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  1. #1
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    how is the custom frame market ?

    What is the demand for customized bicycle designs, and bicycles built by independent bicycle builders?

  2. #2
    Senior Member kc0yef's Avatar
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    Seems to be excellent here in Washington State

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    Quite a few here in SoCal too. Most are not cheap either. Good market I would guess.

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    Senior Member bellweatherman's Avatar
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    Exploding in the Portland area.
    Livestrong. The personal fundmaker of Lance Armstrong. The company who are in business to not donate to cancer research, but only to inform people that cancer is bad.

    Armstrong. The man without integrity, no care for the sport, and no problem with testing positive for EPO and making donations to cover it up.

    01101010101010001010

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    Randomhead
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    I get the impression that it's good for the people that have been around for a while, not so easy to break into. There have never been many full-time builders, I think you can count them on your fingers and toes

  6. #6
    pro-noun
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    As someone who is actively trying to break into the business, I +1 unter.

    It's hard not being established. Costs for these machines are high, even if you have your own shop space (which I dont, I rent). To offer a high quality product at a competitive price (which seems necessary for the new builder) you're looking at slim margins.

    It's hard to get your name out there without making bicycles, so you've got to offer the competitive pricing, as well as working with local members of the cycling community, be it teams, shops, etc. at an even more competitive pricing, so your frames are out there. I think your life can be decent to good once established, but count on that taking some time.

    My .02, and my own experience. Other's I'm sure might say differently, but it's hard to get your name out there without some rad break. I write a fair amount on how my life / work / story goes on my company site, http://www.raphaelcycles.com/blog.
    think of it as a sharp ax in a world of broken down chainsaws

  7. #7
    Senior Member Road Fan's Avatar
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    From a non-builder perspective, I can tell it's warming up because delivery times of builders I 'm trying to get to quote me are increasing.

  8. #8
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    According to Jim Kish from his blog on www.kishbike.com 2011 was his busiest year ever, and this year will be his 20th year building ti frames.

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    I think there's a little bit of whatever drives the art crowd at work here. There are a lot of folks painting nice pictures, but folks don't want a nice picture by Joe Smith. They want a nice picture (or even a not-so-nice picture) by someone famous, and they'll pay for it.

    Now, that shouldn't be interpreted as "Big name framebuilders are scamming people!" but rather "People want frames from big name framebuilders, even if they can't tell the difference between a big name frame and one built by Joe Smith."

    So I pretty much agree with Unterhausen et al. I suspect any framebuilder trying to "break in" as a commercial success will need to spend a number of years laboring in obscurity - and breaking even, at best - before he begins to attract more than local attention.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Six jours View Post
    I think there's a little bit of whatever drives the art crowd at work here. There are a lot of folks painting nice pictures, but folks don't want a nice picture by Joe Smith. They want a nice picture (or even a not-so-nice picture) by someone famous, and they'll pay for it.

    Now, that shouldn't be interpreted as "Big name framebuilders are scamming people!" but rather "People want frames from big name framebuilders, even if they can't tell the difference between a big name frame and one built by Joe Smith."

    So I pretty much agree with Unterhausen et al. I suspect any framebuilder trying to "break in" as a commercial success will need to spend a number of years laboring in obscurity - and breaking even, at best - before he begins to attract more than local attention.
    +1 to that. I think there are four things that you need to do to become a successful framebuilder in the USA:

    1. Move to Portland.
    2. Have a cool website.
    3. Have good colorways.
    4. Wear tight pants.
    5. Be very lucky, and become an overnight success after twenty years of toiling in relative obscurity.

    (OK, that's five things, technically).

  11. #11
    KingoftheMountain wannabe Savagewolf's Avatar
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    If you have the skills to build a good bike, the demand is extremely high. Most of the best (and well-known) builders have YEARS of wait to get one of their frames. I've been on the Vanilla Bicycle list for wanting to get on the actual building wait list for years. Last I heard Vanilla was 4-5 years behind on orders for those on the list.

    I absolutely love the work of art that Vanilla Bicycles are, but it's frustrating to not be even able to get on the list yet and have to wait years even after that.

    Put out a solid frame, have a quality painter, and eventually you'll be in the same situation. You just have to work through years of perfecting your skills, acquiring equipment, and building up a need for your bikes. I'd expect many years of your budget being in red before turning a profit.

