I’ve been neglecting the website and blog for no other reason that i’ve been busy. My Dad passed away in May and I haven’t been inspired to write with all that’s been going. I’m still building bikes but at a slower rate (and fewer) since I’m getting less orders and overall interest. Each frame is fully custom, so everything takes a ton of preparation, communication, and time to fabricate. It also takes a ton of time to do the rest of the business as any small business owner knows well. From attempting to be photographer and advertising, building the frames and forks and sometimes racks, choosing the right tubing for the individual and bike’s purpose, ordering the tubes and dropouts in a timely manner so it’s all available when you need it, keeping track of shop expendables, maintaining and cleaning the shop so it’s in working order, staying legal with the state with quarterly taxes, and logging expenses and creating invoices for customers, stuff sometimes slips through the cracks. Then there’s making sure there’s enough time left in the day to take care of the home and hang with my sweetie and pups as well as hopefully ride a few times a week.
I got in over my head real quick when I started accepting orders. This isn’t something you’ll hear a lot about but just because you can build nice frames and bikes doesn’t mean you should hang out the shingle and sell them. There are a dozen or so builders doing this full time and making good money, but most have limited what they offer in scope and are comfortable saying “no” to the weird projects. The build can’t take too long, it has to be profitable after all. You have to get paid for your time just like in any job. Framebuilders are not starving artists but small-business-people trying to offer a service unique to the marketplace. But if I’m being honest the weird projects are the ones that define “custom” to me. Custom no longer means race frames of superior materials and fabrication since you can buy damn nice bikes from almost any bike shop. Custom means built for you the way you envision it, but also how you and the builder co-create your bike. That relationship that makes something impossible to find anywhere else.
The true professionals are the ones that can make a custom geometry frame in a half a day so they have time for all the rest of what it takes to run the business and get the frame out the door within a week if not less. It’s what makes them successful and able to keep doing it, take vacations, save for retirement, etc. Full custom can take longer and be less fruitful in the profit category but it’s my path and i hope it differentiates me from the hundreds of other small builders out there. I don’t even do truly weird crazy stuff but if you look back at my Instagram very few bikes look the same, and I’m not talking about paint.
I’ve learned to be flexible and adaptable in my process and tooling. I continually see room for improvement and streamlining and sometimes will take the day to fix a bottleneck that will improve workflow down the road. But I think like any small business owner your time isn’t able to be budgeted the same as a salaried employee, or even an hourly employee. There’s no one keeping the business going but you. If I don’t post on Instagram nobody else will and then the interest fades and you’re soon forgotten. Staying current and relevant is a challenge with so many like myself hanging out the shingle.
I have been at this for 6 years now and I still think have no right to be competing with the legends like Steve Potts, Kent Eriksen, and Carl Strong (to name a few). If you ask why I charge what I do for a frame it’s because it’s not fair to them to undercut them by too much. I charge what they charge minus a few hundred to indicate I’m less experienced and have many fewer frames under my belt. Current price for a Steel frame is $1850, and Titanium is $2800.
I remember going to work as a salaried employee of a City and only going to meetings and doing emails many days, I felt bad for getting paid those days since I didn’t produce anything of value. At least now I am making something of value that someone will appreciate. But builders don’t get paid sick or vacation time. When we don’t work we don’t get paid. But it does have many benefits that the salaried employee will never see.
Like they say, “be careful what you get good at.” No doubt… It’s been so long since I’ve done Ecology and GIS I can’t go back without serious re-education but with framebuilding I’m just reaching my stride. I’ve started building in Titanium – something I’ve always dreamed of but never thought I’d achieve.
It’s a funny life. I’m so lucky to be able to do what I do and not deal with the long commutes I had 10 years ago. But the isolation of working in a garage alone does feel unhealthy at times, mentally mostly, but also physically as i crane my neck and eyes squinting at the minutia that goes into a custom bike.
The part I like the most is right as you start setting up the fixture for the next frame. It means you’ve completed the hard work of the lion’s share of the communication with the customer dialing in the fit, geometry, tubeset, and look of the bike. The welding is fun but the realization of an idea created by the customer and myself into a bike that’ll be ridden to…who knows where…well that’s just damn cool. I love getting bike-against-tree photos showing them out in the wild. It means it was a successful endeavor and worth all the work and their hard-earned cash.