A discussion on the iBOB bike list between framebuilders Doug Fattic and Tim Fricker about making transportation bikes in America, for Americans, inspired a little thinking on my part.
Doug has developed a transportation bike for the Ukraine, and Tim was thinking about something between the extremes of making fine bicycles for discerning cyclists and designing a bike to be built in China to reach a price point acceptable to American non-cyclists.
I thought about the people I’ve met who went to the UBI framebuilding school, or just bought a welding rig to make their bike ideas tangible. It seems like a LOT of people have recently learned to braze and TIG weld because they are ON FIRE about bicycles. What if all the people learning to build bikes got together? They can’t all be the next Richard Sachs, but they could make some money and help change the world.
Perhaps they could organize themselves into a giant, distributed labor pool.
Say you’re the franchiser:
You get cheap welding labor from people who are working in their garages. Cottage industry piecework.
They get a ‘kit’ of tubes. You’ve bought the tubes in vast quantity (with all that startup capital), and had them mitered, possibly by a subset of your cottage industrialists, bundled and shipped to the workers.
They get the plans for the bikes in a small number of sizes, and the plans to make cheap jigs out scrap wood.
They get a network of other folks who are also all fired up about bikes and excited to make them.
People in each city get access to locally made bikes, and every builder has a network of family and friends he or she can evangelize, and who are rooting for them to succeed. The “Farmer’s Market Bike” can even be sold and displayed at Farmer’s Markets. :^) Income could be supplemented with ‘$6 tune-ups’, and retrofitting Wald racks onto other bikes, while free air and tool use could create more community good will.
Bikes stay local unless another builder needs a few extra. Or, with good communication amongst the distributed workpool, labor may divide naturally between good sellers and efficient welders.
You get some initial ‘franchise costs’ which you roll into tubing and plans, and you mark up the tubes and build kits somewhat, to get a percentage of each bike and recoup some of the costs of designing the bikes and keeping the pieces flowing.
Like a car dealership, but the factory is on-premises.
Every town has autobody shops that paint repaired door panels, etc. There might be a way to get small batches of bikes painted in “durable automotive finishes” with whatever’s been mixed, or is popular. Sparkly dark green comes to mind. People like these colors, and they already associate them with transportation.
The bikes could have a simple headbadge decal and a small seat-tube band with the bike size and model, and the builder’s name, address and signature.
A downtube decal that says “Main Street” or “Cottage Bike” could brand them, but I don’t like down tube decals, and wouldn’t drive a car that said “FORD” in big letters across the side.