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Conversation Mason

Dom from Mason Cycles talks about his new alloy and Ti Bokeh framesets, and more

Whilst wandering the halls of Eurobike bumped into Dom Mason, owner and designer at Mason Cycles who was also trudging around, but with a new bike frame over his shoulder. The show was the first public unveiling of his alloy Bokeh AdventureSport bike which was on display on the Fabric and Hope stands and the frame he was carrying around was a prototype titanium version. More on that beauty later.

- Mason Cycles: First painted Bokeh adventure bikes unveiled dragged Dom aside for a ten-minuted restorative coffee and cake and a quick ten minute chat about the new bike. He talked pretty much non-stop for 25 minutes…

“We noticed that with the original Resolution and Definitions – both designed as a ‘Distance’ bike to do a lot of miles in comfort - we noticed that more and more people were going on huge adventures with them, and there’s more and more people making decent lightweight packs and frame bags and saddle-packs and people seem to be embracing that, putting lightweight packs on bikes like ours, and we noticed that on our social media and feedback that a huge amount of people who had bought our bikes were putting packs on and going on adventures and going a long way and taking time off to travel across a continent or around their country, and they never thought they’d do that. And they’d write to us and say “I got your bike because I wanted to go to work all year, and I’ve got a carbon bike and I needed something with big tyres and mudguards and they’ve ended up having an adventure and going somewhere they’d never thought they’d go.”

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“And last year Josh Ibbett won the TCR (the Transcontinental, a race that in 2015 ran the 3,800 kilometres from Geraardsbergen in Belgium to Çanakkale in Turkey, a distance Josh covered in 9 days and 23 hours) on a Definition and I was already thinking of making an Adventure bike, but not a heavyweight frame with loads of braze-ons that you put lots of luggage on but more of a sprinter, and I came up with the term “fastfar” which became a bit of a hashtag for us, and lots or people that were crossing continents used it, also ‘continent-crushing’. I wanted to make a bike that had the spirit of our original bikes but instead of being multi-surface it was multi-terrain so it had big tyres, it could still go fast but you didn’t necessarily have to plan exactly where you were going, so you could go down rocky tracks or across the fields for a bit”

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To that end the Bokeh is designed to fit a 50mm 650b tyre in, which is about 2” in Brexit terms. The new fork has been designed to fit a bigger 2.1” 650b tyre in too, which opens up the tyre choice massively. Dom thinks that any bigger than a 50mm tyre and you should be on a mountainbike really. With a 700c wheel the Bokeh will fit a 40mm tyre in, with mudguards as well. Going against the current tend for single chainrings the Bokeh has been designed for twin chainrings should you wish and Mason has worked closely with Dedacciai to create their own chainstays that manage the tricky fit of both big tyres and a double chainset.

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“We tooled up with Dedacciai for own alloy tubes, and titanium tubesets, we use completely different seat and chainstays with our own custom bend, the downtube is our own tube, as is the oval top-tube. And the new fork has been developed in conjunction with an Italian maker, with flat-mount and thru-axle both front and rear, I feel that riding a bike off-road, loaded up with kit justifies it, it’s something not needed on the Definition or Resolution because it compromises the stays you can use and the ride quality, but it makes sense for the Bokeh.”

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“Stack heights are very similar to the Definition, even though the fork is another 20+mm higher the stack heights are very similar because I didn’t want a towering head-tube. I found that with 29ers that if you decided to have a long head-tube it didn’t accelerate and it didn’t climb up hills. I like straight-armed riding so you can punch the bike uphill and accelerate, I think that long head-tubes, even though they’re very fashionable aren’t necessarily very good at that.”

So there you go.

“And also if you’ve got a long head-tube you can’t make it shorter, so if people want to have a slammed position they can’t do that, if they want to go faster, but if they want to add 40mm of spacer they can do that, it makes it more flexible in my mind. It makes sense for a fastfar bike to be……. fast."

“The Bokeh has a strong DNA with the Definition and Resolution, it’s spirited and engaging to ride, and light, and very capable, but the geometry is modified for big wheels and tyres and for that kind of crossing all sorts of terrain fast.”

“Josh was a big inspiration for the bike because he took the original Definition out and he squeezed 33mm tyres in and went across quite big rocks, and he said “This is about it, and it’s banging about a bit” and I was already thinking about making something with bigger tyres and this just cemented that. So he’s been testing all of the prototypes and taking them thousands of kilometres so, he’s been hugely influential and useful for us to have a world-class TCR winning rider testing the prototypes. Massive.”

