No one wants to receive a new item with a shipping blemish because we want to blemish our consumer goods ourselves. Right?
I’m as guilty as the next person as I’ve heaved trashcans worth of burned out cycling computers, rags soaked with brake fluid, cans of grease, bottles of chain lube, solvents poured down sewer, batteries left to rupture and leak lead and acid into water supplies, and don’t get me started on tubes, tires, seats, housing, helmets and grips.
While there is a lot of talk concerning the relative health of the bike industry and whether or not IBD (Independent Bicycle Dealers) will continue into the future there will not be any future as an industry if we continue to emulate the practices of the automotive industry.
There needs to be a better way not only to package bicycles and P&A (parts and accessories) but also what to do with the packaging, and products that have reached the end of their useful lifespan.
Not every town has a recycling center and I get that. I also understand that implementing wide spread acceptance of easily recyclable packing materials would be a monumental task. Finding ways how to dispose of the byproducts of normal bike shop operations, even more so. Perhaps the most daunting task, however, how to make large-scale, offshore, bicycle production more environmentally friendly and, ideally, close the production loop.
Trek has a novel program that if you box up blown out inner tubes they’ll issue a call tag for them and they will eventually be repurposed into consumer goods. As much as I dislike Trek I’ll give them a tip of the hat on this one.
I’m not sure what it will take in order to get people to rethink their relationship with their bikes, and the byproducts they generate. Perhaps a traveling mountain of crap that’s been encased in gallons of clear epoxy that’s made up of a year’s worth of an average bike shop’s cast offs may help wake people up a little. The creaking, leaking collection of junk will travel from shop to shop collecting their cast offs for a year until it grows into unhealthy proportions.
A giant, poisonous mountain leaking brake fluid, chain lube, and solvents oozing out noxious odors as it travels from town to town. If each bike shop contributes a week’s worth of trash but soon it becomes too big to travel on the back of a flatbed truck. Finally, the heap will grow to such a size where it can only be moved like a house on the back of two trucks during the middle of the night with traffic being diverted away from the trundling hulk. EPA administrators faint on sight when they see it come down the street and armed guards kill any birds that try to land on it in fear that they may carry off some infectious disease from the traveling volcano of filth.
Windows from nearby buildings explode because the asphalt beneath the trucks wheels have begun to heave like oily waves due to the sheer tonnage of the accumulated bicycle detritus as the Flying Dutchman of junk lumbers forlornly from town to town looking for a safe harbor to unload. Water mains burst underground, soon sewage leaks into the ground water and people die horrible deaths from drinking contaminated water. Power outages are reported because the immense collection of junk gets tangled in overhead power lines. Cities go dark, riots and looting break out and the zombie apocalypse begins.
I’m not sure if bike shops are willing to pay more in order to have environmentally responsible packaging. I’m sure, however, customers are not, especially with the proliferation of on demand, customer direct outlets would be willing to pony up for recycling efforts.
If we are to close the loop money needs to come from somewhere. The question is where? I’m open to suggestions on that but my inclination is to say that a small tax should be levied against wholesale distributors who refuse to use recyclable or compostable materials. The less packaging, the more recyclable and compostable materials used wholesale distributors use, the lesser the tax, last wholesalers would be further incentivized to do so by being given a tax break the more recyclable or compostable materials they use.
Finally, I’d like to see some more industry based recycling programs such as Trek’s tube recycling program only expanded to cover other bike related items that would otherwise wind up in the landfill.
As of now I can only dream.
|Harely Davidson Golf Cart|
Getting a bike to market is no doubt a tricky thing to do and to get a bike on a showroom at a competitive price doubly so. That said, however, I’m often dismayed by some of the compromises that people are willing to make in order to do so.
Almost every major name has it’s own “house brand” of componentry even if it’s a rebranded rim, tire, stem or saddle. Fair enough, perhaps there’s a feeling of exlusivisity that comes with a “house brand” item but I’m hard pressed to believe that has much sway over a customer’s choice especially when a name brand item may cost the same amount to the wholesaler and may carry a bit more cache.
