddle. My rides are short and explosive so I'm fine with standing pretty much always. And these short blasts are what allows me to enjoy about four rides a week. I also often find myself looking at cool full sussers. Cotic, Starling and the beautiful Curtis XR650 all go for similar money but for the way I ride and how much I can already do on this hardtail it feels hard to justify investing more money in a bike that I'd ride less. I still have a 2007 Cannondale Prophet. I used it at the Megavalance and that was probably a better choice than the hardtail I had back then, but for the overall majority of my rides this just doesn't make sense. Even if I did live in the Alps, I wouldn't ride high alpine terrain as often as I ride singletrack now. The Cannondale is used mostly by people who come over and want to ride with me. Which is good enough reason to hold on to it, but not enough reason to invest in a new full susser.
  • 4 0
 Just want to say I f’in love my next gen Stanton Sherpa in steel. Feel like it’s criminally underdiscussed/under reviewed. Even Stanton markets it as a XC/Bike pack type , but it is so much more. I threw a 130 fork on it and it’s taken everything I throw at it from long XC days to even a bike park run. I run it 27.5+ but might switch to 29er, having that flexibility is awesome. The steel is solid but supple, even we’ll into my thirties with a not always great back I never get off of it sore. It’s so lively and versatile. It’s basically become my true trail bike so much so it allowed to me to go for a big LT full squish. Just a fine da’n ride. Maybe some day I’ll be able to get a Ti version but this thing is great.
  • 6 1
 I much rather own a Stanton (or Cotic) steel hardtail than any of those goofy and ridiculous plastic full-sussers spawned everyday from all brands. Too bad they cost the same (to me, at least).
  • 6 0
 I want a Switchback FS so bad, but the pricepoint landed in Canada is so fucking steep! Such a nice ride.
  • 6 0
 Do the maths on landing one in a ‘third world’ country with a weak currency! ????
  • 2 0
 Carefull, I was banned from the fb Stanton fan boi club for saying that :'D
  • 3 0
 Don't forget the prices on their web site including 20% VAT. This is not applied to international sales. Their frames are still cheaper than many other of the popular brands.
  • 1 0
 @david-louis: Hey, how you doing?
  • 1 0
 @david-louis: precisely what I mean of them costing the same as the plastic full-sussers Frown
  • 2 0
 @Notmeatall: close to ‘junk status’ but otherwise peachy ????
  • 1 0
 After years on full suspensions and reading a similar article on the joys of Titanium I decided to switch back to hard tail bikes. I'm currently enjoying my Kingdom Vendetta and one day its indefinitely one of those UK made bad boys just need to sell pretty much everything I own.
  • 1 0
 I have a 2017 switchback with 150 pikes it's an absolute beast, took it to bike park wales Friday and blew my mind!!! Did have a few flats but that's riding hardtails agressivly for you... LOVE STANTON
  • 3 0
 Craftsmanship pure and simple
  • 3 0
 Weld porn I can stare at for hours,great article.
  • 2 0
 Winter time really brings out the frame building and craftsmanship articles. I like it.
  • 2 0
 Still waiting for my Switch9er ht been over 3 months hurry up please they look so good
  • 1 0
 I totally love my steel switch9er, great article! And those photos are just as great as the work at stanton, some really epic shots in there!
  • 3 0
 Their size and color selection is an absolute mess
  • 1 0
 I think the bike selection on their website is the perfect example of "offering too many options" that you learn about in Marketing classes. Many studies have shown that people will leave online shopping sites if they're offered too many options during the selection/checkout process. It's overwhelming. If I were consulting, I'd recommend they offer just three standard colors for every frame and maybe one "custom" option (for a small cost) that requires communication outside of the standard ordering process (email, phone, etc).