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The Ti version of the Bokeh has been hugely difficult, Dom worked on Ti bikes with his old brand Kinesis and their GF Ti s a favourite, and he loved the idea of a titanium frame and he knows it can work beautifully, but it’s been hugely difficult to produce a titanium frame in Italy, he didn’t imagine it would be so tricky.

“The BokehTi has same geometry, same clearances, the same capability as the alloy version but with the beautiful ride quality of Ti, plus the longevity, and it’s easier to keep looking nice. Actually titanium’s great for a bike that you chuck about a lot, better than for race frame, actually….. I just thought of that (laughter) you can refinish it.”

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“Its not as light as a good alloy frame, not as heavy as a good steel frame, it’s in between but it’s got all those beautiful qualities. So, I’ve been working with Reynolds for a year on a 3D printed Ti dropout with thru-axle and flat-mount, and I’ve tooled up for my own tubeset from Dedacciai so the downtube, the stays and the top-tube are all custom to Mason. And they don’t do that sort of thing with anybody apparently, but Stefano from Dedacciai really loved and believed in the brand so when I asked him to do special tubes he said he’d help. So that was like “Oh, someone cares”. So that was great and he’s done two different diameter downtubes with our upside-down D-shape profile which is the same as the Resolution and aluminium Bokeh.”

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“We’ve had five Ti prototype frames, Josh has ridden one for a thousand kilometres and done the Tuscany Trail on it where he got bitten by a dog, and started the TCR……. (Josh had to pull out due to injury, it’s not been a good year for Josh) and we’re ready to put it in manufacture, we’re just looking for the right people for our quality of weld which we think we’ve done today.”

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Dom had spent some time with the BokehTi frame over his shoulder looking for a frame-builder to build it up to his exacting standards. He wasn’t quite happy with some of the welds on this particular prototype, although they looked more than passable enough, they weren’t quite just so. On his trudging travels round Eurobike Dom chatted to a certain Italian frame-builder who he was confident could build the frame to his vision.

The price of the BokehTi frame and fork will be somewhere in the £2,500 area and Mason will be offering full build options as they do on the rest of their frames.

The alloy Bokeh frame and fork are almost ready for delivery and there’s a bunch of detail on prices and spec here. Rough weight will be 1650g for a painted medium alloy frame. “We use high quality tubing and we make these a performance weight but we don’t want to try and pare it down” Dom points out, ”our weights are really good but we’re never going to try and make it super super light because our thing is ride quality, durability, comfort, bike for life, all that sort of stuff, and not like “I’ve got the lightest bike”.”

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With only two colours and two builds available you might feel a little limited, but Mason know what you need. “We’ve thought hard about it” Dom says, “we’ve ridden it loads, Josh has ridden it loads, you need this or that particular build. We thought really hard about tyres and we’re using Panaracer Comet Hardpack 650 because they’ve hot a real good across the range performance. I didn’t want to use slicks, we tried that big slick tyre and it’s fantastic and fast and grippy on road but it was like “Whooooooooa” as soon as you hit any loose stuff, you know, pebbly stuff on top of hardpack.”

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When Dom gets asked whereabouts he would place the Bokeh in the gravel-bike genre it gets him going a little bit.

“Gravel is something I don’t mention anywhere, it doesn’t get mentioned on our website or in our descriptions, gravel sounds incredibly dull and it reminds me of piles of gravel and workmen and wheelbarrows. It doesn’t mean anything to me and I don’t think it means anything to anybody much, so AdventureSport is what we call it because it’s about these people who are finding themselves in the middle of an adventure all of a sudden, and its maybe not what they planned. Or they’re planning an adventure and they’re doing it fast and they might be competitive, so it’s not about necessarily racing, it’s not about grinding - gravel grinder - not about that, it’s about enjoying yourself, going really fast, maybe getting a little bit out of control, having a whoop through the forest, but also traveling, getting from one place to another, getting way further than they thought, people going ”I couldn’t believe it, I went so far, I didn’t think I could do it”, so this is what that bike’s for, it’s not for grinding, it’s for having fun on and having adventure and getting lost and going fast, it’s Adventure Sport, I don’t know if I made that up or not but it sounds like A Thing”

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I suggest that Dom made the name up as much as anyone else made up their gravel/allroad/whatever tag.

