The Hack Bike Derby

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Sep 12, 2023
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Berlin, Germany
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Have you ever heard of the Hack Bike Derby?

Some of you surely, and for those to whom it is completely unknown, here is a little story.

At some point, Andrew Denham from England got tired. He worked a lot, too much, for his company 'The Bicycle Academy'. He teaches people how to design and build their own bikes, from geometry sketches to welding. Then came the point where marketing-driven industrial thinking didn't make him happy anymore. He felt empty, he wanted to get back to the wild, raw primal.
"I was just slogging away. I was completely trapped in my everyday hamster wheel and hardly ever outside on my bike," he chats. "When I was biking, it was rarely with a clear head. You test the latest material, new constructions and constantly think about things. I wanted to get away from all that. I just wanted to ride my bike. I wanted to go back to my childhood." That's when the idea for the event came to him, Andrew said.
So he invited the best bike builders from around the UK to compete in the first Hack Bike Derby. Task number one: to build a competition bike in the style of the legendary Klunkers that started mountain biking in California 40 years ago. 26-inch wheels, steel frame, costing no more than 300 pounds and dropouts build by the riders themselves. Bontrager 26x2.35 XR4 tires for every rider. Single speed. Two brakes, no hydraulic or disc. Task number two: A race weekend with the homebuilts in the woods of Bruton - on homebuilt courses, to be sure. Stock car rules apply (if another rider thinks you have an unfair advantage you have to be prepared to swap bikes).

And here are the contestents:

andrew denham (the bicycle academy).jpeg

nick larsen (charge bikes).jpeg

paul 'burf' burford (btr fabrications).jpeg

douglas powell (duzil design works).jpeg

gav buxton (august cycles).jpeg

phil taylor (libertine bicycles).jpeg

robin mather (mather bikes).jpeg

Tom 1
tom (the bicycle academy).jpeg

Tom 2
tom donhou (donhou bicycles).jpeg

john ross (automatic cycles).jpeg

matt stitt (shand cycles).jpeg

ted james (ted james design ltd).jpeg

adrian bedford (swarf cycles).jpeg

toby (toad custom cycles).jpeg

timmy rowan (rowan frameworks).jpeg

tony corke (torke cycling).jpeg

Tom 3
tom 'tam' hamilton (btr fabrications).jpeg

tam (btr fabrications).jpeg

England, February 2016.
The weather at the premiere is expectedly lousy. Heavy storms and lashing rain form the general conditions for the first joint task, the course construction. The three courses are hacked wildly into the forest rather than being perfectly shaped.
In the dark, the first, sparsely lit race is on the agenda: Dual slalom pits man against man against mud. Driver after driver crashes, the meadow is a single swamp. Tom Donhou dislocates his thumb without realizing it. It's not until the second crash that he realizes there's something sticking out funny. The man at the coffee bar sets the thumb back in place and wraps his hand in bacon to cool it.

the wild bunch.jpg


get ready.jpg

One of the most bizarre bikes Tam Hamilton brings to the forest. A day late, though, because he first procrastinated and then brutally underestimated the build. He worked from 9 a.m. to midnight for almost four days - and so far into Saturday on the eve of the Derby that he chose to go to bed rather than Bruton.

double head tube.jpeg

"I was so incredibly tired and out of my mind," he laughs. His sanity is still questioned by many on Sunday when they catch sight of his bike. Tam appears as a hack rebel. Wearing a gruesome DH outfit, he is the only one functionally equipped among all the hipster hackers. In addition, his bike has disc brakes and gears. Why the look?
"Because I knew I was going to be a pain in Andrew's ...." A broad grin spreads across his lips. Tam, the Frankenstein of the Derby, has created a true monster in a frenzy. At 4 a.m. Saturday, he decided on a disc brake. Cable pulls from a VW Polo handbrake transmit commands from the homemade levers to the mechanical calipers. The gearshift is completely non-functional. About the geometry: "A great experiment. I've always wanted to build a bike with a double head tube, and the Hack Bike Derby seemed ideal. I'm also not very good at welding and brazing and thought I'd rather use really thick, cheap steel tubes. That's how I ended up with 23 kilos." After a pause, Tam throws in, "I know it's a nasty creature. But it's totally exciting, and I'm sure I'll keep tweaking it."


down the hill.jpg



face it.jpg

Event director Andrew is enthusiastic: "These are the best British frame builders," he gushes, "They're all about building elegant, fast, functional bikes every day. Flawless, perfectly balanced bikes. And suddenly the exact opposite is required. Cheap, fast, simple, raw. We all haven't been able to be creative in this way for ages. Totally refreshing!"

The weekend in the woods is also physically refreshing, thanks to reliably cold, rainy English sweltering weather. In the evening, after the dual slalom, there's no cuddling at the campfire either, of course, but building a ramp. Tom breaks his handlebars during the fire jump. It is bent and rudimentarily fixed just like his thumb. Only without bacon. The next day, hungover, we continue hacking and shoveling. The courses for competition 2 (individual downhill with timing) and 3 are ready. At the final mass start, it becomes apparent that the game in the mud is definitely also imbued with ambition. "Sure, it's about competing. This is a competition. There's no giving each other anything," says Andrew. In the end, Paul Burford, known as Burf, Tam's partner at BTR Fabrications, triumphs. He is the one responsible for forging and soldering at the company and showed up on time for the derby. A fitting winner for the first Hack Bike Derby.

fire jump.jpeg

"Even if there is no rational reason why you should organize the Hack Bike: there is definitely a message," thinks Andrew: "Breaking down ingrained structures, celebrating the childlike joy of biking - that's the basic idea behind the Hack Bike Derby. Bikes and race courses are built by the participants themselves. After the successful premiere in 2016, the event will now take place annually with changing participants and mottos."

andrew denham happy.jpeg

This little story was written with the help of a reportage of the 'bike' magazine from Germany.

I haven't found any information about following Hack Bike Derbys. If any of you know anything, please add.


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The event was 2016, less than ten years ago

Task number one: to build a competition bike in the style of the legendary Klunkers that started mountain biking in California 40 years ago.

My point is that I missed out on every bit of this trend 40 years ago. I was building bicycles for my children, but not for myself back then.
I would absolutely positively without a doubt unequivocally participate in such an event
Kinda vague. So are you saying that you would or would not participate?