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  1. #1
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    Custom builders "stock" bikes

    Seems a decent number of custom builders are now offering pared down stock bike lines. Winter, Ti Cycles, Bread winner and maybe another one or two I forgot. Maybe this custom stuff isn't all it's cracked up to be?

  2. #2
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    The Winter and Breadwinner bikes ARE built-to-order custom sized ( don't know about Ti Cycles), they are just standardized in other areas to speed production/lower cost.
    So what's your point?

  3. #3
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    The name of Breadwinner will give you a clue. Making a living building custom stuff is hard, putting your name on a stock bike and having others do the building is also hard (obviously in a different way that involves being a manager and handling a lot more risk/money) but the potential income is a lot higher. Most people don't want to do manual labor (which is what a big part of framebuilding is) their whole lives.

    Remember that pretty much every bike company in the world started as some guy in a shed, too, even if it was a hundred years ago.

    I've thought about doing a "stock" line of bikes but I make a comfortable living doing what I do and I enjoy the customer interaction more than I would enjoy trying to manage employees and turn out frames quickly.

    -Walt
    Waltworks Custom Bicycles
    Park City, UT USA
    www.waltworks.com
    waltworks.blogspot.com

  4. #4
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    Building one at a time is never as efficient as 10 at a time.

    Ira and Tony are simply moving back to a the early 90's small production house model...offering well designed bikes in a few standard configurations that they can produce quickly and efficiently with a leaner COGS.

    True custom builds are a difficult model to sustain; one has to be mindful of your overall COGS inclusive of increased customer communication, set up and fixturing time, and all the personal one off touches that make it special to the customer but suck away shop/labor time. If you are not cognizant of this and charge accordingly for these hidden time sinks, you will not be profitable. One of the reasons this niche has such a high turnover of dreamers.

    It is interesting to see this small segment of the industry begin to come full circle, returning to the small production mentality. No one out there is re-creating the wheel with revolutionary ergonomic designs...an experienced builder knows the formula for a well riding/fitting bike, there is no need for custom geometry for every client (unless that is what they are requesting and paying for). A well designed and hand fabricated piece has a place in the market. It is a model that has worked for years, and is now becoming feasible to make a living at it again.

    Nice to see like minded folks pulling resources to adapt and survive while offering a product that is fiscally attainable and of high quality.

    Best of luck to them,

    rody
    As requested by the MTBR gods, I am the voice of Groovy Cycleworks, check it out... http://www.groovycycleworks.com

  5. #5
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    there have been people making money reselling bikes made by individual builders for quite some time. Thinking of Rivendell, but there are lots of others. Doing it yourself makes sense if you know how. People have tried the model where you buy a container of bikes from Tiawan. Seems to work for some, but it's a tricky way to do business. See Kogswell, for example.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rody View Post
    Building one at a time is never as efficient as 10 at a time.

    Ira and Tony are simply moving back to a the early 90's small production house model...offering well designed bikes in a few standard configurations that they can produce quickly and efficiently with a leaner COGS.

    True custom builds are a difficult model to sustain; one has to be mindful of your overall COGS inclusive of increased customer communication, set up and fixturing time, and all the personal one off touches that make it special to the customer but suck away shop/labor time. If you are not cognizant of this and charge accordingly for these hidden time sinks, you will not be profitable. One of the reasons this niche has such a high turnover of dreamers.

    It is interesting to see this small segment of the industry begin to come full circle, returning to the small production mentality. No one out there is re-creating the wheel with revolutionary ergonomic designs...an experienced builder knows the formula for a well riding/fitting bike, there is no need for custom geometry for every client (unless that is what they are requesting and paying for). A well designed and hand fabricated piece has a place in the market. It is a model that has worked for years, and is now becoming feasible to make a living at it again.

    Nice to see like minded folks pulling resources to adapt and survive while offering a product that is fiscally attainable and of high quality.

