Wednesday 4 December 2019

52 Cycling Voices - 27: Adeline O'Moreau

Adeline is a real force on a cyclocross bike. I got to know her when she was based in London and racing for The 5th Floor cycle racing team. I did a few of the summer cyclocross races a few years ago when they promoted the series and I was quite impressed at how she was able to coordinate the rounds with her team-mates, man the sign-on and administrative parts of the race, compete and even win the race - all in one day.
She has since set up her own team, Good Vibes Only and that seems to be going well - especially as those good vibes come from her and her team-mates when riding bikes built by Adeline's own fair hand.
I got caught up with the Adeline about her bike riding and bike frame building.

Photo: Russell Barton
Adeline O'Moreau, aged 30
From: Habay-La-Vieille, Belgium
Lives: Sheffield
Occupation: Designer, frame builder and owner of Mercredi Bikes

I was born in Belgium, but I grew up a bit all over the place as we lived in several places through Europe. 

I must have been quite little when I first rode a bike. I remember being at the seaside on a red trike with white wheelsThen I got the bike with stabilizers that my older brother outgrew. 

I learned to ride in Finland where the residential streets were really safe at the time. 
One weekend, when I must have been five, my mum went away for the day and I told my dad I was going to ride without the little wheels by the time she came back. 

Though growing up, there wasn't really much of a cycling culture as such, so after childhood I didn't ride a bike much, apart from the occasional pedal through the woods. 

I came to England in 2012, when I accidentally got a job as a junior designer in a little agency in London. It all happened really fast. I applied just to see what they would say, and two weeks later I was there! I really didn’t expect to find myself still in the UK seven years later.

It was only after arriving in London that I picked up cycling again, because I couldn’t stomach paying the immense fees for public transport. Public transport seemed like a racket to me, so I bought an old bike on the internet. Taking up cycling again blew my mind a bit. Riding on the left hand side was absolutely terrifying! Roundabouts were the worst; it took me so long to feel confident I was approaching them the correct way.

I got into the London racing scene when I got intrigued by cyclocross. Although I am from Belgium, the homeland of 'cross, it’s not that popular in the South of the country where I was, so I was not familiar with it. 

My first race was the Rapha Supercross fun race in Alexandra Palace in 2014. I turned up on my single-speed commuter bike and had the time of my life. Little did I know tequila shortcuts and foam cannons were actually not the norm in cyclocross racing! 

After that, I tried to put together a 'cross bike using an old Cantilever brake touring frame I found on eBay - a Nigel Dean with magenta to pale pink fade [paint design]. It was gorgeous but utterly useless. It fitted 30mm knobbly tyres in a squeeze and rode like an overcooked spaghetti. I rode it around Epping forest for one winter, where I met Clare [Ross] on those rides. She convinced me to join Brixton Cycles

Eventually, I cobbled together the courage to go to a race. Unfortunately, I got lost on the way there and never made it to the start. I think it was the last race of the 2014/15 season. 
Racing for her new team Good Vibes Only
(photo: Mick Brown)
The 2015/16 'cross season was amazing. At Brixton Cycles Club I met some amazing folks that year - Monika [Zamojska], Clare, Stef [Lai] and we all motivated each other and shared train journeys to races. Lots of Brixton lads were also racing. We had a really good thing going.

One of the key things about cycling has been the amazing circle of friends I got to develop through riding and racing

We would go to races by train, or met at races or on club runs and started sharing a few hours on the bike and motivating each other. We all progressed at similar rates and kept pushing each other a bit more.

Incredibly Cross started happening around that time too. It's an unsanctioned series of races, with fancy dress encouraged and held at a secret location. 

The craze that lured me into the sport through the Rapha Supercross seemed alive and well at Incredibly Cross. It was so much fun.

I am quite down to earth about my racing. I know I’ll never be the next big thing, but I do it because it’s fun. I like the challenges of the courses, the conditions, the visits to different parts of the country and the world. 

Clare and I joined The 5th Floor the following season as they started the women’s team. There was interest from the team to compete in some serious road races and some criterium series, so I tried my legs at those, but it wasn’t the same as 'cross. 

