Foraging By Bike | Hunting For Food On Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Custom-Made Ride
A bicycle framebuilder makes the ultimate vehicle for seeking and cooking wild food on the go
Words by Poppy Smith | Photography by Jonathan Gooding & Darron Coppin
I first heard about The Forager at the start of this year. There was a rumour going around the handmade bicycle world that two UK framebuilders were building a bike specially designed for foraging and cooking wild food on the go, for chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his River Cottage team. It sounded bonkers, but then I remembered an old book by HFW that we had on our shelf, ‘A Cook on the Wild Side’, the cover of which featured him astride his customised shopper bike, dead pigeons hanging from the handlebars, pots of foraged food actually cooking on the cross-bar.
That was 20 years ago. Back then Hugh was a wild haired nomadic chef and all-round adventurer with a popular television series that contained a fair amount of wild food and wilderness living, with a bit of food politics thrown in. It was all starting to make sense.
The framebuilders in question were Darron Coppin and Andrew ‘Mog’ Mogford of Sven Cycles based down in Weymouth, Dorset. Darron, a keen mountain biker from the early days of the sport, has always had a love of all types of bikes including Moultons (folding bikes) and recumbents. Mog, who helps Darron on the design side of things, has worked on just about every type of bike imaginable (and probably a few you can’t imagine).
I needed to know more about this out-there project so I called Darron up. He told me the bike was close to being completed, they were just waiting on the custom bike bags to be finished and sent down from Yorkshire.
“I’d always wanted to build a cargo-style bike," he told me, “but the catalyst for the project was The Constructor’s Challenge at last year’s Bespoked (the handmade bicycle show). It was a challenge to create a bike that serves a purpose greater than getting from A to B. This was the thing that made me think about it. So I dropped Hugh’s people a line and he was into the idea. It evolved from there."
The bike sounded better than I could have imagined. It could carry everything needed for collecting and cooking wild food on the go. It was fully equipped with foraging tools – a mushroom knife, a sharpening stone and a foraging hook for getting hard to reach treats.
"The pièce de résistance: a fold-out fire pit BBQ, specially designed to not damage the woodland floor…"
There was a locally made detachable wicker picnic basket on the front rack to carry up-cycled cooking pots and pans, a chopping board made from old boat decking, stainless steel water bottles, and plates and utensils made from pine tree fibres. And the pièce de résistance: a fold-out fire pit BBQ, specially designed to not damage the woodland floor, for cooking all the foraged food in the beauty of the environment you found it in.
A couple of months ago I got to see the finished bike in the flesh at Bespoked. It was a masterpiece in British manufacturing. The look of it is based on the classic Series 1 Land Rover with the same bronze green paint. The sand coloured canvas bike bags are made from the same material that’s on the back of a Land Rover. And a tan leather British Brooks saddle to top off. “I wanted it to have that very British Land Rovery look," said Darron.
Darron said he was planning the bike’s first foraging expedition with his partner and two year old daughter, Florence, down in Dorset, hitting up spots where he knew of some abundant wild crops. I caught up with him a couple of days after the trip…
“We headed down an old disused railway track not too far from home where you can often find elderflowers and watercress at this time of year. Flo loved going in the front basket of the bike, she wanted me to ride really fast."
They were in luck. A stream near the track was heaving with watercress so they dragged some out and rinsed it off, with the intention of making watercress soup.
A bit further along the track they came across some elder trees, full with flowers. They cut off the flower clusters leaving a couple of centimetres of stem. “I’ll make elderflower cordial," Darron told me. “I mix the elderflowers with sugar, citric acid, lemons and let it soak for a bit and then strain it off and put it in the fridge. I usually drink it with sparkling water, it’s lovely."
Why is it better to go foraging by bike? I ask him. “It’s quicker and it’s more efficient," he says. “We don’t always have a lot of time. It makes life easier with kids. And you can load stuff up without always having to carry carrier bags."
I ask Darron if someone is inspired to go foraging by bike, but can’t afford the £3,900 price tag that this one commands, can they adapt their own bike? “Yes, you can just put racks on the front and back of your bike, attach a basket to each rack and go off. Take a decent pair of secateurs and a reasonable knife with you. I prefer to take cloth bags to store the foraged food in because in plastic bags it sweats and goes damp. I converted a supermarket basket and designed a clip to attach it to the rear rack, to collect stuff in, which worked really well because you could put stuff in the basket, sluice it with water and make it fresh."
So what does Hugh think of it? “I’m incredibly pleased with The Forager," he says. "It’s a brilliantly skillful and imaginative piece of engineering. And, even more importantly, it’s a joy to ride! I’m very much looking forward to a full-scale two-wheeled foraging expedition!"
"What does Hugh think? 'It’s a brilliantly skillful and imaginative piece of engineering. And, even more importantly, it’s a joy to ride!'"
If you are going foraging make sure that you do it safely and use a good book (like Richard Mabey’s ‘Food for Free’) to identify which species are edible, and which are definitely not! Hugh’s book ‘A Cook on the Wild Side’ is great for recipe ideas and wild food preparation tips. Or check out Roger Phillips’ ‘Wild Food – A complete guide for foragers’.
If you fancy one for yourself then The Forager, fully equipped, costs £3,900 from svencycles.com