Peter Bird designs and builds his first frame while in his final year as an apprentice goldsmith in Hatton Garden, buying the tubes from Grant and Monty Young at Condor Cycles. Peter also designs a ‘modern’ tandem inspired by pioneering American builders to be built by Chas Roberts.
Peter organises the first ever British tandem event for the Tandem Club, “Tandem ’80” in Essex.
Swallow frames is born, in a shed at Peter’s parents’ house in Hutton, Essex.
Prototype tandem hubs and air – cooled hub – brake are developed.
Peter meets Rob Wade and adds some exdiva tubes to a second-hand Gitane tandem he has just bought to stiffen it up.
Rob test rides the Swallow tandem hubs and brakes during LEJOG. Hubs, brakes and frame perform faultlessly. Peter moves from the garden shed to a new workshop and retail unit in Laindon, Essex: opening “Swallow Frames & Cycles”.
Peter becomes a “Reynolds 753” approved frame-builder, the youngest in the world at that time. Rob joins Peter as a wheel-builder.
Swallow tandem hubs and brakes go into production while Rob starts to learn frame-building and builds his first frame. The “Expa” tandem frame is introduced using a unique mix of oval and round tubes to improve stiffness and allowing longer top tubes for rear rider comfort.
Handlebar stems, stoke-a-rests and reinforced brake hangers are added to Swallow components alongside the Hubs and brakes. Custom made tandem bottom bracket shells are made enabling oversized down tubes to be used and increasing frame stiffness.
The “Toucan” tandem is introduced – built as a made-to-measure frame in the ‘direct lateral’ design and set componentry. First Swallow mountain bike made from Reynolds 531 atb tubing: one option includes an elliptical top tube to gain extra stiffness.
A pair of custom ATB handlebars were made with what were later to known as ‘bar ends’, which were integrally brazed to the bars so that a customer who could not hold straight bars was able to ride an ATB. The brakes and shifters were mounted on the upper end of the ‘bar end’. About 6 months later, Onza launch the bolt-on ‘Bar end’.
Damn! We were young and knew nothing of patents.
Rob also becomes a “Reynolds 753” approved frame-builder, the youngest in the world at that time. Peter and Rob take part in the first UK mountain bike championships in Telford Town Park. Rob reaches the semi-finals. Swallow clothing starts development. Oversized bottom brackets featuring needle-thrust bearings for smooth running and longevity are added to the Swallow component range for ATBs and tandems. (We heard a few years back that one customer had clocked up over 40,000miles on one of these bbs!)
Swallow “System ’87” cycle clothing is launched. It’s revolutionary use of polycotton Lycra, synthetic chamois for short inserts, synthetic leather for gloves, welded neoprene for overshoes, fleece for warmth and Goretex in waterproofs, engages a small and dedicated following of customers, but maybe was a just bit ahead of its time as mainstream companies didn’t introduce these types of products for at least another 3 or 4 years. Peter and Rob are among a very small number of frame builders in the world that Reynolds will guarantee their frames that are built ‘lug-less’ in 753 tubing using silver solder. Also invited by Reynolds with 4 other frame builders to review Reynolds products for small builders. Win best British component award for Swallow Tandem Hubs and Brakes at the International Cyclex Exhibition, London.
Introduction of Swallow Chome-moly internal lug-less lugs enables 753 and other lighter and stiffer tubes to be used in tandems while retaining flexibility of lug-less design and the beauty of fillet brazing. Built two of the first Columbus MAX-tubed bikes in the UK. MAX tubing was revolutionary in that all the tubes were shaped so as to provide maximum rigidity under the torsional loading of riding a bike. Tubes were oversized and had very thin walls (0.8 and 0.5mm), there were no lugs available at the time, so we built lug-less, and added some wacky paint jobs (see review).
The next two years are spent consolidating and improving products and services as competition strengthened from more affordable aluminium frames and larger manufacturers.
Although we adapt the shop to sell more bikes from key brands, orders for Swallow frames show signs of slowing up for the first time in 9 years. Rob is lured away by a large American bicycle company where he had a successful career for 16 years.
Peter moves the manufacturing of Swallow to Lake Vyrnwy, Mid Wales. He begins the unique ‘Try Before You Buy’ concept for Tandem customers and develops tandem training to allow couples to enhance their riding skills. He also starts Bicycle Hire around the Lake, which still continues today.
Peter creates ‘Tandemania’, an annual event that runs for 5 years and includes led and self-led rides, a time – trial and the first tandem road race around Lake Vyrnwy. Attended by 100’s of people from all over the World. Rob assists with neutral support vehicle.
Swallow moves to Llangedwyn Mill, in the Tanat Valley and Peter opens the UK’s first Tandem-only shop selling Santana, Burley, Co-Motion, Ibis, KHS, Cannondale, Dawes and Tandem Twosday. Also starts Frame-building courses and Masterclasses in mechanics for both bicycles and tandems.
The business moves to Llanrhaeadr Ym Mochnant and the Tandem Shop opens in The Old Bakery in the High Street.
‘WhyBikes’ are launched, a women – specific bicycle range applying Swallow’s past experience of sizing female customers for tandems.
The Bishops Castle Tandem Triathlon is incorporated into Tandemania just for two years (as the event was not able to run due to the swimming pool closing for refurbishment).
Peter leads Tandem holidays in France and Ireland.
Swallows finishes manufacturing
Peter works for renowned UK bicycle company as a consultant improving and developing their tandem range.
Peter sets up The Tandem Experience with 7 locations around the UK supplying tandems, training and knowledge. People can book on-line for a day of training and riding on quality Tandems. JD Cycles (Ilkley) now JD Tandems, MSG Bikes (Lancing) and Warlands Cycles (Oxford) are all locations for The Tandem Experience.
Peter begins developing the Landescape tandem range, using a frame made in the Far East (to keep costs down) that can accommodate a range of different uses in one frame. A unique design feature is the ability of the frame to accept both 26” & 700c wheels using either V or disc brakes (or a mixture of the two) and to fit a wide range of riders.
Tandem Experience develops and launches led holidays in France beginning with the Loire and Languedoc areas.
Landescape Tandems are launched into the UK via a dealer network including: JD Cycles, MSG Bicycles, Bicycle Doctor, Warlands Cycles and The Tandem Shop in Ironbridge.
The Tandem Experience Festival joins the Bishop Castle Tandem Triathlon as one of the UK’s most popular tandem events. In December, The Tandem Shop and The Tandem Experience move to FUSION, Jackfield and The Bicycle Hub opens. Masterclasses for bicycle and tandem maintenance begin again.
Rob helps Peter as a guide on one of the Tandem Experience Tours to France and over a bottle (or two) of decent local wine discuss launching the Swallow brand of bespoke frames.
The Bicycle Hub, The Tandem Shop and The Tandem Experience continue to grow.
Peter begins to organise yearly Charity bike events for the Severn Hospice
Rob joins Peter as co-owner in the business (PS Leisure Limited) and the pair make plans for the future.
After a patient and sometimes nail-biting wait, the Swallow trade mark is returned to it’s rightful owners and Peter and Rob go about planning the re-birth of brand.
The first tube is cut for the first Swallow frame to be made in 12 years. Two new frames are built and one old one restored for the Bespoked Bristol show. Customers start placing orders for new frames. The Bicycle Hub moves to a new location in Telford Town Park Visitor Centre in April and Bicycles by Design begins its life in Jackfield.
At Bespoked Bristol, Swallow are awarded the prize for Best Road Bike of the show – a Reynolds 953 stainless steel bike – see 953 gallery.