Framebuilders come and go

6 05 2010

Framebuilders come and go.

One would think that if a person or company did high quality work and became admired for that work and continued to do such work that a steady stream of commissions would almost be guaranteed.

Framebuilding though, or that is the customers that support what we do have a tendency to go for the new, the glam if you will.

I have notice over my 15 years so far that framebuilding, nor any craftsman like endeavor  is not purely a supply vs. demand issue.   It is a popularity contest as much as anything.  Newer builders are capable of entering the market not because the existing builders cannot satiate demand but purely because the existing buyers are looking for something new and different.

So for as long as I have been doing this, there have been some Juggernauts of framebuilding.  Builders so good and so experienced and yes, still needing work that it is hard to fathom why anyone would go anywhere else.

I watched one of those motorcycle building shows.  Orange County Choppers I believe and they had a 16 year old come in and build his interpretation of a chopper with their help and facilities.  Now, it was a damn fine build, especially for a young man.  At the show, this motorcycle was purchased, for a kingly sum.  Only reason, while experienced builders abound?  With obviously infinitely better quality?   He was new and associated with a well known bike building crew (which are entertaining but that is about it).

Same thing happens with bicycle framebuilders.   Buyers like to seek out the new and unusual.  Some of it is helping a new person prop themselves up and get started.  Some of it is that often that person is cheaper than the established builders and there are deals to be had.   Some just like the rock n’ roll of the new guy.   Maybe he is hip, has an awesome sense of style.  Maybe he is specializing in single speed off road track bikes.  The old guys don’t understand.   They don’t live the lifestyle, thus they are not “core”

So here is the thing.  We need new builders surely.  Who will replace the old timers when they retire?  So a natural ebb and flow is bound to occur.  New builders, the ones that bring something new to the table, be it high quality or a new un-represented niche are necessary.   But what is baffling is during this time of framebuilding growth, much of the old guard who have skills, experience and an aesthetic far beyond most of the industry languish.  I heard recently that a framebuilder I admire greatly was down to one order on the books.  It is really a travesty.

So, in my opinion don’t just assume that a “famous” framebuilder is wallowing in work.  Most likely they are not.   Don’t assume they will always be there. They may not be.  Don’t assume they are too expensive or don’t “do” what you want unless you ask.  Don’t assume they have a five  year backlog.  They probably don’t.