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
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.
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.
Cut. 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.
Both the BB and head tube need holes drilling to allow welding gases to escape
The front end is assembled in the jigWelding - Steel
Heat sinks are fitted into the frame
Once done the fits are checked
Before being finished and checked againWelding - 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 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.
Argon is pumped through
Tacks are placed
Finished with fuse weldsFinishing - 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...
...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. 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.
The 'elite' titanium finishing offers bespoke titanium anodised decals and allows personal customisation. This process is outlined below:
Some alternative ideasCheck out all of Stanton's frames here
Supplementary images by Joe O'Brien