Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Makin' the world go round

Inflation, and not the stuff holding your tires up. That's what makes things keep moving these days, and I'm surrounded by it. Or maybe more precisely, being engulfed by it.
Anyone who works in the industrial sector will tell you steel prices are skyrocketing, but that's nothing compared to stainless and silver prices.

Sure the volume of raw materials a guy like me uses is small, but this stuff hits me right on the bottom line. March 1, S & S machine (the fine folks I get the couplers from) announced their first price increase since they started making couplers. Honestly it was long overdue and because of that it's a big hike. I have no real option but to raise my coupler installation pricing accordingly. So starting today coupler retrofits are $475. Any work or quotes I have in my que right now will remain at the old price of $400.

Silver is insane these days too. 5 oz of silver ran me about $50 two years ago, it's now up to about $150! Tubing prices have gone up about 150% in the last couple years as well, not to mention the cost of electricity, of which I use plenty per frame. So frame prices need to also go up accordingly. About 75% of my frame orders all fall into the same price range (whether road , touring, mtb or anything in between), which has become my base price. That is a fully lugged frame with Pacenti, Sachs, or Long Shen single point lugs with some shaping and carving, matching steel fork, Premium heat treated tubing. This level of frame and fork has been $1800 for several years, and now it will be going up to $2000 for the frame and fork.

There's really no reasonable way around it. The work I'm doing today is really my best and it just get's better with each passing year, yet I seem to make less money with each passing year thanks to my raw material costs. I still feel I'm very competitive on pricing in the custom frame world and downright reasonable when compared to some of the grossly overpriced non-custom offerings out there. Some of the mid-sized and larger manufacturers have actually made my job easier by flooding the market with ridiculously overpriced bikes that don't offer much for the cost. They just seem to make my work and my prices that much more attractive to people.

Enough money talk, more shop talk. Finished up an S & S retrofit and a frame repair this weekend. I'm a good chunk of the way into a really great project: a fully lugged, S & S, Davinci drive tandem. I'm building the lugs, including the third BB shell lug needed for the Davinci drive.

Fully lugged tandems are a pile of work, but his Davinci drive has really added to this one. There are a few pretty critical dimensions for placing the third BB shell in relation to the other 2 shells. For that reason I need to actually have the third shell pass through part of the boom tube, so I'm making a lug out of the shell to accomplish this.

I'm trying to keep all the lugs matching with a simlar style point and overall shape, which will also match up nicely with the S & S couplers. There'll be a lot going on near the rear BB, as I have the BB shell, second BB shell, lateral tube lug and 2 S & S couples all coming together in about 10" of space! It's almost too bad that the stoker cranks will cover up most of the detail work down here.
I'm pretty close on having the lugs built. That's the longest part of these frames. Once I have those building up the frame goes pretty quick. I'll try to post some more pictures as I progress on this one. I'm sure the soon-to-be owner enjoys seeing them. I've definitely found most of my customers like seeing pictures of their build as it progresses.

I managed to get out for one ride last week, a nice 2 hour jaunt on the fixie. It felt great to be out, wish I could have gotten in more. I'm hoping for a couple of good rides this week, but time will tell... I gotta start getting back to it though, Fruita is coming up again in April and I'm planning on going out for a whole week this year. It would be nice to have some inkling of fitness so I can find my way home once Otree and Thorny ride me into the ground out there.

I did get in a short ride this week too, rode over to Dave Anderson's shop to pick up a tube he was kind enough to front me. Had an odd thing happen on the way back, I broke a spoke on my front wheel. Not that broken spokes are unheard of, but pretty darn rare on the front wheel. These particular wheels are far from new though, probably have 20,000 miles on 'em. I suspect there was a nick or something on the spoke though, since I've never had an issue with the rear and that sees far more stress (especially with the fixie) than the front.
It did make me a little nervous though as I know better than anyone what can happen when you lose a bunch of front spokes!



Thursday, March 08, 2007

Expo'd out.

I'm a little slow posting a recap, but this past weekend was the Minneapolis Bike Expo. This was my first year there, and only the second year of the show. Overall it was a good experience, but a lot of hassle to prepare for and set up.

I split a booth with The Route, as we were debuting the new Route 29'ers at the show. I managed to pull together 9 bikes which really filled up my 10' x 20' space!

Fortunately the Route has some nice display fixtures for me to use, which really helped. Having and end booth helped too, I could have bikes hang off the side for people to see as they walked down the side isle.

