Interview with Enigma’s Designer, Mark Reilly

Enigma's Mark Reilly at work

We're in the home stretch now. My Enigma Eulogy frame is packed up and in the capable hands of the men in brown, hopefully winging it's way to California for delivery early next week. As numerous posts have documented all the components (and some tasty options) are ready for the build. Mykle Kong, Tech Manager and Bill Ruffner, the owner of my LBS, San Jose Trek, will both be taking part in a special build event I'm going to cover in words and pictures on Velodramatic. I think it will be fun and informative.

Jim Walker and Mark Reilly of Enigma were fully engaged and friendly partners from start to finish of the bespoke design process. Yes, there is no shortage of great builders here in the U.S., but if you want something a little less common on this side of the pond, you couldn't go wrong working with these two knowledgeable gents. Call Enigma... and Jim or Mark invariably answers the phone. From the US dial 011 44 870 874-6975

Mark Reilly is regarded as one of Britain's preeminent designers and frame builders. His twenty years of experience and particular affinity for titanium's subtleties are at the heart of every Enigma. He kindly took some time out of his day to answer some questions about his beginnings/development as a bicycle designer

How did you choose bicycles (or did they choose you). Were you a racer, enthusiast or grow up in a family that rode bicycles?

Claud Butler AdReilly. Bicycles chose me I think, I fell in love with them at school. My best friend was a racer and it rubbed off on me in no time at all. I am very mechanically minded and hounded my friend to sell me his bike, he gave up in the end, I bought the bike, a Claud Butler 531, for £20.00 and there it started, it was stripped down in no time at all and painted (pillar box red) in the family garden the same day.

I did eventually race in my mid twenties winning only one race!

How much riding and what kind of riding do you like to do now? Do you ride to work?

Reilly. I only test ride bikes at the moment but do plan to start riding regularly in the summer.

How did you begin your career as a bicycle designer? Did you come from an industrial design program or apprentice with other frame builders?

Reilly. I am self taught, straight from school I started building frames, its what I always wanted to do. A couple of years in I opened my first shop and was very lucky to employ one of the best frame builders in the world and of all time in my mind, Ron Cooper. The shop closed after a couple of years due to a bad economic recession and I left the cycle trade and went to university to study electronics and mechanical engineering. At the time I designed and built a turntable and speakers and was going to market these but bikes drew me back and I left uni after only two months and was back making frames!

The first frame you designed/built couldn't have been titanium. How did you come to specialize in that material?

Reilly. At some point I was approached by a company called DNA and they wanted me as a consultant so we made a deal and formed a company/brand called Omega DNA. DNA were making MTB frames at a facility in Russia, they had no knowledge of road frames and so I came on board to handle that side of things. I went to Russia for a short while and saw how they made Titanium frames and gleaned most of my knowledge of the material and how to work it there.

Where in Russia did you travel? Was there anything interesting about the Russian craftsmen... I've heard some of the Russian expertise with titanium came from work in the Soviet space and aircraft industries. Did Vodka play a role in the welding process?

Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. The DNA plant was actually inside a submarine plant, it took an age to get permission to allow us access, we didn’t see anything other than the bike frame factory though. Vodka played a part in dinner in the evenings as the Russian agent gave us some local brew!

Is the recent emergence of the steel-frame Elite a return to your roots?

We have been making steel frames for Omega customers for quite a while now, people that have had my frames over the years and really love steel, so we thought why not bring a contemporary steel frame into the main range.

Who paints the frames for you?

The frames are painted by Dave Crowe at Colour-tech, I’ve known Dave 15 years, he’s quite a character and a brilliant sprayer.

At Enigma you have a production facility in Taiwan, how much hands on assembly, finishing do you do now? Again, is the Elite (steel tubes) a chance to keep your hand in on actual frame welding/construction.

Reilly. We do all the design work of course and final finishing such as bead blasted and polished logos. The Elite gets me away from the PC and a chance to be really creative whilst getting my hands dirty, there is something very special about actually crafting something.

It's been written that Sean Yates provided the inspiration for the Eulogy... how do you know Sean and how did that come about?