Their sizing is also really strange for some of the frames, but that's a tough problem to solve when you're entire business model relies on direct sales without test rides.
  • 2 0
 @opetruzel: thats true. its cool there's so many colors but at the same time that also has deterred me a few times. When clicking the squares to choose my color, there's no textbox indicator to clarify exactly which color it is. Could be burgundy or could be red..
  • 2 0
 I always wondered if 5-10s would make a good work shoe. I see that they do.
  • 4 0
 Been there, careful if your employer has a nice shiny floor. The stealth sole will leave black marks everywhere.
  • 2 0
 @Shiny-side-up: speaking of which, my drive-side rear triangles are covered in black marks from the 510 soles after every ride. It's crazy how much contact I'm making with my frames while I ride -- I don't notice it at all while it's happening, so I wonder how to solve it?
  • 1 0
 they dont man. I've used 5 10s for work and they suck ass. They'll fall apart so quickly and the soles are absolute garbage. About as comfortable as sandals
  • 2 0
 @opetruzel: I have massive feet so i feel your pain. You either have to conciously modify your foot position or pedalling style. SPDs also would stop your heel floating too far
  • 3 2
 “Sharpening the tip concentrates the arc.” I keep tryin to explain the importance of this to my wife, but it doesn’t seem to spark with her.
  • 1 0
 Well done Staton...doing things differently and doing things right!

Can’t wait to be back on a Stanton hardtail again!!!!!
  • 1 0
 More! Please tour the small factory´s worldwide! Is "pelagro" still alive? Would love a titanium-trellis-frame from them, but cannot afford it (yet...)
  • 2 0
 Outstanding work and beautiful frames!!
  • 1 0
 I love the look of their titanium bikes. I just wish they offered more sizes. Frown Because I'm short.
  • 3 0
 Custom geometry available mate!????????
  • 1 0
 Not sure why it put all the question marks on the end there!
  • 2 0
 @patriot-si: thanks for pointing that out. I got so distracted by the standard sizing I didn't even notice the custom geometry option! They are on my list now...
  • 2 0
 Love these articles, and the high-res pics. Keep it up!
  • 4 1
 looks like a Cotic
  • 1 0
 There’s always one !

Love Stanton and love Cotic...have both in the household but other than being steel hardtails they are distinctively different !
  • 1 0
 Fantastic pictures and great bikes. Love the fact that they brought back the manufacturing to the UK.
  • 1 0
 Still one of the most beautiful hardtails on the planet. I'd love to try a switchback one day.
  • 1 0
 Would love them to make an updated lightweight progressive xc hardtail to race on.
  • 2 0
 Would be nice for them to return to my emails.
  • 2 0
 I want one.
  • 1 0
 Those welds are a work of art.
  • 1 0
 maybe one day PB can visit small barn in Lübbrechtsen
  • 2 0
 No longer in a small barn! Now Nicolai is at a small refurbished cake factory in Mehle, a couple of km from the original location.
  • 16 0
 Mmm, refurbished cake.
  • 1 0
 @paulaston: were they just moving recently? might explain the lack of response to my email.
  • 1 0
 Stanton is the new Orange
  • 1 0
 not sure stanton will ever be as big as orange. not that thats a bad thing btw.
  • 1 0
 Orange ..used to be bought by Brits for being British, I think they lost their mantle to Whyte
  • 1 0
 I want a Stanton Hard tail so bad it almost hurts..
  • 1 0
 I guess this means I should buy a Ti Switch9er
  • 1 0
 A TI switch9 with a pinion is pretty much my dream bike.
  • 1 0
 Check out the nordest lacrau...
  • 1 0
 I'm going to go out to the garage and hug my Ti ht.
  • 1 0
 Nice words and images Tris! ????
  • 1 0
 It's definitely no BTR ????
  • 1 0
 Hoping they design a frame for people over 5foot8..
  • 1 0
 Stanton Death Star.
  • 1 0
 badass
  • 1 0
 Pure bike porn... ♡
Below threshold threads are hidden

Post a Comment



Copyright © 2000 - 2020. Pinkbike.com. All rights reserved.
dv56 0.027069
Mobile Version of Website