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  1. #1
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    Soma Fabrications: beyond OEM or just a paint job

    I'm new to this forum so an answer to this query may be in the archives (I have not searched it very deeply). So, apologies in advance for any waste of bandwidth.

    For heavy-load touring and "grocery commuting", I'm looking for something both durable and reliable. I'll probably have to DIY the thing a bit because none of the pre-built commercial bikes I've found fits these criteria AND are cost effective.
    With these criteria in mind, I went Internetting ... I've, hence, seen several refs to Soma Fabr. frames and forks. A quick browse thru their web site yields the fact that Soma sources its frame tubing/componenets -- maybe even pre-built frames and forks -- from East Asian OEM manuf. Tange.

    A quick look at Tange frames/forks and those put out by Soma reveal close similarities. In fact, often, I can't really tell them apart, other than by paint and graphics. This prompts one to ask ... is Soma really putting out their OWN (in-house designed) frames/forks using Tange tubes and frame/fork components (maybe custom-built to Soma "specs") ... or is it just Tange OEM with a unique, but unspectacular, paint/graphics job?
    Last edited by hollowman; 09-11-10 at 06:56 AM.

  2. #2
    snob rogwilco's Avatar
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    The vast majority of bicycles sold in North America and Europe is manufactured in just a handful of factories in Taiwan and China, often with only minimal differences between the brands (even high-end carbon bikes). And nobody makes their own tubes for steel bikes anyway.

    I don't know about Soma in particular but I really don't think what you said there differentiates them in any way from any other bike brand. If you want a sincerely "made in the USA" bike, you'll probably have to dig deeper into your pocket than a fairly mainstream company like Soma.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by rogwilco View Post
    The vast majority of bicycles sold in North America and Europe is manufactured in just a handful of factories in Taiwan and China, often with only minimal differences between the brands (even high-end carbon bikes). And nobody makes their own tubes for steel bikes anyway.

    I don't know about Soma in particular but I really don't think what you said there differentiates them in any way from any other bike brand. If you want a sincerely "made in the USA" bike, you'll probably have to dig deeper into your pocket than a fairly mainstream company like Soma.
    Soma is a pretty small company, so it's not surprising them using OEMs for most (if not all) "their" (Soma brand) products. Soma is so small that they, in fact, sell a lot of non-Soma stuff on their site (e.g., SKS pedals, Honjo fenders, etc).

    I think what I was getting at was where all (or most of) the "heavy lifting" (= smart thinking or engineering) is done. I.e., engineering of OEM stuff [like Tange (frames, forks, tubes, etc.) and Shimano/SRAM (shift/drivetrain)] vs. in-house. Now, it's easy to guess that large companies like Trek, Schwinn and Fuji do most of their engineering "in-house" and then out-source the manuf. to China/Taiwan. I also saw a video of Canadian high-end company, Guru -- they seem to build the whole bike "in-house"...build the carbon-fiber frame and assemble the rest of the bike at their local factory.

    So who are the China/Taiwan OEMs and which bike companies (besides Soma) make heavy use of them? I mean other than obvious stuff like Shimano/SRAM.

    BTW: I'm from U.S., but I don't care about "Made in U.S.A." I have owned Schwinn and Gary Fisher, but also Fuji, Peugeot, Mundo Cycle (Germany) and Raleigh. So there....!
    Last edited by hollowman; 09-11-10 at 06:24 AM.

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    In 1920, Yasujiro Tange formed the Tange Manufacturing Co., to produce bicycle forks. Over the 1950s and 60s, Tange began to manufacture butted tubing for bicycles, and then tubing products for non-bicycle uses. Tange then began to expand into other products - tube-type forks in 1965, and other components such as seat stays, dropouts and chain stays in 1974, resulting in the formation of Tange Seiki Ltd. in 1979 as an independent headset producing offshoot. In 1980, the founder of the Tange Manufacturing company, Yasujiro Tange, passed away - but his company continues to manufacture high technology bicycle components, and in 2010, Yasujiro Tange complete bikes have been introduced into the market.
    More on Tange in this cyclorama.net article:
    http://www.cyclorama.net/viewExhibitor.php?id=172

  5. #5
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    'Soma' is a Brand name of the Merry Sales company, of South San Francisco, Cal,
    an Importing Wholesaler . the name, in SF it stands for South of Market street.

    The Website sells at retail, If your LBS gets a Merry Sales account,
    they can have the same parts on the shelf there.

    Same as 'Salsa' and 'Surly' are brands of another importing distributor of bike parts
    QBP, in MN, & Red line For SBS in WA.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 09-11-10 at 09:49 AM.

  6. #6
    Insane Bicycle Mechanic Jeff Wills's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    'Soma' is a Brand name of the Merry Sales company, of South San Francisco, Cal,
    an Importing Wholesaler . the name, in SF it stands for South of Market street.
    Etc., etc.