At a certain price point, especially for bikes that retail for under $1,000 US, I don’t expect to see a bike that is decked out with a full array of call brand items but I am surprised how pervasive that practice has become with higher priced bikes.
For those in the know there’s a limited number of suppliers in the Far East that build branded OEM (Original Equipment Manufacture) items, especially hubs and it’s been my general experience that house brand hubs are pretty awful – especially when it comes to finding replacement parts such as cones or freehub bodies when these items inevitably bite the dust.
As a consumer I would get pretty angry to find out that, that due to lack of small parts availability, an otherwise inexpensive replacement part would necessitate the purchase a whole new wheel, or hydraulic brake, or crankset… In my line of work, I see that all the time.
It seams to me that the lifecycle of bike parts are nearing that of the lifespan of computer hardware and software. I exaggerate only to make a larger point and that is given the accelerated rate of macro changes in the industry consumers are less compelled to hold onto older products and by extension they are less brand loyal, at least that is the case with younger riders. If the point of developing brand loyalty is making sure people will purchase your products again, then you are going about it the wrong way.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates said it best, “The only big companies that succeed will be those that obsolete their own products before someone else does” and don't think that bicycles are immune to that sort of thinking.
"Great", you say, "Thank you for telling us stuff we all ready know, so what’s your point?" My point is your brand is your reputation and at a minimum it should stand for a minimum level of acceptable quality.
Let’s take an example from the motor sport world, Harley Davidson vs. BMW. Harley Davidson is an old and storied motorcycle that has a cult following but Harley is also a company that has been bought and sold many times throughout the years and their quality control has been pretty spotty.
BMW, on the other hand, has consistently strived for excellence. Hell’s Angels founder, Sonny Barger, once said "Harleys are junk, technology wise. If I was not a Hells Angel I would probably be riding an ST1100, a BMW or a Triumph."
The question is, then, what do you stand for? I am often confused by the stance that a lot of the major bike companies take in that they want to be all things to all people but I think at a certain point that leads to an identity crisis. Are you a children’s bike company that also makes pro level race bikes? Are you a BMX company that also makes commuter bikes? Just who the hell are you?
I feel the same way when I walk into a general purpose bike shop, are you a pro shop that also sells kids bikes? Are you a kids bike shop that occasionally sells top dollar pro bikes? Are you a road shop that occasionally dabbles in mountain bikes?
That confusion, I believe, leads to a muddled perception by the consumer. Personally, I think Niner , Santa Cruz, Cove, Bruce Gordon, Soulcraft and a handful of others generally do a good job of identifying who their core audience is and as Malcolm X once said, “If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything.”.
|Nothing to do with bicycles|
And why not? Contestants can be tested on both their material and design knowledge, not to mention their time management skills. Obviously there has to be a sizeable purse big enough to lure builders away from their workshops in order to compete. I suggest a purse large enough to wipe out any personal and business debt, some sponsors could throw in either some welding and machining equipment, a couple build kits, and maybe even a limited run of offshore made bikes based on the winner’s designs with a percentage of the sales going either back to be winning builder or to some cycling related advocacy group such as IMBA or People for Bikes.
Obviously criteria need to be established for judging the results, execution, aesthetics, and ride quality all need to factor in. I suggest a panel of that consists of a materials expert for each of the materials the builders have to work with, a pro level rider for each of the bikes built, and maybe some sort of celebrity MC like Bob Roll or Greg Herbold just to yuck things up a bit.
Bicycles have become a lot more pervasive over the last couple of years in a way they hadn’t largely due to having a larger range of selection and social acceptance. That broader acceptance, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that smaller, independent builders are lighting their cigars with hundred dollar bills and retiring in Aruba.
A little while ago I was watching the program “Café Racer” about the café motorcycle culture in Britain during the late fifties and the early sixties. There was a discussion about the decline of the British motorcycle industry and the subsequent lack of originality of design concerning modern motorcycles. Remove the decals off of any number of modern motorcycles, and it’s difficult to distinguish one from another.
I fear the same can be said about the mass produced bikes that make up the bulk of the industry, strip off the decals, and a lot of the bikes look the same.
Maybe a reality show may be exactly the shot in arm a small builder may need in order to stay afloat and at the very least it may simply be good exposure.
