The decision to become a custom bike builder is definitely not an easy one. You have to be tough and unrelenting to make a name for yourself in the world dominated by corporate companies with armies of engineers and designers, and even larger teams of sales & marketing specialists. Yet there are those who succeed nonetheless and who are sought out by cycling enthusiasts from all around the world. We talked to three of them to explain why so many believe a custom-made bicycle will always beat one from the production line. So we asked three masterminds who managed to make a breakthrough in this competitive field, meet Doriano De Rosa, Richard Sachs, and Julie Ann Pedalino.
The “Latest Bike Tech” vs. The “Custom Bike Tech”
The use of technology by international bike manufacturers involves an array of 3D design softwares, 3D printers, automated manufacturing systems, resistance tests, and countless additional steps before a product reaches the customer.
In contrast, custom bike builders are working in a rather evolutive fashion, by gradually improving their products based on personalized talks with their customers, sheer experience, and an “organic” understanding of the materials they are working with.
In the words of Richard Sachs:
“Technology is a poor substitute for experience.”
Richard Sachs, we’d love to get a better understanding of what you mean and how does this transfers onto bike design? How does technology & experience best interact when designing a bike?
Richard Sachs: This phrase, on my website and printed collateral since 1990, can mean different things on different days. It’s an emotion, and I cling to it tightly because I believe (from my observation) that people want a fast-track to an end. Be it speed, ease-of-assembly, even audience!
Let me make two examples, both cycling related.
On one hand, we have the consumer base. The average client wants as much as is available and will spend money for it. To be clear, whenever a new product is introduced, or a new way to do something, or a component that guarantees to cheat the wind, then folks are all over it and I think it’s silly.
If one person, or a racing squad, or an elite assemblage of riders has the innovation, then yeah – it’s a positive thing. But when the trickle-down effect of more cogs, drifters rather than down tube levers, or wheels with a certain profile (Note: all of these are examples; there are many others I could select), when all of us have the new goods, the playing field is even once again.
Yet sadly people seem to fetish over the “This year’s new gee-gaw” mentality, assuming it will make them a better rider, a more complete rider, a faster rider.
On the other hand, I’m not advocating for an industry that doesn’t innovate (…) and replace the old with the new. I simply laugh at the way the markets work and empathize with both sides, ours as well as the client’s.
Then there is the same drama at play in my trade (the hand-built industry). Without getting too historical too soon, I’ll toss up that the niche was on life support for most of the 1990s. I don’t know when or why it happened, but after the lot of us got online after Y2K, there seemed to be this new-found interest in making bicycle frames (from many newcomers with zero experience).
The thing is, unlike the norm in the twentieth century, the current act appeared more like an “energy flow” than anything else. So now, especially in the Internet era, bicycle frame building trade has a “moment”.
To the point, the average cat (person) now involved in the industry comes from a zero – almost no background of training (in frame building). What I mean here is real training, not a class, or watching another maker for a week and then forging ahead.
So much so that there’s little critical thinking about the actual item (the bicycle) or its ultimate use on paved roads. Most [of the new bike makers] have near to no knowledge of the morphological needs a potential client enters the room with.
The guy or girl making frames now appears to be in it, first and foremost, as an act of expression. Sadly, no one I know from the 21st century group has made a decent amount of units under the tutelage of a master craftsman, or has worked in industry learning the various skill sets.
These folks just wanna enter the room, buy some materials from the many distributors, and create. These bike builders are assuming that the tools will do the work by themselves, and make little to no effort to learn how to use any of it. I wrote a text called, Repetition, Routine, and Relentlessness in 2012 in which I called all of this out.
For the record, I cared more then; I care far less now.