The ultimate new bike day
courtesy of Enigma Bicycleworks
I've always loved the allure of riding long distances, but only in 2016 did I cross the threshold from touring to racing – entering the Holyland Challenge, a bikepacking race across Israel. It was brutally hard but I was hooked, and three years later I'd raced two Transcontinental Races and have a third lined up for this summer, alongside a whole season of other endurance challenges.
Riding many thousands of kilometers highlights any flaws in one's bike choice and the past few years' experience have refined my idea of the perfect setup. For endurance races like the TCR, a titanium bike is ideal as it's light, fast and most importantly comfortable, and with gravel sections becoming more common in these races, clearance for 32mm tyres is necessary. With that in mind I decided the Enigma Evoke would be my weapon of choice, and extremely excited, I arrived at Enigma HQ to make my dream bike a reality!
As a small and passionate outfit, Enigma are always keen to share their enthusiasm with other cyclists, especially those looking to invest in some new titanium. They offer a personal bike purchasing service at their headquarters near the Sussex coast, taking you through the entire process of buying a bike from custom fit to custom finish. It's an experience which they don't shout about, but could easily be the difference between simply getting a new bike, and falling in love with your new machine.
"A feeling of connection to the finished product that you don't get when you order something online."
I arrived at the factory on a bright and blustery February morning. As soon as I stepped through the door I found myself surrounded by gleaming titanium, anodised aluminuim, carbon wheels and the intoxicating smell of brand new bike tyres. As I gawped at the finished bikes in the showroom, Richard ushered me into the main factory, where Enigma handle every single process involved in creating a new bike.
First on the agenda was a factory tour, following the steps taken from raw material to finished bike. The journey started with neat piles of titanium tubes, each with their own clipboard detailing their final destiny, like babies in a maternity ward blissfully unaware of the adventures they have in store. We ventured across the bright, open room, past heavy industrial tooling used to cut tubes, space-age jigs for assembling frames, and men in thick grubby welding aprons sending sparks flying across the room.
We ducked under finished frames hanging above us, arriving in a clinical spray booth resembling a modern art gallery with freshly painted components dangling from the ceiling. At each stage, the factory's busily working craftsmen were happy to chat about their part in the process, which provided not only a fascinating insight, but also a feeling of connection to the finished product that you don't get when you order something online.
Next was the bike fit. Having briefed Richard on the type of riding I wanted to do and supplied data from a previous bike fit* he'd produced a CAD drawing of the optimum Enigma model set up to fit precisely. My dream bike in diagram form was now tantalisingly displayed in front of me on a screen as I sat on the bike fitting rig.
Being expertly fitted to a new bike is extremely important for anyone, as small variations in the position of your body can result in huge discomfort and injury after hours in the saddle. We ran through a series of procedures to tailor saddle height, reach, bar width, knee and foot alignment, all the time discussing how it related back to my specific riding style and physiology. No stone was left unturned and after a few tweaks and a lot of information digested I felt like I couldn't be in a better position on the bike. With the tweaks fed back into my bike spec, we moved onto the next stage of the day's activities.
*If you haven't already had a bike fit, this will be done from scratch during the session.
"No stone was left unturned, I felt like I couldn't be in a better position on the bike"
After staring longingly at a digital version of my bike for so long, it was a visceral thrill when Richard wheeled in a real life version. We were going out for a test ride! With the bike set up to my exact fit data, we rolled on some arm warmers and rolled out of the factory forecourt.
The first few minutes of the ride were a sensorial overload as my brain caught up with the reality of finally experiencing the titanium bike I'd been dreaming about. Before I knew it we were out of the industrial complex and onto a bumpy, technical cycle path strewn with muddy puddles. I focused on the sensation - the bike beneath me felt light and agile, zingy, precise yet buttery smooth as I glided over the broken tarmac. As we swept through a small picturesque village, a warning from Richard signalled a climb ahead. My bike felt stiff and light, efficiently transferring power to propel me to the summit.
"The bike beneath me felt light and agile, zingy, precise yet buttery smooth"
A fast wooded descent gave me an opportunity to get on the drops and the Enigma felt stable and balanced, with the braking power of the discs inspiring confidence to corner as fast as I dared. We dove down across open sweeping plains and the glint of the sea on the horizon signalled that we were approaching our lunch stop and half way point: the National Trust cafe overlooking the Seven Sisters cliffs. The cafe provided the perfect pause to discuss the ride so far over coffees and a hearty stew, as our two Enigmas glittered in the sun just outside the window.
"The cafe provided the perfect pause to discuss the ride so far, as our two Enigmas glittered in the sun outside the window."
As we chatted away I realised that this was far more than just an enjoyable ride, it was an invaluable way to work through all the questions that crop up when choosing the right bike. On the ride back I grilled Richard on every detail and concern about my new setup and by the time we arrived back at Enigma HQ I had come to some final and well informed decisions that I know I wouldn't have been able to make simply by looking at a screen.
For example, I run a dynamo to power my lights and electronics, so I was able to transplant the dynamo specific fork from the Etape onto my chosen Evoke and even add mudguard eyelets to the frame as part of the finishing process. That kind of on the fly customisation is priceless and came from actually visiting the factory and spending time talking about my bike. The only decision left was the frame finish and again Richard was able to give a rationale informed by experience, suggesting 'raw brushed' as it's easier to buff out the scratches and scuffs it would likely sustain from my frame bags.
The final treat of the day was a visit into the cavernous stock room which was a real 'kid in a sweet shop' moment, surrounded by shiny new bikes being built up ready for their lucky new owners. As I'm a size 54 (one of Enigma's stock sizes) I was able to see my actual frame before graphics and final custom additions are applied. The image of this sleek, shiny metal masterpiece was burned onto my retinas for the entire journey home. I left the Enigma factory having been through an experience carefully designed to tease out every single detail about my perfect bike, leaving me totally relaxed that I'd made all the right choices.
"It has been imbued with significance, history and soul, before I have even ridden it"
But it's more than just a tool for picking the right bike, the human connection and personal investment of visiting a factory and meeting the people involved in building your bike adds so much to the experience of owning it. It has been imbued with significance, history and soul, before I have even ridden it. This kind of personal connection, no matter how small, is at a premium in this modern era of ultra convenience and faceless commodities, and it's something really special.