In a perfect world, the two types of builders would get along fine as they basically do the same thing . Unfortunately in a lot of cases there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the 'Artisans' and the full-timers . The artisan builders tend to look down on the full-timers who do not have the time to create the award-winning show stopping bling-mobiles . Even if the career guys did make the time to build a masterpiece , they would no doubt take a significant pay cut as there is little likelyhood that a customer would pay the equivalent of a living wage for the frame . There are exceptions but they are rare-there exists a handful of builders who have frames that command many times the price of an average welded custom frame. These few guys are kind of like pied pipers to the newest wave of neo-builders on the scene.
The world of custom bikes is being shaped in a large way by the few builders that can command the kind of price that makes building a labor-intensive masterpiece profitable and therefore a sustainable enterprise. As a result of the influence of these exceptional few, there have sprung up a number of things that didn't exist when I started building. The most notable thing is NAHMBS. Now there are many similar shows , mostly smaller and more regional vying for builders and custom bike fans all over the country. The other new item is the supplier who designs ornate lugs and has them manufactured in Taiwan for the new builders who want to build in a more traditional style.
So, with all these new fancy lugs and eager builders and custom bike shows , there is quite literally a glut of really remarkable bicycle art out there. Who is going to go see these bikes at the show and fill their flickr pages with photos of these beautiful efforts ? Everybody. Conversely , who is going to buy up all of these magnificent and painstakingly crafted creations ? -Nobody, at least if they weren't pre-sold before the show. The amount of folks willing to shell out the big bucks to pay a living wage to these new artisans is almost non existant. The folks who are waiting to find these bikes at drastically reduced prices on craigslist are out there , quite willing to buy your magnum opus for about ten cents on the dollar.
Am I attacking the artisan approach to frame building ? No, I am simply pointing out that it is not self-sustaining. I liken the new breed of builders to the artisans who created works of art for royalty and the church. They were slaves.............are the new wave of builders indentured servants ? Maybe not, but they are likely to sacrifice themselves in the pursuit of trying to get noticed at one or more of the many shows -either that or they'll have to have a lot of monetary support from a spouse , trust fund or family-the support that should really come from the folks that ogle the works of art they produce. Yes, I'll say it......in order for the artisan part of our craft to survive the public must actually pay for the work. From what I saw at the last bike show I attended this is not the case-I saw the same bikes on display as last year , in other words the builder didn't sell his or her entry and cannot afford to build a new one for the next show.
The upshot of all this can be summed up with a few recent happenings: The lug supplier who thought that this would be the time to provide great stuff for the artisan builder is selling his busuiness. Since the customers are not supporting the builders, the supplier has few people to sell to. The next unfortunate developement is that several talented builders have decided to quit and it is likely that more are to follow. While this is happening , more and more shows are cropping up to showcase this seemingly doomed craft. At one point or another this whole thing will implode unless there are actual customers to support it. I for one wish to survive and I can only do that by building what is ordered, not build what people want to photograph and award trophies to. I'm almost wondering if going to these shows is such a financial burden on new builders that it is contributing to their demise rather than giving them a viable place to sell their goods.
I really wish I had some answers, some way to make it all o.k. and that the art portion of frame building could flourish . Time and the public will decide if the new ambition displayed by the latest wave of artisan builders will be rewarded with viability or go the way of everything else unsustainable.