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    Randomhead
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    Quote Originally Posted by unterhausen View Post
    I get the impression that it's good for the people that have been around for a while, not so easy to break into. There have never been many full-time builders, I think you can count them on your fingers and toes
    Quote Originally Posted by Savagewolf View Post
    If you have the skills to build a good bike, the demand is extremely high. Most of the best (and well-known) builders have YEARS of wait to get one of their frames. I've been on the Vanilla Bicycle list for wanting to get on the actual building wait list for years. Last I heard Vanilla was 4-5 years behind on orders for those on the list.
    Vanilla is a really bad bellwether of the state of the custom market. The market is maturing. People want a Vanilla, Sachs, Kirk and a handful of others. Outside of a select few, it seems like most of the big-name builders can deliver in less than a year. There have been a couple of high-profile flameouts in the custom frame community, and if that doesn't drive people to Trek/Specialized, it drives them to the known quantities. A lot of people that build solid and appealing bikes have dropped out of the business, that's simply not enough.

    The reality is that most people that want to become framebuilders don't have the money to lose for years on end. It's a major commitment to buy insurance, and as soon as you have the first bike on the road, you effectively commit to buying insurance for the life of that bike. Costs are high, margins are low, and the prospects of making a sustainable business are not good. Some people see this up front, and some people have to waste a couple of years on the project before they throw in the towel. Everybody I know personally that is still in the business is part time and have a way of subsidizing the business.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by unterhausen View Post
    Vanilla is a really bad bellwether of the state of the custom market. The market is maturing. People want a Vanilla, Sachs, Kirk and a handful of others. Outside of a select few, it seems like most of the big-name builders can deliver in less than a year. There have been a couple of high-profile flameouts in the custom frame community, and if that doesn't drive people to Trek/Specialized, it drives them to the known quantities. A lot of people that build solid and appealing bikes have dropped out of the business, that's simply not enough.

    The reality is that most people that want to become framebuilders don't have the money to lose for years on end. It's a major commitment to buy insurance, and as soon as you have the first bike on the road, you effectively commit to buying insurance for the life of that bike. Costs are high, margins are low, and the prospects of making a sustainable business are not good. Some people see this up front, and some people have to waste a couple of years on the project before they throw in the towel. Everybody I know personally that is still in the business is part time and have a way of subsidizing the business.
    What he said! x 100 maybe....

  14. #14
    Senior Member ftwelder's Avatar
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    I keep busy but I couldn't imagine starting up right now.
    Last edited by ftwelder; 02-07-12 at 02:06 AM.
    1886 Surrey machinists Invincible, 1900 Nashua, 1937 Raleigh Golden Arrow, 1938 Raleigh Silver Record, 1951 Armstrong tourmalet, 1970 Motobecane Grand Record, 1971 Raleigh Professional, 1971 Gitane TDF, 1972 Legnano Gran Primio, 1973, Peugeot PX-10, 1975 Roberts, 1984 Battaglin Giro, 1985 Grandis Speciale, 2012 FTW

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  15. #15
    KingoftheMountain wannabe Savagewolf's Avatar
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    If you are going to quote me, feel free to. Don't pick and select certain parts of my post while leaving other relevant pieces out.

    "You just have to work through years of perfecting your skills, acquiring equipment, and building up a need for your bikes. I'd expect many years of your budget being in red before turning a profit."

    Remember that part?

    I'll also stick to my statement that good framebuilders are very much in demand, and not counting only Vanilla and a few others. As someone like myself who has been looking for a custom built bike, I've found quite a few builders that I was interested in (not because of their name) and almost everyone was quite busy. Perhaps it is different where you live, but in the Pacific Northwest, particularly Oregon, there is a high demand for quality custom frames. I know because I've done my research in finding a good one.

    Getting to the level where people want your product, as I mentioned in the part of my post where you neglected to add, I made it rather clear that you could expect quite a bit of time with no profit.

    If you want to go further in this thread, you'll notice the original post. That original post is what I answered. The poster asked if there was a demand for custom bikes. He didn't ask if it was feasible, if it was easy, if it was profitable. That extra information is good to know, but don't go tearing into my posts like you know all. I've noticed the habit that you like to do this to many folks and cause disruption. It's not appreciated.

