Meet Ricky Feather: From a BMX bandit on a Rotherham council estate to elite bicycle maker whose bikes costs thousands

In the latest in our Meet the Makers series, Barney Stephenson heads to Haxby to see how the man behind Feather Cycles is making sparks fly as a custom bike builder. Pictures by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

It's a bright spring day in the Yorkshire Wolds, somewhere between the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy and the hamlet of Fridaythorpe. The brilliant flowering of rapeseed makes for a patchwork quilt of yellows and greens. Between the technicolour fields, a cyclist navigates the narrow, winding and steep network of roads.

The cyclist is Ricky Feather, the owner and sole staff member of Haxby based Feather Cycles. “I know these roads like the back of my hand,” he says with a smile. “I don't have to look at anything. It’s that freedom to roam that I love.” Up hills, round corners, through valleys. Across dirt tracks and tarmac. Man and machine perpetually, effortlessly in sync.

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Ricky has been riding a road bike he built last year. A paint job with a colour spectrum that, depending on perspective, goes all the way from blue to bronze, the letters F E A T H E R emblazoned in 24 carat gold leaf on the down tube, every detail bespoke, specific to his physique and the vehicle's purpose.

Bicycle maker Ricky Feather, at work in his workshop on the outskirts of York.Picture Jonathan GawthorpeBicycle maker Ricky Feather, at work in his workshop on the outskirts of York.Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Bicycle maker Ricky Feather, at work in his workshop on the outskirts of York.Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

For Ricky the world revolves around bikes. He’s one of those people who has cracked life’s puzzle and makes a living doing exactly what he loves. It comes across immediately in his friendly, self assured demeanour as he sits down to speak about his job as a builder of custom bicycles.

Raised on a council estate in Rotherham, Ricky’s love for bikes was born out of an adolescence consumed by the BMX subculture.

By the time he was 14 he’d built up a network of fellow riders from across South Yorkshire and spent his weekend’s exploring the region on two wheels. “We’d ride 12 miles because we couldn’t afford the train. I loved it (BMXing). It was everything - style, music, just the way people are,” he says.

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“There are a lot of creatives, weirdos and wonderful people. It’s brilliant because you’re just immersed in this scene full of all kinds of people which you wouldn’t get just going down to the pub.”

Bicycle maker Ricky Feather, at work in his workshop on the outskirts of York.Picture Jonathan GawthorpeBicycle maker Ricky Feather, at work in his workshop on the outskirts of York.Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Bicycle maker Ricky Feather, at work in his workshop on the outskirts of York.Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

When it came to leaving school and getting a job Ricky was left uninspired by the prospects presented to him. He served time as an apprentice welder before moving to Leeds and working in sheet metal factories but work remained a means to an end. The idea to channel his skills into his passion was sparked after reading an article about a stateside BMXer setting up as a custom builder. “It was a bit of a light bulb moment,” he says. “I read this article and that was it - I thought that’s what I want to do. If I’m going to be welding for the rest of my life I want to be doing something that I’ll enjoy and something that will allow me to be creative as well.”

Fifteen years on with a handful of awards under its belt, Feather Cycles looks to provide customers with an alternative to the offer set out by cycling’s big name brands. His clients have a say in almost every aspect of the production of a bicycle that, if cared for correctly, can “last a lifetime.”

Ricky is sitting in the centre of the long and narrow modular room from which his creations are born. Salvaged industrial machines are sandwiched between second hand steel cabinets and wooden work tops.

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At the back there are two milling machines - over half a century old, they’re what Ricky uses to cut the tubes and any other metal components used in the build. It’s an unassuming scene considering the inordinately high spec to which a Feather Cycles bike is produced but one which is apt in relation to Ricky’s outlook on production.

Bicycle maker Ricky Feather, at work in his workshop on the outskirts of York.Picture Jonathan GawthorpeBicycle maker Ricky Feather, at work in his workshop on the outskirts of York.Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Bicycle maker Ricky Feather, at work in his workshop on the outskirts of York.Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

“These machines themselves will outlive me,” he says as he looks over to the milling machines. “It definitely inspires you. You’re thinking about how you can make something that can last this long? A customer can enjoy it literally for the rest of their lives if they look after it.”

When a customer chooses to purchase a Feather Cycle it’s not just the bike they’re paying for - it’s the chance to put their mark on what they’re buying.

The process starts with a discussion. Like a master tailor Ricky needs to know a client’s measurements, flexibility and strength, but he also gets to know his clients on a more personal level.

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Preferences in music, style and art can all be taken into consideration during the design phase and clients are encouraged to push the boundaries.

Bicycle maker Ricky Feather, at work in his workshop on the outskirts of York.Picture Jonathan GawthorpeBicycle maker Ricky Feather, at work in his workshop on the outskirts of York.Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Bicycle maker Ricky Feather, at work in his workshop on the outskirts of York.Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

“A lot of my customers, they want something unique. Something a bit different to what their mates have got,” he explains. “If you go into a shop to buy from a big manufacturer you just have the option of what’s in the shop and that is that, but if you go down the custom route you can kind of have whatever you want. We can make little details out of stainless steel - I could build it lugged or fillet brazed or tig welded depending on budget and visual ideas.”

Once the fine points of the design are agreed, the build begins and Ricky’s vintage industrial arsenal launches into action. The frame build is an essential factor in any bike’s performance and as a trained welder it’s here where Ricky’s reluctant early employment helps elevate his product beyond other adjacent custom bike builders. While many mass producing brands opt for carbon fibre or aluminium frames Ricky maintains a steel frame often makes for a better ride. “The metal has an elasticity that they (carbon fibre and aluminium) don’t have so it’s the ideal bike especially with the road surfaces we have here in the UK,” he says.

Across from the jig where the bike frame sits, above a rack of wooden handled tools, a sign reads “Yorkshireman.”

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Keeping things local is important to Ricky. Every few weeks he makes the short journey to Hull to drop off a batch of frames with his painter and now good friend Jack Johnson.

“It’s nice to see the people that you work with face to face,” he says. “I hate the idea of sending something in a box.

“It’s been the biggest thing I’ve had to overcome over the years, finding a painter who can paint bikes to the standard I wanted them. Now I actually think the paint that we’re putting on bikes is among the best in the world.”

The frame returns to North Yorkshire and the assembly takes place.

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Now the bicycle is complete there’s one last step in the Feather Cycles journey; where possible Ricky personally hands over his creation to its new owner. More often than not this is done at his workshop but it's a ritual that’s taken Ricky all over the UK and even as far as the Netherlands, France and Switzerland.

“I guess Feather Cycles is a unique experience,” he says. “It’s got a lot more to offer than just going to a bike shop and buying a bike - not just the way that you buy the bike but also that the bike will end up performing and feeling like it’s a part of you when you’re out on it.”

Feather Cycles has gone from strength to strength since Ricky’s light bulb moment and there are plans to expand. Later this year he will leave his home workshop and move to a new larger site in Easingwold. He’s launching a new handmade off the shelf brand WKNDR and a frame building experience will be added to the offer.

“I always feel lucky. I never take it for granted,” he said. “There aren’t many people where all they’ve ever done is immersed themselves in bikes and then get to do that full time as a living as well.”

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