    Best of luck to them,

    rody

    Rody, et all,

    Do you think that some of this return to a previous model is due, and or encouraged, by the fact that the 29er market has matured? IMHO, the appearance of the 29er movement years ago is part of what gave a re-birth to us customer builders. Most of the "bigs" wouldn't embrace it, thus forcing the [early adopting] consumer to get their creation made via the nimble customer builder network. Now that 29ers are near ubiquitous, the strong demand for customer may be waning? Thus requiring, or allowing, the customer builders to adapt their model to something more mainstream (and proven)?

    The above paragraph is my observation, statement and question all blended together. But it is something that I've pondered recently too.

    Our (True Fab) take on it, is that we would not want to dilute our brand by doing production runs. IMHO it takes away from some of the uniqueness that customers want from a company that only makes bikes one at a time. However, my purchase of Hammerhead Bicycles 4 yrs ago, was my personal attempt at trying to revive a frame brand for the purpose of trying to go with the market (via ideas that were born in the TF shop). I now work at Apple.

    Cheers,
    CJB
    www.HammerheadBicycles.com
    Austin's dirty little secret

    www.TrueFabricationBicycles.com
    Texas Born; Texas Bred

  7. #7
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    Excellent Topic

    Many framebuilders will ponder this question. I had to years ago. I got a day job.
    Some can handle batch runs, its boring if you're not of that temperament. To improve speed means investing more into tooling, a step up from hand tooling. You need to be sure there is a market for your work. You enter a different realm that can become cut-throat with too many players. Those who are good market'ers survive, good workshop builders don't.

    If I could do this as a living again, I would prefer Walt's model as I like the interaction direct with client. I can see Rody's model as well. Its a cross-roads for many. For me, I hobby build now, its fun this way.

    Eric
    If I don't make an attempt, how will I know if it will work?

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Malcolm View Post
    . I can see Rody's model as well....

    Eric
    Eric,

    I'm simply chiming in as someone who has been at this nearly 20 years and have worked in a small production environment. My "model" is about distant from a small production shop as you can get, the folks who come to me desire much more than simple custom geometry and tube selection. One off fabrication inclusive of not only the frame, but the majority of the components and the finish all under one roof is where I live today.

    @ CBaron,

    The days of the small production shop began to dwindle when large scale production of cheap Asian Aluminum frames began to flood our shores in the mid 90's. Compared to steel, the lighter weight, cheap tubing and fabrication costs, and the ability for in house branding at a fraction of the cost soon made the US small production houses scurry for survival. The ability to provide a sustainable living for not only the owner, but all the employees families who his business model was responsible for, became desperately difficult to continue. Most shops pared down to a single builder model to survive or threw in the towel all together. This is when the birth of the true custom builder we know today really became more prevalent.

    Sustainability meant providing a product that was distinctive in a sea of imported bicycles. This focused on providing not only a customized fit, but also a personalized finish, and most important, an enjoyable experience/relationship with the craftsman who facilitates the customer's vision is what propelled this model forward.

    I do believe that the ability to quickly move with trends in the market as well as to establish new innovative changes has expanded the focus on the custom builder. I'm sure Walt will quickly chime in that his willingness to accept and design for the "new" 29" wheel size allowed him an opportunity to establish himself in the frame building segment and create the business he enjoys today. One only has to look as far as Nahbs to see the guys who push the envelope with design ideas this year to be imitated by many of the large scale production companies the next season.

    The custom market is at one of it's highest recognition points in the last 40 years. The unfortunate truth is that we are also experiencing the highest turnover rate I've seen, as folks who dream of escaping their current occupations try to establish themselves too soon as participants in this business segment, often leaving bankrupt and disappointed with their prospective customer's deposits.

    The opportunity to work in a small production environment and learn each step of the process, repeating it daily, under the guiding eye of a master evaporated. The vacuum was replaced by online sharing, learning through 1's and 0's, build your own frame classes, and indirect communication. Personally, I'd love to see Breadwinner and other small production models survive, if only to provide a sustainable income and offer an opportunity for new talent to learn and evolve.

