We became aware of the bike brand Onix when our blogger, Asfra Professional Dan Patten told us he was using them for this coming season.
Thrashing around the Flandrian kermises and InterClub races on the cobbles, concrete roads and paths will be sure to give any bike a good test, and Dan has been enthusing to us about his new machines.
Turns out Onix Bikes was started recently by Craig Middleton, who gave up his previous job in printing and threw everything into creating something pretty different.
Sounded interesting – we thought we should find out more about Craig and his up-and-coming business.
Who’s behind the company?
My name is Craig Middleton and I started up the company Onix Bikes Ltd on my own.
“I’m 40 years old, married to Rachael and we are lucky to have two wonderful daughters; Sophie (5) and Lucy (2).
Your background isn’t in bike building?
“No! I wasted my school years and ended up with hardly any qualifications – but I was quite a talented golfer in my teens and played full time for two years to try to make a living from playing in my early 20’s.”
That didn’t work out?
“Not as well as I’d hoped, but I’m very proud to have played in the biggest national amateur tournaments, such as the ‘British Amateur’ which is golf’s amateur TDF, a massive event with the best players from all over the world – and which is shown on TV. I competed regularly against Lee Westwood, who is now the world’s #1!”
So you’re not the Craig Middleton who used to play football for Cardiff City and Halifax Town?
“No, was he any good?
“If you Google my name there is a well known rally driver too, not that I’ve done that.. er, much!”
You’re not a lifelong cyclist, have you ever raced?
“No, I was 33 when I started cycling, as I mentioned before I was a besotted golfer in my earlier years but my heart wasn’t in it any more so I started to look for a new challenge.
“I had watched the TDF for years and always really enjoyed watching it. It came on the TV in 2003 , which was the one tour where Lance was on the rack and I just said to myself ‘I’m going to do that’.
“I bought a Lemond bike the next day that was way to big for me, joined the Southport CC and I was off.”
What’s been your best days on the bike?
“I rode the Raid Pyrenean in 2005 which is five day’s riding coast to coast across the Pyrenees. Outside of my kids being born it is one of the great experiences of my life, Marie Blanque, l’Aubisque and Tourmalet all on the second day – need I say more?!
“I will never be as good at cycling as I was at golf but that’s not what its about for me, it’s starting a fresh challenge and seeing where that journey will take you.
“Not enough time or talent to race, sadly.”
You said you worked in a completely different industry previously?
“Yes I was a printer for 22 years from school, great pay but never enjoyed it from the start.”
What made you give it all up and go in a totally different direction?
“For 22 years I’d woken up not looking forward to going to work and doing shifts, I suddenly realised I had at least another 22 years to go. It was a sobering thought so I decided to do something about it.
“I thought if I’m going to do it then it might as well be something I’m passionate about.
“It was a massive decision considering I have a huge mortgage and two young children, although I didn’t like the printing it provided me and my family with a very comfortable lifestyle.”
How does someone become an expert in high pressure carbon moulding and Toray T1000 carbon usage, with no formal training?
“Well I had done a lot of research and thought I knew a lot but once I started to work and talk with the engineers at our factory I knew I had a steep learning curve.
“These guys’ knowledge is incredible; the high pressure moulding technique came from trying a number of new techniques that mainly didn’t work but when we saw the effect on the resin from the high pressure mould we knew we were onto something, and Onix HP Carbon was born.
“In an ideal world I would like to have designed our own moulds but this is incredibly expensive, so as a start-up business beginning from where we were that wasn’t an option. However, that’s the direction we’re going to go in as soon as we can.
“We have strict controls over our carbon – how it’s used and the layup technique, etc., so we believe our version of these moulds are the best there is and that’s being borne out by the feedback from testers and customers alike.”
Had you done any frame design before? Say, in steel or alu?
“No, but I understood geometry and had a very clear idea in my head of how I wanted the bikes to perform and look.
“There was no compromise for me on this and the advisors at the factory got a bit brassed off with me at times but the end product speaks for itself.”
What were those ‘clear ideas’?
“We had to source one bike mould that had to be a full pedigree racing machine, super stiff and everything in its design aimed towards that goal.
“In the Azzuro we achieved that – and then some. Once we had a frame that ticked all the boxes for high stiffness qualities and we produced it with our own high quality T1000 high pressure carbon we got great results.
“All the experts who have tested it have marvelled at its performance and ride quality – it really is a special machine!
“In the Aurious I wanted to source a frame aimed at the sportive market with slightly more relaxed angles in the geometry and not as stiff as the Azzuro, for comfort, but still with performance at its core.
“This proved to be tricky to get the balance right and it took us a long time to get it spot-on, but honestly, you could ride a sportive on the Saturday and race it on the Sunday and it would be equally at home in both environments.
The bikes’ finish schemes are pretty straightforward.
“Yes, I wanted a very clean design of the paintwork.
“I had got fed up with all these acronyms on bikes today. ‘Speedslots’ or ‘Gti systems’ – it’s just marketing babble that doesn’t mean anything. We put all the tech info on the websites, but the bikes have a clean minimalist design which I think is a breath of fresh air.
“We let our bikes’ performance do all the talking for us!”
You’re competing in the same sector as some very big players, global companies – what’s your USP?
“There are a few really…
“Firstly price. Right from the start I thought £3,000 plus for a frameset was ridiculous, no matter what you say it’s made from.
“We were starting Onix with a blank canvas so I wanted it to be synonymous with top quality – there was no other way to go in my mind than to use top grade Toray T1000 carbon, but still at an affordable price.
Any other unique features?
“The ‘Unsymmetrical Chainstays’ where one is ovalised in the vertical and the other is ovalised horizontally along with the oversized BB area on the Azzuro in tests gave the bike incredible stiffness. It’s not totally unique but it’s certainly unusual.
“Another cool thing we have in our online shop is our Bike Builder. This allows the customer to completely spec their Onix bike from top to bottom. The builder automatically adjusts the price as you add or take away different components. This allows the customer to put together the best spec for them and work around their own budget.”
Tell us about the difficulties you faced starting up.
“Where do I start?!
“I came up with the idea in December 2009 just as the biggest recession in history was biting – so of course I decided to leave a well-paid job to start a new business!
“Firstly, finding a factory capable of manufacturing our products to our desired standard – this took 4 months.
“I couldn’t get any funding from the banks, all government initiatives for small business had been cut, so I had no choice but to borrow money against my assets which is never ideal, but I believed 100% in my product and I just had to go for it.”
You offer seatposts, handlebars, bottle cages, etc., do you do the product design yourself? Or is there a team of specialists?
“I had a lot of input into the selection of the framesets but the factory already had top quality prototypes of the bars, seatposts and cages which already had a great spec.
“I did design all the decals and paintwork though on all the products myself, very proud of that.”
Aero optimisation, carbon layup, stress analysis and testing, web site design… do you do all these jobs yourself?
“All the stress and testing is done by an independent company that is used by almost every bike brand out there.
“Every frame has to pass the 1100N, 100,000 times fatigue test before you can even think about putting it into production.
“Our factory has experts in the aero and carbon lay up that are constantly looking for better ways to do things. I liaise with them as these guys really know what they are doing, but I have the final say on everything – it doesn’t go into production until I’m 100% happy, which is why it’s taken so long to get the product just right.
“I did however design the website myself, something which I had never done before. It was frustrating for sure, but I like learning new things and the end result looks pretty good I’m told – although we have plans to have it overhauled by a professional company in the coming months.”
“I would have loved to have used a British company, but when all your competitors are using the Far East I had to do the same in order to compete.