As for myself I’m expecting that I’ll be getting a phone call from executive producer any time now about making this thing happen. Yup, any minute now…
|Remember Me ?|
There’s been a lot of tongue wagging concerning SRAM’s “not ready for prime time” hydraulic road bike disc brake. A lot of naysayers love to point out the problems with the brake system is yet one more reason why SRAM products suck.
Fair enough, SRAM’s original Red front derailleur was fraught with so many problems that it prompted a complete redesign of the mechanism.
But who remembers Shimano’s, SunTour’s and Campagnolo’s missteps? Personally I cringe every time I see a Shimano mountain STI system on a bike and does any one remember SunTour’s road bike handlebar mounted shifters or Campy’s less than stellar mountain bike group sets?
Haters are going to hate.
What matters most is how is SRAM going to address the shortcomings of their hydraulic road bike disc brake rather than if there’s a blip bringing it to market. If they do a good job of addressing the issues surrounding the brakes that’s one thing but it’s entirely different if they simply make a dog’s breakfast out of the entire thing.
If SRAM truly screws up, they’ll still be around because they have a broad product portfolio been able to tap into the lucrative OEM market so it’s unlikely they will be going away any time soon.
Hate on if you must but at this point it’s an exercise in futility.
If there’s a reason to hate SRAM it’s because almost every shifting system they make are a huge pain in the ass to when it comes to cable replacement.
That said, however, the number of broken or non-functional Shimano shifters I’ve worked on over the years have vastly outnumbered the number of jacked up SRAM shifters but that may simply due to the fact that there are far more Shimano equipped bikes than there are SRAM.
Personally I expect all sorts of after market nonsense to appear as soon as hydraulic road bike disc brakes become more prevalent. Bike companies have spent a dizzying amount of money in order to make their bikes appear to be more slipstream and now their efforts are being thwarted by these ugly amendments.
Quicker than you can say “what the hell is this” than there will appear an onslaught of after market carbon fiber add-ons touting their ability to deflect wind away from both disc rotors and hydraulic brake calipers and lower drag confidence. (We had all ready seen this kind of nonsense when disc brakes first started showing up on mountain bikes why do you think road bikes are immune bad ideas?) Truly if you wanted to make a low drag road bike you’re going to have to find a way in order illuminate that hideously aerodynamically inefficient rider.
SRAM will likely adapt and the whole issue concerning their problematic hydraulic road bike brakes will soon be forgotten but haters are going to keep on hating and that’s the end of the story.
For those of you who don’t know CK, he was the recipient of the first purpose built mountain bike frame by Craig Mitchell and one of the earliest mountain bikes built by Joe Breeze. CK and Gary Fisher also started the first mountain bike bicycle company and CK also started the first mountain bike magazine, Fat Tire Flyer. More on CK here.
As far as the cycling world is concerned, I’m a no body but CK, however, is a some body. We talked a bit and I asked him about when his book about the early klukerz days was coming out and he said it was slated for release some time around September 2014. We also talked about freelance writing and CK talked about writing a column for a magazine but he was shocked how low the pay was. I did a piece for the same magazine and I know what I was paid for doing a piece for them and CK was going to get almost half of what I got.
And that’s a shame.
Imagine, if you were Rolling Stone or the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Chuck Berry or Orville Wright wanted to write a column, how much would you pay? How much of an ass would you feel like if you turned them down? Whatever your pay scale is, double what you pay a regular contributing writer, then add half.
Let me use round numbers, let’s say a thousand word article paid $500, now double it, (so that’s a $1,000) and add half the initial pay, ($250) for a total of $1,250 for a thousand words. A small price compared to some photo shoots I assure you.
Why so much money for an article? Because some like Chuck Berry or Orville Wright have a unique perspective, they are historically important and they are irreplaceable. Whether the article is any good is almost completely irrelevant. The same goes with a CK, a Jaquie Phelan a Russ Mahon, Victor Vincente of America, Wende Cragg, and at least a dozen or so early mountain bikers or klunk riders. Their varied contributions helped take a niche activity and turn it into an Olympic sport.
