“good career advice if anyone will take it”

by | Jan 1, 2012

I don’t get the impression that people are approaching framebuildng the same way as they did a couple of years ago, thinking that they would learn how to build and immediately start making a living at framebuilding, but who knows?

they aren’t atmo. the bloom is off the rose. the shark has jumped. the bubble has burst. the niche has matured. the universe is no longer expanding, alvy. but i hear that modern dance is really hot right now.

The craft of building bikes holds an image of one person in their shop, using the skills they’ve acquired over the years to hand make each unique frame. It’s a practice and an art, and each finished frame has the unique signature of the builder who constructed it. But this is only one way to do it.

i didn’t try to be a framebuilder; i didn’t even think about framebuilding. but in time, i became a framebuilder. the one man-one frame thing is so fuginknc played out it’s annoying. the model for that is rooted in the one man in question, after years of production work, routine, and boredom with same, leaves and sets up a gig so totally opposite from what he left. framebuilding is on the far right hand side of the developmental time line. the previous 7/8s of it is the practice. and the repetition. and the paradiddles followed by more of them. this all takes place not at another effbuilder’s shop but on a production floor, in a factory. that is how you learn, and that is how the lone framebuilder thing evolved. over time, enough folks who were part of the industry decided enough was enough. i do not think you can go to a UBI or similar, reflect on the experience, make some frames, get a french press, and then consider this a career. i don’t even think you can be a sideman for a fellow Rose City torch man and leave to start your own label. the career you get is payback for the years and hundreds, if not thousands, of joints you assembled, of pipes mitered, of shells tapped, of sandwiches made, and of observing every single operation over and over again until you are god awful sick of coming to work for someone else atmo. with a depth of experience like this, you can walk away, tap it, and then hang out a shingle. those who fall short of this path should be forewarned. from what i understand from UBI less than 2 percent of all who have come and gone through the doors are now framebuilders. this, coupled with ahearne’s text, should be taken to heart.

I don’t think any of these issues are unique to framebuilders. Even today we are a very wealthy nation where it seems people feel entitlement to do what they love vs what they have to do to survive. It’s rooted in my own career story. Richard has long held, well articulated, and strong opinions on how one should progress through industry, but I wonder if culturally we are seeing the antithesis to that timeline of acquiring knowledge. Just today I read a story about a couple from the city who cashed it all in and became organic farmers. Everywhere I look I see the same. Ultimately, like any business, it takes hard work, skill, maturity, common sense and a few tablespoons of luck to make it.

a bicycle is a vehicle and not a craft item. downloading an app for almost anything seems possible these days but i think the issues surrounding this point of view are (or should be) tied to the ultimate use of the finished product atmo. all of us who have at any time helped, encourage, post how-to’s and picture pages, are enablers. for the longest while i was a pro-active enabler until i realized just HOW MANY folks were reading and then attempting to recreate something that took a long, long time to dial in. when i finally digested it all i decided that a warning label every so often should accompany all the magnanimity.

Cottage businesses run the classic Art vs Business sliding curve. In nearly all cases, folks start with a skill/product and then try to make a business out of it. It’s quite rare to be the other way around.

here at the worldwide headquarters, my observation is that during the last stampede, folks start with a dream/blog and then try to make a business out of it atmo. in the mid 1970s there was a similar situation. by the end of the decade when all the information was disseminated (we didn’t have high speed internet then so it took longer to spot trends…) you could look at any bicycle magazine’s compendium (or in the liner notes of some of the technical books from that era) and see that there were at least 100 folks in the states, said to be making frames to order. how many actually made more than a few, and how well trained were these makers, and how much commerce was transacted – these are questions that are likely answered by the fact the most in those lists were no longer producing several years later. i think it’s a parallel situation to what we have now.

I cannot tell you how many guys, I’ve worked with over the years who, once they get to be of a certain age, cash out the options and ditch the exec job to go…oh, I dunno…raise llamas or grow boutique vidalia onions…..

funny. i got an email recently from a retired man who (now) has time and resources to pursue a long-time dream of building elegant road bike frames. this is not an atypical message to receive these past years atmo.

And what does this gentleman(s) want or expect from you? Do you just tell them in so many words; “I’m workin’, here”

i have a folder with boilerplate texts (sorry – you asked, and i have to be honest atmo) from which i choose answers based on the email and questions as i receive them. the core reply includes these sentiments:

1) you can earn more than a decent living making frames if you are trained, have experience, can make a market where one didn’t exist, and have perseverance.

2) framebuilidng is NOT a craft, it is a profession. there is no art to it despite that bicycles can be beautiful items to behold.

3) in the current climate the value of a custom frame is lessened by the very fact that bicycles that come from the larger manufacturers are so well made, much more competitively priced, so well designed, and so well received by dint of racing successes (among other things…), that the need for a buyer to pursue a custom bicycle as the be-all-end-all of his purchases is not what it once was.

4) i would suggest you consider giving a five year block of time at a minimum and this would be for training. once you find a place to train (a factory floor, a production shop, or similar), and then get trained, maybe you can consider taking your tools and breaking out on your own.

Yeah, that’s part of the beauty. The next Richard Sachs is probably working right now getting it done, blissfully unaware of us discussing on the Internet how hard it is to do today.

agreed – and i also think he’ll be making his frames with something other than lugs, silver alloy rod, and steel tubing. it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that his part of it will end at the design, handing an art file over to a manufacturing specialist to execute. framebuilding meets conceptual artmo.

Good career advice if anyone will take it. There is 10x more meaning in the above than the number of words and syllables would suggest.