BTCEB Blog No 48; I’m Confused

Bike Factory in China


I’m a bit unfocussed at the moment so I’m just going to wing it. There are two things that have bubbled up for me and I suppose they do represent two extremes in the bike industry, theft and hand built bikes.


A little while ago Outside Magazine had a great article concerning bike theft . I know it’s a widespread problem but I had no idea how big of industry is. Earlier this month a friend of mine sent me an email about a new scam running through shops concerning gift cards and phony IDs; a great way to rip off bikes that are obstensively going out on a test ride.


A customer of ours also had a bike stolen out of their garage and the company I work for had five bikes stolen in a year. Granted we lost one bike because we were robbed at knifepoint early one morning, another was lost because the customer didn’t lock the bike up correctly and three were lost due to an elaborate grift.


As the Outside article alludes to there’s an entire underground economy where a lot of bikes are filtered through.  It’s been my experience that not only is bike theft pretty wide spread but bike part theft is wide spread too. It’s not uncommon to have a customer wander in and say their wheel had been stolen, their seat had been stolen, and their handlebar and stem have been stolen… All these small items are difficult to trace, fairly easy to conceal and easy to dispose of.


Personally I don’t know what the solution is but one thing is for sure you have to be aware of your surroundings. If are feeling particularly eco-conscious and want to ride your bike to the local chicken shack or movie theater or dive bar be smart about it and don’t take your custom titanium ride and lock it up with a cable lock you picked up at the dollar store.


Don’t laugh I’ve seen it happen. I went to eat in a tawny shopping area in Oakland a while ago and two guys rolled up and locked their high-end road bikes and locked them up to a lamppost using the skinniest cable lock I had ever seen. I didn’t hang around long enough to see if their bikes got jacked.


A lot of it comes down to being aware of your surroundings and assess your risks. Police and military call it “situational awareness” .


That extends to your home too. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who had their bikes stolen from out of their garage, the back of their trucks, on the street, you name it.  When parking my bike, especially if it’s on my roof rack, I use a cable lock on it in conjunction with the rack’s built in lock so that way I can secure the wheels on the beast.  If I grab a bite to eat I make an effort to park my truck where I can either eat out of my tailgate or I can see it from the restaurant.


While I still work in the bike industry I don’t get my bikes for free.

Speaking of higher end bikes the North American Hand Built Bike Show is right around the corner.  Not that I can afford anything more than an admissions ticket it’s nice to check out some eye candy.


I had an acquaintance of mine is pretty well known in the bike industry and one of the things he talked about was how the big named companies would send folks in and poach ideas from smaller companies. He said he had several design ideas and model names lifted from him wholesale but since he was a single man shop he lacked the recourses in order to defend himself or to sue a larger company.


Being a smaller builder means you can run wild with your designs without being too worried about hammering your way through a top heavy management intensive company hierarchy in order to approve some one off I wanted to develop but it also means some of the more sophisticated CAD CAM and CNC goodies are out of my reach too. But I suppose the trade off is financial security vs. following your own artistic vision.


Another industry friend of mine said that while he can appreciate a lot skill and effort that goes into a lot of the show piece bikes for the NAHBS but he was keen to say that these one off pieces in no way reflect what an independent builder does day in day out in order to keep their lights on.


I wish to see the independents keep going. For me as a rider the big brands lack a certain sort of mojo. Truly, however, the real difference is attention to detail. What do I really mean by that? Ever buy a suit off the rack? Notice how it wasn’t all that flattering, how it didn’t feel very good? Bikes are the same way.  If you got on bike that would you rather feel like Pee Wee Herman or Steve McQueen? Yeah, it’s that big of difference.


The other reason I’m compelled to look at domestically made bikes is given the startling labor and environmental abuses that take place in China and Taiwan whom would you rather get your money ?

Adam H



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