Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Everyone wants what I don't have....

Maybe it's just me but there's a lot of chatter about the whole framebuilding question: Keep it a hobby or go pro ? I cannot offer advice on this, only personal experience. As a 22 year full-timer and former hobbyist, I have delved pretty deeply into both worlds and can't really say what is a better place to be-it really depends on your circumstances.
Back in 1978 I was a really lonely neurotic bike mechanic with nothing to occupy my time except any and all things bike. I had moved to a new town, knew practically no one and was not really good at making new friends. To add to that, I was pretty depressed and virtually excommunicated from nearly all of my family back home. I guess I chose bikes instead of drugs......or both, kind of-with the bikes being much more influential in the end. I became a hobby builder out of a drive to know all I could about bikes, right down to the way they were brazed together. I had no idea what the future held and really didn't care...it was all about the moment.
Now it is 2010 and I have been at this full time since 1988 and this week is all about fixing broken team bikes. I don't care what anyone says about building simple welded race bikes being the easy way out. Building fancy lugged frames for people who will worship and pamper their shiny expensive rigs is not easy but I don't see it as any more challenging than what i do. I build really light bikes for people that want to win races. These bikes can and do break.....not generally in a catastrophic way but more of a fatigue crack situation. I have four of them to resurrect this week , two more than I had all of last year. Backing up what I build and fixing it in a timely fashion- fixing it in most cases for no charge is what I would call, not taking the easy way out. The fleet has to remain functional and for better or worse, I'm the one who has to step up-these frames don't get sent back to Taiwan, they come to my shop.
While some folks might think I'm completely out of my mind for choosing this part of the framebuilding profession, I offer this thought : Lots of people want to do what I do- or at least what they think I do but most of them will not get the chance. They will try to create some sort of livelyhood out of bike building and realize that they cannot survive financially for one reason or another. They will have to remain hobbyists......not as bad as it sounds, but still short of some of these folks framebuilding goals they had set for themselves. The fact that I have remained viable for so many years is a testiment to something.....I'm not completely sure what but I'll have to say that a bit of personal sacrifice is needed.
One person who emailed me a number of months ago was wanting to accumulate the skills and tools to build a frame or two. This person scoured the forums and really sought out much advice from a lot of builders active on these forums. His conclusion was that a lot of these builders were unhelpful , pompus , coddled and really propped up by a huge fan-base and really weren't that great at all. He scrapped his plans entirely , disgusted and for the most part,quite bitter. I'm not in complete disagreement with him about some of what he said but the guys who actually make a living building frames are few, dedicated and willing to go to the shop on a Sunday and fix something for someone who was nice enough to buy a frame from them. This is my world-I don't need or want a hug for my sacrifice -I'm happy to be viable at this questionable trade and hope to continue as long as I can. My customers will make that decision for me but if I treat them right , I'll be able to influence that decision a little.