Last week we wrote about our customer interview, and that process came from our need to be able to build exactly the bikes our riders wanted. It got us thinking about this whole bike building project we embarked on in 1997 and the foundational ideas that make what we do possible. These are our “big ideas,” and over the next few weeks we’ll walk through all of them, from our unique build process to the way we collaborate with our customers, to the way we deliver our bikes.
This first installment is about Single-Piece Flow (SPF).
We always wanted to be a different kind of bike company, one that offered both a product and a service, in our case a bike and the experience of customizing it. We wanted to give our customers an experience that was about them and their cycling, not just about the bike. In a very real way, we didn’t want to be a bike company. We wanted to be a rider company. That’s where we started.
But that idea has to be more than marketing. It has to be manufacturing, too. It has to be real. How do we do that?
The simple answer is Single-Piece Flow, a way of building things that unleashes the potential for deep customization. Single-Piece Flow literally means building things one-at-a-time. By building each bike one-at-a-time we can focus on the individual rider it’s being built. Their name is attached to every order. All their personal information travels with the bike through every stage of design and build.
Building by hand, to order, never in batches, allows for the greatest level of customizability. Every order is unique, so we break it down into its constituent parts. We spec tubes specifically for the rider in front of us. One builder works on one bike, refining all the raw tubing, the dropouts, to match that one rider’s needs.
SPF is also where quality comes from. By focusing on one bike at a time, the builder is only ever responsible for one thing, the work in front of him or her, one set of details. The fewer hands touch each frame, the more responsibility each set takes. Typically only 2 or 3 builders work on a Seven, a machinist passing a perfect frameset to a welder, the welder passing that frame to a finisher and/or painter. This approach maximizes accountability while still allowing for a high-level of specialization by each builder, whether machinist, welder, finisher or painter.
The kind of focus and experience SPF demands isn’t cheap. Our team of builders has more than 300 years collective experience. We invest a lot in them, and that investment requires another big idea to sustain in a competitive world. Next time, we’ll talk about Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing and how it helps us put our capital in experienced craftspeople, rather than inventory.