Friday, June 19, 2009

What it is

Here it is, another beginning to another summer and invitations are coming in for builders to participate in any number of bike shows around the country. These shows are usually well attended and are a unique opportunity for builders and enthusiasts to meet in one place , face to face. While I do take part in some of these shows and appreciate the fact that they exist I do temper my enthusiasm . I don't expect to take orders at any of these shows and sometimes don't even bring any order forms.......custom frames are not and never have been impulse purchases -in most cases they are a result of weeks of research and intense , almost obsessive combing of the internet and magazines on the part of the customer. While I have indeed written a few orders at shows over the years , it has never been the main purpose of my being there. I go to see all the work of my fellow builders and show the folks that I am still at it, still in effect after all these years. What about the builders that come to the show with the purpose of taking orders, or maybe winning an award that will hopefully generate orders ? I really don't know what to tell these folks......I never won an award at any show but I stay busy, most of the time really busy. I contrast this with a builder who recently quit , even after winning an award at the biggest custom bike show, NAHMBS-the guy simply had no work....he was creative , original and really looked to be one of the top new talents. Maybe this builder will get a chance to come back and try his luck again , but for now he's back working at a bike shop. What does one learn from this ? I can't say that there is much to learn except that what sells and what dosen't in the world of custom frames isn't tied to talent, awards, shows......maybe not even experience. Framebuilding for a living is about as uncertain a livelyhood as acting or playing music . While I do see value in shows and award competitions are very popular with show attendees I'm not too sure how relavant any of it is in the real world of framebuilding as a career . A talented hobby builder with lots of spare time will most likely be the guy who takes home a trophy from a show but this style of building isn't sustainable in a practical fulltime gig. Ask any established builder who is known for impeccable and detailed artistic work and I'll bet they'll tell you that they are making the kind of hourly wage more associated with someone working the deep-fryer at burger King. So the masters of the craft get the lowest wages while the working-stiff welders make slightly more.....what is wrong with this picture ? In a perfect world custom bike shows should serve to elevate the publics awareness and appreciation of the skill level and commitment involved in being a fulltime framebuilder. With what I have experienced at these shows, that has yet to happen in such a way that folks that I know who are undisputed talents of the craft can exit poverty, or in some cases even survive. Most folks who walk the isles at these shows are enthusiastic for sure-but when it comes to buying the stuff they admire , they don't open their wallets. Folks will take photos, buy t-shirts.....even chronicle their visit to the show with photos on the web-in effect, free advertising for the builders........but still for the most part they don't come to the show to order a frame. Where are the people who want this craft to survive ? Do they even exist ? If they do, they shouldn't hide any longer........

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