The roll-top door at our shipping dock makes the same sound now it made in 1997. The electric motor makes a loud click and then there is a drone and rattle as the door’s wheels trundle up and down their tracks. It’s one of those familiar, even comforting sounds that attends daily business here at Seven.
And maybe opening doors just seem more poignantly symbolic on the first work day of a new year. The door rolls up, low winter sun streams in, bike parts, titanium tubing, and people follow. Late in the day, bikes go out.
The bike season is funny. By some loose consensus it starts October 1st and runs through the end of September. But in real life, there is nothing quite like the turn of a new year, right?
After 22 years of bike building talking about new dawns feels dramatic. What we can say for certain is that no year (or season) ever looks quite the way we think it will. Riders bring us new challenges. The industry churns up new technologies and trends, and the one constant is just the group of us, building bikes, which makes for a nice constancy and safe place to sit and ponder how we can best respond to all the ideas we’ll hear, how best to present all the ideas we’ll have.
We’re excited. The bicycle is still a miracle machine. It’s still fun to ride. And every day people call us up with great ideas for new bikes for themselves. We look into the near future and see a busy year of bike building.
We 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.
It was Thursday morning. We’d met at the usual spot and rolled West, crisscrossing some trails, then turned south on the road towards more trails, and eventually to Seven.
Mike said, “This is why we do what we do. This right here.” By this point, we’d been to the coffee shop down the street from the shop and were all riding one-handed up the hill to work. The sun shone. It was cool, and we’d done 15 or 20 miles of road and trail in a lazy, pre-work ramble.
We like what we do all day, building bikes, talking riders through their designs, figuring out component compatibility, researching the new cycling trends, but none of it means much without riding.
Riding feeds bike-building, and riding the bikes we build tightens the feedback loop, so that we are so closely engaged with what we’re doing that the riding and building seem to be part of the same process. In some ways, they are. But the riding is why we do what we do, the nurturing of that feeling of freedom and adventure, and the hope that we can spread it to as many people as we can.
Our friends at Velosmith Bicycle Studio did an interview with Seven founder Rob Vandermark recently for a series they’re doing on bike builders. We’ve been working with Velosmith since they opened in 2010, and Tony Bustamante, one of the studio’s founders and owners, once worked with us here at Seven, too. Watch the Velosmith site for the full interview.
In the meantime, here is a brief excerpt:
Velosmith: In 1997, offering a custom bike was a relatively new concept for traditional bike shops. Tell us a little about those early years.
Rob Vandermark: That’s right. There weren’t a lot of options at that time. People were interested in high-end titanium and well-made steel but they didn’t really think that they were going to do true custom. There was no model for it yet. The four of us who started Seven had strong industry backgrounds in design, development, building, marketing, and sales – we had all the bases covered. So, we were able to find retailers who trusted us because of our reputation or past relationships. Within eight weeks of opening, we were shipping orders out the door.
Rob V. on the Trail
Where do you find inspiration for products and design?
RV: I’ve been frame building for 29 years and it’s still engaging for me. It doesn’t get old because the way I relate to the bike keeps changing. For the last few years, my inspiration has come from adventure riding. There was a time when I would look at other industries for inspiration – motorcycles, cars, wheelchairs – more than actually riding. Now, the pendulum has swung back to bike usage, bike riding, and all the niches that are happening in the industry today. It’s always about reconnecting to the bike in a different way.
Who do you see as your ideal customer?
RV: Because everything we do is custom, I see everyone as a Seven customer. It’s anyone who loves riding and wants a better experience while riding.