The Cleland design philosophy

By Crispin Sage

One word describes it:


… a principle of simplicity, reliability and manoeuvrability.

This produces bicycles for relaxed off-road riding, although well able to meet the challenge of even the most demanding terrain; a pleasant ‘hike with a bike’; varied terrain, fast and slow, sun and rain, difficult and easy, day and night, winter and summer ~ each factor demanding design compromise.

It is unusual for any bicycle design to ignore speed as a critical design factor. Instead, the Cleland Design Philosophy places durability and low maintenance at the heart of its ethos; reliability is the priority. The current AventuraTT prototype consolidates over forty years of development, “… if the AventuraTT were a car, it would be a Land Rover ‘Defender’…”

Geoff’s competition motorcycle observed trials experience was his key influence. Back in the 1960s, when he was forming the layout of a practical off-road bicycle, Observed Trials was a winter sport, with a circuit of 20 or 30 miles taking a competitor all day to complete and routed on normally legally inaccessible tracks and paths with linking road sections. The motorcycles had to be capable of handling the variety of terrain, as well as getting you to the start, and home again after the event, all in typically British winter weather; a very useful template for his design goals. Nowadays, trials are usually run on a circuit of less than a mile or two and the machines are far more specialised, being carried to the venue in a van.

In this sport, the competitive element of the riding is done ‘standing on the pegs’. This position provides a high centre of gravity for manoeuvrability, allowing rapid and extreme upper-body moves to adjust balance, traction and steering, with a minimum of effort.

In his bicycle design, Geoff placed the saddle and handlebar so as to replicate this ‘standing on the pegs’ stance. Despite the presence of a fixed saddle, the resultant upright riding position still allows plenty of upper-body movement, proving gentle on the wrists, is perfect for low-speed technical riding, beneficial to long-term spinal health and allowing the rider to easily observe their surroundings.

Unlike the Fairfax bikes, the Cleland design is not concerned with racing and fast downhill descents. Its ethos is rather to keep going, whatever the terrain or difficulty of the conditions. It is designed for all-weather exploration, where you need to reach your destination without breaking down, getting stuck in mud or having to stop continuously for fallen logs that block the trail; all achieved with maximum riding efficiency and minimum rider fatigue; totally reliable with ultimate functionality.

Cleland’s Natural Environment

The conditions in the forests of the Chiltern Hills, where the original Cleland designs were developed and tested, can be very technically demanding for both bike and rider; deep heavy clay with the constant passage of horses combines with wet chalk to produce a very uneven surface consistency akin to deep half-set cement mixed with the finest axle-grease. Water-filled ruts, slimy logs buried under wet leaf-litter, tree stumps and fallen boughs; tight, narrow bends with unexpected steep climbs and descents are typical. It was this kind of terrain that determined what the Cleland machines should be capable of negotiating. However, this kind of going is commonplace in the UK, whereas California, the home of the mountain bike, could not be more different. To cope with these typical British conditions, the Cleland’s tall and upright riding position allows for the rapid shifts in body-weight needed for this kind of technical riding. It has a very high proportion of the rider’s weight over the rear wheel for traction control and the light front-end reduces dig-in, allowing the tyre to float over deep mire and to easily climb logs and steps. This very same philosophy is applied to the design of the very latest version of Aventura, and is explained in more detail on Geoff’s blog.

For its time, the original Range-Rider was a remarkable cycle, responsive, sure-footed, and able ~ in the right hands ~ to clear almost any trail hazard. In October 1981, one of these machines was ridden up Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, and thus achieved ‘Bike of the Year’ status in the International Bicycle Guide. Despite this success, Geoff could not find financial backers for the bike’s production. Time and again he was told that off-road cycling had no commercial future. This letter, from Dawes, was typical. Geoff seems to have contacted everyone he thought likely to be interested.

It is difficult to tell how much influence this may have had, but this letter was in response to some drawings Geoff had sent them. These were of a superseded ‘Range Rider’ frame and fork. Dawes subsequently produced ‘The Ranger’, which proved remarkably similar and without any reference back to Geoff. Unfortunately, the concept had been mis-interpreted by Dawes and The Ranger was not a successful design.

As a footnote; Geoff has always been enchanted by traditional and modern Dutch roadsters; it is easy to see this influence as well. In fact he has been heard to say, “…the Cleland? Off-road bike designed by a dutch lady.”

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13 Responses to Philosophy

  1. william Taylor says:

    interesting bike but I can’t help wondering how it can climb steep long inclines without beng very hard work ..whenever I have a bike with a high front end the steep devon lanes I regularly ride are no fun due to so much effort being required to balance and the inability to use the legs to their full potential.

    • gmacleland says:

      Thanks for that comment; it gives me the opportunity (once again) to claim that the most recent Cleland machine is an astonishing climber in the hands of a reasonably competent cyclist. The reasons for this are outlined within the dedicicated website: www/

      To consider the design’s merits in regard to climbing, you should pay particular attention to the pages entitled ‘Equal and Opposite’, ‘Tiller Effect’, ‘Out of Round’, ‘Crank Length’ and ‘Pedal offset’. However, I do urge you to read the entire website, since there’s more to riding a bike than simply climbing, much more.

