There are very few component manufacturers still in existence that carry the cred or creed of British company Hope. We drop in on them to see how they’ve managed to stay true to their colours for almost a quarter of a century;
It’s a rare thing these days, to see a label stamped on the bottom of a prime piece of high-end bike kit that reads “Make in UK”, or even made anywhere outside of China for that matter, yet almost every piece of Hope kit is, and always has been hand made in the UK, in a small market town called Barnoldswick in Lancashire, a rough ended and rugged place in the north of England made famous by it’s textile mills.
Sure enough some manufacturers still make their top end models on home turf, and others do also assemble parts made in every other corner of the globe and brand the goods with “assembled in” tags, but not Hope, despite the economic woes and relative high labour and production costs in Europe and the UK they’ve somehow managed to stay true to the principles they started out in business with some 23 years ago, and they’re thriving on them too.
With Taiwan, and to a lesser extent China, having firmly established themselves as the undoubted orchard of bike and bike parts manufacturing for the entire world, how is it that a privately owned and self sufficient company like Hope still manages to stay competitive by making almost their entire product portfolio in the UK? “Maybe it’s a control freak kind of thing (that we do it all in the UK), but when you make it yourself you’re continually inspecting it, there’s no R&D wait time, it’s there. Also when the company started out my brother (Ian Weatherill) really wanted to put something back into the local community (unemployment was huge in the area). What’s the point if not.“ Alan Weatherill, sales and marketing manager told us;
“Overall it doesn’t really work out much more expensive (manufacturing in the UK).” He continued; “The guys in China use the same machinery as we do (and often the same raw materials – from steel consolidators), and it costs them the same. Here we have a very skilled and efficient workforce too, our staff can work up to 8 machines at a time, so they are very productive, and so overall labour costs are not really more effective in China either.”
With many bike companies their development and marketing staff also spend much of their time commuting between Asia and Europe or the USA, and working to tight manufacturing schedules, but not Hope; “Most of the design staff can also machine a product, so from conception of an idea we can pretty well have a prototype machined in no time, it’s really easy for us. Everyone gets involved in the design process; for example the X1 cassette, we got the drawings done in a day, and had a cassette made in a day too (without sprockets). So, we have the produce to show and test, we don’t have to go to somebody else to make the pattern.”
The whole Hope story begun out of necessity; “My brother (Ian Weatherill) and Simon Sharp were not happy with the calliper brakes on their mountain bikes. They were both engineers making tools at Rolls Royce Aerospace (who also have a factory in Barnoldswick) and were also into motorcycle trials, and so they decided to build some disc brakes for their own use.”
Like any good Lego kit things went from there; “Because they made the brakes they decided to make the hubs too, and started selling them. This was before disc brakes were an accepted thing (in mountain biking), so the hubs took all of the attention.”
It was a tough time for the manufacturing industry in the UK, but within a couple of years the two partners had put their hubs and brakes into full production, and have not looked back since.
Although it was the disc brakes that inspired the birth of the company, it was the hubs that followed that really established them in the marketplace; “Hubs are still our biggest product, ”Weatherill told us; “ We use the best quality bearings and seals, which makes them durable and light, and that’s what has built our reputation.”
“We started with the front hubs for the disc brakes. Then came the rear hubs, which was just about when the cassette system arrived (after screw on). It took us a couple of years to perfect the rear hubs. We were machining everything from aluminium, so we also started making skewers, seat clamps, bar-end pugs – basically coloured parts for your bike.”
These days it’s rare to see a decent mountain bike without discs, some clearly better than others. Having been relative pioneers of discs how do they see the evolution in recent years? “Well, we try to balance power with feel. Most of the manufacturers seem to try and make the most powerful brakes, but when you grab a brake you don’t want a handful of bars. The biggest restriction is the grip of the tyres you’re using, so it’s not all about power. We used to be the most powerful, but we went down the road of balancing it with feel.”
The Hope approach doesn’t always meet with statisticians chart approval; “It can come across negatively in magazines because on a test bench it’s not so powerful, but in reality it’s far nicer to use. Ultimately you can pull back to the bars and lock, but you don’t need to. We do make the downhill brakes more powerful, so that you can use them with one finger.”
Throughout their evolution Hope have pretty well carved their own way, often bravely going where other manufacturers dare not; “We tend not to look at other bike companies at all, we look at other industries, maybe looking at different ideas for motorcycle brakes and other technologies and try to combine them to suit.”
With a full fleet of staff bikes, and with many leading riders working for Hope, much of the product testing is done in house; “We have always done most of the testing in house, but we have started to put more out to other athletes, because if you get a Hope trained person giving a viewpoint it might not be the same as someone else, so we’re trying to get more varied feedback.”
The Hope range has always been somewhat smaller (in terms of variants of a single product), maybe even more centred than other manufacturers; “People often ask why we don’t do cheaper models, or higher end models. We’re not really inclined that way, we prefer to make stuff that works, and that’s what it costs. Although we do different brakes, it’s all down to application, and not price or grade.”
As a company Hope have also been long time supporters of cycling, both road and MTB, yet have never really shouted it from the rooftops as other companies often do; “We’re engineers at the end of the day who happen to sell bike parts, and not a marketing company. We’ve often not made the most of marketing opportunities, which is good and bad, it’s not best – but it works for our kind of style.”
A few years back the company made perhaps their biggest diversification, into lighting; “Once again it was a case of the staff wanting something that didn’t exist – so we started playing around with motorcycle lights and batteries and developed the lights, and then started selling them.”
Surprisingly even the lights are largely home made; “We saw that other people bought in plastic housings and stuff and assembled them themselves, but we thought we could machine most things ourselves. We have a guy here that designs the circuit boards, but they are made in Southport (close by), so it’s still all local.”