    And "EAI" is a branch of Euro-Asia Imports, a importer/warehouse in the L.A. area:
    http://www.sheldonbrown.com/harris/e...tar-track.html
    http://www.revolverbikes.com/EAI.bareknuckle
    I worked for them many years ago when they were resolutely "wholesale only". Interesting that they've turned themselves into a "brand".
    Jeff Wills

    All my bikes.

  7. #7
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    TOYO Frame

    If you're looking for high-end and amazing quality brazing or welding then TOYO Frame (www.toyoframe.com) are the best around.

    EAI is currently using TOYO to build the EAI TOYO Godzila track, even though this one is actually built by TOYO's Taiwan factory, not Japan.

  8. #8
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    Toyo frame

    If you're looking for high-end and amazing quality brazing or welding then TOYO Frame (www.toyoframe.com) are the best around.
    "High end"? The TOYO frame ... is WAY more $$ than the Soma. Not sure how they justify charging such as price. it reminds me of Raleigh International -- classic CRO-MO frame that, decades ago, was relatively inexpensive. Raleigh still makes a bike based on pretty much the same International CRO-MO frame ... but now charges kilo-$'s.
    I like "classic" Panasonic frames, too. Very high-quality. Esp. if you can find them used or at a garage sale/flea market.
    Sigh ... the Soma frame is decent value. As far as what happened to the rest of the "high-end" bike industry ... it's like high-end audio. Way, way over-priced.

  9. #9
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    I have a Soma Smoothie.

    I did a bit of research prior to purchase, looking at Surly's, Salsas, Kona, Gunnars, Rivendells, etc... The Salsa/Soma/Surly tig welded steel frames are pretty much all Taiwan made and very well made at that.

    I was also swapping most of the parts from a similar Heron road frame that was too big and have built up roughly a dozen bikes in 20 years, so was comfortable with the process once I got the frame choice settled.

    Soma had a good reputation, including from Grant Peterson at Rivendell and in truth, if they went out of business tomorrow (unlikely) and the frame failed, it's not a huge expense at $550 frame and fork. Thus I was OK with a somewhat new company and frame I'd never test ridden. If it was a Richard Sachs @ $3000 and he closed shop, I'd be concerned.

    Bottom line is they are really nice frames at a good price. I purchased direct from Soma and they were great and would do it again and can recommend them.

    And as BTW, I love my Smoothie. One of the nicest bikes I've owned. Rides great, handles great.

    SB

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by hollowman View Post
    BTW: I'm from U.S., but I don't care about "Made in U.S.A." I have owned Schwinn and Gary Fisher, but also Fuji, Peugeot, Mundo Cycle (Germany) and Raleigh. So there....!
    Funny you should use those examples... Schwinn has not, I believe, had a single made-in-USA frame for decades. Gary Fisher may have had a couple USA made models early on, and perhaps a couple of high-end models after Trek bought the line, but probably has not had any USA made frames for years, as Trek is primarily selling Asian made frames now, too. So good thing you don't care about 'made int he USA'

  11. #11
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    There is nothing fancy about Soma paint jobs, just plain old single colors and minimal stickers. No one designs steel tubes except the companies that make them (Tange, Columbus, Renolds, ect.) That just leaves which tube thickness/quality to use, the tube length and angle to weld them together; this is what Soma designs.

    How they can build Tange Prestige frames for such a low price is what is really incredible about Soma. I really don't think there is another company giving you such high end tubes for such a low price. I guess it comes from cheap labor, not wasting money on fancy paint jobs, and very little advertising costs.

  12. #12
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    If tubes are bought in the thousands, and source factory is on the same country,
    or side of the ocean, costs go down ..

  13. #13
    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    For the use you describe, I'd look at the Soma Saga, the Surly LHT, the Trek 520 and the Novara Randonee. I wouldn't worry about who actually manufactures the frame, or who coughed up the design, as long as you enjoy it. But it's safe to say that Tange isn't making the frame, just the tubing.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by hollowman View Post
    "High end"? The TOYO frame ... is WAY more $$ than the Soma. Not sure how they justify charging such as price. it reminds me of Raleigh International -- classic CRO-MO frame that, decades ago, was relatively inexpensive. Raleigh still makes a bike based on pretty much the same International CRO-MO frame ... but now charges kilo-$'s.
    I like "classic" Panasonic frames, too. Very high-quality. Esp. if you can find them used or at a garage sale/flea market.
    Sigh ... the Soma frame is decent value. As far as what happened to the rest of the "high-end" bike industry ... it's like high-end audio. Way, way over-priced.
    By "high-end" I meant the long hours they spend hand building them (check the welding/brazing details on their website). But you seem to be looking for a reasonably priced average frame (TIG welded in cheap China or low quality Taiwan). Thus, a Soma will probably suit you well.
    High quality tubing doesn't mean great bike, but how well they weld those quality tubes together, with a nice design, paint job...

    The difference is, you want a bike that is not so expensive and has a reasonable quality (good quality/price ratio), while I prefer to spend more and get works of art like TOYO, Richard Sachs, and a few other.
    For mass production bikes, you might even find better (cheaper).

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