Sunday, May 19, 2013

Carbon Footprint

Most of the time when I write on this blog I'll be making some sort of scathing comment about a process or a fellow builder-I'm not immune to ripping on industry trends or corporate greed, all that stuff. I'm not doing anything like that this time as this story that follows is ironic enough to stand on its own. I build frames every day of my life but this particular frame is special, as is its story.

Awhile ago , the main supplier of aluminum tubing for U.S. builders ran out of large customers and ceased to produce the material you see in the frame above. After manufacturing tubing in the U.S. for twenty-odd years, the company decided to move production to Taiwan where some large customers still existed. Within a few years, the aforementioned customers decided (  or the market at large decided ) to go to molded carbon fiber for the bulk of bicycle frames for the world market. When this happened , the company that produced aluminum tubing had lost the bulk of its customer base and ceased production altogeter.

As a builder who relies on having access to good aluminum, I took the step of buying as much of the soon-to-be-extinct material as I could afford. Some of this was from the U.S. company , some from the Taiwan operation and some from manufacturers ceasing business. The tubing in the frame in the photo is my very last set of GX-2 flared scandium that I had been saving for myself. The tubes had been sitting on a shelf for several years when I got an email from a distant customer requesting a 'Team Carbon' road frame , just like the one I had personally been riding for the last eight years. I decided that this customer who had ordered a steel frame two years earlier needed the tubes more than I did so I took the order and got ready to build the frame. This would be the last frame of this kind to roll out of my shop....ever.

This is where it gets interesting-that is, if you are still interested enough to read on. To complete this frame I would use this tubing but I also needed a full carbon rear stay kit so I got on the phone and started calling suppliers. I tried all the suppliers I knew of who might stock this kit but nobody in the U.S. had one-and nobody really was interested in carrying them any more. I decided to try international sources and luckily a company in the U.K. had most of the kit in stock-I would have to scrounge a couple of small parts but the bulk of what I needed was available. A bit later I was able to source the rest of the small parts and constructed the frame.

The path that the materials for this frame took to get to me is pretty amazing. The tubing was made for the U.S. manufacturer in Taiwan  . The carbon kit was manufactured in Taiwan for an Italian company who in turn sold it to the supplier in the U.K. and then eventually to me here in the U.S. Here's the punch line-the customer for this frame lives in Taiwan, not that far from where all the materials for his frame originated from. The aluminum will wind up making two trips across the Pacific ocean. The carbon kit will wind up literally circumnavigating the earth. Up until this frame I had never thought of where the pieces of a bicycle frame might go travel on their respective journeys between from birth to frame and eventually to the customer. This one tops them all. The ultimate carbon footprint.