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History

The Value of Experience

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

IMG_1957We sat in a circle in the showroom, low morning sun teeming through the tall windows, discussing our readiness for the coming season. We meet here regularly to talk about how things are going, where the bike industry is going, how we will address all the changes that come in endless waves, all the things that make building bikes fun and challenging and sometimes maddening.

January is a funny time for us. The end-of-year rush has subsided. Those bikes are delivered. And we are turning our attention to building the bikes that people will want to ride when the warm weather comes again. Now is the time to start. So there is a busy quietness about January. It can be tempting to go easy, but experience tells us that hard work in January makes the rest of the year much easier.

As we sat discussing our prospects for 2016, it occurred to us that we were all one year wiser. What is the value of that experience? It can be hard to quantify. We are 19 years into our bike-building adventure, and each successive year brings new challenges. Simultaneously, we have a lot of problem solving behind us, a lot of engineering, a lot of craft. We have been in business through a few up and down cycles in the national and global economy. Emerging trends look more and more like things we’ve seen before.

And so, it feels good to sit there in the sun in the morning light and be able to say that we are in good shape. Leadtimes are short. The shop is staffed with experienced and passionate bike builders in every department. We have been the grateful recipients of recent media exposure both local and global. We have a committed set of retail partners who want to help us build great bikes, and every day we’re getting phone calls and emails from riders who are excited to build their own best bike.

It could be that the value of experience is the calm certainty that it’s going to be a great year, and that just how great is entirely up to us.

The Local News

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

WCVBWe were on the local news last night, part of a series called “Made in Mass,” features on companies that still make things in Massachusetts. The piece ran just short of two minutes and didn’t say a whole lot that cyclists who are familiar with our work didn’t already know. We were glad to be featured, though it is a little frightening that simply making things makes you newsworthy now.

It was also very cool to engage with the reporter’s curiosity about how we do what we do, and the response from friends and family has been overwhelming. It reminded us of when we were kids, perhaps not coincidentally the time when our bikes first became central to our lives, the way being on TV was still some act of magic.

For another cool peek at what we do, check out this video, made by our friend Ryota at Simworks, Japan.

19th Anniversary #tbt

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

We just realized that we opened our doors 19 years ago today. That first year, we crawled all over each other in a 1000sf space that had machines, builders, desks, phones and computers packed into it tighter than a Russian nesting doll. Then we moved into our current space, much larger. We had a party (and an indoor race) before we hauled all the lathes and mills in. Here is a snap from those heady times. We were young and (almost) carefree, at least when racing around the shop floor wearing a chimp mask and a Santa hat.img-107164917-0001

There Are No Bikes

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

6941319752_b9cb75a4a6_zThere are no bikes, but only riders, more than 30,000 of them. They came to us and told us about their riding, the roads and trails they wanted to ride, and we gave them a way to get there. It’s true that, in some ways, it was the bikes that took them where they wanted to go, but without the riders, there was nothing.

This is an important distinction to make. We have never built a bike with the express purpose of convincing someone to buy it. We have only ever built the bikes that people asked us to build. The rider comes first, always.

We get somewhat regular calls from people who ask something like, “Hi, I wonder if you have a 56cm road bike in stock that I can just buy.” And we say, “Sorry, we don’t actually have any bikes in inventory,” which is true.

There are no bikes until there are riders who want them, and what they want is very specific. We wouldn’t build the same bike for you, because you are different. We have built more than 30,000 bikes, and never two the same in a row. It is a lot more fun to do it this way.

The Big Ideas – The Rider/Retailer/Builder Partnership

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

CBS_SevenDisplayThe Big Ideas, as a series, is about this whole bike building project we embarked on in 1997 and the foundational ideas that make what we do possible. The first installment was about Single-Piece Flow (SPF). The second installment was about Just-in-Time manufacturing (JIT). Last we explored the 5 Elements of Customization.

We started with an idea, a different kind of bike company, one that offers a product and a service, an experience, and we found a build method that would support it, Single-Piece Flow. Then we backed it up with a manufacturing model that would streamline the process and hold down costs, Just-in-Time manufacturing. Then we created a language that would free rider’s from the constraints of production models, that would allow them to speak the language of custom, the 5 Elements.

Finally, we needed a way to connect all the dots.

Everything we’ve done so far, philosophically, has been about gaining focus on the individual rider, so how do we understand the roads they ride? How do we see and measure them effectively? We always want to be a local builder. The machine shop we get most of our small parts from is local. The builders who work here all live nearby. If we can’t be near all our riders, how do we get closer? How do we localize ourselves?

We needed partners in every cycling community, and the obvious way to get that was to work with bike shops who wanted to collaborate with us and our riders on custom builds. Seven riders are de facto bike designers. We are only building them the bike they tell us they want, and our bike shop partners facilitate the process.

We are the only builder who does direct, systematized interviews with each customer while also working with the shop. Together, the three of us create the custom experience, and THAT is how we get from the idea of fully custom bicycles on a short timeline to delivering fully custom bicycles on a short timeline.

These are our big ideas. They’re simple when you break them down, even though we are still refining them, even after 30,000 bikes have passed through our hands.