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  1. #1
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    Info Sought - Reason for price differences in custom steel frames?

    What would be some of the reasons for differences in the price of custom lugged steel frames? I understand that with different options, add-ons, paint schemes, etc., the prices can fluctuate dramatically between different frames, but I'm just talking about relatively big differences at base levels.

    For instance, a Spectrum custom lugged steel frame (including headset and fork) is $2850.
    On the other hand, a Waterford lugged steel frame is $1800. Add a similar fork and headset, and you're at around $2300.

    I'm interested in finding out why there's a difference. Are they using different tubing? Is it simply a matter of production scale (I'm sure Waterford has higher volume)?

  2. #2
    Tell it as it is Silverbraze's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shorty Long View Post
    What would be some of the reasons for differences in the price of custom lugged steel frames? I understand that with different options, add-ons, paint schemes, etc., the prices can fluctuate dramatically between different frames, but I'm just talking about relatively big differences at base levels.

    For instance, a Spectrum custom lugged steel frame (including headset and fork) is $2850.
    On the other hand, a Waterford lugged steel frame is $1800. Add a similar fork and headset, and you're at around $2300.

    I'm interested in finding out why there's a difference. Are they using different tubing? Is it simply a matter of production scale (I'm sure Waterford has higher volume)?

    Look into it more
    there is more to bike than the tubes

    It would take me days to explain this so I put it this way
    why does a bottle of red wine cost $5.00
    and why does a bottle of red wine cost $50
    it depends on what you want from your wine

    a bike frame is the same
    it's steel
    it's lugs
    let the others get on with the madness
    www.llewellynbikes.com
    www.framebuilders.org

  3. #3
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    I understand the concept...but I would liken the $5.00 bottle of wine to the bike you get at Wal-Mart and the $50 bottle to the custom, hand-made steel frames you get from smaller builders. What I'm trying to understand is the price differences among the top-shelf makers.

    I've only recently gotten into cycling, so my knowledge base is rather thin.

    Thanks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Silverbraze View Post
    Look into it more
    there is more to bike than the tubes

    It would take me days to explain this so I put it this way
    why does a bottle of red wine cost $5.00
    and why does a bottle of red wine cost $50
    it depends on what you want from your wine

    a bike frame is the same

  4. #4
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    I don't know about Spectrum specifically, but there is a vast difference between builders in the amount of time used in customer/builder interaction. If price was everything, obviously Waterford would raise their prices or Spectrum would lower theirs. There probably is a matter of scale, manufacturing efficiencies and cost of materials between those two builders. I see a real problem in that there are a lot of builders barely scraping by and not charging enough. If someone is making $300-500 a frame on top of materials, that just isn't enough to sustain a builder for long. Paint is a big expense that is solved to some extent by operating on a larger scale. The way I see things, a custom builder that puts out a few bikes a month really should be charging over $4000 for a lugged steel frame, but very few builders can do that.

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    I suppose the OP is mostly asking what is in it for him to be paying the extra money. Guys like SB and Sachs, have their own lugs, just to mention one thing. I read somewhere a comment that someone had a sachs frame from the 70s, and that it was number 375! If a person gets a Sachs frame seems fairly likely that he isn't about to shut down and leave his market unsupported. People will probably know what kind of frame it is for 100 years. So going into it, if all you care about is "lugs" You know the stuff that costs under a hundred bucks, and all bikes with lugs are the same, then you can shop price on the rest of it. But guys spending a little more time talking to you, or filing a little more on the lugs, just generally slaving over the details, or building up their product reputation at shows, better websites etc... Using more expensive braze ( it's out there) whatever, there are lots of ways of adding value, you then have to decide what you value. As a maker, I am always thinking of distinctions that exist in the way I do something. Over time one should be able to come up with a fairly long list of things that are different about the way one looks at a frame to someone else. All of these things are potential cost factors.