There were 2 other framebuilders there as well, Dave Anderson (who is doing the Powdercoat on the Route 29 frames) and Vincent Dominguez. Along with them, there was a full array of local shops and big manufacturers present, lots of bikes! There was the same cool test-track for riding bikes in the center of the show complete with man-made obstacles for trying out your mtb'ing inside. All in all, lots of fun stuff to see, I wish I had more time to browse, but I was stuck manning the booth nearly the whole time.

I'm gonna blow my own horn here for a minute because I think I probably had the showiest collection of bikes in there. The 953 bike definitely caught the most attention, it was the only one at the show and the first stainless frame most people had ever seen. Lots of questions on it, some folks knew exactly what it was, others had never heard of anything like it. It was fun to see the look on peoples faces when they picked it up, people assumed it would be heavy just because it was stainless.

I also managed to throw couplers in my original 29'er and refinish it. I decided to try another copper plate job on this one just to have something totally unique to show off. I have to say, it came out incredible.

I did the same basic process I had done about a year ago on a Nature bike, but I tried a new clearcoat which is deeper and glossier. I used a downtube decal instead of etching in the lettering, and made up this spiffy new antique looking headbadge.

I also built up a rigid fork for it with my new crown, I'm really diggin how that looks under the copper.

This bike was the original inspiration for the Route 29 bikes. It has the same lugs and same general geometry, but different dropouts and tubing.

In addition to these fresh bikes, I also had three Route 29 bikes there. One in each color, and each frame option. The silver singlespeed caught a few people's eyes with my new sleek sliding dropouts.

These are my own concoction. The slider inserts and the thrust washer are machined from aluminum in my shop, then I blast the inside surfaces to roughen them up and make a really good high-friction surface for clamping to the dropout faces. They use a single large m8 bolt to clamp down which when combined with the design of the clamp assembly provides more holding force than the more common two m5 bolt style. Not to mention they look a hell of a lot better than another other slider I've seen. Small and unobtrusive. The non-drive also has a disc tab machined into the insert, for those who want discs with their single.

The Route guys even came through with some pretty nice photos of the built up bikes for a brochure. Here's a shot of the singlespeed all built up and ready for action. Note the WTB 2.55" tires fit both front and rear with plenty-o-space.

The Route bikes are officially available now. There are 2 built kits available, one with Sram X9/ raceface cranks/stem & bars, Reba 29 fork with pop-loc, handbuilt WTB wheels and Avid cable discs for $3299 complete.

The second is an XT built kit, White Brothers Magic 29 80mm fork, Race Face stem, bars, Thompson post, handbuilt wheels and Hayes hydraulic Discs for $3499.

The singlespeed with a rigid fork is $2699. Custom build kits are available, so just as the fine folks at the Route for your custom build!


Thursday, March 01, 2007

What a week. As you should know by now, the Minneapolis Bike and Travel Expo is this weekend, Sat @ Sunday at the Minnepolis Convention center. I'll be there at Booth 347 showin' off. I've been working my arse off the last few weeks trying to get ready only to find out I had to leave town this week unexpecedly.

So here I sit in the Little Rock AR airport trying like hell to get home. For those not near the middle of the US, basically there is nothing but trouble from border to border. We're in a tornado watch here in Little Rock, but I'm supposed to be getting on a plane to connect in Memphis. Memphis is in a tornado watch. If by some miracle I get to Memphis on time, I'm supposed to connect and get on a plane to Minneapolis where there are suposed to be Blizzard conditions all day. When they cancelled my original flight for this morning about 20 hours ahead of time I started feeling leary. Then the weather this morning didn't boost my confidence. I was actually thinking I'd just drive home instead this morning (it's about 12 hours which is probably faster than Northwest will be able to get me home). But then the fine folks at the weather channel informed me there was a tornado on the ground in Kansas City and if I made it through that, there was already a blizzard in Des Moine.


So I'm taking my chances with airplanes, I'm guessing I'm going to end up driving some part of this trip yet. Of course I don't have everything ready for the bike show, so when I get home I'll have to do some crazy last minute work and try to get everything loaded into the convention center tomorrow afternoon.

So if you stop by my booth, cut me a little slack. The odds aren't good that I'm going to sleep a whole lot between now and then! But it'll be worth stopping by the booth, I've stil got a lot to show.bbbb