With wheels also being built on the premises (with third party rims and spokes) the Hope Hoops range will now include an own brand carbon road rim; “We don’t make the spokes or rims, it’s really not our thing. We offer just one type of rim from certain manufacturers and build them here. We now have out own supplier of carbon rims, we mainly did this because there were so many expensive carbon rims out there built of cheap hubs as factory sets, it didn’t make sense, so we wanted to do out own with our hubs.”
With many manufactures primarily selling factory wheel sets these days is the hub market still as big as it was; “About 5 years ago we started noticing other manufacturers doing only wheel sets, and thought it would effect our hub business – that’s why we started building wheels. But, somehow our hub business has actually increased. I think it’s all down to the way other people have marketed the concept. Some brands you don’t really think of as making hubs, so they promote wheels, and I guess with Hope, you think of hubs.”
Suspension seems a popular foray for other brands, any signs of Hope suspension; “Oh no. We have no plans what so ever, seat posts maybe, dropper seat posts. That’s something we should make, it may take a while, but we should.”
What else can we expect to see coming from Hope in the future; “Cranks, we’re working on cranks. We do single chainrings now, but we’ll also be working on shifting rings to go with the cranks. We’re also making a new cassette, new product is all drive train focussed for now.”
There’s also a potential change of manufacturing material on the horizon; “We’re also looking more at carbon fibre, but at doing it in house, that’s another new thing, just simple carbon fibre products.”
The range has progressed solidly, have their been any products that have not made the cut; “We started working on a complete bike, it wasn’t that it was difficult, it was just different to what we were used too doing, so we sidelined that. We may look at it again in the future.”
With most of the staff, and all of the Hope management riding and racing bikes year round it’s clear that there’s a down to earth passion and enthusiasm for cycling, and the products they design and build to make riding more fun – these are practical and committed people.
As for the name, you might well imagine that it was a motto borne from a long shot, the chance to make something from the rubble of a crumbling industrial economy, but that would just not be practical enough for these guys, as Alan explains; “The company needed a name, and the business was set up in the Hope Mill, hence the name.”
The anthology of Hope
1989 – Business partners in an engineering firm (and trained Rolls Royce Aerospace engineers) Ian Weatherill and Simon Sharp decide that they’re not happy with the performance of the cantilever brakes on their mountain bikes. Being engineers, and coming from a motorbike trials background, they decide to make their own disc brakes.
The callipers were cable operated, and they used rear screw-on hubs on the front of the bike, with the rotor screwed onto them. Dissatisfied with that, the pair decided to make their own hubs to complement their brakes. This is the beginning of Hope as we know it.
1991 After 2 years of designing and making their hubs and brakes, Hope Technology is formed to make and sell disc brakes and hubs.
1992 Interbike, USA – Hope first exhibit their brakes. There were brakes on 14 different show bikes around the halls. At this point, Hope only had 14 brakes.
Hope’s hubs started selling in big numbers in their native UK where US imported products were expensive. Hope gains a good following for their hubs alone.
1993 Hope launches the Ti-glide rear hub, one of the first Shimano compatible after market hubs. It used a titanium central body and titanium cassette carrier. It was light, strong and looked cool too.
1994 Hope introduces their first hydraulic brake. It was drag free and powerful, fitting to CNC’d fork adaptors at the front and custom braze-ons at the rear.
1995 The 185mm front disc and Big’un hubset are introduced for downhill racing. Hope switch to Kevlar reinforced hydraulic hosing.
1996 Hope’s Sport lever – with its innovative thumbwheel adjuster is launched. Due to their ease of use, power, and mid-race adjustment ability, many pro riders start using Hope’s hydraulic systems regardless of sponsorship obligations. Rob Warner rides to 5th place in Mont St. Anne, Canada using Hope brakes and hubs.
1997 Hope take their first Grundig World Cup victory with Rob Warner winning in the rain of Kaprun, Austria.
1998 Hope’s DH4 downhill brake is unveiled at Interbike. The Pro series lever is introduced. The calliper gets lightened and slimmed down.
1999 Steve Peat comes second in the World Cup series and wins the British National Championship (using Hope kit). The whole of the British National top 10 series finishers now use Hope brakes. At the British National Finals, the whole top 20 (at least) are running Hope brakes. Hope also launches the World’s lightest disc brake system, the XC4.
2000 Hope launches the Bulb hubs. This first model had a splined fitting to allow a disc and spider to be fitted. These became the benchmark front hub due to their versatility in allowing either QR or 20mm axles in the same hub.
2001 Mini brakes launched. Back to an open system for XC use, still with no drag. First 6 bolt XC hubs launched, meaning quick and easy disc fitting.
2002 Headsets added to the range featuring stainless steel bearings and seals everywhere, to keep out the water and mud. Small parts added to the range in the form of bar end plugs and head doctors.
2003 Launch of the Mono6ti brakes, bringing motorcycle multi piston callipers to cycling. Mini and M4 brakes changed to Mono callipers; this one-piece technology is still being used today.
2004 Sh1t Shifter launched to make cleaning all Hope products easy. Specifically designed to be gentle on anodised parts and disc brakes.
2005 Stem first launched in XC, along with freeride versions.
2006 Hope’s first foray into lights, the Vision HID is launched, offering one of the most powerful offroad lights available. Another example of the owners and employee’s need for a product that wasn’t available, fast turning into a successful retail item.
2007 Launch of the first vented disc for bicycles with the new Moto V2 brake, offering immense power. The 2 LED lights also launched. Wheels added into the range.
2008 The 4 LED light launched and 1 LED revamped. New bottom bracket launched.
2010 Expansion into a new factory, increasing workspace from 60,000 square feet to 85,000, anodising now done on site.
2012 New machinery acquired, Hope now have 52 CNC machines in service.