Saturday, December 24, 2011

Why it must continue......

As I was warming up for a cyclocross race in Bend, Oregon I noticed that my cheap Chinese watchband was pretty much ready to let go. Not wanting to lose my faithful 1994 Timex Ironman watch that I had worn on every brevet and almost every race since I had bought it, I took off the watch and put it in my packet. The original band had lasted many years. The cheap replacements only lasted about 8-10 months and they were all from -you guessed it- China. Now I'm not insinuating that all goods from China are worthless but they are cheap and therefore subject to shorter life spans than stuff made elsewhere that isn't as cheap.
The next thing that got me thinking was announcing to a friend that our mutual friend was expecting a child-to this my friend said : " What's with all these people having kids ? I don't get it !". This made me want to say , " Well, how the heck did you and I get here ? Were we dropped out of a spacecraft ? Are we the only ones allowed to be born ?"=Of course I kept my thoughts to myself, after all...she had a valid point in that there is a bit of a population explosion that has been going on since before recorded history.
O.K., this gets me to my point: Custom frame building is a bit of a 'Niche" market,job, whatever you want to call it. By far, most of the bikes that people ride are made in Taiwan or China and are perfectly fine, if maybe not the most durable bikes ever created. After my generation is gone do I care if the craft of frame building continues ? -Yes, I do care....but why should I care if I'm dead ? First of all, the large companies who produce bikes do not build custom and this would make bikes for really tall and/or short people impossible to get if small custom producers were extinct. I, for one don't want to leave the task of building custom bikes up to larger companies as they aren't suited for the job, just as small guys like me are not suited to churning out 1,000's of bargain priced bikes for the masses. My other point is this: Just because I and my contemporaries have had our run at this pretty special livelyhood doesn't mean that someone else can't have a go of it as well. We needn't become an extinct species. Sure, some of us have decades of working at a low wage before getting to the point where we are no longer struggling to survive-that kind of life-long dedication isn't exclusive to one generation.There are new folks who want to try as we did all those years ago and I for one don't feel like telling them to forget about it .......this is why I teach a class at UBI once a year-I believe in the viability of hand made bikes and I don't put a time limit on it.
While I am not saying that everyone who wants to be a frame builder can pull it off, a few hardy and creative souls will with a bit of luck and with the ability to fill a need in their respective cycling community.For example , I do not build in isolation-I am surrounded by folks who ride where I do, appreciate what I appreciate and really use the bike for all sorts of occasions. I might have a lot of customers in far flung places but the core is here in Santa Cruz and the greater Bay area-I do things for this community and they in turn support what I do. I really see that as a sustainable thing- whether I am building bikes or someone else is. Maybe my brand name does not need to continue after I am gone but all the tools I have accumulated over last 30-odd years will no doubt find their way to someone else with their own vision, their own approach. -The shit don't stop with me.

30 comments:

  1. "While I am not saying that everyone who wants to be a frame builder can pull it off, a few hardy and creative souls will with a bit of luck and with the ability to fill a need in their respective cycling community."

    ^ this ^

    i'd say the ratio of those "who want it to those who can pull it off..." is about the same now as it was in all the other generations you and i can cite. but like i wrote in our emails earlier today, without being open to change, we might as well not get in the batter's box.

    it's not about standing your ground, living in a past that you think is better and should not have delivered the present we now have, and alienating others with a negative point of view; one should be open-minded and malleable enough to take what's there (or the baggage he's inherited) and make something new (or better) with it atmo.

    happy hanukkah

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  2. I agree. I started with lugs in the late '70's, fillet brazed in the '80's, tig welded in the '90's and started with aluminum and scandium in 2000, a year later added some carbon stays...I even built a ti frame in 1994. If you aren't willing to try new stuff, you'll be limiting yourself. The saying " don't knock it 'till you've tried it" reads more like " Don't try it 'till you've knocked it" by a lot of frame builders who are really stuck on "Ye olde methods" . Good though they may be, there's other ways to build. We have to adapt and/or be open minded.

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  4. "The saying 'don't knock it 'till you've tried it' reads more like 'Don't try it 'till you've knocked it' by a lot of frame builders who are really stuck on 'Ye olde methods' . Good though they may be, there's other ways to build. We have to adapt and/or be open minded."

    ^ this ^

    it's not only about other methods and materials; folks in the trade, especially the older, more staid cats, need to acknowledge that manufactured goods and production bicycles are not the enemy. factory bicycles are not the enemy. in many cases, especially for most people, these are the correct choices. just because we are independent entities and may exist in the margins, and love what we do and the creative freedom that comes with it all - just because we have this on our side of the ledger doesn't mean our bicycles are better.

    there's way too much us against them in this niche with regard to pre-made bicycles and the places that produce them. no one likes to be around glass-half-empty folks but many eff builders have this air of entitlement and all it does is alienate.

    occupy grumpiness atmo.

