Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Make It In The U.S.A.

So, where is this bicycle made? I hear this question a lot in the bicycle shop I work at. Oh, it doesn't happen to get asked as often as it did 9 years ago, when I started my current job, but it still gets asked often. Obviously, the answer is kind of a downer in a town that still "makes" tractor parts and some agricultural tractors in a factory across town.

Made In Iowa, U.S.A.
I came from a small manufacturing town. I watched as labor unions and management fought each other while the rank and file workers, like my father, stood by and watched them piss it all away. Now they don't make anything in that town of as much significance as they did then. Jobs in other cities met similar fates, or were shipped overseas. It seems like everything is "Made In China" anymore.

Depressing.................

But, it isn't really that way, of course. Things are still made here in the U.S.A., and not everyone is in a "service job". As far as bicycles go, little pockets of U.S. based manufacture are still bubbling up. Out east in Boston, down in the southwest in Arizona, and of course, Portland, Oregon. It isn't huge. It isn't a big, huge deal in terms of "workforce numbers".....yet, but if things start to change in the right way, (and I think it is very likely that they will), you just might see a "big" bicycle factory pop up somewhere on these shores again.

Recently a "U.S. Manufacturing Council Listening Session" happened out in Oregon where Francisco Sanchez, the Under Secretary of Commerce For International Trade, led a session which included large, medium, and small U.S. manufacturers who voiced their concerns about how U.S. manufacturing is being held back, and how it could be grown. The small manufacturing concerns were represented by Chris De Stefano of Chris King Precision Components. (See a report about the meeting here)

The day before, a tour was held at the King manufacturing facility which hosted several government officials attached to the Commerce Department. They were shown how a small manufacturer can thrive in a business dominated by foreign competition, and how such a business can be run cleanly and with respect for the environment and the people employed there.

Hope.....

 Image by Dylan VanWeelden
Why Does It Matter? Well, it probably doesn't to a lot of folks. I mean, you ride your bicycle, you are happy, right? (That's a lot of "you" right there though, ya know?) How about this kind of "you" instead? So, what if you could buy a bicycle you wanted at a fair price that was made in the U.S.A.? Why wouldn't you? It would be something that employed another U.S. citizen, maybe benefited a U.S. family, and the money that family brought in from your purchase, (and others), would be spent in this economy. Maybe.....

Sound good? It sure does to me.

Basically, the bikes made overseas are probably pretty dang good. (In fact, I know that they are.) The parts that are on them, well....they are awesome. It isn't that folks there are being worked in bad conditions or not, or that they use "child labor", or not. This isn't about that. This is about doing things here for us, so that we can benefit the U.S.  It's about doing things that we can feel good about, instead of, well........not so good. 

Ya know, it would be pretty rad if I could answer that question I brought up at the outset of this post by saying, "Well Sir, it is made right here, in the U.S.A." 

Yeah......that would be pretty cool.

13 comments:

Doug said...

My 29er frame (Blue Collar) was made by a good friend, in Sacramento. The parts are largely US made; Thomson seatpost, Chris King headset, Paul hub, Rock Solid fork. The front wheel is Handspun, tho sadly the hub is a US brand (Surly) made overseas, as are the rims and spokes. I'm saving up to buy a White freewheel to replace the Shimano.
I remember about 15 years ago I looked all afternoon for a US made shirt. I finally found one, and it is still one of my favorite shirts. I believe seeking out quality US products is the most patriotic of pastimes, with the side benefit of diminishing the "throwaway" nature of modern life.

Doug Idaho said...

I thought trek made at least some of their bikes in the US?

Guitar Ted said...

@Doug Idaho: Trek still does the highest end Madone and Superfly 100 frames in Wisconsin. maybe one or two others. That's a drop in the bucket compared to what's in their 2011 catalog that comes from Taiwan and mainland China.

They did do a lot of the steel stuff here as recently as 2000, but sadly, that factory is now a warehouse.

