Saturday, July 7, 2012

All those miles just to go to the dump

I'm a really busy guy as of late. I'm kind of an anomaly....a bike framebuilder who makes a living-of course, my definition of a living might not be yours but if the bills are paid and I still have some money in the bank, I'm a hero in the world of bike builders. Merely having steady reliable work is pretty rare in my trade so I do appreciate it. So what do I have to complain about ? A couple of things got my ire in the last few weeks.
# 1, A bike magazine I really like and have read pretty much since its first copy printed an article about carbon frame repair. I approve of carbon frame repair and am glad that some folks are finally doing it-I'm especially glad that it is not me who is doing it. What I read that got my attention was that someone who was in the business of fixing carbon bikes said that it was easier and less expensive than fixing aluminum or steel frames. I thought to myself , how can that be true ? As far as I can tell, it isn't true for a few reasons.
I can re-weld a broken dropout on a steel frame for $ 40-50 much would one of these carbon repair places charge to do the same work ? It is my understanding that carbon frame repair isn't cheap and it really shouldn't be , considering all the steps and precautions needed to work with the stuff without poisoning yourself. I will agree that tig welding is difficult, but not for someone who does it a lot -and that is most likely the kind of person who would be repairing a steel or aluminum frame. Someone with welding and/or brazing can execute a simple repair in very little time, resulting in a relatively low cost job.
#2. The second thing I observed were some gigantic container ships arriving and leaving the port of Oakland. I was staying at a hotel that had a good view of the port and all the goings on. I thought about the practice of a particular big-box store that filled these container ships with raw materials and shipped the stuff to China where it would presumably be made into products. These products would be loaded onto container ships and sent back to the USA with goods for Americans to purchase. The irony is that these cheaply produced items are used for a short time until we either break them or grow tired of them. What happens next is that the items wind up for the most part in landfills that are presently overflowing.
Let's see what this container ship flotilla does, at least in my opinion:
#1. It sends manufacturing to China that used to be done here.
#2. It causes a waste of fuel and is not good for the environment.
#3. It encourages our society to accept crappy goods that fail soon as the norm , rather than providing us with goods that are lasting valuable posessions.
#4. It creates an artificially low price for everything so that anything that is well made becomes unaffordable.
#5. It leaves us with jobs at the big box stores and other low-skill trades in place of the now non-existent manufacturing jobs.
#6. It creates wealth for the owner of these big-box enterprises to buy our politicians and further erode our democracy.
#7. Had enough ? -Think about it.........most of us are riding bikes from China. Most of us are wearing clothes from China as well. Look at all the goods in your house and you'll see how really pervasive offshoring of manufacturing is. How do I tie this into the carbon bike repair article ? It's not a reach, really. The sacrifice of our domestic bike manufacturing over the last 30 years is a very high price to pay for cheap ( and many of them are not cheap..) carbon fiber bikes from China. All the negatives we get from importing so much stuff is also a high price to pay.
While I do applaud the folks repairing these carbon bikes, the great bulk of which are not made in the USA-I firmly believe that the statement in the article that carbon bikes are cheaper and easier to repair is complete and utter crap.......just as I believe that cheap goods at the big box stores will eventually be our ruin as a free society. We have become a people that is all into 'aquisition' for a temporary fix , rather than getting something that one will use for a long time.I really hope some day we will all wake up and figure out that we are not getting any kind of bargain in this transaction.