Reilly. Sean asked for a new frame and his needs were very simple, make it as stiff as possible, which it is and I also dialed in excellent road feel and comfort. I met Sean through a friend of mine Vic Haines. I knew that Vic and Sean were close friends and asked Vic to talk to Sean about me making him a frame. Sean said yes and the rest is history.

Enigma employs a variety of tube shapes and profiles... I suppose you've built up a deep understanding of how tube diameter, shape and wall profiles affect the resulting frame. When designing a new bike model, do you begin with a set of ride characteristics and then build towards that spec with a series of prototypes tweaking the tube combinations OR is your inspiration more visual/holistic and that ultimately dictates the ride? At this stage how many prototypes does it take to arrive at a production model?

Reilly. I have built up a wealth of knowledge over the years, having built for many teams, Pro’s like Sean, National and World champions, I draw on this to create new models. The prototypes never need tweaking, usually we are confident enough to go straight into production! The visual side of things is of course very important, I always try to keep things very contemporary whilst at the same time adding a timeless quality, which is hard when you have to make the bike ride exceptionally too!

Cycling publications give Taiwan credit for some advanced technology when it comes to bicycle fabrication. The welds on Enigma frames are beautifully rendered. Are they welded by hand or robotically? Do you exchange information electronically from your software with Taiwan?

Reilly. All the frames are hand welded. I use my software to send all the building plans, the factory then produces an autocad drawing for us to approve.

The Eulogy and Effusion introduce carbon seat stays, chain stays (Eulogy) into the mix. How difficult was it to effectively mate the two materials? Since carbon forks are de rigeur, was incorporating carbon in the rear triangle a nod in that direction?

Reilly. There is a special process used to mate the materials and it is hard to get the mixture of carbon and titanium right.

Which of the Enigma models do you ride yourself?

Reilly. Effusion when I can.

Which gruppo do you personally prefer and why?

Reilly. There is only one groupset for me, Record! It’s a dream to work with, beautifully finished and engineered. I am definitely a Campagnolo fan, always have been.

Jim's bicycle business experience runs deep, is it easier to focus you attention on design without as many business distractions?

Reilly. Its far easier focusing mainly on design.

Have you designed a unique "Enigma" for yourself, or your family?

Reilly. The LAB single speed I designed for myself to scoot around the streets of Brighton.

Without giving too much away... what's next on the drawing board for Enigma... you've done a cyclo cross LAB bike, any chance that might become a regular in the line up?

Reilly. I can’t say but we do have three new frames about to launch, Eikonic, Ethos and a very special limited edition, limited to 25 Worldwide.

The Eulogy hasn't even arrived yet and I'm already intrigued to learn about the new Enigma models beginning with the requisite letter 'E'. thanks Mark

4 Responses to Interview with Enigma’s Designer, Mark Reilly

  1. Scott H. says:

    I am excited for this Enigma build. I have recently begun investigation into my next bike.

    I am planning for a purchase sometime next year and am looking at Baum Cycles (http://www.baumcycles.com/), they are local Australian lads. Whether to go Ti, Ti Carbon, Steel or Steel carbon will be a tough decision.

    I will be keen to hear about your opinion of the ride quality of the Eulogy.

    Scott

  2. Scott,

    The Baum bikes are the Bomb. They look very well made and beautifully finished. Their paint treatments are stunning. I would have loved to have dropped in on Jim and Mark at Enigma during the design process. If Baum is round the corner from you… I’m not sure you can go wrong working with them.

    If the Eulogy arrives this coming week, the build will happen Friday, so I can ride it next weekend and file a first report.

  3. BR says:

    Great discussion and it’s always nice to hear what influences people have. Custom bikes are such a good idea for so many riders but many don’t take the time to search these craftsmen out. I am available early Saturday and/or Monday if a test ride is happening.

  4. Nicolas says:

    I know this is a really really beautiful bike, Michael, but come on! Nothing about the Giro?! No (in)appropriate comments, or reviews of the day’s gossip in the peloton? :-)