For product designer and founder of Dart Flyscreens, Steve Sleddon. There’s a right way or a wrong way of doing things. No in between. Today, designing and making a quality product that works delivered to customers postage-free, is the simple equation that makes him happy and justifies the “leap of faith” he took 25 years ago when designing his first flyscreen in his kitchen.
Years before that, buying his first bike had given him new-found freedom riding with teenage friends. But, as an industrial designer, he’s always wants to squeeze a little more out of the riding experience.
“I got my first bike the moment I was 16. It was £110 and my total savings were £5, so I had to borrow the rest off my mum. She made me pay back every penny, which is a good lesson.” says Steve. “I’m at my happiest when I’m on a motorbike. I find I can clear my head and put things in perspective. I guess it’s like a form of meditation. It’s always been that way.”
Riding bikes and customising
Since childhood in the 70s riding pillion on the back of his dad’s bike or camping together at the Isle of Man TT, Sledds – as he’s known to his mates – has always looked at things a little differently.
“As a teenager, me and my friends used to hoon around the backroads of the Lake District and Ribble Valley on Japanese two-strokes. Modifying them and adding accessories was part of the fun, and my passion was to see if things could be done better,” he says.
The inspiration behind the first flyscreen design
After a string of adventures on a Yamaha RD350LC and various 250 strokers, Steve headed to London in the mid-90s. He completed the degree he’d deferred “because of romance and riding”, started a design business and began making motorbike flyscreens almost by accident.
“I had a 1994 Ducati Monster which my dad now owns. He’s 82 and still rides. It was a great bike and looked like nothing else at the time. It almost stopped traffic with its looks.
"I always wondered why the only screen I could get was a big touring one when all I wanted was something small to finish off the front end,” he recalls. “So, I decided to make one.” “At the time, I was living in a house share in north London and when all my housemates went home for Christmas, I turned the kitchen into a plastic workshop.”
Testing at speed
Prototype designed, he headed west out of London on the A40 before dawn to put it to the test: “It had to fit properly, work well and look good. Any instability could be fatal at high speed, so I had to know it was 1,000% safe before I took the next step.
“I realised I’d never been able to do this before on a naked bike – there was normally just too much wind resistance. It was like the shackles had come off my bike.”
His quest to find the sweet spot between no screen and minimal screen to take the edge off the wind wasn’t without its logistical challenges. “This was a prototype lash-up. When it came to production, economies of scale meant it was as easy to make 50. So that’s what I did, with a view to seeing if anyone else wanted these things.”
Made in… the oven
Early customers loved the product. And, in a nascent online world – this was 1995, remember – word spread quickly about this new flyscreen. What had started as a hobby – cutting templated sheets of plastic and bending them one by one in the oven – soon became “a bit of a time-consuming pain in the arse”, he admits. As demand grew for the flyscreens, Steve bit the bullet and splashed out on tooling for injection-moulding the screen blade.
“People thought I was mad,” he laughs. “Instantly I had converted a production problem into a sales problem as I took delivery of my first 1,000 screens. At the time I was selling a couple of dozen a month.”
Making a reputation for craftsmanship
By 2005, any lingering fears he might have had were as distant as his Lake District adventures. Dart Flyscreens forged a reputation as a unique supplier of small windshields. “I was deluged with orders from people, including riders with classic or retro bikes who didn’t want a big screen.
“They were desperate to keep things minimal and not look like a brand groupie,” he says. “Anyone can buy a universal screen and it will fit quite well if you’re lucky, but our products are a on different level. Injection moulding gives the OEM quality and bike-specific brackets make the product a guaranteed fit for your bike and an original look. And all made by us in Britain."
Steve’s London-based firm is unique in the custom market and, today, Dart exports the hard-coated trio of polycarbonate screens to 60 countries. “The best part of my job is dealing with the public. As long as people like my stuff and are kind enough to tell us, I am happy. There is always a right way of doing things,” he says.
“It goes back to that feeling of freedom when I got my first bike. Small things can make a huge difference.”
Click here for more on the Interceptor 650 Classic Flyscreen