    That said, it would be wrong to assume that there is a perfect market out there. That every dollar of additional cost is represented in some lump (or lack of) on the frame. The internet does tend to make a "national market" visible. When I was a kid the only custom maker I knew was Mariposa. Barry made that market locally, and running a frame and bikestore shop in downtown Toronto wasn't as cheap as in someone's barn in the country. (isn't Waterford cycles in some outpost of humanity in the sticks?). These local guys built their own markets and introduced people to frames locally. Even LL Bean gets the majority of their business locally. or did a few years back. So I'm guessing Yankees games are more expensive than maybe some other cities.

    There is also the hand made by an individual thing. Some stuff like the shuttle program is going to take the combined work of many people. Other stuff like the Mona Lisa is best left up to one person. I'm not sure it falls to either side of the scale for this particular craft, but there is at least a case that a bike could be more coherent if made by one person. And you will have to pay for the fact that generalist have a scaling problem.
    Last edited by NoReg; 07-29-10 at 07:15 PM.

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    Thanks for the response. Much appreciated.

    Quote Originally Posted by Peterpan1 View Post
    I suppose the OP is mostly asking what is in it for him to be paying the extra money. Guys like SB and Sachs, have their own lugs, just to mention one thing. I read somewhere a comment that someone had a sachs frame from the 70s, and that it was number 375! If a person gets a Sachs frame seems fairly likely that he isn't about to shut down and leave his market unsupported. People will probably know what kind of frame it is for 100 years. So going into it, if all you care about is "lugs" You know the stuff that costs under a hundred bucks, and all bikes with lugs are the same, then you can shop price on the rest of it. But guys spending a little more time talking to you, or filing a little more on the lugs, just generally slaving over the details, or building up their product reputation at shows, better websites etc... Using more expensive braze ( it's out there) whatever, there are lots of ways of adding value, you then have to decide what you value. As a maker, I am always thinking of distinctions that exist in the way I do something. Over time one should be able to come up with a fairly long list of things that are different about the way one looks at a frame to someone else. All of these things are potential cost factors.

    That said, it would be wrong to assume that there is a perfect market out there. That every dollar of additional cost is represented in some lump (or lack of) on the frame. The internet does tend to make a "national market" visible. When I was a kid the only custom maker I knew was Mariposa. Barry made that market locally, and running a frame and bikestore shop in downtown Toronto wasn't as cheap as in someone's barn in the country. (isn't Waterford cycles in some outpost of humanity in the sticks?). These local guys built their own markets and introduced people to frames locally. Even LL Bean gets the majority of their business locally. or did a few years back. So I'm guessing Yankees games are more expensive than maybe some other cities.

    There is also the hand made by an individual thing. Some stuff like the shuttle program is going to take the combined work of many people. Other stuff like the Mona Lisa is best left up to one person. I'm not sure it falls to either side of the scale for this particular craft, but there is at least a case that a bike could be more coherent if made by one person. And you will have to pay for the fact that generalist have a scaling problem.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shorty Long View Post
    What I'm trying to understand is the price differences among the top-shelf makers.
    Maybe I'm not being fair, but I don't consider Spectrum and Waterford to be in the same category. Spectrum is two highly skilled and experienced guys in a barn in Pennsylvania, i.e. definitely top shelf, and Waterford is a bike factory in Wisconsin. Opinions may differ, but most people don't consider a production facility that employs anonymous craftsmen to construct custom bikes to be top-shelf (especially after they fired Dave Wages).

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    Wow. I didn't know Waterford fired Dave Wages...I just assumed he struck out on his own. I just read about him a couple days ago. I wish I could afford one of his frames.

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    maybe that's too strong a word, but it seems to me that they should have made it worth his while to stay there and let him also build under his own name. He makes beautiful bikes. I love the partially painted XCR bikes he's made.

