At Cycling Plus Malaysia, there’s nothing we like more than a good success story from our fellow local countrymen. Even more so when it involves bicycles that are gaining recognition beyond our borders. One such case is that of Liberty Bikes, a local brand of bike frames that have belied their humble beginnings to quietly start making their mark outside of the country.
“You won’t know the name Liberty unless you’re in the fixed gear scene,” laughs Alvin Lee, who co-founded Liberty Bikes with C.F. Lim, the man behind Fulview Bicycle in Kampung Pandan. “You have to be in it to know it. The fixed gear scene is big overseas, but it’s small here.” Despite apparently not having huge demand locally, the company already has three other distributors besides Fulview, namely Fishtail Cyclery in Singapore, as well as Indonesia’s Cycle Trigger and Behind Bars Jakarta.
And while Liberty Bikes have started to make inroads among our regional neighbours, their frames are already being seen in a number of countries outside of Asean. In addition to one off sales abroad, the company also sponsors several amateur cycling teams. Besides Malaysia’s highly recognisable Yellow Bike Company, Liberty Bikes also sponsor Singaporean outfit Team MMR, Team GSO from France and Team Trouble in the Netherlands.
Thanks to these sponsored teams, the bikes have made it to Red Hook Crit Milano 9 2018 in Italy, National Moutard Crit 2018 as well as Candie Crit 2018 in France, Berlin’s Rad Race Fixed 42 World Championship, Holy Crit Singapore 2018, and most recently the Cycle Messenger World Championship 2019 in Indonesia. Meanwhile fixie riders who specialise in freestyle are also fans of the brand. The most notable one is Track stand Queen of Asia Bao Triplecross from Chengdu, China, who has been seen riding a Liberty Bikes S4, one of the company’s earlier frames.
Back home, the good news is that Liberty Bikes is helping to revitalise the local fixed gear scene, which had its glory years about a decade ago. “It’s quite significant. At least three out of ten fixed gear rides here are now riding Liberty Bikes. Yellow Bike Company are working hard to grow the scene and Selangor Criterium Series is helping, so a lot of young boys are starting their own groups. But Malaysians still perceive fixed gear as kids’ stuff. Overseas it is different, it is all pro riders.”
If you trace its origins, the story of how Liberty Bikes began is quite endearing. “It was the two of us; we started in a very humble way when we had this idea of having a track bike,” says Alvin, nodding at CF. “When he got into this business and I was an enthusiast myself, he opened up a lot of possibilities for people who enjoy riding fixed gear. Before this, people were sourcing things from the internet and second hand parts. For me, I had to go to Singapore to buy.”
“So when he opened up his shop (Fulview Bicycles) in 2015 I dropped by and said I want all these things and he told me no problem, I can get them for you. I tested it out and indeed he did. We became very close friends because of that, so we decided to do a brand for ourselves and brought in the first OEM track frame from China about a year later. I took it to my friend who does event management and asked them ‘can you do stickers for my bike?’ Then I took it to Jaz (Airbrush) and asked ‘can you spray a lacquer so they don’t peel off?’”
When sales picked up, they decided to manufacture their own bikes. Alvin branched out to grow the brand, with C.F opting to remain as an authorised dealer. Today, Liberty Bikes has four different offerings, including the base Liberty Street model, which is a full aluminium frame that remains a favourite with the local fixie enthusiasts. In addition to being used by the sponsored amateur teams and several fixed gear free style riders across the globe, it has also been used by Junior Cycling Malaysia to train young and upcoming riders in their academy at Velodrom Nasional Malaysia.
There’s also a Nemesis Track and Road frame, featuring a triple butted aluminium frame, paired with a carbon fork and integrated seatpost. Both track and road frames were built with aero geometry that will appeal to racers and recreational cyclists who are more speed oriented. For those who want something more special, there is the superlight full carbon frameset called the Razor, which is a custom frame produced upon order only. These frames have come a long way since the days of the sticker decals, as the new generation of Liberty Bikes are airbrushed painstakingly by hand at Jaz Airbrush, which we previously featured in Volume 22 of Cycling Plus Malaysia.
In conjunction with the Merdeka month, two commemorative frames are up for grabs, namely one fixie and one road frame. For those who are interested, you'll have to move fast since they are extremely limited edition - there is literally one of each variety, so you're not likely to bump into the other on the roads like the well known brands of bikes.
Before leaving, we had to ask the story behind the name - what was the reason the brand was called Liberty Bikes? Alvin points to C.F.’s forearms, which bear two tattoos, one of which says ‘Ride Freely. “I always like people to ride freely, that’s also the motto of Liberty Bikes. We want everyone to have the freedom of cycling everywhere and anywhere.” This makes a lot of sense, since the frames are priced to ensure they are accessible. Wherever the inspiration came from, we have to admit that it’s quite a timely coincidence indeed.