ScottsHighland said...

Excellent post - and as the owner of an Oliver tractor (built the month I was born even!); and Cannondale, Trek and Schwinn bikes all made in the USA, my next bike will also be American made. But sadly, for most riders this option is an extreme luxury. The bike I've spec'd will cost more than the first 3 cars I owned, combined. While I'm very fortunate to be able to afford this splurge, most quite simply can't.
@ Doug - Hart Shafner Marx still makes some of their men's clothing in the USA - but beware the sticker shock ;^)

The Mayor of Drunkingham said...

For many years I was the assembly manager at Santa Cruz Bicycles. I saw shipment after shipment of American made frames and swing arms rejected because they were sub par. The Taiwanese made frames and swing arms? Nearly always perfect. Those factories make nothing but bikes, and the people there are proud of what they do,, whether they are 'cyclists' or not. What I saw coming out of the American factory (which sole focus wasn't bikes, but hand rails and farm equipment and whatever else paid the bills) was crooked at best, and not even finished at worst.

Guitar Ted said...

@ScottsHighland: Obviously, there will come a point when costs to build here make more sense than to build overseas. I think that will occur, but it may take some time. On the other hand, U.S. mass production of bicycles simply doesn't exist at this point. There remains a big "what if" regarding possibilities from using cutting edge technologies to reduce costs, be more efficient, and be more profitable here in the U.S.

@The Mayor of Drunkingham: Good observation. When companies are poorly run, they should lose, no matter where they are based. Does your story say something about U.S. manufacturing, or is it saying something about corporate practices, culture, and the economy here in the U.S.?

Obviously, if the endemic problems related to corporate practices and corporate culture exist in a manufacturing facility, no matter where it is based, there will be problems with quality.

That's something that needs to be eliminated from becoming a possibility before you open the doors of a new manufacturing facility in the U.S. Totally do-able.

The Mayor of Drunkingham said...

I can only comment on my experiences while working there, with those specific manufacturers. On a broader level perhaps this might apply, but I'm definitely not qualified to speak on it.
I just always thought it was interesting when people would bum out about the fact a percentage of our product was made in Taiwan, when seven out of ten times that product was consistently better than that which was made domestically.

The Mayor of Drunkingham said...

Oh, and I can vouch for the Blue Collars. I have two and helped Robert build a number of them. What's even radder is that it's next to impossible to get one built for you. Doug clearly has the magic touch or was in possession of some blackmail.

AC89 said...

Great topic. I'd certainly prefer to buy American when possible, and would even pay some premium to do so provided quality is as good or better then an import. Sadly, that's not a commonly found option though. But, I'm very happy with and plan to continue to buy and use products like my Ventana frame, King headsets, and Thomson posts and stems.

Doug said...

@ Mayor, 'Bert and I rode together before dinosaurs in the Age of Gears. That explains my 2 Blue Collars, the first one being his 4th frame. I have requested to be buried with my Blue Collar. Only trouble is I'll prob'ly be cremated, and to be cremated with my Blue Collar isn't so easy.
I'm putting together a Ventana now, also US made. And I'm still rolling my roadie front wheel on my 'crosser, made with Hi-E (remember those?) hub and Matrix rim, both US made in the late 70's or early 80's.

Boz said...

Just a few blocks down the hill here in Duluth, MN, there is evidence of the pride and craftsman ship still lives in US of A. Aerostitch, Duluth Pack, Frost River, etc all produce some of the finest goods in the world. Not huge companies, but very respected by those in the know.

Morgan Fletcher said...

I love my Turner, and part of the reason I love it is that it was made in the USA. Some stuff still made here.

Steve Fuller said...

For more proof that there's good quality bike manufacturing in the US, look at BigCat HPV in Florida. They make recumbent trikes. Paulo, a Brazillian engineer, is making investments in equipment automating his processes as well.

http://www.catrike.com/about.html