By Colin Dennis
Towards the end of 2015 Cycle Reviewer was given unprecedented access to the new Ultimate Sports Engineering facility on the South Downs in West Sussex.
Not a million miles away from their original site near Pulborough, the new building certainly has a quiet air of efficiency as the staff calmly get on with producing some of the most respected components and lights on the market today.
Oh yeah, by the way, we just want to clear one little thing up for all you little doubters out there. Ultimate Sports Engineering (USE) and Exposure Lights, are one and the same company.
Here’s a short back beat …
Back in the day when mountain bikes were fully rigid affairs and one bike did everything, a certain keen rider with an engineering background called, Roger Sparrow, found himself on the wrong side of early saddle development and ride comfort.
Dissatisfied with local bike shop attitudes and a bourgeoning MTB market bereft of soft options, Roger decided that 'necessity being the mother of invention' he would develop his own ideas. The concept of Ultimate Sports Engineering was born.
And back to the future ...
Twenty six years later I am being guided around the factory by Mark Swift the brand manager at USE and John Cookson from the marketing department. I’m not hemmed-in by a couple of bouncers, I’m let-loose on a long lead like a kid in a toy shop.
The tour starts off with a welcome coffee followed by a visit to the machine room. Low and behold, who do we find working way at one of the huge lathes? (sorry, CAD machines) None other than, Roger Sparrow himself, still at the forefront of development, and still leading from the front and still getting his hands dirty – so to speak.
On the opposite wall to Roger stands several large frames of raw aluminium tubes awaiting to be transformed into housings of various Exposure front lights such as the Maxx D or the massivley popular Diablo. Exposure like to keep their carbon footprint as low as possible while still sourcing the correct grade materials for the job in-hand.
The raw alloy tubes are of European origin, but the concept, design, development, tooling, testing, anodising, etching and construction of all Exposure lights, as Mark proudly admits, is all British and very local.
Amid the warm metallic smells of the machine room, boxes of various lighting components await their turn for assembly, but their symmetry appeals to my photographer’s eye (or is that OCD?) and I can't help but snap away at all the shiny objects.
The heat is on …
One of the many clever designs incorporated into Exposure lights are the tactile and pleasing-to-the-eye fins that adord the outer casings. Pretty and tactile as they are, Exposure lamps can kick out a fair bit of heat on a long ride. That energy has to go somewhere to stop any possibility of overheating - still, nice to warm your hands on in the cold!
As a tactical aside, the fins also help to reduce the weight of each light by a substantial amount.
Tried and tested at the toughest events …
A fresh mug of coffee appears in my hand and we make our way up to the foyer where in a tall, elegant glass cabinet holds one of Roger’s original USE suspension seatposts.
Roger has now joined us briefly, and he happily explains that this particular seatpost, the one seen above, was designed and constructed for none other than one of the true gentlemen of British cycling, ex MTB champion and multi-Three Peaks cyclocross winner – Tim Gould.
Having completed the Three Peaks a few years ago I wistfully recall how welcome a suspension seatpost would’ve been, certainly towards the end of the race while descending the steep, rocky slopes of Pen-Y-Ghent.
I feel your presence …
Sat on one of the long construction tables where the lights are assembled I spy a small blue plastic box. Inside is a collection of some early marks of Exposure lights.
John Cookson laughs gently at my suggestion that the lights within are relics from a bye-gone age and confined to the recycling bin. ‘No, not at all.’ Smiles John. ‘ Some of these lamps belong to existing customers who have sent their lights back for a little TLC before embarking on a long winter season.’
I grimace inwardly at my own naivety and contemplate my five year old Exposure Toro lamp that I wouldn’t part with for all the tea in China. The force is strong with Exposure lights! Most riders would look upon a set of Exposure lights as an investment. If you ride often enough throughout the winter months, a good set of lights is a prerequisit rather than a pipe-dream.
Read Ride Review ...
On a recent major review of a Seven Evergreen SL titanium adventure road bike, a set of Exposure’s small but beautifully formed Trace and Tracer lights were our weapons of choice thanks to the unpredictable weather patterns of West Cornwall. Neither bike nor lights skipped a beat. Here’s the Seven Evergreen SL review.
Just in case you were wondering, having purchased yourself a set of Exposure Lights, why they were probably still half charged or more, it’s because it’s not the first time your lamp has been switched on.
Every light has been fully charged and rigorously tested on the shelves at USE. Nothing goes out unless it’s passed scrutiny. Any unlikely faults are quickly identified at this simple and important practical point in the process before they go to packaging and beyond.
Alien versus Sumo ...
If you have used their components or followed the exploits of Ultimate Sports Engineering over the last few decades, you’ll have realised that they produce some of the lightest, strongest and most respected of cycle components: seatposts, suspension or rigid have always been best sellers. The famous USE Alien seatpost has supported at least one Tour De France rider gain the prestigious King of the Mountains.
Alien Seatposts in the past have been constructed from aluminium, Titanium, and now there’s a ubiquitous carbon version too. But USE haven’t sat on their laurels. Seatpost ranges now include the Evo-91, Sumo, and the Vybe suspension seatposts. All lovingly constructed, anodised and etched either in-house at USE’s premises, or at specialist outsourcing just a stone’s throw away from the HQ.
In amongst the vast aray of lights and components I come across a run of Sumo seatposts being constructed by hand. Bomb-proof is a word that I've seen to describe the Sumo seatpost in the past, and here is that proof: careful construction and meticulous attention to detail from a small, highly trained and dedicated team of staff who clearly enjoy what they do - always a welcome bonus!
Nice set of ...
One area where you can’t have missed if you’re a road cyclist is USE’s range of carbon fibre road wheels. Tubular or clincher, USE’s proprietary Nano Surface finishing has helped to produce some of the most distinctive deep section TT, and race wheelsets at every level of competition today.
Click here for our review of USE’s stunning Road 2.4 carbon clincher wheelset.
But the list of A-class list of components goes on at USE: carbon road, Aero and MTB handlebars. Spinstix Skewers in titanium or stainless steel. Ring-Go-Star A-headset adjusters and headset spacers. Seatpost shims, freehub body kits and bottle cages, plus a full range of backup spares when necessary, and that's not very often according to the boys at USE and Exposure.
To infinity and beyond ...
I ask Mark Swift about USE’s plans for the future and what new components and projects are in the pipeline? Mark doesn’t mince his words. ‘I can’t tell you right now, but there’s some very exciting projects that we’re currently working on. Although they are nearing completion, it would be too early to release any news just now. But it won’t be long.’
It would be rude of me to pursue the matter and I happily take Marks word that Cycle Reviewer will be one of the first to view any new products from the USE range of goodies.
Time has moved on and the sun is over the yard-arm. I've stayed longer than planned and I can't than Mark and John enough for their precious time. As I descend into the staff tea room where I parked my jacket I glance one last time into the airy machine room. Guess who's there leaning into the same CAD machine from this morning? Yep, you guessed it, the same focussed and dedicated man who started the whole Ultimate Sports Engineering and Exposure venture - see you soon, Roger!