Performance-driven: BikeBiz meets Hampshire-based bike brand Handsling

Founded by Simon Whiten as a media publishing company in 2010, Handsling started life with the  sponsorship of the London-based Handsling Race Team. Once the team’s bike sponsorship expired in 2014, Whiten started looking at manufacturing his own frames and got in touch with a leading carbon manufacturer.

The resulting frames were a success and secured multiple race victories for the team.

When other riders started to request replica frames, it led to the formation of Handsling Bikes as a limited company.

Overcoming adversity

In 2018, Handsling relocated from London to Hampshire and investment allowed the brand to design its own frames and purchase the moulds used to make them.

This led to the release of the A1R0evo for road, the TR3evo on the track and CEXevo for cyclocross and gravel.

Just as the brand was scaling its production to fulfil more orders, the Covid pandemic hit and the implications of Brexit also started to take effect.

“We had a tricky start to the Covid period,” said Whiten.

“And then when the lockdowns finished it became a supply chain issue. We had the frames as we managed to get our stock in, but we couldn’t get the parts to put on them.

“And that was a real nightmare for us.”

That testimonial will be familiar to almost everyone in the industry who faced the same problem as Shimano, SRAM and many other groupset manufacturers ran out of stock.

“We were buying groupsets from all over the place for ridiculous money, just to keep the business going,” said Whiten

“But we had to do it, we had to just take a hit and buy from whoever we could get them from.”

One of the benefits Handsling had in this period over some bike builders was its proximity to its customers.

All who purchase a bike from Handsling go through a five step process before delivery, and this relationship allowed the brand to react and be flexible.

Rob Ditching, marketing and public relations manager at Handsling, said: “We could deal on a person-to-person basis with our customers.

“There were times when we had the operations guy sit next to the sales guy with a spreadsheet and they’re going through with the customer saying ‘this is what’s available and this is when you can get it.’”

Whiten added: “It’s not a situation I ever want to experience again because it was an absolute nightmare.”

Despite the effects, the brand emerged stronger from the pandemic and moved into a new, larger premises in Oakhanger, Hampshire and ramped up its production.

Refocusing on Europe and new markets

Although Brexit was an unwelcome barrier, Handsling used it as an opportunity to focus on implementing a different European strategy.

“We are going to open a European office,” said Whiten.

“Having European representation would help us get around all of these issues of exporting stuff from here.

“It hasn’t quite happened yet because we have to find the right partner and it’s all about the person.”

As well as developing a new European plan, the brand has also grown in other countries around the world.

“We refocused on the American market for instance so all of a sudden the sales started to pick up massively, which is why we sponsored a pro team in America [Chaney Windows and Doors Cycling Team],” said Whiten.

Sponsoring teams and riders has become part of the Handsling strategy when trying to break into new markets.

Whiten said: “We have national champions in South Africa, Israel, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Spain, and the US who are like figureheads for the brand. 

“And the idea is that will lead to a bit more impetus for sales to that country and that’s a really important strategy for us.”

New partnerships

For many years, Handsling manufactured its own wheels but took the decision to search for other brands whose values align to collaborate with.

“I don’t mind spending money on developing frames and designing frames, but wheel profiles just don’t excite me,” said Whiten.

“The idea of taking the decision was it would free up resources for us to plough into frame design.”

Step forward Parcours and Walker Brothers, two of Britain’s leading manufacturers of wheels.

“Dov [Tate, the founder of Parcours] is like us but with wheel profiles,” said Whiten.

“He brought these wheels in and I said ‘this rear wheel is never going to work’, but he explained how the aerodynamics are different to the front wheel, and no one else had ever told me that before.

“Then I rode the wheels and they were absolutely awesome, and he [Tate] was right.”

It was a similar story when Whiten met with Brian Walker of Walker Brothers.

Whiten said: “You look at the track disc and it is unlike any carbon fiber disc you have seen before, and you think ‘this can’t work’, and then you ride it and it’s absolutely brilliant.

“They’re the sort of people we want, who are innovative and they get excited by wheels.”

Looking forward

Handsling has big plans for the future.

This includes the TSTRevo time trial frame, the TR2evo sprint and pursuit model, the A1R0evoS all-road, and a new gravel spec, with all four in testing ahead of UCI-approval.

“The core of our business is always going to be the performance side,” said Whiten.

“We want to maintain that but also move into more mainstream, hence launching a more generic gravel frame that will appeal to a broader market.”

As part of that growth, Handsling is also exploring the option of e-bikes, with two models prototyped.

One thing that will remain for the foreseeable future is the brand’s use of carbon fibre.

“What I’m waiting for is the next big material to come out,” said Whiten.

“There’s going to be some advanced material that is going to appear in the future and that is what we will wait for.”

The importance of local bike shops

As a rule, the brand encourages its customers to utilise its local IBD to service and maintain their Handsling. 

“We are trying to put business back to them,” said Whiten.

“One of the most important things for us is customer service, so if anybody comes back with a problem they’ve got, or if anybody’s taking their bike to a bike shop and they want to part, we get it straight away, no questions asked.

“That way, I feel like we are supporting the bike shops.”

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Although Handsling utilises a direct to consumer model, Whiten is aware of the crucial role that local bike shops play in the ecosystem of the industry.

“The first company that ever sponsored me was a local bike shop, and if I had any problems with one of my bikes I would take them to the shop,” said Whiten.

“I used to hang out there, have coffees, get in the way of the mechanics and so on, so it’s really important for me that we still support them because I’m not totally removed from that.”

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