The Pedaler chats to Ben Johnson from Johnson Bikes about frames, carbon and his unfulfilled Grafton ambitions.
Nathan White (The Pedaler): When did you start up Johnson mate?
Benny Johnson (Johnson Bikes): Ahh, would have been 2012/2013. When I finished up with Uni in Queensland, I came back up to work in the shop (Noosa), and being around bikes and seeing what was happening in the store, I wanted a bike for myself. Between the brands, I just couldn't find something that was exactly what I wanted. I guess it stemmed from that. Looking at the stores and across the brands, they were all making very similar bikes. a so it all started with the development of the Esquire frameset.
Across other brands you would either get bikes that were very long in the head tube, with a longer wheel base that were sort of more a comfort bike. Or from that, going to a very aggressive race road bike. I guess I wanted something that was a balance in between, and I just couldn't find that on the market. They were either going for that comfort option or going too racey.
The Esquire Frameset is a good balance between. You are still very low in the head tube, because I'm not a big believer in going higher for comfort. I think getting the balance between the back and the front of the bike and getting into a better position is the best way to go. I think you can achieve that with the Esquire Frameset and that's where the Johnson stemmed from.
NW: How long did it take to go from idea to fruition?
BJ: It was an arduous task. It took a few trips to Asia. I went to the Taiwan bike show which was a real eye opener. From that, going to different manufacturers, it was hard, pleading my case and trying to get things in such small quantities. It made getting things get off the ground very difficult. Then trying to find a company you could be quite hands on with, and be involved with the R and D and the development of the bike as much as I could. I was learning a lot about carbon fibre, and how to manufacture a bike, and the differences between carbon fibres and resins. I was quite particular with what I wanted to achieve and with the outcome of the bike.
Then trying to find a company you could be quite hands on with, and be involved with the R and D and the development of the bike as much as I could.
NW: I guess in a era now with so many people talking about Carbon frames, and getting Carbon Framesets from Taiwan, it really important to separate yourself from that market. I guess you do this through your own input and your own design features around the bike rather then relying upon stock framesets landing then getting them painted up yourself and calling it a bike company.
BJ: Yeah exactly. There is a huge difference. Just because it is carbon, doesn't make it good. The whole manufacturing process and how carbon fibre is laid and the whole moulding process is incredibly important regarding stiffness and how you can manipulate the carbon fibre to suit your desired design outcomes. Yeah there is a big difference between just your basic carbon frame and we have tried to demonstrate that. The carbon we have used is the most expensive carbon that you can buy, whereas a lot of other company's to reduce costs have used different carbon fibre, but I wanted to produce the best bike we possibly could.
NW: Where did all your graphic inspiration come from. They're amazing bikes to ride but they look just, for want of a better word, pretty. Where did that come from?
BJ: (Laughs) When I was growing up, I was a mad keen cycling fan from Jacques Anquetil and Merckx and all those old bike racers. I loved the look of old steel bikes and wanted to create a unique looking bike and I don't think there was anything else on the market at the time like that. I wanted the vintage aesthetic and have the bike branding as well look like it had been around for fifty years.
I loved the look of old steel bikes and wanted to create a unique looking bike and I don't think there was anything else on the market at the time like that.
Benny J's Dad Chimes in: He was obviously watching bike racing on Black and White Television then.
BJ: (Laughs) I was obviously born in the wrong generation. So trying to balance the vintage aesthetic but still utilising all the modern building techniques and technology that we could.
NW: Do you still get a buzz seeing your own name on the bikes all the time?
BJ: Yeah I still get a buzz. It's great seeing your own bikes on the road and it is really satisfying seeing people looking good on them. I've become quite passionate about bike fitting and making sure your bike fits you well so I get a great buzz from that too.
NW: So if we wanted to gain access to some quick cash, we could just use that same signature (on the top tube on every Johnson Bike) on a bunch of blank cheques and go to town? That's the same autograph on the company cheque book?
BJ: (Laughs) Yeah it is mate. I might have to change that now. (Laughs)
Part 2. Tomorrow.
Wheels aren't wheels and the thirst for G2I.