We’ve been privileged to meet and write about some incredible characters at Ride Velo: think of Maurice Burton’s single mindedness on the six-day circuit, Beryl Burton’s extraordinary accomplishments in competitive cycling, not to mention the self-belief and passion for his products that drive the likes of Matteo Cassini of Passoni. Meanwhile Mark Fairhurst’s vision that leads him to create such iconic cycling prints always inspires. But the courage, fortitude and determination of one man we met last week perhaps rise above even these remarkable people.
In the cosy and genteel surroundings of a coffee shop in the quaint market town of Petersfield in Hampshire, Steve McCulley of LIOS Bikes arrived with two state of the art folding carbon bikes, and his business partner, Wayland Austin. Steve told us his remarkable story with a modest candour and honesty that left us drop-jawed.
A Major in the Royal Marines for some 17 years with tours of Kosovo, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan under his belt, Steve went back to Afghanistan for his second tour of duty there in 2011. Things got off to a pretty bad start on his first day out of the compound when his armoured vehicle was blown up by an IED. Luckily, he came out unscathed, save for a few cuts and bruises. A couple of months later, while on patrol and under sustained attack by the Taliban, he was lucky that it was a stray goat, not him, that stepped on another IED. The force of the explosion threw Steve to the ground but, again, he remained unharmed.
Steve was determined these incidents would not deflect his Royal Marines from their task and the next day he decided to personally lead his men on their next patrol. This time, however, the Taliban got their target with an IED that was primed to explode just as Steve was passing. The force was magnified as it funnelled along a ditch, smashing into Steve’s body, shrapnel piercing his Kevlar body armour. The exact details of his injuries are too horrific to go into here, but with serious damage to his upper body, chest, ribs, legs, and arm, this was, needless to say, the end of Steve’s tour.
Steve stayed conscious throughout the ordeal until, with thoughts of his wife and two young children back at home in his mind, the medical trauma team on the Medical Emergency Repsonse Team helicopter put him into an induced coma. He came out of the coma three weeks later in a hospital bed back in the UK. He had survived. But now came the long road back to recovery, which took nearly three years and involved several operations. Moreover, the question now arose of what a highly-decorated, career soldier could do with his life, given that his physical condition meant it would be impossible to continue as a Royal Marine.
While a lesser person may have resigned themselves to a life of inactivity, Steve started to rebuild a future for himself and his family. Clearly, there was a long way to go in getting back on his feet, but he began to consider what his options might be. A keen cyclist from an early age, he had raced competitively for the Navy and Royal Marines and, as a child, had spent hours fixing up bikes with his Dad. The germ of an idea began to form in his mind. With the assistance of Help for Heroes he embarked on a series of bike mechanic courses and bike building accreditation in the US while he was recuperating, with the aim of setting up his own business in the future.
Fast forward to 2013 and Steve founded LIOS (named after his two children, Lilly and Oscar), building high end carbon fibre bikes, hand built custom wheels and offering a bespoke bike fitting service using the revolutionary BioBike dynamic fitting system, the first person in the UK to do so.
Steve was introduced to Wayland Austin, another decorated former Navy man and cycling enthusiast and, together, they began to develop the idea of making the ultimate fold-up bike. It would be top of the range, carbon, high-performance, fast, light and stylish. After two years of development and four prototypes, the LIOS Nano was born.
What Steve and Wayland have created is quite extraordinary: one of the lightest fold up bikes on the market, the Superlite coming in at a featherwight 8.2kg. It wowed the press at the London Bike Show who loved its aesthetic beauty and was named as one of the top five bikes at the event alongside Bradley Wiggins’ Hour bike and Peter Sagan’s Specialized.
If you like carbon then this will be right up your street: a carbon monocoque frame, forks, wheels, handlebar, seatpost and saddle. It also has hydraulic disc brakes and a carbon belt drive, meaning no oily mess when you want to fold it up. In addition, there’s next to no maintenance required. We also think that it looks pretty cool too!
Starting from a blank page, Steve and Wayland, with encouragement from Brompton bikes founder, Andrew Ritchie (and a Formula 1 team) have overcome many of the problems presented by building a carbon bike with a hinged frame. They’ve created something that has nearly the same stiffness and performance as a full size bike and is incredibly strong and sturdy. They were able to put 1,200 watts through it with minimal flex, meaning that it could withstand both the power and size of someone of the stature of Sir Chris Hoy. In fact Steve and Wayland tell us it had been designed with enough strength to handle a rider of up to 110kg repeatedly breaking with maximum force from 45kmph!
If you’re looking for speed and you have the odd hill to climb, you may want to go for their Performance model which is slightly heavier at 9.5kg but has an 8-speed internal geared hub. None of this comes cheap, of course, the Superlite retailing for £3,250 and the Performance at £3,500.
The guys are looking to improve on last year, when a prototype single-speed Nano took 2nd place in the London Nocturne Folding Bike Race. This year’s edition, on 4th June, in the backdrop of St Paul’s Cathedral features a long finishing straight on Cheapside which should benefit the speed of the Nano. With no less than three 8-speed Nanos taking part, it could be LIOS taking all 3 steps on the podium!
The official launch is on 25th May at Cyclefit in Covent Garden with an evening VIP reception at Bespoke Cycles, in the City of London. Wayland will be in the South of France presenting the Nano the weekend of the Nocturne, at the Monaco Bike Show. If you wanted to come and see the Nano in action in Monaco, or at the London Nocturne, then the team would be delighted to see you. Best of British boys - we salute you!