It’s a challenge fitting in all the training and racing around my work. I think everyone who wants to race and train around a full time job finds the same. There aren’t enough hours in the day! 

For me, the hardest part is to stay motivated for several weeks and months in a row. My attention span is quite limited, so I easily forget the big goal in the future in favour of the small immediate one.

In a way, I’m glad I didn’t start racing until well into adulthood. As a child I was pretty carefree and non competitive. I had LOTS of energy but I’m glad I could expand it in the garden and the forest, exploring and just being myself, without it needing to be something ‘productive’. I also did lots of theatre as a kid, especially improvisation, which I loved. I think I had a bit of a thing against set rules. 

My favourite place to go bike riding at the moment is the Peak District. We moved to a place near there recently because the riding is so great and I never get tired of it! The weather can be a challenge, but I think I’ll get used to it, and find strategies that work, plus the right clothing - at least I hope so. Whenever I ride, I never go out without a large snack though.

I got into frame building when I decided to design a bike for myself. I wasn't sure if it would necessarily work. I guess it’s in my nature to just throw myself at things and see what happens. 
"Making a bike is one of the most empowering things ever": Adeline at work in The Bicycle Academy
(Photo: Christopher Lanaway Photography) 
I like making stuff, and learning in practical ways. It wasn't that the way to fix my problem was to make a bike that fitted; I just knew I had a problem I wanted to solve. 
And I think in a way it’s really cool to set out to do something you don’t know anything about, because then you don’t know how difficult it can be, and you are always learning. The more I learn about making bikes, the more there is to learn. 

I only knew a tiny bit about bike mechanics when I first started riding. I learned most things on the spot. Whenever a problem happened I would try to find the solution myself. 

Before I started cycling in London, I didn’t know how to fix a puncture. The first few weeks on my Raleigh, I rode in the hardest gear cause I didn’t know how to shift gear. I had never seen downtube shifters in my life.
Somehow, after fixing punctures and indexing gears, it seemed like making a whole bike was the natural thing to learn next, so I attended a course at The Bicycle Academy.

I didn’t really see it as a course to become a frame builder. I had no ambition as such to make it a job at all.  It was just like a holiday for me, a treat - spending a week or so in a lush little town in Somerset learning to work with metal. So in that way, I was very excited. I didn’t go with the intention to change my job at all. 

During the week I lived a number of emotional moments. At the end of every day, I could see and touch and hold the fruit of my labour. That was amazing for me - very different from my usual digital work as a designer!
On the last day of the course, I took a step back and thought, "Holy shit I made a bike!" Everyone else at The Bicycle Academy was also like "ADELINE YOU MADE THIS!!!!" It was pretty emotional.
After that, there was the moment when the bike came back from the painter. That was also really emotional. 

And the day I finally could swing my leg over the bike - that was actually so stressful. We were in Wales and the bike kept making this tick tick tick noise and I was so worried. It turned out the gear cable had popped out of its guide and was tapping against the stay - no, the bike was not at all going to explode! I had a great time after that.
Making stuff feels so empowering, so fulfilling. 

The Bicycle Academy has been a real inspiration and continues to be super super helpful. You can hire a workbench if you’ve done a course, so you can make more bikes in a really good, positive and supportive environment.
Initially, I tried not to look at what other builders were doing too much, and instead took cues from my design practice and sought advice from the network of folks I knew in the creative industry too. 
There's always more to learn in frame building
(Photo: Christopher Lanaway)
I got super lucky on many occasions. Shand Cycles, the adventure bikes company from Scotland, gave me a set of tubes they had won at a show. 

They wanted to help someone who was starting up, so they reached out to The Bicycle Academy who in turn reached out to me. I got to rent a bench and use the tubes there.

As I had been self-employed for a few years, flying solo as a frame builder didn't really scare me. So Mercredi Bikes was born.

Another really amazing thing that truly propelled Mercredi into people’s radar was Grinduro Scotland and the following one in California. I got to make and race a MTB for the event, and in the US I got to meet some amazing folks who really took care of me.

As well as that, I have also always rented workshop spaces from other builders. That has been super helpful. You can go a bit crazy in the workshop on your own, and it’s much nicer to share the space and the lunch breaks! 

