Caren Hartley is the jewellery maker who turned frame builder. Her love for blue, metal and angles results in bikes that are equal in beauty and function. And most importantly, perfectly fitted to the rider.
Text: Silje Strømmen
Photos: Mari Oshaug
”Just the actual working with the metal really. It is tedious, but it is what I enjoy the most”. Caren Hartley of Hartley Cycles is standing in the middle of her workshop in South London, talking about her favourite part of the process of frame building. Her answer comes as no surprise. Metal is, after all, the main reason why she got into frame building in the first place.
“I essentially got into making bicycles because I like making things. I wanted to continue doing that, but not what I was making already”, she says. “What she was already making” was jewellery and sculptures. With a formal education in metal work, she started thinking about what else she would like to do with her skills. “And then I found out that people were still making steel bikes in the UK and I realised that it was perhaps something that I could do. I started researching the market and discovered that no one was really looking at bikes for women or smaller riders. So that’s where I started”, she says about founding Hartley Cycles.
Although building bikes for women and smaller riders was her initial niche, Caren builds bikes for men and women alike. Her focus lies on building individual bikes that are perfectly fitted to the rider.
“The thing I like about bikes is that it has to function. You are working within these set parameters, and you need to first build it a certain way in order for it to function. Once you have done that you can start to play around with it. I think a lot of people are buying my bikes because of the aesthetics, but function is the primary thing. That is the baseline. Beauty and function need to work together”.
It is impossible to describe a Hartley bike without the use of the word “beautiful”. Caren draws inspiration from a lot of other designs, such as architecture, fashion, shapes and colour combinations, and applies it to a functional object. The result is beautiful hand made bespoke bicycles, often in the colour blue.
“I believe proportions and angles are what make a bike beautiful. Once you figure out what you can change on a frame, and what you can’t, you can move things around and create shapes and angles that are pleasing to look at. One of the things I like most about working with metal is the way it forms and moves. It sounds a bit weird, but I like how the metal reacts to what you are doing, even if you are just filing it”.
“For me, frame building is about the process”.