How To Become a Patron to the Arts in One Easy Lesson

retro-rainbowI went to a demonstration over the weekend. No, it wasn’t a protest to save the “night musk” or even the LoveFest in San Francisco, it was a demonstration being sponsored by one of the bicycle industry’s most visible players. The sheer dollar amount of bicycle hardware floating around there was truly staggering. How much money are we talking about? Probably enough money to give a sizeable down payment on a house anywhere else in the U.S. other than the Bay Area.

Sure, the bicycle industry has just wrapped up it’s own annual love fest in Las Vegas (better known as Interbike) but I can’t help but the thing it was somewhat of a bittersweet affair for them this year. The sheer amount of money it takes to bring a new bike to market is staggering.  So when I read an in the Guardian UK asking the question “Will California become America’s first Failed State?” I can’t help but feel there’s somewhat of a beggarly quality to the bike industry at the moment when it asks people to spend some big money for some new toys.

That said if you have the money, bicycle technology today in nothing short of awesome. Take a look at a high-end mountain bike from the mid-eighties and compare it to what you can get for the (relatively) same dollar amount today. Fragile freewheel hubs that sported non-supported rear axels are gone, questionable braking systems are a thing of the past, production friction shifters are all but extinct. And while a number of the Bay Area’s premier mountain bike frame builders have either hung up their torch, moved out of the area, gone bankrupt or now shill off their names to overseas mass produced goods by offshore manufactures there are still some very cool local builders still hanging in there.

There’s a part of me who laments the passing of the artisan era high-end mountain bike but the plus side of the mass production of mountain bikes now means more people can gain access to the sport we all love. Personally, when I cruise the net looking at high-end bikes there’s very few that I see that are being offered by the big players that I feel myself drawn towards. I’m still drawn towards the smaller operations because no matter how much advertising space the majors buy in magazines, how many big name athletes they sponsor, or what kind of wonder material they are able to squeeze out of a mold from China, they all lack a certain ephemeral “x” factor.

So, here’s my point. If you have the money for a new bike take the time to at least look at the options that are available to you that are still being made by local artisans. A good number of these folks will spend the time in order to make sure you’ll get exactly what you want out of a bike. Try approaching a company who does all of their work overseas in order to have them adjust your top tube length or make a custom seat tube angle for you, it’s not gonna happen.

Yes, it’s going the “custom” route will cost you a good amount of cash for a new ride but rest assured no one is getting filthy rich welding bike frames. The artisans do it because of passion and dedication but if the bottom drops out of the high-end bicycle market tomorrow those factories in Taiwan or China will switch to making lawnmowers or washing machines the next day.

Be it far from me to tell you how to spend your hard earned cash.  If you want to buy a new high-end bike from an overseas manufacture, rock on.  Many of the bikes that are being made in the far east are at least as good if not better than what were being produced in the U.S. just a couple of years ago. It pains me to say that but there it is.  That said, however, if you buy a domestically built bike not only can you take a degree of comfort knowing that these builders have to comply with stricter environmental and labor laws you become a patron of the arts as well. The choice is yours.

Adam H

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