Paul Smith and Mercian design tandem bike for Wallpaper* Handmade X

Paul Smith and Mercian's tandem bike
Paul Smith test rides the tandem, which was designed for him and his wife Pauline and features a discreet set of the brand’s signature stripes. Photography: Daniel Stier
(Image credit: Daniel Stier)

As a young man, my uncle cycled down the A1 from Doncaster to London on a tandem with a friend who had just one (very over-developed) leg; afterwards he couldn’t walk properly for days. But then tandems do seem to invite adventures and accidents. Ask Paul Smith, who designed a very special tandem for this year’s Handmade.

‘The first time I rode a tandem was with my friend Chris, with him on the front and me on the back,’ says Smith. ‘It was great until I got back on my own bike and cycled down the steep hill from his house. I came off on the next corner and did pretty ghastly damage to my knee. I’d got so used to just leaning over on the tandem that I must have forgotten to steer. It was an ambulance job.’

Smith is famous for his love of cycling, as well as another bike crash that, at the age of 17, changed the direction of his life and led him into fashion. So when it came to Handmade, a bicycle made perfect sense. For Handmade 2011, Smith led a bike tour of Milan in collaboration with Rapha; this year, he opted to work with Derby-based cycle maker Mercian. He and Mercian go back a long way – the company made his first bike, and the bike on which he had his crash.

Grant Mosley, who started out as Mercian’s tea boy and ended up buying the firm in 2002, explains how they began working together. ‘The Paul Smith shop in Nottingham always had lots of interesting items on show, and we thought a Mercian bike would look great in there. So we cheekily asked if they would like one to display, and it grew from there.’

‘On Mercian’s 60th anniversary in 2006, they asked if I’d like to do a collaboration,’ Smith says, ‘and as they’re one of the few bike makers left in Britain with any history, I was delighted to be asked. I got to know the very small team; it was so nice to see that they handmake everything individually.’

When it came to Handmade, a tandem fitted perfectly with the theme of love: the frame was built specially for Smith and his wife Pauline. ‘It reflects the love of cycling, obviously,’ Smith says, ‘but also the idea of going out for a cycle with your loved one.’ Built from Reynolds 531 tubing, the frame is matt black apart from the subtle addition of Smith’s signature stripes.

Smith has nothing but praise for Mercian. ‘They were fantastic,’ he says. ‘Despite the tight deadline, they came out with what must be one of the most beautiful tandems in the entire world.’ For his part, Mosley puts the success of the collaboration down to a similarity in outlook: ‘Our bespoke handmade methods, coupled with the latest cycling components, mirror Paul’s philosophy in clothing design – classic with a twist.’ 

As originally featured in the August 2019 issue of Wallpaper* (W*245)