Steel pipe dreams
Dan Stanton conceived Stanton Bikes at university, and realised his dream of making full-suspension bikes in the Peak District.
How did you get started with Stanton Bikes?
I just finished uni and I really wanted to own a bicycle company. The first thing I did was get a job in the local bike shop. I figured out how to use 2D CAD and I spent time trying to find out who manufactured steel and titanium in Taiwan – and who was the best.
Two or three times a week I would go around my mate’s house and play poker. One of my friends, John Lumb, is an aerospace engineer. I told him my plan and said: “I’ll give you a percentage of this fairy tale company which doesn’t exist if you give us some money.” He ended up investing seven grand to give it a go. After we’d affirmed the designs and we’d got frames made, we took one to Dirt magazine and it literally then just took off. I paid John 14 grand back to say thank you very much for loaning me the money and getting it going.
Did you always believe in Stanton?
I’ve always held the same dream – to have a farm with outbuildings filled with CNC machines, and fabrication areas for welding and a big painting booth. Then camping pods and a pump track, all in the Peak District. Runs coming through the all that sort of stuff. That is the big audacious dream, and that is what I’m working towards.
What’s been the lowest point for you?
Just before John left, two years in. We’d ordered some frames, they’d shipped them, they were on the water coming over. They were sat in port and I was being £150-200 a day just for them to be in storage. I was trying to find this money to make it work. John was saying: “It’s done – there is no way we can move forwards with this, we’ve lost all the money. I’m going to Seattle, I’m not going to do this anymore.”
I was there with my friend Simon, we had plans to build a bike shop together. He saw the drama of the problem and he used his own business’s overdraft to pay my bill. That freed up the frames, making it possible then to generate some capital to be able to pay him back. But still at that point in time I had a deadline to pay him back, it was a very bleak time. All the while I’ve got children and a wife to support. You know, it was pretty sketchy.
What motivates you in tough times?
I want to leave this planet knowing that I’ve left it in a better state than it was, that I’ve given as much joy to the world as possible and that my children are absolutely squared away. That’s it. That’s my motivation. So, if I’m struggling at any point, that’s what I think about.
What are your best days at work?
When a fresh prototype drops through the door. It’s anxiety inducing but it’s also super, super fun. All the while you’re building it up, you’re making sure all your fits are right. Then you take it down off the stand and you step back and look at it. But you haven’t just looked online and gone, “Yeah, that looks wicked, that’s the one I’m chasing.” It’s that you’ve gone through the whole process of making that product in front of you what it is.
Customers pay premium for a Stanton frame. What do they get in return?
You can customise reach and stack so it actually fits you properly, and you are able to choose whatever colour or decal arrangement you want. On top of that it’s the customisability of the product in terms of future-proofing. Say in a year’s time you don’t want a 29er anymore; you want a 160mm-travel 650b bike. You can send that bike back to us and we can make new a new linkage and swingarm and we can repaint it all and you’ll have a different product. Then you could literally just swap back ends and change the link and you’ll have both bikes.
Do you think customers buy your bike frames just to be different?
No, because we’ve sold thousands, so they’re not really an individual product. I think we’ve built a notable following through geometry, through material choices. We come up with positive engineering solutions rather then changing geometry relative to the new fittings. We didn’t just drag the back end of the bike out to be able to suit large tyres and big wheels, so the 415mm chainstay length is still the same as we had on the 26in bikes and we came up with fresh engineering solutions as we went through the process.
You offer custom geometry on your frames. Does putting the ball in the customer’s court ever backfire?
When we talk about customisation we’re talking about sizing. Some people have shorter legs and a longer body and vice versa. So, the 18in frame that you put them both on won’t fit them the same. The shorter-bodied person would prefer the reach on a 16.5in frame. The reasons we are so conditioned into that I’m 6ft, so I need an 18in frame is simply because of the way the industry works, because they have to buy hundreds or thousands of a product so they have to commit to specific sizes. You can’t specify reach and stack within it. So, it’s still the same frame, we are just giving the ability to make it fit you properly.
We don’t let customers start dragging out chainstay lengths on a Switchback because it just would not feel how a Switchback should feel. All we are doing is increasing cockpit size for people and making that cockpit fit their body type.
Do you customers come in and meet you or do they send measurements?
Either. Style of riding is also good to know. If, say, you want a 160/140mm Switchback FS and then a couple of times a year you want to go to the Alps and ride a 170/160mm bike, then change your airshaft, bring your forks out to 170 and just swap out a link and back end and you’re running 160mm of rear-wheel travel off the same shock.
The bike is designed to be modular. For instance, we are working on carbon rear ends so you could ring us up and say I want a carbon rear end for my existing bike and we’d send it out.
Where do you intend Stanton to be in five years from now?
I reckon I’ll be buying a farm. And I’ll be walking around with my wife and boys and wondering where we are going to be putting things. I think this place will be so full we’ll be struggling with containers outside storing product and stock to try and support what it happening here while we are trying to find the right farm.