  2. Mrs.Rachel says:

    That’s a great blog, there is nice pics of cycles with good info..thanks to share it…

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  4. John Veitch says:

    Hi Geoff, I can still remember your bikes from the magazines when I first got interested in off-road cycling, but at the time I was swayed by the shiney bikes coming from over the pond.
    Now in later life, my days of cycling with my saddle higher than my bars going as fast as I can are over, partly through choice I must add. Your design and philosophy is very similar to my own thoughts. But I’d like to ask you if you’d ever considered the advantage from the new breed of fatbike tyres. They may be 26″ diameter wheels, but with widths up to almost 5″ wide the actual diameter is almost 29″. I have a Surly Pugsley and find that when I use my ‘fat’ wheels I can cover terrain similar to the muddy quagmires that you ride through in your videos. This is mostly achieved by ‘floating’over the surface much like the balloon tyres on some all terrain vehicles. I also use more conventional 29er wheels (700c) and tyres on the same bike and while I find the terrain I can cover is reduced the mud clearances and thus less mud and gloop thrown on the drive-train is a bonus.

    Glad to see you’re still working on the design and I hope that either a backer turns up or indeed 6 lucky numbers to turn turn a design into a production line. Regards John.

  5. fatfingers47 says:

    Only today I came across the article about you while looking for something among the last year’s series of CTC magazine. Although I have used a bike almost all my life (apart from when I lived abroad), it is only recently that I got really interested. A bike has always just been a good way to get around, but I never felt like getting competitive or riding in heavy traffic. Consequently, I don’t know much about the technical side but I know what I like. I recently bought a lightweight hybrid, to supplement my ancient Raleigh shopper (circa 1970) and I have decided that I need something a bit more robust, to take along the many by-ways and farm tracks. What I don’t need are many gears, with the mechanism hanging off the back wheel. Why is this system the norm? It just seems stupid to use such a vulnerable piece of kit when in the kind of terrain I mean. I’ve been looking out for a bike with thick tyres, mudguards (of course!) and hub gears I would really like to know more about how you developed your bike. I shall read whatever I can find but I would love to see one and then try it out, maybe..

    • gmacleland says:

      Thanks for your kind comments; you are clearly the architype Cleland customer, if only there were something to sell you! Look under the ‘Rides’ tab along the top, see if you can make a trip to the Scottish Borders? This website should give you a fair amount of information about the development of the design, but only in general terms; there is a vast number of decisions involved over the years in creating the AventuraTT as it is now.

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  7. Ossian MacUrcrin says:

    Hey Geoff!
    I don’t know an awful lot about the technicalities of gear ratios etc, but I know what I like and this bike is a winner!
    I’ve never gotten along with mountain bikes because of the rubbish riding position, lack of decent mudguards (whoever thought it was a great idea to have a bike without them!), fiddly 24 speed derailluers, of which I only ever realistically used around six of.
    Finally one day I saw a 3 speed 1958 Raleigh Sport and everything riding wise fell into place and I fell in love with cycling, as opposed to just using it as a means to an end Regretablly, I had to sell it when I went to Australia for a couple of years, but I now have a Velorbis Churchill classic, with Shimano 7 speed hub gears and hub dynamo, which is a worthy successor!

    Anyways, I just wanted to say how much I admire what you’ve done in combining the upright roadsters practical attributes with the mountain bikes off road capabilities. I live in the Scottish Highlands (Plockton), and this would be near as damn it the perfect bike for getting around road and trail without having to suffer the wet bahooky or indeed dress like a lycra clad power ranger!
    Can’t believe you can’t get funding from major manufacturers.
    Good luck with everything!


    • gmacleland says:

      Great to receive a comment which clearly indicates that you are one of the few; current statistics suggest one in a thousand.
      Velorbis, nice one.
      Lycra-clad Power Ranger, love it!
      There’ll be some nice photos of self riding Mill Burn and St Abbs Head in my tweeds and cords in ‘Privateer’ magazine, coming out late February (2011).

  8. Chris says:

    I posted something in your pre-order section. I’m not sure where the proper spot is to contact you.

    I have since read most of what there is on here to read plus a bit more.

    I’m interested in what your theory is behind your pedal design is which seem to only effectively lengthen the crank arms.

    Also I road BioPace chainrings years ago when they came out and was not sure if I ever noticed much advantage. Your rings are however much more pronounced in oval. Would you please say a few words about them as well.


    • gmacleland says:

      Hello Chris ~
      Thanks for your comment here, I keep an eye on the site and all comments have to be approved, so you’ve contacted me!
      As regards the swing pedals, have a read of the comments under this photo from the flickr stream; I think that will cover all aspects of the design. However, if you have any more specific questions, do let me know.
      About the EggRings. I can’t say much more than has been already said in the discussions mentioned under ‘Glossary‘, cursor down to ‘EggRings’ and follow the links there. Quite a lot of reading to do and again, if you have any particular points you’d like clarifying, by all means post another comment.
      You can email me at, I look forward to seeing your pictures…

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