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    "Opinions may differ, but most people don't consider a production facility that employs anonymous craftsmen to construct custom bikes to be top-shelf"

    Anonymous craftsmen, there ought to be a Toby Keith song... I'm with Sachs on that, a guy working all day at the same thing can be the best of the best. It's the market that governs. You need to sell a 1000 bikes a year or 40, there just aren't 1000 people who will sign up for an Ellis Classic, but the same guy made a thousand bikes for Waterford.

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    but when you buy a bike from waterford today, are you getting something as good as an Ellis? Who knows? It's that uncertainty and the anonymity of the craftsmen involved that limit the price a company like Waterford can get from a bike.

    No doubt, you can get a good bike from a factory. This thread is really about pricing theory, people get doctorates studying that subject. You addressed the question from the idea that more money should provide more value. Maybe that should be true, but it certainly isn't true in the bicycle industry, and it's not true in the small community of custom bicycles.

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    Actually I was trying to say the opposite.

    "That said, it would be wrong to assume that there is a perfect market out there. That every dollar of additional cost is represented in some lump"

    "but when you buy a bike from waterford today, are you getting something as good as an Ellis? Who knows? It's that uncertainty and the anonymity of the craftsmen involved that limit the price a company like Waterford can get from a bike."

    I don't think that is really true, knowing who is doing work doesn't really mean much to the quality being done, the ultimate case being CNC. Another example is the paint. I don't know who paints Vanilla's bikes, or who designs the paint job, but I wouldn't be looking at them twice if it wasn't for the paint. I think the individual guy has to create something of greater apparent value. Today a lot of that is hype on the internet, blogs etc... It may never find it's way into the bike. The old guys sometimes complain about folks who have been in the business for a few months charging 2400 for frames. But one hopes that is the exception, and I take a less cynical view that if a smart person tries to diferentiate their product they can add value and one hopes people will recognize it. I think it mostly comes down to custom bikes being about building up the customer's personality, not building bikes, and nothing says "I'm special" like one of a kind stuff. Of course it has to be earned also. If one's reaction to the custom bike is negative, then the person looses face. That's really the ticket. "You" buy a lugged bike not because they are better than welded bikes, but because you are better than welded bike buyers. And then there are people who even knowing everything there is to know about lugged bikes buy welded custom bikes, etc...

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    Of course, bikes are different from dresses where people have no problem with the idea that they are purchased to reflect on the person wearing them, and not because the zippers are made of Ti, and it's "worth it". Part of the aesthetic is the preposterous (in part only) idea that the attributes are functional.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peterpan1 View Post
    I don't think that is really true, knowing who is doing work doesn't really mean much to the quality being done, the ultimate case being CNC.
    There are at least three things that go into a custom bike, and they're three entirely disjoint skills. First is figuring out what the customer wants. Second is designing a bike to do that. Third is actually building it. There's no reason to expect that one person has all of the skills, and the relative value of the skills is different, so even someone who has all three would do well to concentrate on one and two, and get someone else to do the sticking together of tubes. And running a business requires yet another set of skills, separate from anything to do with actually building bikes.

  15. #15
    meech151
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    I would think that any custom frame builder should be able to do all 3 of those things, I do it on every frame. The first 2 skills you mention are useless if the tubes aren't stuck together right. Why go to the trouble of figuring out what a person wants and needs, designing it for them and then handing it off to someone who could care less. If you have 2 steel frames, both lugged and have the same tubing, components, etc., the materials costs is roughly the same for the builders. That only leaves the amount of time and detail that the builders use and the overhead cost and then I guess what they feel their work is worth to set the price. The buyer then has to figure out which one they would prefer to do business with. I think that if you want a piece of bicycle art then you should be prepared to pay a high price but if you are wanting a bike to ride the heck out of I wouldn't spend $4000 on it, thats just my opinion. These high-end race bikes are getting way outta hand. You can go buy the top of the line race-ready motocross bike for less than a racing bicycle, thats insane.
    Last edited by meech151; 07-30-10 at 08:05 AM.

