Scores of people come in and out from the underground entrance. Some are smiling, other are earnest, most don’t reveal any kind of emotion and simply hurry up in order to arrive to their destination as soon as possible. Shops keep their doors open, in hope of any client to enter and buy something, although at that time in the morning there’s little more than retired strollers. Usual scenes for a common neighbourhood in south Madrid city far away from the main touristic spots.
Nobody would imagine that in these streets, in a not very tall housing block, could be found the workshop of one of the most acknowledged bicycle craftsmen in Spain. But yes: Andrés Arregui has installed there his space, where he builds custom highest-quality steel frames. Previously he was in a much more centrical location, at Noviciado, but he decided to move to the suburbs. And he only gets visits under appointment.
Because such a precise and detailed work requires peace, not having peepers and gossips bothering him while he handles his machinery to transform steel pipes in what will become a superior quality bicycle. Andrés works both with his own brand (Arregui Velázquez) and in partnership with other producers; he is, for example, the creator of Comet Eater, the gravel model in the The Draft catalogue.
Arregui is a completely different concept. It’s pure craft: each bike coming out from his workshop is a unique piece, but without giving up functionality. His work is completely adapted to the needs of the client, adjusted to the usage the bicycle will have, regardless it’s BMX, urban cycling, road or any other. “Cycling includes a very wide world. Not only sport: it’s also a means of transport. That’s why we create very diverse types of bikes, as many as people who ride. Everything. Our speciality, precisely, is not being specialized in anything”, he tells us while he finishes adjusting steel bars that will become the vehicle of one of his customers.
Why steel? Why not other apparently more powerful materials, such as carbon or titanium? “We started with steel because it’s the most available one. The tools you need are easy to get and working with it is not too difficult. Later you also notice that it’s the most versatile product. Steel boosts the construction process to make a very specific bike, with features not found in the market, or a different geometry. It’s true that carbon is currently unbeatable for competitive cyclists, those who need extremely high performance, but steel has versatility in the way we can build with it. It lets you create the frame in a specific way so that it behaves exactly how you want it to”.
Anyway, Andrés makes the point clear: “Materials, by themselves, aren’t that important. The frame being made in steel, titanium or carbon has its influence, but what is really important is having a correct design”. In this sense, Arregui knows perfectly what he’s talking about. Graduated in Chemistry, he developed his passion for bicycles as a youngster. At first he was only a user, but his interest for handcraft moved him to modify his own bike, and later also his friends’ and relatives’. Since he was praised for his good job, he opened a shop and decided to go a step further: he would learn to create his own structures. In that way he was able to combine the strictly intellectual and creative part with the pure manual tasks.
Design is, indeed, the distinguishing point of his creations. And it is conditioned by the requests of the user, with whom he meets to decide what is to be done depending on the future usage of the bicycle. The process starts with that meeting; from then, the structure and geometry are drawn, pipes are bought (usually from Columbus, an Italian provider) and welded, the frame is cleaned and sent to painting, the rest of the components are attached and last adjusts are made before the bike is ready to go. All together, this means six to eight months. “We’re not creating something like a purse; I mean, this is a means of transport that people could use, for example, to go downhill really fast, so quality and safety are compulsory”, he explains.
Among the high range pieces he creates, already named Comet Eater for The Draft must be highlighted. It is a gravel bicycle, that is, the geometry is similar to road bikes but it can mount wider wheels to move without any problem not only on paved roads but also in any kind of paths. The concept, Arregui recognizes, isn’t new at all; in fact it’s sort of a fashion currently, so he had to go a step further. “Creating just another gravel didn’t make any sense, there already are lots of models, so we decided to make it our own way. We tried the first prototype, Comet, and it worked really fine, so we made a second version improving parts of the construction and the materials, and in different sizes. It is indeed a very standard building; specific components and geometry is what makes it different to others”.
Arregui works together with Eduardo Gasca, who assists him in mechanic issues, and Pablo Hervás, who helps when there are large batches to produce. But he assumes that a single person is enough to finish a frame. In fact, apart of creating and selling his creations, he has started the Bicycle Technical School, “an integral center where pupils learn design, welding, both serial and custom production, mechanics, wheels, biomechanics… everything involved in making a bicycle”. He estimates that five days are enough for a pupil to finish his own frame. Obviously, “students don’t finish the course with a professional level, but they get a firm foundation to carry on working”.
The third leg in his project is the research center: his workshop is the Spanish branch of a partnership in which developers all around Europe are involved, including universities in the Netherlands, England and Germany. Their goal is “to develop ideas, technical concepts, new methods, different alloys, to improve the procedure of building and designing bicycles and making it safer”. Because Andrés Arregui, idealistic man, aims to expand as much as possible the usage of bicycles. He is convinced it’s the future. “As soon as kids get used, as a habit, to ride, and at the same time cars get pulled off cities to make it safer, and politicians understand cities can become friendlier for pedestrians, this is unstoppable. And I wish it will become a reality”.