How long does it take?

22 04 2009

So how long does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll Tootsie pop?  The world may never know…

No, what I am talking about is how long does it take to build a bike frame.   I am also going to touch on how long it takes to do anything well by hand.  Something a lot of people today have no concept of.

O.k.  the last point first, then we will talk about how long it takes to make bike frames specifically.   Modern industrialization is an amazing thing and probably one of the biggest things to ever hit society at large.  Not many people would argue with that.   But the ability to have almost anything we want as soon as we want it has distorted our sense for how long it takes to make, craft, assembly, create anything by hand on a small scale.   From our cheese to our coca cola to cars, cabinets, carabiners, candles and carrots everything is mass produced (did you like all that alliteration?)  Well, I for one am glad for that,  It has filled my house with all I could want for cheap, but what I find interesting is that most individuals really have no idea how much effort and time can go into a handmade product.   Oh, sure some would think 10 hours is a lot.  20?  What about 200 or 400 or 4000 hours.   Yes, some of the very finest things can take that long and longer.  Think about spending a year of your life on something or even months.   Then think about why something might cost what it does.

On to bicycle frames.   To say the amount of time to construct a bicycle frame varies widely is an understatment but here are some actual numbers.   About the fastest that one can assemble a frame in a small production environment is around four hours.   You have to be very, very efficient to do this.  Good, dedicated machinery and efficient layout and good skills are necessary for this.   These types of frames are also typically TIG welded or bonded as these processes are very quick.   Next are frames that can take about 8-12 hours.   Many frambuilders, building simpler TIG welded or unfinished fillet brazed bicycles can do this.   None of what I speak of here includes the paint BTW.  That is a whole other thing I will discuss.   Now we move into Lugged bikes.    Anything that is decently made typically starts at around 12 and goes up from there.   Many of the “famous builders” spend around 18-25 hours of actual construction time.   You will get a very nice, clean frame with this kind of time input.  You will not get heavy modification, polishing, stainless, cut-outs, lug thinning or the like.   Fillet brazed frames can also take this kind of time depending on the complexity and overall finish of the fillets.   Now we move into very complex frames.  Heck, that can go from 25 up to the stratosphere.  Yes, 100’s of hours and even a little bit of bling or complexity here can add massive amounts of time, not only in the construction process but also in the paint process.   From a business POV, the fast bikes and short term lugged bikes make the most per hour.   As of yet the hyper intensive bikes can’t command the kind of dollars it would take to bring anywhere near the same profits.

Carbon fiber?  well there are kits that take just a few hours, but most carbon that is the tube and glue (not unlike metal frames) take a fair bit of time.  Often the rear ends are pre-manufactured but getting the joinery smooth and doing the joint layup well takes time.  About 15-20 hours depending.   Some a little more some a little less.

Paint.  Some powders can be done from start to finish delivered in 30 minutes and cost a couple of dollars in materials.   Paint can go from cheap at 100 dollars and 2-3 hours to once again 50 hours for complicated  graphics and decorative treatments.

Don’t underestimate how much time good work takes.   Like Orson Wells said.  I will serve no wine before it’s time….

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