The ol’ six weeks

18 09 2009

I got a call recently.  A very nice fellow who wanted a bike frame.   All was going fabulously.  I always bring up the “how long it will take” question.

Silence on the other end…..You still there?

Yes, this is the biggest deal breaker of them all.  The dreaded backlog.   For a framebuilder a backlog is a good thing.  That means every morning I wake up, I know that I have work ahead of me and a eventual check to pay dem bills.

So oddly,   I find that the standard time that a client thinks they will have to wait is about 6 weeks, maybe three months tops.  Where this comes from, I don’t know.  Maybe it just seems like a good amount of time to get something like a bicycle completed but lets look a little further.

The fact is,  I had stuff to do before that call and thank God for that.   The backlog is fluid.  It grows to a point that most people are unwilling to wait anymore, it dips then climbs again.   Some builders can command a much longer backlog than others, some as much as 7 years.  Other builders manufacture quick to build product.  If you build a frame-a-day you can deliver quickly but then again this is usually lower priced product with less profit margin (not always) and one is riding the raged edge if business falls off for some reason.

The ol’ six weeks is a standard joke in the frame world.  We know customers want to hear six weeks and so some builders will tell them what they want to hear.  Once you have the money, what can they do?  6 weeks often becomes 6 months.

I can only speak for myself though and I don’t build quickly.  Between frames, paint work, teaching and side jobs I only produce about 10-12 very nice bike frames a year.  12 people means a years backlog.  Add a few complicated bikes, maybe a tandem and some fancy paint jobs and some design work on the side and that turns into 18 months.

If I ever get to the point that I can deliver from call to door in six weeks or less.  I think I might hang this gig up.




One response

19 10 2009
graham beer

There used to be a frame builder up here in Toronto who was willing to fabricate exceptionally difficult frames.
Once he made a middle section for a mountain Moulton that allowed the owner to use his bike as a single, or, with the addition of this section, it became a tandem. He arranged the triangles between the external members of the top tube and the triangles between the external members of the bottom tube so that from the perspective of the stoker, the triangles formed mirror images of each other. His waiting time was 3 years.
I once heard a potential client complain about this wait time, which he considered to be unreasonable – even extravagant.
I replied that, it didn’t matter how long you waited. If, once it was completed, the bike brought you joy every day you had it and every time you looked at it, then the wait time didn’t matter.
Oh well, you can’t please everybody!

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