In the first of our Friends of Sunspel series, we visited the Kennedy City Bicycles workshop to chat with founder and owner, James Kennedy, about the craft of bike building, the luxury of understatement and the appeal of Made in England products.
Since the summer of 2013, James Kennedy has been making it easier for city dwellers to get around by bike. With frames that are easy on the eye, light enough to be carried up a few flights of stairs without breaking a sweat and with nifty details like the detachable mudguard that folds into the size of a postcard, suddenly swapping the bus for bike seems all the more appealing.
In the last year, we’ve started making our own frames in the workshop. When you’re cutting the tubing and brazing it on a jig it looks so raw and it feels like such a mechanical thing, then a week later, suddenly it’s a bike frame. There’s a tipping point where it stops being parts and starts being a product and I think the bit where it’s still parts is really exciting for me because I know it’s going to become a product, but that can feel so distant at that time.
If I’m going to spend a lot of money on something – and like Sunspel, our bikes are good value but they’re not cheap and there’s a big difference between the two – then I want it to have a story. There are the basic hygiene factors you could call them: like it has to last a long time and it has to be good quality and it has to look nice, but I think the thing that tips it over the edge and makes you want to buy one thing over another is the story that goes with it. It’s not impossible to have that story if you make things elsewhere, but it tends to be a much more interesting story if it’s closer to home and certainly something that you can relate to more.
When we were first thinking about what we were and what we weren’t, inevitably a big part of that was looking at other brands. It would be fair to say that none of them were bike brands. We actually garnered a lot more inspiration from clothing and footwear and Sunspel were particularly pertinent because they were making really high-quality stuff that didn’t have their name written all over it. At the time, that was relatively rare and it was particularly rare with bikes. There’s a culture with bicycles, particularly historically, that if you’re going to spend a lot of money on one then it needs to have as many lightning bolts on it as possible. I remember looking at that and thinking, that’s just not true of clothing or footwear anymore.
Luxury is in the understatement. It’s in the quality. You don’t need to write your name all over something for people to hear about it. People will tell other people about something that works well. Bikes have gone that way in the last few years but at the time it was a relatively strange thing to do and I think Sunspel was the brand that I cited the most as being the reason for doing that.
I don’t dress any differently to come to the workshop. I think I lead a fairly active lifestyle so realistically everything I wear has to be hardwearing. I wear a lot of selvedge denim because it getting filthy and knocked about and soaking wet just adds to its character. When you know you’re going to work clothes very hard I think you can either choose to spend nothing and make them throw away items or you can buy something that is a decent quality that you know is going to work with you and is going to get knackered and be better for it. It gives it character and personality and that’s what makes it special.
To design your own Kennedy City Bicycle visit kennedycitybicycles.cc or arrange a time to call into the workshop in Hackney Downs.