Enigma Open Day (but you can visit any time....)

This is not going to be a techie post, so if that’s what why you’re here, then perhaps you should switch to another blog; I won’t be offended.

You see I’m writing this blog from the perspective of someone who is relatively new to bicycles… but absolutely knows she has found something, that she should have pursued many many years back.  I’d like to blame it on my first ever bicycle, but that might seem rather churlish. (I’d asked for a racing bike, but in the 70’s girls weren’t necessarily encouraged to sit astride a high top tube.. I mean, what are you supposed to wear! Apparently a skirt, and keep your knees together, mind). So instead I’ll just say that my initial burn of enthusiasm was all but extinguished, due to a poorly worded letter to Father Christmas, and a frog-green girl’s Raleigh bicycle.

Now however, I’m am ridiculously passionate about bikes (even frog green ones), to the point where my children are perhaps somewhat bemused at how often I disappear for a ‘quick’ spin. I’ve also become a bit of a gear slut.

During my meteoric rise of fervency for all things bike related my husband, Marc, found out about an English bike manufacturer called Enigma. Willingly pulled in by this mystery (yeah I know) vacuum, he and I went to their small but perfectly formed site based down near Eastbourne. He got measured up, while I walked around chatting to framebuilders and welders, stroking lugs and goggling at high polished cassettes.

The thing about Enigma is this: Like a lot of REALLY good bike manufacturers, they are utterly vocational in their approach to frame building and ultimately bike building.  It is a labour of love and devotion. However, in an industry where perhaps 99% of bicycles are manufactured abroad, they are amongst a mere handful that are still British.

It was founded by Jim Walker, who, with almost 35 years experience in this business, set out to reverse the pitiful decline of the British bike industry, which at one time produced in excess of 2 million bicycles a year.  (2009 saw this industry at an all time low of a mere 20,000 bikes being produced).

In just over 6 years the Engima team has steadily grown, selling frames to customers worldwide, to the point where they have had to move premises, and I, along with my family was lucky enough to be invited to the open day on 4th May.

The weather (yes, being British I’ll have to mention the weather) was abysmal, with grey morose clouds loitering over the new Enigma premises in Hailsham.  It started to spit and then seriously threatened a deluge of potentially humour curdling rain.

Never the less this light, airy, hangar-like place was heaving with enthusiastic, all-weather, hearty cyclists, most of whom were clad in cycle shorts and mud, having arrived by bike from all corners of the county to be here and ogle some extremely beautiful frames.

On chatting with a few of these souls it became very clear that if they weren’t owners of Enigmas already they were there, because like me, there is something so completely intoxicating about being in touching distance from such exquisitely built and finished frames.

To support and add a bit of ‘glamour’, former professional cyclist (and ex head directeur sportif at Team Sky) Sean Yates attended, with a promise to lead a 30 mile ride out for those who felt able.

Sean Yates with young Enigma fan

 A incisive and inspiring speech was made by the High Sheriff of East Sussex, Graham Peters, an active proponent of British industry. He echoed the strong sense of pride and support I think we all feel towards the Engima team. Having not only survived this very tough era Enigma has managed to actually flourish.

After an announcement for the ride out to commence, the High Sheriff whipped out a very glittery sabre and with one well placed slice, cut through a ribbon.

High Sheriff Peter Graham cutting the ribbon

And after fuelling up on a seemingly endless supply of eclectic foods (all mindful of the appropriate ratios of carbs:protein no doubt, “cough, cough”), a stream of Enigmas, led by a motorbike, headed out into the drizzle.

Jim is very clear that the strength of Enigma lies in the team.

“It’s all about the team, and not any individual. I’ve been in the bike business almost 35 years and I realised long ago that a business of this type is only as good as the people it employs, and as far as I’m concerned I have the best team I could have…. all are highly motivated individuals who share my passion for bikes of the highest quality.  I wouldn’t swap a single employee.”

 Jim Walker heading out

We left the open day and returned home…  I walked out to the garage and polished and oiled my Enigma Echo, Love at first (actually, third) bike..

Where do I sign?......

This thing called 30 Days of Biking….

I heard about it last year through twitter, sort of half way in to April, sort of easy to avoid the commitment! But this year in a moment of temerarious enthusiasm I clicked on the ‘pledge’ button.  The very word, pledge (noun – a solemn promise of  undertaking) makes it sound like a daunting prospect. The commitment to cycle EVERY day, regardless of weather, work, kids, obligations, or general lack of zing!

My family thought me brave, but rather daft, given that Spring was rather reluctant to make a show, and so my first two weeks were peppered, nay, hosed with everything Winter had forgotten to throw at us. I thought myself simply daft… and as if to prove me right, the first week of biking was pretty hellish, with sleet, hail, snow, ice; gloved fingers turned white, while my nose – turning turnip purple – dripped like a badly plumbed faucet.

But, powered on in the knowledge that I wasn’t the only one out there mentally and physically ploughing through this slurry of Winter’s doggy bag, I kept going. And then something miraculous happened.  I became addicted.  I found myself ending work, shuffling kids around, putting on the supper and then – almost without thinking – climbing into my bibs, woolly socks, Sidis, and gloves (with integral fluffy nose wipe!), and chirruping “see you later!” with a kind of Tally ho attitude! What?!

From that point onwards it’s been love, not a gooey type of love, but a nurturing, challenging, self determined kind that leaves you grinning wildly at the end. There have been times when I’ve thrown my arms wide and whooped (I am not good at this ‘no hands’  bit, so these were fleeting seconds rather than extended minutes); sung at the top of my voice some 90’s throw back hit.. with no one to hear but the cows and birds. It’s been FABULOUS.

Talking of grinning.. here is the month’s tally:

3 accidental (messy) dismounts, usually user error… hrrm

6 flies caught in teeth through grinning, a further 5 swallowed

3 wolf whistles (possibly aimed at the bike)

1 chicken almost beheaded (it’s a bit of a story)

Just shy of 300 miles covered.

What I’ve gained:


A renewed love for the Sussex countryside

A Love of self propelled speeeeeeeeeed

For those who’re counting, £65 from not using the diesel pig

An inch on each thigh.. my jeans don’t fit but who cares, it’s either skirts or cycling shorts from now on… if Summer plays ball

Head space


Huge thanks goes to those great souls who devised this whole mad wonderful thing called 30 Days of Biking. Not once did I feel alone in this pursuit; there was a world-wide family of like minded cyclists who were pedalling ‘with’ me. Thanks goes to all of you for the good company, great photos and the inspiring/amusing words. It’s been so much fun, and I hope to see you all again next year… if not before!

To be honest, I think it wasn’t even that difficult to get ‘addicted’. Once you’ve discovered the thing that can give you so much, you just find yourself returning.  It’s a very precious discovery too. But it’s not one to keep a secret!

You ready?