    The market will dictate their ultimate success.

    cheers,

    rody
    As requested by the MTBR gods, I am the voice of Groovy Cycleworks, check it out... http://www.groovycycleworks.com

  9. #9
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    Sorry Rody, I was noting the model you elaborated on as reference, not you personally.

    I note that the 29'er referenced a revival in the custom builder, but the 27.5 has not so much. The big boys seem more willing to play, than 29'ers coming down a wheel size.

    Is this missed opportunity? Fat bikes appear to be wide open.

    Eric
    If I don't make an attempt, how will I know if it will work?

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Malcolm View Post
    Sorry Rody, I was noting the model you elaborated on as reference, not you personally.

    I note that the 29'er referenced a revival in the custom builder, but the 27.5 has not so much. The big boys seem more willing to play, than 29'ers coming down a wheel size.

    Is this missed opportunity? Fat bikes appear to be wide open.

    Eric
    After walking around NAHBS I beleive your right Fatty's are on the rode map
    and now with full suspension and TI. Also alot of the 29ish Knard style.
    PAYASO 36er.....Live the Circus

  11. #11
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    Seems to me that fatbikes were not really a custom builder thing and didn't become popular until Surly started pushing them. Granted, there was a lot of development by a few people before that happened. I know I have blind spots on some of these things, but with Tiawanese factories churning out fatbikes, I'm not sure how fatbikes are going to be a big seller for custom builders. If you do come out with a good idea, QBP will have it in production in a year or less.

    Along those lines, there was a guy that posted something on the framebuilders list recently saying he had a great idea for an innovation in fatbikes and that some framebuilder should work with him to get a part of the action. The implication was that the builder should work for cheap/nothing or even pay for the privilege of working on this stellar project. For the prestige, I guess.

  12. #12
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    I don't think there is a niche bike out there that is going to allow anyone to start up as easily as I did (in fact I started up semi-unwillingly since I had no intentions to sell bikes when people started trying to buy 29ers from me). But who knows? 650b has not been a huge seller for me, but that's probably because I'm known for 29ers, and for some reason if you like 29ers you have to hate 650b, and vise versa.

    But you know what? Without turning this into a v-salon style navel-gazing session, I'd have to say there are more people making money building frames than anytime in recent memory. That's a good thing. Sure, probably only 10-20% of the people displaying at NAHBS make money. Sure, 50% of them will be out of business next year. It's the same for most types of small business. Dreamers will come and go, others will stick around, others will hire employees and grow. All is basically well with the cosmos.

    The real game changer will be if/when someone can do a customizable mold for true custom monocoque CF frames. Or 3d printing of some kind. At some point framebuilders will have to be selling either nostalgia or pure geometry/design knowledge (think surfboard shapers), because nobody will want us clumsy humans sticking together the pipes ourselves otherwise.

    -Walt
    Waltworks Custom Bicycles
    Park City, UT USA
    www.waltworks.com
    waltworks.blogspot.com

  13. #13
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    Nice navel.....

















    ATMO
    Slowly slipping to retrogrouchyness

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Walt View Post
    The real game changer will be if/when someone can do a customizable mold for true custom monocoque CF frames. Or 3d printing of some kind. At some point framebuilders will have to be selling either nostalgia or pure geometry/design knowledge (think surfboard shapers), because nobody will want us clumsy humans sticking together the pipes ourselves otherwise.

    -Walt
    I'm assembling a bike for a guy right now and it's a Niner (don't know the model, Niner has the worst names of any manufacturer out there for their models so I simply don't follow them) full suspension carbon rig. I've got to say, the monocoque construction is really nice--almost nice enough for me to want one instead of something I've built. It's amazingly light--like probably weighs what a steel frame weighs and this thing has a shock and linkages and stuff--it's really an amazing frame. I can imagine that a lot of small builders are taking hits with what is commercially available today versus even 5 years ago.

