Tom Bugler finished a Loughborough University course in Sports Technology and came out of it with a bike brand, Morph Cycles.
Morph Cycles is Tom Bugler’s part passion project and part university coursework. Pete had a chat with the man himself to see how you go about getting a one-man bike brand going.
What’s your background in cycling?
My dad bought me a £250 Diamondback Beta when I was 11 and I’ve pretty much loved it since then. I got into dirt jumping in my early teens. I was really nerdy on the tech from early on, particularly bike geometry weirdly, which not many teenagers are into.
When I was 16 I found a guy on a forum who I knew worked for Specialized and messaged him with a tonne of ideas for a DJ frame that I thought would make it easier to spin and do tricks on. He ended up getting me involved in field testing and prototype DJ/street rig for Specialized which was pretty surreal at the time and is even weirder looking back on it now. The guy I messaged was Aaron Kerson, who has gone onto found PNW Components since.
How did Morph Cycles come about?
I got my first full suspension at the end of my first year of uni, a YT Jeffsy. I was stoked with how it rode for my trails back home in Hampshire/Surrey, but when I went on my first alps trip and started going to uplift days with the uni boys I felt pretty undergunned on it.
I thought it would be cool to have a bike that was like a trail bike in one configuration and then you could do something to it to beef it up for alps trips and uplift days. I came up with the idea of using a flipchip so that the same frame could be run with a 140 or a 160 fork to provide like a trail and enduro mode on the same bike.
At that time I had my heart set on doing an internship a Specialized between my 2nd and 3rd years of uni but it became apparent that it was going to be pretty impossible. You needed a job offer to get a visa and a visa to get a job offer, it also looked like it was going to be enormously expensive to get out there and find somewhere to live. As well as that the timings weren’t going to work out very well.
Long story short I ended up finding out about this scheme where you could pursue your own business idea for a year and do it as an official placement. I figured having a go at designing my bike frame idea would be a lot of fun.
How hard was it to nail the geometry for this bike?
I spent literally a month going between Linkage X3 and Google. I compiled a spreadsheet with all the geometry and sizing info for loads of trail and enduro bikes. I watched endless videos and read endless stuff. I played with all kinds of suspension platforms but ended up mostly focusing on single pivot and 4-bar. I had the geometry I wanted relatively quickly, but it was then about working out where to put the flipchip to create the change I wanted when you swapped the 140 travel fork out for a 160.
Why single pivot?
Single pivot designs have always had great advantages. The platform is very predictable, can be tuned to give a wide variety of characteristics and is extremely simple to maintain.
Historically, single pivot designs have had a bad reputation for bobbing under pedalling and suffering from chain growth. However, with the advent of 1x drivetrains, the impact of both of these factors has been significantly reduced.
With careful pivot placement the anti-squat is over 100% in all of the main climbing gears. The high tuneability of modern shocks and the introduction of climb switches has also benefited the single pivot platform considerably.
Single pivot was also going to be relatively straight forward to design and manufacture. It seemed much more likely that I was going to have something good at the end of it going for single pivot than going with a more complicated platform. “Keep it simple, stupid” comes to mind.
Coming from a DJ background I’ve always had an affinity with steel. I love the clean, sleek looks and steel has some really great mechanical properties for building bike frames. Having Reynolds based in the UK made it simple to work in steel too. I could get the specs for all the tubes they made and design the bike to be made from those from the start. Reynolds don’t just make your run-of-the-mill steel tubing either, their butted, heat treated and air hardened tubes are pretty special.
How many prototypes did you have before getting to the end result?
Believe it or not this is the first physical prototype. I spent a very long time designing the bike in CAD trying to optimise the design and ensure everything would work. I 3D printed some prototype parts so that I could hold them in real life and get a measure of them which helped me to refine the design. Most of the components changed a lot over time, but it was mostly virtual prototyping, rather than in real life trial and error.
How many people make up Morph Cycles and what do they do?
Morph Cycles is currently a 1-man band, just me, however I didn’t do everything myself. Gael Baudou of Baudou Bikes (based in Toulouse, France) made the frame jigs and did all of the brazing and welding. I’m not a welder and don’t own any of the specialist machines and tooling required to build a frame, so it made sense for me to outsource most of the fabrication.
Gael is a really talented frame builder and did a fantastic job of building the bike from my CAD and Linkage models, using the various shells, axles and CNC machined parts I posted out to him. He definitely had a puzzle to solve working out how to put it together and he did an incredible job. I owe a lot of the success of he first prototype to him.
How did you gain the skills to the point where you could design a frame?
My course at University, which I’ve just finished this summer, is called Sports Technology. It’s like 40% design, 40% engineering and 20% sports science. I’d say a combination of my existing knowledge of mountain bikes and manufacturing combined with my University education has allowed me to get to this point.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
So, despite having to work during that year to have some money to live, I managed to complete my design within the year I allocated to it. However, because I wanted to have a fully functioning prototype and not just a design in CAD this spilled into my final year. I was juggling exams, coursework and my final year project with Morph Cycles.
It definitely has impacted my final year grade, but hopefully not too badly because I feel I did a decent job of prioritising my studies at the busiest times. I’ve also obviously put a lot of my own money into the company.
None so far…
Favourite moments so far?
When Gael sent me the first picture of the frame actually looking like a frame, like the thing I had designed. That was mint. Seeing it for the first time when it arrived back in the UK was crazy as well. Riding it for the first time was obviously good as well and I’m super pleased with how it rides.
What next for Morph Cycles?
So right now I’ve got 5 weeks work lined up as a photographer, because I’m super broke having just finished University. After that I’m hoping to continue work on Morph Cycles with view to selling these frames in the relatively near future.
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
I’d like to thank 4 main parties. My parents for believing in my ideas and supporting me financially through University. All of the workshop technicians at Loughborough University who helped me to machine various parts for the frame. Gael Baudou for doing an incredible job of the frame fabrication.
Paul and Amanda from the Year in Enterprise Placement Scheme at Loughborough who have taught me basically everything I know about start-ups and entrepreneurship and do an incredible job.