Friday, October 2, 2009

What custom truly means...

In the small niche of what we consider custom bicycle building, there has evolved many definitions of what "custom" means.

In my experience, there are three types of folks who become custom customers;

1.) Those that have physiological needs that are beyond the ability to adapt a standard sized production frame and still retain appropriate balance, performance and comfort.

2.) Those that are looking for the highest level of performance and fit and would like a product that not only meets those goals, but is unique and personalized.

3.) Those that are committed to cycling, are fervent enthusiasts or tech weenies (in a good way!), and desire to be involved in a process that yields a bicycle that often incorporates unique structural features, uncommon finishes, and becomes a physical manifestation of their dreams and desires.

Most small builders have created a comfortable spot in the custom market, defining themselves by process (lugged, fillet brazed, Tig), material (steel, Ti, Al, Carbon), or by style and design. It becomes a familiar, comfy spot to be in. You become known for your work, people come to you expecting products consistent with your past efforts, and honestly, the shop becomes more profitable as you become more proficient by always producing similar products. Take a look at some of the long term builders who do this well... I don't need to tick off names, you can probably come up with a list far longer than mine. These folks handle the the first two types of customers quite well, as simple changes in geometry, fit and finish meet their expectations.

That third category, though, is a tough market to pursue. Why you ask? Well, let me tell ya.

For many builders, it becomes difficult to mess with success and step outside a comfort zone. Often, accommodating the one off desires of a customer means more time, more expense, and less productivity. That typically is not good for the bottom line. However, there are a few guys out there that look upon these types of builds as an opportunity to challenge themselves, learn new skills, and gain a new level of professionalism. I've always been interested in developing as a fabricator, but I gotta be honest, sometimes it's a frustrating experience as well.

A truly "custom" builder is willing to commit to creating the uncommon, enduring the growing pains of learning new tools, techniques, and processes, and stretching outside the comfortable norm to meet the expectations of the project. I'd like to think that we as a profession are willing to strive to accomplish that, but unfortunately, few do.

Steven's retro cruiser has become one of those truly custom opportunities. Originally, Steven's place on the build list was to complete a Kelly front end into a 650b...when the geometry of the frame ended up being older than anticipated and the project deemed not compatible, the floodgates of opportunity opened. With a blank canvas available, Steven decided "if I'm having a new bike built, I might as well get what I always wanted". I gotta admit, I get excited about projects like this, because I like to stretch myself as a fabricator too. When looking at the potential of this project, I did not want just another cookie cutter know the kind; curved tubes put together with mass produced parts that any schlub can buy. So as the design and process has evolved, Steven and I have found some areas we can be a bit unique... today we're gonna talks about the dropouts.

When you look at our inspiration for the build, notice how this 30's frame has some unusual dropouts? I really like the rear entry angled slots and the flowing edges that meet the curve of the seat stays.
Since we are doing a modern adaptation, I wanted a dropout that has the flow and style of the old drops, but also needed to incorporate some updated necessities. Steven will be running this bike as a geared 29er with discs, so the piece has to accommodate those criteria. I wanted to stay true to the vibe of the older drops, add in a bottle opener for after ride hydration/hang out time, and have a piece that can serve multiple gearing disciplines as well. I spent a fleeting minutes scribbling on random pieces of little paper between cutting tubes, an few hours consolidating all those ideas, then two days working through Solidworks drawings until I had what I wanted. Steve's seen them and given me the green light, so here y'all go...
The dropouts are set for geared use primarily, but will also accommodate a Rohloff, and will have functional disc contact if used as a single speed for at least half of the travel distance.

The pieces will be water jet cut and then CNC relieved for the face offsets. The two little circles on the end of the tangs are for piece anchoring during the CNC milling process and will be removed for frame construction.
I'm excited about the prospect of using a unique piece that keeps the feel of our older 30's bike while updating the design for modern amenities. I could have just bought some dropouts from Paragon and moved forward with the build, but that just felt like I was letting Steven and his vision down. Isn't that extra effort what being a "custom" builder is all about?


Hub said...

PVD would tell you the angle on the dropout slot will change your bb drop, st and ht angle, as well as your true mechanical trail.

Rody said...

Spit those sour grapes out Hub, Peter is a better designer than a communicator :)

Ya know you got it going on ;)