“We’re talking about getting lost underneath a mountain, we’re not talking about just going across a prairie for ever and ever and grinding to oblivion. Maybe. Although it will do that really well…. as well”

“Fastfar is the thing. It’s become our thing, people are just doing that with all the bikes, it’s incredible. Look on our instagram, everyone’s going across Idaho, France, everything, with packs on, amazing, I honestly didn’t envisage that happening when I designed them.”

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Dom’s bikes seem to have arrived at just the right time as that style of riding has suddenly become the next new zeitgeisty thing to do. It’s a knack that Dom seems to have, whilst he was working at Kinesis he specced disc-mounts on a cyclo-cross frame years and years ago, which apparently no-one used, and his Pro6 was one of the first production disc cyclo-cross bikes.

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“The exciting thing when I started Mason Cycles was that I got inspired by big tyres and hydraulic disc brakes for road, proper drop-bar braking systems, and doing something progressive and modern and exciting with steel, but using traditional people to do it with, and at the same time the big tyre thing became a thing and even now road tyres are getting bigger and bigger, people are running them at 70psi with slick 33’s or whatever.

"People suddenly discovered they could be remarkably capable off-road and they could go a long way on it and it was much more comfortable and they could get mudguards on it and a rack on and then all of a sudden they were going off somewhere. And then people like Apidura developed these really nice packs, people don’t want to put a rack on, they don’t want to do that, they want to be able to put something on and off and put it away, they don’t want a rack and if they can put something behind their saddle, and in their frame and on their bars and go away for a week they will.

"In conjunction with what we were doing pack makers have pushed things and just made it really possible for someone to go away and have a little adventure, and the micro-adventure thing has been pushed by adventurers on their bikes and it just so happens that our bikes are really really good at it. And now we’re got an AdventureSport bike which is really really really good, and it’s for that thing, backed by one of the best riders in the world. It’s quite exciting to be in with that, we’ve been in with the disc-brake revolution, the big tyre revolution and people loving steel and things that are made by human beings, and now we’re on the cusp that whole adventuring thing.”

Dom is clearly on a roll.

“There’s a whole thing, I could bore you for hours on it, about people going back to reality, buying things from people that have actually made something, using smaller makers, having an adventure, buying some camping gear, wearing a checked shirt, buying an axe……….. isn’t there? There really is. And it kind of fits in with that really nicely, having a logo that looks like it’s been drawn by someone, all that suff. We’re all about hand-crafted and doing things and asking really small makers to make things, it’s all fitted in with what people want at the moment, anti-amazon backlash.”

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“I was fascinated by this, people wanting a handcrafted leather foot for their iMac, and they’re prepared to get it from Idaho, and we kind of fit in with that, but that’s what I love anyway. That’s one of the reasons I came away from (bikes being made in) Taiwan, I felt divorced from the whole process and I couldn’t do it any more, I wanted to get my fingernails dirty.”

“It’s much much harder, but now I know the people that make the frames, I met them earlier and they gave me a hug, I get my hands dirty in their factory and we talk about things, and they try quite hard to get things right for me. It took two years to get to this part, but now I know how the Italians work, they know how I work, they know I’m a bit crazy about that kind of stuff but they like it. It’s not just normal. That’s the stage that I needed to be at, so they care about what they’re doing and they do a little bit extra for you as well. That’s part of the Mason thing, that I wanted to be in touch with the frame makers and work with people we’re friends with and who we admired, which we’ve done with people like Hope and Fabric and Hunt wheels, all that side of it is working well.”

“I’ve gone off the subject….”

Not at all Dom, not at all.

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It’s clear that Dom Mason is a man of passion, it’s an overused word almost to the point of meaningless nowadays, especially in the context of hand-made bicycle frames, and things made in Italy, but he deeply deeply cares about things and his product. It doesn’t take much to push the buttons on Dom to get him talking, and it’s clear that he sweats the details to the point of extreme stress and worry to himself. Most of these features and decisions he makes are the ones that most won’t see or even bother about, but they’re the ones that make all the difference between normal and special, the little detail that you might spot once you’ve owned a Mason for a month or two and it gives you a little smile.

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“I didn’t think I could talk about any of it but I did” have been promised an exclusive first ride on the new Bokeh so watch this webspace.

Mason Cycles

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

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