Smithy Frameworks’ Chris Yeomans discusses balancing his own brand with taking over the legendary Flying Gate brand
Words Does Strickson Photography Anthony Pease
After 29 years as one of the UK’s leading frame builders, Chris Yeomans’ transition into frame builder was easier than most.
His artistic and restoration metal work can be seen across the country, including at Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace, and he even built a sculpture for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in 2010. But the work does havoc.
“I got to the point where I was physically exhausted. Things that I could do all day before, I could only do for 20 minutes,” says Yeomans.
“I took a course at the Bicycle Academy with the aim of gradually moving from blacksmithing to something more enjoyable. I went from working with objects weighing 200 kg to making objects weighing less than two.
It helped that he was no stranger to cycling. As a child he drove his Claud Butler around north west London on his way to school and when he grew up he cycled to work. But things really picked up when he had kids.
“When our eldest got into ATV racing, we all started riding again,” says Yeomans. “He did a lot of four crosses and downhill and won a lot.
“It ended up being sponsored by Curtis Bikes, and going to visit Gary Woodhouse at Curtis was the first time I encountered the idea of building a frame myself.”
The light bulb moment came later, after reading an article in Dirt magazine about its tech editor, framebuilder Ed Haythornthwaite. Fascinated, Yeomans noticed that the equipment and processes were largely the same as what he was already using.
He started Smithy Frameworks after his course at the Bicycle Academy, downsizing the houses to complete his move away from the forge.
“The transition was simple – I just flowed into it,” says Yeomans. “I don’t even remember that happening, so it must have been that smooth.
“There is obviously a lot to learn; the work is quite different in many ways, but very similar to others, and I feel very comfortable with the tools.
Smithy builds are almost exclusively steel off-road bikes, ranging from more traditional front-suspension equipped mountain bikes to flat-bar and bikepacking gravel bikes. Smithy bikes have won awards at Bespoked and are raced under Yeomans son.
But wait, if so… what is this TJ Cycles bike?
A quick history lesson
The bike design shown here was originally conceived in 1935 by the Baines brothers and called VS37 because of its short 373/4 inch (959 mm) wheelbase.
Production came to a halt during World War II and post-war supply problems meant that the last bike was built in 1953.
Fast forward to 1979 and a man named Trevor Jarvis set up TJ Cycles in Burton-on-Trent. Jarvis had ridden a VS37 he had been asked to refurbish and was impressed, so he tracked down Bill Baines and got his approval to relaunch the bike.
Jarvis re-registered the design as the Flying Gate, which was an old nickname for the bikes, a reference to the original square angles and fast riding feel.
Under TJ Cycles the design has become something of a legend, with masses of proud owners gathering once a year for “Flying Gate Weekend”. But Jarvis, now in his late eighties, couldn’t do it forever, so for seven years Liz Colebrook of Beaumont Bicycle helped him.
Now the torch has passed on again and Yeomans owns the rights, building both Smithy Frameworks and Flying Gate bikes.
“I got to know Liz when I didn’t have certain tools,” Yeomans says. “We started sharing tools and materials and then she asked if I could help build frames as she was falling behind.
“It evolved into building Flying Gates, and when Liz decided to do something else, the opportunity came to me. I talked to Trevor about it and he said yes right away. I meet him always at least once a month.
Pictured is Yeomans’ Flying Gate, built with Jarvis. It’s traditionally British, made from Reynolds 725 steel tubing with an 853 fork and finished with a Brooks saddle, but elsewhere the parts list is more modern and eclectic.
The shifters are from Crane Creek, the brakes are Shimano Ultegra, the seat post and headset are Campagnolo, the Stronglight crankset, the white chain is from BMX Gusset and the wheels are Son rims linked to Paul hubs. The total weight is a very respectable 9kg.
Studded road bikes are obviously a big departure from Yeoman’s own Smithy frames, but riding Flying Gates, while involving, has at least one curious advantage.
“Smithy customers have an idea of what they want and then I can suggest one of the models I make. Flying Gate, however, has its parameters, but many people who want one are so enthusiastic that some end up buying four or five bikes.
It also gave Smithy a boost, with Flying Gate customers wanting one of Yeomans bikes for off-road riding.
If that sounds like a lot of work, it is, but Yeomans says it’s nothing compared to the pressure of running Flying Gate Weekend and is much easier than maintaining the TJ Cycles website.
“I think they built that in the 70s too.”