BikeBiz catches up with Jim Walker, managing director of East Sussex-based Enigma Bicycle Works
This piece first appeared in the September edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
Can you give us a little background on Enigma?
Enigma was founded in 2006 as a titanium only brand. Our plan at the outset was to import frames from the Far East in order to achieve a base for the business and from there to kick on and learn how to build frames ourselves in-house – not easy as titanium is notoriously difficult to work with.
We started from nothing and although I employed the late Mark Reilly (a renowned steel frame builder) at the outset, between us we had no knowledge of titanium frame building at all! I don’t mind admitting that I had no idea at the time of what a quantum leap it would be from where we were then to where we are today.
Why did I want to build frames when it’s so easy to get them built by any one of the large number of frame manufacturers in the Far East? Well it goes back to the late 70s when I first joined the industry. I started my cycle trade career with Dawes Cycles, who then manufactured all of their frames in Birmingham.
During that period several million bikes were produced in the UK through the likes of Raleigh, Falcon, Trusty Viscount, Viking, Holdsworth and others – old and famous names, some of whom have now disappeared.
Contrast that with the mid-noughties when we made barely more than a few tens of thousands – a catastrophic decline in less than 30 years! Sure there are now plenty of bike assemblers who boast ‘made in England’ when the reality is that they are not.
Assembly of a kit of parts around a foreign built frame is easy and is not the same. It’s been my mission to try to do my little bit to bring back some sort of bicycle frame manufacturing to the UK.
Sadly as a country it’s not possible for us to compete at the mass-produced end, but we can certainly compete at the higher end of things. It’s what the UK has done in other industries.
Our own frame building adventure started in 2008 when I first said to my youngest son Joe, who back then had zero knowledge of welding or frame building, ‘you are going to be a frame builder son’. After he got over the initial shock he knuckled down, got on with the job and is now one of the best in the business.
Indeed all of our workshop team work to the highest standards and I’m constantly amazed and very proud of the quality of their work.
Today, Enigma is in a very good place. We have amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience over the years and we produce frames of the very finest quality. Every process is carried out in our Hailsham, Sussex facility giving us total control from start to finish.
In fact I can say with the utmost confidence that our ‘Signature’ frames are now comparable to the very best in the world, and proudly made in England.
What area of the market do you target?
Enigma is very much at the higher end of the market for the more discerning rider. Nonetheless I believe that we offer excellent value for money when our products are compared to those of our competitors.
Even though we have doubled our in-house frame building capacity over the last couple of years, we are still unable to produce as many frames as we can sell, therefore we are a hybrid business in as much as we still import some of our frames marketed as our ‘Core’ range.
However even our imported frames are quality checked in Hailsham, with reaming, chasing, facing and finishing all done here in Sussex. It means that we can offer unparalleled quality plus a certain level of customization even on our imported frame range.
What makes your products unique – How can Enigma benefit dealers?
It seems that almost every brand now has a titanium bike or bikes in their range, the marketplace is very crowded. But Enigma continues to thrive and as I mentioned earlier, we offer something different and unique.
The value of ‘Made in England’ should not be underestimated as it strikes a chord with many consumers these days, just as I always believed it would.
In addition customization is possible on all our products, even our imported frames, and despite our high-end offering we deliver value for money across the board.
For us it’s very much quality over quantity. Our product range works particularly well for dealers specializing in bikefitting and custom builds. Enigma titanium frames sit very well alongside the ubiquitous carbon fibre frame brands that are too numerous to mention and are aimed at a different customer.
We have a limited number of dealers, which is perfect for us and for the dealers we work with. The feedback is always positive and our dealers like what we do and buy into it.
What are your plans for 2024 and beyond?
To increase our capacity for UK built titanium frames. Sadly it’s a slow organic process as skilled operatives who are able to work to the consistently high level we require are just not available ‘off-the shelf’ meaning our staff have to be schooled from within.
Sustainability is very important to me personally and also to Enigma. Titanium itself is an easy material to recycle and we are endeavouring to make our bikes and frames in the greenest possible way.
A couple of months ago we had a full solar energy system installed and now on a sunny day we are producing more electricity than we can use, sending the excess to the grid.
We have installed electric car-charging points so customers who visit can enjoy a bikefit or test ride and charge their electric vehicle with green energy at the same time.
Air travel by our staff has been reduced to almost zero as with modern communications we believe it’s just not necessary to jet off to all corners of the world for meetings.
We recycle as much packaging as we can and we buy recyclable packing materials, plus we have introduced other measures to reduce the carbon footprint of our business.
Our new ‘Eikon’ model is very special and has been developed in collaboration with Reynolds Technology.
The frame itself is made here in Hailsham in the most sustainable way possible, with almost all component parts sourced within the UK. It’s a great example of what is possible.