Sometimes, you see a bike and you just know it’s something special. That’s what we thought when we saw our first Prova, the disc-brake modern road Speciale model. “I’m not even a disc guy but that’s a hot looking bike,” our founder, Chad, recalls thinking.
The bikes kept popping up on Instagram and other channels, and each time, the builds were impeccable. An avowed frame nerd and stickler for aesthetic details, Chad immediately noticed how all the little details were just right, like how one bike featured cable routing under the bottom bracket that had obviously been a royal pain to do, but resulted in a gorgeous effect. We’re not the only ones who’ve noticed; Prova’s awards shelf is packed with trophies, including a sweep of the Road Bike, Peer Award, and Best in Show nods at Bespoked Bristol in 2019.
After an e-mail exchange, Chad decided to commission a frame, and AC is proud to announce it will bring in a limited run of fully custom Prova bicycles for sale in the US, where Above Category is the exclusive US agent. But let’s back up: what is Prova?
Prova is more of a who than a what: Mark Hester, an Australian former automotive engineer who chucked a promising career in automotive engineering and design to make custom bicycles. Prova, Hester says, is Italian for “to test, or develop” and his approach to making bikes is exactly that.
Hester’s path to framebuilding is a bit different than most who take up the torch. He rode bikes from early childhood, including mountain bikes and road, first in Australia, and then in England before moving home again. His father built race cars at a home workshop, and his grandfather was a civil engineer. “I spent weekends in the workshop making things, and that’s where the initial interest came from,” he says. “I saw lots of different solutions. Dad was very hands-on, while granddad was a bit more analytical.” Hester blends both approaches.
At university, his final-year thesis involved building a monocoque carbon-fiber chassis for a Formula SAE race car (it placed second in its first race), which led quickly to a career in systems engineering for Jaguar and Land Rover, including testing at the famed Nürburgring track. That sounds like a dream job, but Hester grew a little disenchanted with the role. “I was a specialist in traction control calibration, which is a pretty small part of the car.” He wanted to make something more immediately and fully tangible. “I wanted to be able to create something that people would really use.”
Around the same time, Hester was rekindling his love of cycling. While working for
Land Rover, Hester attended the Bespoked Bristol bike show. “I saw some stuff that was really nice,” he recalls. “And then I saw some stuff that was pretty average; I thought maybe I could do better.”
He enrolled in a framebuilding school, learned fillet brazing, and decided to move home to Australia. Framebuilding wasn’t full-time at first. “I needed to build a bunch of bikes to understand geometry,” he says. “I needed to understand the effect of tubing size on how it rides, to learn TIG welding so I could work with more exotic materials. I was building prototypes, doing structural and ride testing, and it snowballed a bit. People I knew began buying bikes, and then people outside of that, and it got to the point where I made the call to go full-time.”
Despite his composites-heavy engineering background, Hester builds primarily in steel and titanium. “Working tube to tube allows so much customization,” he says. “You can change the sizing of the bike, and you can change the way it rides very easily. And steel is such a great material in terms of durability; it’s compliant without a lot of bulk, especially the modern steel that people like Columbus have pushed really hard on the last ten years.”
While carbon is the current material of choice for performance bikes, Hester says steel and titanium can still compete. “It’s obviously heavier, but it’s a trade off for ride quality and durability.” For him, and his customers, it’s worth it.
But don’t mistake Prova’s bikes for old-school nostalgia rides. In addition to modern titanium and steel tubesets like Columbus’s vaunted XCr stainless steel, Hester makes extensive use of high-tech materials and techniques. The Speciale, for instance—a fully modern road bike with disc brakes and clearance for 32mm tires—features a custom CNC-machined, tapered head tube in stainless steel and an oversize T47 bottom bracket.
Hester uses CAD software to design custom dropouts that are 3D-printed in stainless steel, made by a contractor in New Zealand who fabricates parts for racing yachts. “There’s no way I could create that with casting or machining,” he says. “And if you welded tubes it wouldn’t be as strong.” Modern 3D printing is much different than early versions; the improvement in base materials and high-temperature lasers produces a high-strength, precision stainless steel part that’s worthy of performance bikes and offers fantastic durability; Hester still rides an early Prova mountain bike with a 3D-machined chainstay yoke and says it is showing zero signs of fatigue. Hester also 3D prints elements like cable stops, and the titanium seatmast topper on the Speciale.
The most eye-catching element on the Speciale is the carbon fiber pass-through seat tube with integrated seatmast. It’s not just for looks. Hester says that testing found that even carbon seatposts couldn’t offer the ride quality he wanted when working with oversize modern steel tubesets, so he replaced the seat tube with a custom carbon one he lays up by hand, and which offers the ability to tune ride quality in a way he couldn’t with metal. There’s carbon up front too: Speciales come with carbon forks.
Hester builds all Provas himself, and starts with a rider consultation to find out a client’s experience and desires; their current bikes and what they like and don’t like about them; and what kind of riding they’ll do, down to the type of roads and terrain: pavement or dirt; long climbs or short punchy ones. Once geometry is decided, Hester has the client approve the build and settles on a paint job. He’s drawn to deep candy-colored schemes like Chad’s burnt-orange Speciale (we'll touch on that later this week), and can do custom-painted forks and stems to match.
The Speciale isn’t Prova’s only model. There’s the gravel Mostro and the Molti all-road, for instance. But our focus at Above Category is on the flagship Speciale and the Ripido, a “party hardtail” mountain bike in 3AL/2.5V titanium with 3D-printed 6AL/4V ti dropouts that fits up to 29x2.6-inch tires. Both are available with custom geometry.
The result of every Prova is an exquisite bike, with stunning aesthetics and a classic appearance paired to thoroughly modern performance. Above Category will be getting a very limited number of custom Provas initially. To reserve yours and start the custom build process, contact the shop any time.
Words by Joe Lindsey. Photographs by Derek Yarra and Andy White.