  16. #16
    Randomhead
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    please don't be so sensitive

  17. #17
    Senior Member ftwelder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Savagewolf View Post
    If you are going to quote me, feel free to. Don't pick and select certain parts of my post while leaving other relevant pieces out.

    "You just have to work through years of perfecting your skills, acquiring equipment, and building up a need for your bikes. I'd expect many years of your budget being in red before turning a profit."

    Remember that part?

    I'll also stick to my statement that good framebuilders are very much in demand, and not counting only Vanilla and a few others. As someone like myself who has been looking for a custom built bike, I've found quite a few builders that I was interested in (not because of their name) and almost everyone was quite busy. Perhaps it is different where you live, but in the Pacific Northwest, particularly Oregon, there is a high demand for quality custom frames. I know because I've done my research in finding a good one.

    Getting to the level where people want your product, as I mentioned in the part of my post where you neglected to add, I made it rather clear that you could expect quite a bit of time with no profit.

    If you want to go further in this thread, you'll notice the original post. That original post is what I answered. The poster asked if there was a demand for custom bikes. He didn't ask if it was feasible, if it was easy, if it was profitable. That extra information is good to know, but don't go tearing into my posts like you know all. I've noticed the habit that you like to do this to many folks and cause disruption. It's not appreciated.
    It sounded to me like Unterhausen was agreeing with with you.
    Last edited by ftwelder; 02-07-12 at 03:35 PM.
    1886 Surrey machinists Invincible, 1900 Nashua, 1937 Raleigh Golden Arrow, 1938 Raleigh Silver Record, 1951 Armstrong tourmalet, 1970 Motobecane Grand Record, 1971 Raleigh Professional, 1971 Gitane TDF, 1972 Legnano Gran Primio, 1973, Peugeot PX-10, 1975 Roberts, 1984 Battaglin Giro, 1985 Grandis Speciale, 2012 FTW

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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Savagewolf View Post
    If you are going to quote me, feel free to. Don't pick and select certain parts of my post while leaving other relevant pieces out.

    "You just have to work through years of perfecting your skills, acquiring equipment, and building up a need for your bikes. I'd expect many years of your budget being in red before turning a profit."

    Remember that part?

    I'll also stick to my statement that good framebuilders are very much in demand, and not counting only Vanilla and a few others. As someone like myself who has been looking for a custom built bike, I've found quite a few builders that I was interested in (not because of their name) and almost everyone was quite busy. Perhaps it is different where you live, but in the Pacific Northwest, particularly Oregon, there is a high demand for quality custom frames. I know because I've done my research in finding a good one.

    Getting to the level where people want your product, as I mentioned in the part of my post where you neglected to add, I made it rather clear that you could expect quite a bit of time with no profit.

    If you want to go further in this thread, you'll notice the original post. That original post is what I answered. The poster asked if there was a demand for custom bikes. He didn't ask if it was feasible, if it was easy, if it was profitable. That extra information is good to know, but don't go tearing into my posts like you know all. I've noticed the habit that you like to do this to many folks and cause disruption. It's not appreciated.
    Unterhausen can come across as a bit abrupt and curmudgeonly, but so can I, so I try to see past that. It is a fact that it is difficult to make enough money building boutique bicycle frames to stay in business, let alone make an acceptable living doing it. Very, very few charge the big bucks and have long wait lists. Very, very few.

    That said, Portland/Seattle is for sure an anomaly in terms of hipsterism and framebuilding. The rest of the USA is, with a maybe a few exceptions, nothing like that at all. Minneapolis is another hotbed of framebuilders, but you know what? The actual output of even those guys is quite small. Many produce perhaps 5-10 frames per year. Most eke out a meager living (that is often meager by choice, mind you) by repainting frames, or painting frames for other builders, or both. The lugged-steel bicycle frame niche in even a nation the size of the USA is quite small indeed. Even if we include TIG'ed steel it is still tiny. Throw in Ti if you want, and it is still miniscule compared to any part of the overall bike biz here. So I think unterhausen is pretty much right on the money with his comments, for the most part.
    Last edited by 753proguy; 02-14-12 at 01:31 PM. Reason: spellin'

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