The bond between a man and his bicycle can be an emotional one. Dominic Mason is well aware of this, and that is why he has gone out of his way to create a bike brand that people will fall in love with. It seems to be working.
Whatever emotions Mason bikes stir within the customers themselves will pale in comparison to those Dominic has for the brand himself, however.
“One of the major events that kicked me into taking action and following my dream was the death of my Dad. It seriously jolted me and made me think about where I was with things and where I wanted to take my life, so I left my secure well paid job and ploughed my entire inheritance into starting Mason Cycles.”
It was a leap of faith that appears to be paying off. Mason hit the ground running when it launched in March 2015: “We have been running on pre-orders since we started trading.” This is thanks a lot to some inspired brand cultivation. Glimpses of frames and the sort of details that a non-cyclist would struggle to make sense of were teased out over months. It was evident that a lot of thought had gone into every aspect of Mason bikes, something Dominic says he also has his dad to thank for.
“My Dad was a lecturer in art and architectural design, and was a real details man so I’m pretty sure he would be really proud of where we are and the brand that he helped to inspire,” Dominic continues.
Mason Cycles are what Dominic refers to as a “semi-custom” product but without the six or eight month lead time that usually comes with a custom build. “If we have the suitable frameset in stock then we promise to deliver the finished bicycle within four weeks from final payment.”
Mason offers stock frames to suit most dimensions of rider, made in small Italian workshops, something that helps instill a romance in the brand, even if it has presented challenges of its own: “The Italians have a certain way of working and it can be difficult sometimes. I began to realise why more people don’t go to Italy to have their frames built.”
Nevertheless, Dominic considers the quality of craftsmanship worth the effort, and discussions with factory owners were nothing new to him. He had previously worked at Sussex-based Kinesis bikes before deciding to launch his own brand. “I put a lot into Kinesis - but I didn’t own it.”
Mason Cycles offer a number of unique features which have been winning over the affections of customers, such as the particular shade of navy blue - “we had a lot of help from Oli Pepper from Morvelo [cycle clothing] with that” - and the sharp graphics which are all positioned on the frame so as to be invisible from the front and entirely visible from the rear. Then there is the internal cable routing, which enters and exits the frame via ports which are switchable should you decide on graduating up to electronic gears at a later date (most bikes are built to accommodate one or t’other). These are elements you would be hard pushed to find from a bike company with years under its belt rather than one which is less than a year old. The same might be thought of the decision to make the frames out of Italian Columbus steel - an inspired move but not an obvious one. Even the carbon forks were built from scratch because Dominic was unable to find any he deemed suitable so designed his own. Hunt wheels and disc brakes are standard across the range.
“The framesets have some unique features and are designed for modern and progressive riding styles,” Dominic says.
This is a feature he will carry through to the next phase of the brand’s development - he is producing three new models, working with Josh Ibbet, who won the 2015 4,000km Transcontinental race on a Mason bike, on testing and development.
Dominic plans to offer five models in the Mason lineup by the middle of 2016, building up to eight by the time the business is five years old.
Ambitious plans for a startup, but Dominic is confident he can pull it off: “It’s all been a big scary experiment so far, but we’ve had a great reception for the brand from public and press with some killer reviews all round.”
Mason is progressing so well that he has recently taken on his first employee to help free him up for design and development of the new bikes.
Even with the relatively short lead time, Dominic’s waiting list continues to grow. Evidence that he knows how to stir the emotions when it comes to bikes. You get the feeling his dad would be very proud indeed.
RIDING THE RESOLUTION
You’ve only got to set eyes on a Mason to appreciate the passion behind the brand. The sharp graphics, that particular shade of navy (black is also available), the build quality, all suggest a bike company with a history stretching far beyond its years.
Not bad going for a startup which this time last year was not much more than an ambitious idea and some very cool-looking images.
The Mason range comprises two models; the steel Resolution and the aluminium Definition. It is the Definition which carried Josh Ibbett to victory on the 4,000km Transcontinental race in the summer of 2015. He was a whole day and 400km ahead of his closest competitor.
Josh said his choice of the Definition over the Resolution boiled quite simply down to a question of weight. When you’re racing across central Europe every gram counts and those few extra comfort pounds that come with a steel bike were deemed a luxury too far.
There is an underlying theme to Mason’s bikes, and that is to provide year-round use. Instead of road cyclists using a “dull, uninspiring” winter bike for the cold months and keeping their best bike for summer, Dominic Mason wanted to offer something that would provide year-round satisfaction. “Not a lifeless ‘do it all’ machine but a spirited ‘multi-discipline’ bicycle,” he explains. The four-seasons bike, in other words.
If you feel one bike is all you need, then the resolution would indeed fit the bill. It is comfortable enough, with its relaxed riding position, while the Columbus steel frame when run with the bombproof Hunt wheels and Fabric saddle will smooth out all but the worst road hum. For added cushioning the Resolution will accommodate anything up to 32mm tyre widths, although we found the Continental Grandsport 28mm perfectly suitable.
Given that the Resolution Ultegra Hydro isn’t really built for racing, it’s all the more surprising when you put your foot down. There’s no denying its nimbleness when you need to pick up the pace. This helps explain Mason’s assertion that the bikes are “designed to be ridden fast.” That said, the long wheel base does make the steering a little sluggish. Something that could be remedied to a degree by a longer stem but ultimately it’s the price you pay for that additional bit of comfort.
As Josh Ibbett has already proven, Mason bikes are the perfect vehicle for the longer ride. There is the feeling, when you mount a Mason, that the world is out there to be explored, that the mini adventure is yours for the taking and you might not be back in time for supper. The choice of Shimano groupsets offers the reassurance that you could obtain a spare part with minimal fuss should you need to, and the disc brakes provide solid, confident stopping regardless of the weather. For winter Dominic will also fit a couple of SKS full mudguards, the kind that prevent the full complement of road crap from coming anywhere near you or for that matter, the rest of the bike.
It would be a very special machine indeed that could persuade the cycling devotee to stop his endless quest for “just one more bike,” but when it comes to a Mason you might instead find yourself looking to get in just one more ride instead. A triumph in cycle manufacturing.
Summary: It would be difficult to find a better year-round bike. Reassuringly stable even in extreme weather, with plenty of oomph should you need it and jaw-dropping good looks. The ride position and steering is perhaps not sporty enough for some, but comfort is amazing, and that’s what you’ll be thinking about after 100 miles in the saddle.
4.8 / 5
Mason Resolution Ultegra Hydro £3,195