    To your point though, Walt... I could see a 3d lost wax style mold that allowed for customizable monocoque carbon fiber frames that would be cost effective and relatively quick and easy. I'm sure there is demand for it too but I'd never want to build them as I just don't think it would be fun to do. Enjoying the build and building something nice go hand in hand. The enjoyment, the challenge, the desire, and the learned skill set all work together to have a great finished product. Take any of those things out and I'm not sure what the finished product is, but that's what I'd end up with working in just carbon I'd bet. There are folks out there that would love to do it I'm sure and they'll get to that point (and probably sooner than we're expecting). The guy that does it first is likely going to be a mechanical engineer working for an aerospace company though. He's going to have to have access to a really nice modeling package to generate design AND have a great working knowledge of composite layup and probably be able to do some FEA on composites as well. He/she is out there somewhere, dreaming of doing it but hasn't gotten over that 1st frame hump yet. All of the technology needed to do this is out there today and it's relatively affordable. If I were just finishing up engineering school now, I'm sure I'd be all over this--but alas, I suppose I'm a retrogrouch because it's what I enjoy.

  15. #15
    DWF
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    Do what you want to do. Do what you're good at. If you're efficient enough and can find & connect with your clientele, you'll make money. If that's your goal. If that's not your goal, well, that makes it even easier.

    IMHO, the biggest reasons guys come & go is one of a very few things: they don't know or didn't learn how to run a business until it's too late, or, they just never realized that the primary item they're selling is themselves. I walk around NAHBS and I see dudes sitting on their chair in the corner like a bump on a log while streams of potential customers stroll past. Nobody wants to have dry white toast when they can have their toast with butter, jam, and jellies the next booth over.

    You don't have to polish anybody's balls but you have to at least smile, engage, shake a few hands, and give them a clue about how awesome you & your bikes are. Those sullen dudes are just flipping quarters into a bucket.

    If you want to make bank building bikes, focus on the road side of the house. MTB's don't draw the same $$ and are a lot more difficult/time consuming to build.
    A man must have enemies and places he is not welcome. In the end we are not only defined by our friends but those against us.

  16. #16
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    I first saw the potential for monocoque carbon fiber back in the '70s, to the extent that I pretty much foresaw the end of the dominance of steel frames. That made the decision to quit building frames back then a lot easier. However, the differences between monocoque and a tube to tube carbon fiber frame really are tiny. And I think that the move away from steel was mostly driven by fashion. Hopefully steel will still be with us for quite some time, I'm not really ready to give up on riding it yet.

  17. #17
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    Maybe for a generic road frame tube to tube is the same as monocoque - but as soon as you're talking MTB stuff (ie a lot of weird shapes or places you need to mount pivots/shocks/etc) I can't see tube to tube working well. Maybe I don't know enough about how those suckers are built, though?

    -Walt
    Waltworks Custom Bicycles
    Park City, UT USA
    www.waltworks.com
    waltworks.blogspot.com

  18. #18
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    My navel has *perfect* shorelines...

    -W

    Quote Originally Posted by G-reg View Post
    Nice navel.....
    ATMO
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    waltworks.blogspot.com

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by DWF View Post
    ... they don't know or didn't learn how to run a business until it's too late, or, they just never realized that the primary item they're selling is themselves.
    TRUE DAT ^^^

    Don, I'd kiss ya on the cheek but until you shave off that scruff, it aint gonna happen

    r
    As requested by the MTBR gods, I am the voice of Groovy Cycleworks, check it out... http://www.groovycycleworks.com

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by DWF View Post
    ...You don't have to polish anybody's balls ...
    booth idea for next year. Thanks Don.
    Sean Chaney :: Owner/Builder :: Vertigo Cycles LLC
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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Walt View Post
    Maybe I don't know enough about how those suckers are built, though?

    -Walt
    I'm taking this as sarcastic, but you've got a point.

  22. #22
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    Steel frames = vinyl records

    There will always be a market for both. It might expand and contract, but new technology doesn't always eliminate the old.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by eMcK View Post
    Steel frames = vinyl records...There will always be a market for both.
    Yep, we spent a fair bit of time in Denver at Nahbs shopping for those...

    Custom builders "stock" bikes-recordstore.jpg
    As requested by the MTBR gods, I am the voice of Groovy Cycleworks, check it out... http://www.groovycycleworks.com

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