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  5. There is a difference in what we do compared to the big companies. When someone pays us to build a bike , what they pay for is our labor, the materials we carefully select and our experience. What on pays for in a big-brand bike is a lot of marketing, some engineering and some profit for the top of the corporate food chain. There are some riding advocacy and some charitable things that these big corporations do but don't kid yourself....the bottom line is profit. I would like to think that what we as builders do is different and can indeed be better, otherwise folks would not seek us out.

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  7. "...but don't kid yourself....the bottom line is profit."

    ^ this ^

    what is wrong with profit atmo? or, are you making a statement about how one arrives at it? sometimes i read the rants of the jaded and wonder if they want to control how much profit the sinyards and the burkes should be allowed to make. i am not concerned with what the big box bicycle companies do, or their financials. i think it's a good idea to keep your eye on your own plate and in your own kitchen rather than look around to see what others eat or how it's prepared for their table.

    i get the "angry" thing and i get the "trying to even the score" thing. but when you continually rally against the bicycle industry for how it works in order for it to remain vital, you should look at it from their perspective too. it provides employment, families have income and security, and the masses have even more choices at more price points to buy bicycles. should those consumers' decide it would be nice to have something others don't or can't have, i am sure our names will make their radar. until that time comes, maybe think of industry as the gene pool that allows us to tap for a small percent of its most evolved patrons.

    we can't do what they do, and they can't do what we do. the effbuilders who have something to offer will have work; those who live with a rain cloud above them will always be blaming the whether.

    ps sorry for the deletions; i am not blogger reply savy.

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  8. I have nothing against the big companies, I merely want to point out the difference between a bike from a big company that costs $ 3,000 from China and a bike made by a small builder that costs $ 3,400 with the same equipment and where the dollars go. If the small builders like ourselves give up we will all be shopping at Walmart , working for Walmart and eventually discarded by Walmart. We have a choice.....unless we give that up.

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  9. "I have nothing against the big companies, I merely want to point out the difference..."


    ^ this ^


    the choice is the same - only the eras have changed atmo. back in the bike boom 1970s era, folks who sold bicycles that listed for $600 (a fortune then) when we sold our frames for $180 had the same margins and incentives as now: to maximize the bottom line atmo. the only difference is that now, that small builder is likely to have brethren in the trade who have turned complaining and poor-mouthing into a varsity sport.

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  10. Boy, this is quite an exchange we have going here. Which brethren do you refer to ?

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  11. rule number two atmo -

    never ask a question you know the answer to.

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  12. Yes, but those reading don't know the answer.

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  13. Col. Atmo: You want answers?
    Sadoff: I think I'm entitled to.
    Col. Atmo: *You want answers?*
    Sadoff: *I want the truth!*
    Col. Atmo: *You can't handle the truth atmo!

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  14. Don't lump me in that group.
    long live SOPWOMTOS.

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  15. steve - are you replying to me or to PS's post?

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  16. Hey, Mr. Sachs.... "Basketball was a friendly planet!""....quoting from a movie-hmm, I really wish you would stay on topic. If you have a score to settle with someone I suggest that the comment section of my blog isn't a very effective place. Another thing.....are you on the payroll of one of the big companies ? Sounds like you are doing a little P.R. side work for somebody....just a hunch.

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  17. "Another thing.....are you on the payroll of one of the big companies ? Sounds like you are doing a little P.R. side work for somebody....just a hunch."

    ^ this ^

    hey paul

    no - unlike many who say it, i actually do work alone. i know this back/forth stuff is good for site traffic 'n shit but let's chat in the interests of transparency atmo. this post is a result of an email string you and i had 3-4 days ago so you know full well where i stand, and as you wrote, it's not too many inches from where you stand.

    as far as the rest of it goes, no - i have no scores to settle at-fugcink-all. and i mean that with all the sincerity i can muster in this little reply box. but sometimes - not always - but sometimes i wonder why folks assume others are responsible for their happiness and success. heh? i read rants about profit, and marketing, and outsourced labor, and bad working conditions, and it appears to me that a certain kind of cat will always look for a reason that he's not succeeding because others are: "mike sinyard markets better than me", "john burke uses high school-ers to sand his frames", "the company that makes the ridleys gets frames from a factory with no windows or exhaust fans". it's always something. the odd thing is atmo that often it comes from cats in the industry who once also expanded past the one man/one frame gig, grew a work staff, decided to get some frames private labeled in taiwan or japan (i won't mention the C word...), and then failed. so what do we have left? what i see is that some whose model went past its sell-by date are now complaining that others who are successful are in their way as they fight for market share.

    there's room for anyone who can do good work, and stand behind it, not alienate with his points of view, and seemingly enjoy his place in the industry. you and i both know, and have articulated, that we have more than our share of glass-half-empty guys in our group.

    when i read the blogs, an internet threads, and go to shows and hear folks lament (and always have someone or something to blame...), i wish these cats would just state what they want (more money, higher prices, a tree that grows clients, less competition, more truth in advertising, a pill that would allow folks to dream about lugged steel frames - yada yada blah blah etcetera...) - i wish they'd let everyone know what and who is in their path to happiness and success, and develop a strategy going forward from there.

