“Mike KOWAL was a sub-contractor to Reynolds, while at the same time being one of the most prolific frame-builders in the UK.”
“Originally Mike trained at Reynolds in the early 70s as a technical apprentice, gradually making his way up the promotion ladder to the job of being a supervisor in the tube drawing department, before leaving in 1976 to set up his own frame-building company.”
“He moved his business around the centre of England but was never far from Birmingham and the Midlands. I think that he ended up building from farm premises in Staffordshire… just a little further north”
“Although Mike was /is capable of producing excellently crafted one-off custom frames, he is probably best known in cycling circles for his ability to build prolific quantities of frames for the lightweight trade ie other shops. Among his better known customers were Ribble Cycles, Graham Weigh Cycles of Deeside and Harry Hall of Manchester.”
“I recall some time back in the late 80s that Terry Dove, the non-cycling owner of Ribble Cycles – one of the UK’s most powerful retailers – asking me how many frames I could make in a day !! He needed to know because he was about to venture, in a major way, into the retailing of his own-brand, RIBBLE frames. I knew well of Terry’s hard-headed money-led approach to business and had already had my offer to build custom frames for him rejected.”
“The offer he was considering was from a company called AUTOSTRADA – the frame-building company owned by Mike Kowal. Mike was also a hard-headed business man who had made a proposition to Terry to supply frames – the only stipulation being that frames had to be to Autostrada’s in-house designs…and that orders should be placed in multiples of seven.
“Terry was puzzled about the multiple of SEVEN. I had assumed that this would represent the standard range of sizes produced. However, some days later, Terry phoned to explain, and to ask my opinion, that the multiple of SEVEN was the number of frames made by Mike in a single day…with jigs already set up for each size in the range.”
“Some years later I met up with Mike at the closing-down auction of a well-known small company of lightweight frame-builders. Several builders were there, including Chas Roberts who got the Deal of the Day award for some skilful negotiation on a huge and very expensive piece of frame-building equipment that had to be sold without any reserve.
“Mike was bidding on some specific Bike Machinery tooling. I was surprised at first that he needed such pieces of large equipment, but then remembered his Minimum Order requirements.. and mentioned my suspicions of mass-production to him. He laughed loudly at the mention of the Minimum Order…but did not deny it…but suggested he could manage such a volume because he started work early!”
“A couple of years later he happened to telephone me while I was in the act of brazing up the bottom bracket assembly of a Columbus SL Frame. Mischievously I asked him how long it would take him to carry out the operation and what number/size torch nozzle he would use. His reply stunned me and led me to think that he must wear an asbestos suit and have arms five feet long to handle such a flame.”
“Big nozzles or not or early rising… Mike has produced a lot of high quality frames… the majority of them not even carrying his name. He was still trading a few years ago but had moved, like most builders into importing aluminium ones from the Far East… although I heard that he was personally making custom ones.”
Norris Lockley, Settle UK
Do you have images of bikes with Mike’s branding? Please contribute -> firstname.lastname@example.org