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    How many experienced framebuilders are making the same money as an experienced plumber? Very few, and that's not right. What's happening is that people are subsidizing their frames by charging very little just to get work. A factory like Waterford really doesn't care if they have highly skilled people because they can get people that do a good enough job and pay them less. But there are a significant number of customers that are willing to pay for the knowledge that every operation was done by someone that wasn't just waiting for the end of the day. You probably can't afford to run a factory with people that care about what they are doing. Some people might theorize that a guy from rural Wisconsin that wouldn't ride a bike down to get a pack of smokes can do just as good a job as someone that has a passion for framebuilding, but that was not my experience. The guys I worked with that were just building bikes because it was a job either did good work or not depending on the state of their hangover. There were a couple of guys that always did good work, but you might not get a bike built by them.

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    "but if you are wanting a bike to ride the heck out of I wouldn't spend $4000 on it"

    I think each of us has his own sense of what we would pay in order to buy something, but if one is in this as a business I think it would be best to hold back from characterizing the top end of what stuff is worth. The only exception to that would be if we think it is crazy high and will actually hurt the market over time. I'm not saying we shouldn't chat about it, I just mean we maybe should avoid the trap of restricting what the tops end should be, based only on what one would par for it, rather than what someone else would pay for it. I mean we are in a quandary where while stuff is expensive as it stands, I don't think a lot of builders are getting paid what their efforts are worth. We probably still haven't brought the price up to where it needs to be if it could sustain that level. There was a recent thread on VS where people were talking about the location of their shops, and it seemed that overwhelmingly the preferred location was their homes. So what does that say?

    i had this friend who was a retail broker, and he divided his business goals into daily, medium term, and a really big picture get. At the time about 20 years ago, he wanted to do 1 million dollars of business in a day. I think in the same way the longer term goal here, which is actually pretty modest, would be to get frame prices up to the point where people in the business can make a decent living, and operate at a more optimal level of equipment, retail location etc... This is happening with Nahbs, Anvil, and others raising expectations. But on the other side there are a lot of people willing to sell frames for comps were they are basically paying people to take their work.

    I don't know about Waterford, but the promise of that kind of thing, as you know, is that with proper systems in place, one can get the same place as with an individual. The drunk dead enders will still be able to show up and not blow their one routine task. Properly managed that is still no greater risk than the idea the individual is actually only part time, or is overstretched skills wise. The problem I see with Waterford is twofold, some of the custom fitting etc... would be better placed in a local company one could get to, smaller local, and the technical product they produce is not state of the art in 2010 so you really need more flair than a corporate player can provide.
    Last edited by NoReg; 07-30-10 at 09:31 AM.

  18. #18
    meech151
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    Plumbers and bicycle framebuilders are in two very different categories. We have to remember that all of us are bicycle enthusiast and therefore we want the best for ourselves like everybody else and their cause. There are alot of people who could give a flip about a bicycle versus having clean water and a working toilet. Plumbers do some hard, dirty work and deserve most of the money they make, granted some of them price gouge and do crappy work but no different than any other field. I agree with what you are saying about there being some workers who do good work whether they like the bike or not and some may be hungover. I know some guys who smoke, drink, and could care less about bicycles but can weld and braze much better than most of them. I don't have any experience with running large companies so my view is more related to the smaller shops, like one man shops. The reason most of us prefer to do it by ourselves is because nobody will build our bikes as good as we will. That extra effort and experience is worth paying for certainly but that is where the consumer has to decide what they want and how much they are willing to pay. I think the original question is basically, "Why do two similar frames vary so much in price?" and I think the answer would have to come from the builders, their material cost, overhead cost, and the value that they think their work is worth, the profit that they see fitting to perform the job. They can say their's is better or more time and detail is used and it may be true but then it comes down to the buyer.

  19. #19
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    To bring this back around to the OP- there are pretty big differences in the frames from those two outfits, both in the experiece of the designer(s) (advantage Spectrum) and the materials used....can you say "handmade lugs"?
    Spectrum wins!

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