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  18. Well put , but aren't you just the least bit curious about " Chop 'em upshaw riglets" ?

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  19. "Well put , but aren't you just the least bit curious about ' Chop 'em upshaw riglets' ?"

    ^ this ^

    i'm not stupid, bro. i went to high scoohol. you take that box in the picture, hold it to a mirror, and it reads, "i netted $11,000 in november atmo."

    nice work, paul!

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  20. Wrong ! Wrong. It was actually $ 9839.49 for Nov. And Chop'em upshaw riglets are devices I made from old bontrager steerers for which to hold handlebar clamp assemblies for an extremely dangerous slotting operation done on the yes, you guessed it-chop saw. This was definitely not an OSHA aprooved operation and has been discontinued at my workplace.

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  21. okay now you lost me atmo.
    what is OSHA?

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  22. Governmental agency in charge of occupational safety.

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  23. Hey Paul - thanks for touching on this subject. You're absolutely correct - frame building in this day and age is a tight niche and what we build doesn't need to directly compete w/ the off the shelf bikes from where ever they are imported from. People that buy a custom frame are buying expertise and a relationship; and not just in materials or construction methods, but with someone that can translate their specific needs into an means of enjoyment that they can then have their own relationship with. A custom bike that is designed for a specific person, nothing will replace the joy of having something that's built for you - it's 100% yours. This is one of the most satisfying aspects of my job - the pleasure a customer gets from riding one of my bicycles.

    That said, I have tried competing w/ the volume producers at the bottom of the food chain. Guess what, it didn't work out, for a lot of reasons that I won't touch on here. But do know this, despite having some product built elsewhere, it never amounted to more than 10% of my business at it's peak, I never claimed to have 'built it' and went to great extent to make sure that customers were not confused to the origins. It was a royal pain in the ass and quite frankly, don't view it as being a great idea in retrospect. Can I take it back? No. Am I open to talk about my experience? Yes.

    RS - Seems that you have a distasteful view of how some people operate, which you are entitled to. But as Paul asked (and now do I), name this person whom you feel is said groucho atmo. Talking in circles is ridiculous - get to the point.

    Steve - Yeah buddy.

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  24. "factory bicycles are not the enemy"

    No, they are not the enemy...but they are pieces of shit. I was looking at one of these "bicycles" the other day. As I stared at this object which came from one of the box stores, I was searching for any parts of value. The reality is that aside from the schrader tubes, brake cables and perhaps the ball bearings the entire bicycle was disposable. The crimes this bicycle represents in my mind are several. Many if not most end up as land fill and not even recycled. The parts bins of the future will not contain these un-tunable brakes and work-once derailleurs. The bewildered owner will cycle through several in a short period of time often becoming frustrated with bicycles in general. The designs themselves are often deleterious for the owners with geometries that can often only be described as weird or bizarre. A century of refinement and improvement in mechanics, materials and design out the window. Even in times of plenty it is foolish to persue this end. (one sad part is that they could do better)

    Of course there is nothing wrong with profit. We all have to make one. However, it stands to reason that if these companies did not produce bikes at a low price point then effbuilders here would stand to make a better living. It is my opinion that there is at least something wrong with child labor, dangerous/heinous working conditions, environmental atrocities, culture destruction etc etc.

    I can keep my eyes on my own plate with respect to what I do and how I do it. At the same time I can rant, rave, protest and speak out against what I feel is wrong and should change. In hopes of convincing one more person to vote with his/her dollars and buy a fine frame from Garro, Paul or Sachs. Other than trying to educate the consumer I suppose a tarrif or two might be in order. If someone can undercut US effbuilders because of what I would view as an unfair advantage (safety, enviro regs and labor issues) then Id be open to tarrifs that discouraged their import and encouraged domestic production. This would be good for us and good for them as it would not reward bad behavior.

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  25. So, now that the shit-talking is all done...Can you write me in your will and let me have that Campy tool kit? Please?

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  26. Yesterday I was kinds cynical. I am more optimistic today. Today I am thankful for the fleet of disposable bicycles out there. What better advertising for the handbuilt industry.

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  27. China just seems like a long way away.....just sayin.

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