The second bike I built was for my friend, Clare. Her 'cross bike had been stolen so she had no race bike anymore. I wanted to help out with that, of course. 
Making a bike for her was a super interesting process. Clare went through the whole procedure as if she was a regular customer, and not one of my closest friends, which helped me set up a framework for how I could work. We did the bike-fit like I still do fits now, and the design process was a two-way conversation like it still is today. A lot of my work now is still informed by this first batch.

For the making part, I went back to The Bicycle Academy which was super helpful. I was doing most things by myself but I could ask questions and run through my next steps with everyone there, and they were really a positive and supportive environment. 

Clare rides two bikes I made now, and though we don’t get to see each other so much since I have moved, I get a text every now and then about how riding the bikes makes her smile or feel strong or have a super fun time. I love that so much. 

Combining bike racing and frame building is tricky, because you need to be super switched on for both, and it can get quite tiring. I think a lot of folks have found it super hard to carry on riding as much as they would like to while running a frame building business. 

For me, it’s super important to carry on riding as much as possible. Firstly, I need it for my own mental health. Secondly, I think it brings me a lot of interesting feedback that I can use in the bike building when I get to test out theories in the real world. I’ve got two 'cross bikes I made. They have subtle differences that I’ve been testing, and it’s amazing to get a feel for what you would have otherwise only known in theory. 

Racing is a way to test out bike-building theories
I am beginning to see more and more femme/transgender/women (FTW) bike frame builders. In recent years, it seems that there has been a very strong drive to bringing the community together, supporting each other and making room for more folks. 

The industry is still really heavily dominated by white dudes, but I think we are growing our corner and the future looks a little brighter. 

Bike shows can be really awkward; I’ve had some pretty shitty experiences and I think it’s important to say they happen. 

A lot of folks still expect builders to look a certain way and they are thrown off when you don’t look like how they expected a frame builder to look. It can be micro-aggression on micro-aggression, and I get really tired of that stuff. 

But on the flip side, there are some folks who come to a show knowing about my work and are just genuinely super keen to discuss and meet up and that’s so lovely. 

As an industry I think more should be done to become as diverse as the world we live in. Everyone can bring something amazing to the table through their background and experiences, and enrich the work we do. 

There is still a lot of work to do to reach that point, but there are some great initiatives. For example the Philly Bike Expo / SRAM inclusivity scholarship supported four builders to exhibit at this year’s show and the work they brought was out of this world. It goes to show that bringing all these different ideas and minds into the industry will push us all forward and refresh the scene a lot. 

From a business perspective it’s also a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t we bring on board so many more people? More diverse builders doesn’t mean all the builders who were there before will run out of business; it means our industry will open up to their communities and that’s awesome. I think the saying goes "a rising tide lifts all boats". 

My advice to anyone wanting to get into bike frame building is making a bike is one of the most empowering things ever. If you feel like doing that, The Bicycle Academy is a wonderful place to do so, and there is no obligation to turn it into a job.

If you do want to make it into a job, you've got to treat it like a job, so put in the same hours, and work to the same standard. 
Take your time to define your vision and your plan, work backwards from there and then work your butt off to meet each step along the way to make your vision happen.

It's worth knowing that there is a lot more to running a frame building business than making bikes, and you really have to embrace all these aspects straight away. You will need to have a solid business plan, do accounts, spend a lot of time on emails with customers and suppliers, and be patient and hard working. 

Find out who you are as a builder and what you are interested in doing, and find out the same about your customers. Not everyone will want to see you succeed, but that’s not a reflection on you. 
It will be hard and the workshops can get really cold and lonely, but it will be very rewarding in many ways. Remember, there is a community of builders out there who will be ready to help and guide you, so don’t be afraid to reach out. 

If anyone wants to reach out to me, my address is on my website and I will do my best to help in any way I can. 👋 

Twitter: @Ecunard
Instagram:  @m_recredi  

Other Cycling Voices
Jenni Gwiadowski

Sarah Strong

Alex Davis

Hannah Bussey

Gema Fernandez

Geraldine Glowinski

Michelle Webster

Maria David

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