For years The New Yorker turned down Kurt Vonnegut column manuscripts. People remember Vonnegut no one talks about the editor.
Enough history lessons for one day… If you are a cyclist you are at risk. Motorcyclists have a saying that there are only two kinds of bikers, those who have gone down and those who will. I’ve had my share of accidents but given the broad range of injuries a cyclist are likely to suffer I’ve had more than some but decidedly less than others so I’m somewhere in the middle.
While working in bike shops too I’ve suffered several on the job injuries, some of which could have potentially ended my ability to make a living as a bicycle mechanic.
During the time where I duked it out as middle of the range pack fodder I raced without any insurance. I told my coworker, who was a former European pro road racer, that I was racing without insurance and the said I was crazy for doing so. Initially I laughed off his criticism but in retrospect he was right, it is completely insane to race without insurance.
Steve Tilford and Steve Larsen are both renowned for their ability to sustain terrible injuries and just keep soldiering on but they are exceptions rather than the rule. If any of us mortals were subject the kind of punishment these guys had accumulated we would be cripples.
A friend of mine is a well-known frame builder and he has said if he could talk any one out of trying to make a career out of the bike industry he felt as if he had accomplished his mission. When he initially told me this I was taken aback by his candor but now I think he’s right.
The median income for a bike mechanic is just around $28k per year so that’s roughly $2k per month now subtract about $500 per month for insurance (make that $600 or more if you are married and have a kid) then your take home pay is exactly fuck all.
A while ago I had a conversation with a well-placed individual in the bike industry and he also said that the way the pay scale is structured in the industry that people who love bikes were probably better off not working in the industry. He said as tempting as it is to get bro buddy deals on bikes and parts is it doesn’t offset the subsistence level wages that most bike industry jobs pay.
This person recommended getting out of the industry and find something else that they could make use of their skills and make a more sustainable living.
I love bikes but I’m also looking at my retirement possibilities if I remain any longer in the industry and frankly, it isn’t good. If you happen to be a John Burke, a Paul Turner, a Mike Sinyard, or a Gary Fisher then things may be pretty rosy but as far as the rest of us churls slogging away in the trenches then my advice to you is get out while you still can.
Insurance or not a career ending injury as a mechanic or as an amateur racer should be the least of your concerns.
|Queen of the Universe Little Snack|
They never rode a bike and could care less about them. Whenever they approached bike a bike it was in a board, disdainful fashion and stared at it as if it were some new sort of spoon or hair curler then went on with the rest of their day. Perhaps that was due to their well-engrained sense of self-preservation.
Never in a real hurry but if need to they could break into a blinding scuttle.
But truth be told they were rather lazy. Not slovenly mind you, simply lazy. Slovenly implies a lack of self-interest combined with the near absence of personal cleanliness but I assure you that was not the case.
My friend had a peculiar fascination with rain. Any time it would rain they would sit out on their porch until wet, dry themselves off then would repeat the process again until they were ready to bed down for the night.
It’s been said that the stomach is the second brain. I’ve never met some one who was more in tune with eating than they were. Not that they were gluttonous or even a food snob but for what it’s worth their biological clock was atomic clock perfect when it came to eating.
But all things come to an end. My friend had suffered a series of injuries that prevented them from enjoying the life they came to know. A failing kidney, debilitating arthritis, and broken ribs and a broken jaw all meant that any physical therapy would have been extremely difficult and probably wouldn’t result in a positive outcome.
My girl, Little Snack, is no more. I miss her terribly. Not every one is an animal person and I get that but I will argue that my relationship with Little Snack was every bit as profound, nuanced, dynamic and important as any other relationship I had. Little Snack was difficult, nervous, and sometimes she was just a pain in the ass so she was a lot like me. Over time she mellowed, especially after moving to house where she could easily let herself in and outdoors.
The sun and wind were like soothing balms for her and they eventually helped ease whatever emotional trauma she had experienced and Snack eventually became a constant, if somewhat taciturn, companion.
As much as I love bikes, they are not the most important things in my life, my friends (both two legged and four) and my family are. Like Little Snack, I need to be outdoors but unlike Little Snack the sun will shine on me one more day.