Spoon Customs designs and produces some of the most exclusive and high-performance steel racing bicycles in the world, handmade by Italian artisans in the Southern Alps. It’s a dream come true for founder and CEO Andy Carr. Like so many adventure stories, it involves a chance meeting in a London pub. Now other CEOs are riding his ‘blisteringly fast’ bikes.
Before I ran off to the mountains, I lived a nice life in a senior job in the City of London. I remember sitting at my desk one day looking out of the eighth floor of our offices across the River Thames towards Tower Bridge and my flat. I was drafting a statement for my CEO, linked to a reputational issue.
It needed concentration and I was on a deadline. First draft finished, I sat back in my chair. In an instant, I was hit with the worst headache of my life. An urgent CAT scan revealed I would need a lumber puncture to discount a brain haemorrhage. That night in hospital was the loneliest night of my life, as I lay awake contemplating the possibility of brain surgery. Wide awake, I stared at the ceiling tiles, thinking how precious time could be.
Thankfully, I was given the all clear and discharged the next day later with no more than over-the-counter pain killers. But there was some permanent impact: on my sense of perspective. Once the foggy sense of confusion cleared, I realised I wasn’t spending my days doing something I truly loved. Something had to change. It was the wakeup call I needed.
Bikes in the blood
I’d raced mountain bikes as a kid. I was obsessed with them. I would spend every waking minute racing or working on my bikes. Amidst the pressures of adult and corporate life however, I’d let my great passion slip by the wayside. Thankfully, just a few years previously, I had started cycling again. I felt straight back in love with road bike culture and it was a wonderful diversion from life in the City of London.
Cycling was booming in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics. I had noticed a resurgence in the popularity of handmade bicycles but was frustrated by the difficulty that handmade builders had competing in the marketplace against big-brand plastic ‘cookie cutter’ bikes.
I knew there was an opportunity in the market to produce something exceptional. My thinking was clear: if I could form the right team and deliver not only a high-performance bike, but an entire experience of cycling excellence, then I could tap this emerging demand for modern bikes built beautifully, bespoke for each customer with genuine provenance.
I got my hands on a free pass to a cycling trade show near Munich. After a thousand conversations, I returned to the UK with more questions than answers. I had already read almost every book about bike frame construction, but knew I needed deeper and fuller practical experience before I could make the jump into design and production. I studied at the UK’s leading bike frame building school and started building. It was an incredible experience.
The mountain calls
Then another shock. My personal life turned upside down and out of the ashes came a chance meeting in a London pub. It was the opportunity I needed: to run away to the mountains of the Southern Alps and start my own bike company. I didn’t hesitate. I put my house on the market and three days later left London, bound for a ‘Cycling Mecca’ in the French and Italian border town of Montgenevre. ‘Monty’, my new home, is where Spoon Customs was born.
That journey to the mountains – metaphorically and physically – made me realise the importance of taking a new perspective and embracing your passion. Only by leaving my comfort zone could I step away and see things more clearly. It was daunting for sure, but I could breathe more deeply, think more creatively and navigate my next moves with clarity and purpose. From my vantage point high in the hills, things became very clear.
Spoon Customs was in its infancy. But from a brand and commercial perspective, I had strong assets and robust competitive advantage. With the best riding in the world right on my doorstep, geography was on my side. At every stage of design and build, I could test and learn – in the saddle – on the very routes that Tour de France riders had cycled often just days before. Furthermore, I was in the heartland of the Italian bike building business which enabled me to build strong relationships with the local artisans and engineers that make our bikes so special.
As a bootstrapping startup, margins were tight. But life in the Alps is a lot cheaper than the City of London and my base operating costs were low. I adapted quickly to mountain life, the sense of adventure, the coming and going of the seasons and the unique sense of community that Alpine living provides. The environment there has informed every decision about Spoon Customs bikes.
Spoon’s first model was launched at an event at the Brooks store in London’s Covent Garden. The buzz was already starting to build. The very next day, I took a call from the biggest road cycling magazine in the world. They asked if they could have my new concept bike for review.
After weeks of testing, they gave it four and a half out of five stars and described the bike as ‘Blisteringly fast’. I’d never been prouder. I received the review via email while cycling that very same bike on the Col D’Izoard, rising 1,200m out of Briancon to a summit at nearly 2,400 metres. It was the very route that bike was built to ride. I read the review at the mountain top and knew that founding Spoon Customs was the best decision I could have made.
These days I split my time between the mountains and the UK, where the majority of our customers are based. We take great pride in the relationships we build with our riders, so I take time to be with them back in the UK. But the Alps remains the home of Spoon Custom’s bikes: it’s where the design, development and testing of every bike takes place. It will always be Spoon Customs home.
In life we find solutions to challenges through perseverance and creativity. If you can’t see the answers, get out of your usual environment and get a different perspective – literally and figuratively. It worked for me. And if you’re not living your dream yet, just start. Nothing bad happens. Maybe I’ll see you in the mountains.
Andy Carr is the Owner and Founder of Spoon Customs, the Alpine handmade road bike company. The company designs and develops custom bike designs in the Alps and operates from a workshop in Brighton’s North Laines in the UK.