You could say that Mark Groves owes his very existence to cycling. Sixty plus years ago his parents met at a cycling club in the east end of London. Getting on his Bates of London, very much the custom built cycle of the day, Mark’s father and his future wife regularly rode the A13 on a 60 mile round trip from London to the Kursal for their Saturday night date. Roll the wheels forward a few decades and this corner of England is once again a significant place for the Groves. Mark has now embarked on his own new cycling odyssey building bespoke steel frames in Leigh on Sea for the ever expanding market of cyclists bored with the mass produced and craving something special, something that isn’t built but crafted, something that you will never see under any other cyclist.
The 50 year old Mark Groves is no stranger to fashioning beauty out of metal as he runs, along with his brother, one of the most highly regarded metal antique restoration and reproduction businesses in the country, Groves Restoration. But the story doesn’t start here, it goes back to a 13 year old armed with the ability to turn his hand to any kind of engineering who toured the local second hand shops buying old bikes with whatever he had in his pocket, stripping them down discarding the junk and retaining the prize parts so he could rebuild them in his own way. Sure a teenager can cut a frame down – but at that age welding them back together again posed a bit of a problem. Taking his scrap over the back fence to the local trading estate, he found a metalworker who ‘kindly’ let him clean up his workshop in return for welding services and so began a life that he would return to 37 years later – and possibly some of the craziest early hybrid bikes in the UK – like a foldable shopping bike welded shut with 20” wheels and cow horn handlebars.
It was natural that a teen would move onto bikes with motors and then cars, if it had an engine Mark would soup it up. After completing an apprenticeship as tool maker the thought of a lifetime by a sheet metal press was going to test his sanity, instead he became a mobile mechanic, but whilst it was fun in the summer months – a spanner stuck to your hand in the depths of winter is not. It was at this point his brother needed a hand at his new business restoring high end metal antiques.
In 2009 Mark mid training for the London Marathon but hating the boredom, his wife bought him a Dawes steel road bike to ease the monotony and the 13 year old Mark was awakened once more. He found a beautiful but unloved Colnago road bike, and started to refurbish it. Bit by bit it gleamed back at him and bit by bit Mark realised that this wasn’t so far away from his daily work – and how hard would it be to build a frame from scratch? After all – it was only a matter of geometry- he knew bikes and clients as far reaching as designers in New York, Rome and Dubai can testify he unquestionably knows how to hew beauty from metal. So Groves Cycles was born and bespoke steel frames became his specialty.
Getting the raw tubing from Reynolds, the world’s best in steel for bikes, he constructed a temporary jig (frame to hold the steel tubing in place) size to match his and set the deadline of riding the first stage of the 2014 Tour de France in Yorkshire a day before the pros on his first hand built frame. Following a spring of sizing, cutting, mitring and brazing and a nice paint bake and component assembly the bike rode the Yorkshire moors. Mark’s first customer was a friend who struggled to find a comfortable frame for her small size and asked him to create something to fit her touring needs, embellished with beautiful and subtle references to her ‘wonder woman’ status. The Third frame was another bike for himself- a more aggressive geometry, sleeker finish, faster and lighter bike, then two more tourers with precise requirements to dismantle and pack the bikes for easy transport with specially designed couplers. Then possibly the most beautiful bike you will ever see – taking all his 30 years of restoration knowledge and applying it to a frame that looks like burnished solid bronze and displays the idiosyncrasies of Leigh in its cockle shell motifs – go and take a look – it is such a work of beauty it is literally hanging as a work of art in Rectory Grove’s Bunched Flowers – Mark affectionately calls it his copper knob.
Riding the Groves Cycles Mk1 and having come from an aluminium frame with a few forays in to the now ubiquitous carbon frame was a revelation. Not having to experience every single tiny ridge in the road, to feel as though each down-stroke of my leg directly translated into powering me forward rather than being soaked up in friction and stiff rattle and to feel as though I were propelling on air and cornering with utter confidence was and remains enchanting and exhilarating to me. The sleek thin tubing and smooth joins are stylish and beautiful – I won’t be rushing to return his bike and will probably sit down and discuss my inside leg with him very soon. Meanwhile bikes seven, eight and nine are underway; a gravel bike – which is part road bike part cross bike, a track bike and a frame to go in Richardsons’ window.
Most importantly – what is it about a Groves Cycles bike that makes it special? Clearly you are getting something made by a man with an eye and hands for beauty, a man that knows his subject – but it would seem that the best part is you, because it is made exactly for you, physically and aesthetically as each bike carries the idiosyncrasy that Mark finds in the rider.