Friday, July 30, 2010

What we stand to lose

In the interest of providing more efficient service, large corporations are making more use of online services and phasing out having actual representatives that you can contact by phone. The new form of online commerce is the B-to-B need for a phone at all-it's all done on the computer: Ordering, inventory check, shipping name it ,you'll be able to access it right from your laptop, I-phone or whatever. I have recently been using these systems and when they work, it's pretty easy and quick.
Here's the problem for me : While the online system is really easy and nobody has to be there to answer your call ( Handy for orders that happen after work hours, particularly from companies hours ahead in time zones ) I have spent much of my work life building up relationships with the folks on the other end of the phone that B-to-B systems are replacing. I consider many of these people to be my friends-they let me know what is going on in their world.....this is what I consider the real thing that makes a life-long job more than a job -the community in the field we call home most of our waking lives.
The computer, while being a great tool could effectively take away our ability to talk to people at a great many companies-not because they don't have good's because their good people are being spread too thin. The corporate board of directors mentality only sees profit numbers and efficiency ratios......there's no way they can quantify customer loyalty-nor do they seem to want to take the time. I'm profoundly worried about this trend as it means that the folks that run these companies are truly out of touch with the other 98 % of the human race that surrounds them. Call me old fashioned if you will, but I really appreciate people who answer the phone, call back and take their clients and their jobs seriously. I also appreciate companies who value good employees and find ways to utilize and reward their best skills.
As a person in the bike business, I feel that as builders, suppliers , manufacturers , sales reps , warehouse workers , we are all in this thing together and we are the ones that give it life.....we and the customers . After many of these large corporations have gone through buyouts and re-organizations , the folks at the top might not have any idea how their company came to be and what personal relationships made that possible. This is the big dis-connect ( to use an all-too-popular catchword) between the top and everyone below.
In the food supply and restaurant world there's a movement to make everything 'sustainable and local' from farming to running an eating establishment. I feel there is something to learn here for every line of work, in particular the bicycle business. Are we 'sustainable and local' going the direction we are- at least according to the corporate model-where person-to-person sales and domestic manufacturing is being phased out ? Will our business and craft improve with the trends that are set by the people at the top of these leading companies ? Are we really on the brink of losing what holds us together just so that a few folks can be proud of the profits they have secured and the jobs they have eliminated ?
Maybe I'm not the one to speak here.....I'm so primitive that i don't even take credit cards at my shop. I don't have or want paypal.....the way I see it, there's no life-or-death need for a custom bike-you either plan for it and save up the cash or you just live without it. I'm not saying that if you don't have the money, you don't deserve a custom bike..............just be thoughtful about it and realize that good things take time-time that corporate America doesn't seem to have for working folks right now.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ralph me out.

I'll warn you in advance.....this will not be very engaging. I am heavily involved in cyclcross so this post will deal with that exclusively.
Lately on the framebuilder chat forums ( The ones I do not participate in anymore...) There has been a number of firestorms-at least, that's what I call them. Topics that get people arguing fine points. The big problem I see is that some of the folks giving opinions really don't know jack about cyclocross.The latest topic is the UCI's move to reverse their ban on the use of disc brakes in cyclocross events at the elite UCI level. Since about 99% of cyclocross racing is not at that level, most of us will not be effected by this ruling and shouldn't give a rat's ass.
Well, get on the forum and you'll see who gives a rat's ass-people who should really just keep thier mouths shut for the most part until they do some racing or work as a mechanic in the pit area of an elite cyclocross race. These are things that I have done......for about 10 seasons so far and I'm not quitting soon. While I don't claim to be any great or even average 54 year old racer ( 26th at the nationals being my best result at that level) I have been washing the mud off of bikes at some of the premiere events on both coasts. What I notice are which of my framebuilding bretheren are out there racing and being bike grunts with me. Almost all of the folks on the forum with greatly detailed arguments and engineering data on why we should all switch to disc brakes are absent......maybe I wouldn't know them if I saw them , but they are most assuredly not at the race. Why then, do they argue thier points so vehemently when they are completely clueless about the experience of the race itself ?These are folks who want to have the last word , even if it means ignoring the elemental truths of the actual subject ! Ahh, this is the essence of the internet-people who want to be right but really don't want to actually wade in the mud or beat themselves up on the bike to find out the real truth about cylclocross racing. If I were someone wanting to find out information on the forum, I think I would shut up and listen , perchance to somebody with real world experience in the subject at hand.
Year after year, I go to the nationals although not every year. When I go there I get to race but more importantly, I get to support the riders on my team who really are talented and will be in contention for medals or at least a top-ten finish. These and the folks in the pit are the ones who will give me the real world data that will help me improve as a builder, making bikes that will not hold them back when everything is on the line in a race. I'll look to my left.....there's Sacha White , ready to catch a bike and rinse the mud off of it before the rider completes the next half a lap. I look to my right....there's Richard Sachs, ready to do the same. While I might not build bikes the same way as these two builders might, I know that we are all in the same place at the same time for a is because we care. We , and other builders are there at trackside because it is a real world reality check on weather or not the stuff we do in the shop will hold up. Sooo.......all you other folks weighing in opinions on what should or shouldn't be on the bikes we build for the athletes we support-I guess you had better get your sorrel boots on and come out to the races or just shut the fuck up.
Oh, yeah.....disc brakes. hmmm, should they be on 'cross bikes ? Don't ask me......ask the guy who is trying to get the stars and stirpes jersey. I'm sure he'll give you an informed opinion, even if he isn't and out of work engineer.