Why we build bikes

The recent economic climate, coupled with our company’s growth, has me thinking about our role in the economy at large, however large or small it may be.

Why do we build bikes? I’m placing emphasis on build.

This question is more and more relevant as we morph from a “guy in a shop” operation into a manufacturer. Granted, we’re still a tiny company, relative to most, but things have been moving pretty quick. Here we are, with a handful of standardized frame sizes making their way into shops soon. We now have a company vision, with an internal structure designed to accommodate growth, and a finite goal for the top end of production as well. We’re building more bikes than two hands can produce. Crazy stuff.

Bearing that in mind, it would have been easier in some ways to start off with a container load of fairly well-made offshore frames. Plenty of good companies have started off this way, some are even younger than us and already selling far greater units than we are.

But we made a commitment to keep it here, in the USA for a few reasons. I’ll get to that later; first let’s look into sourcing:

How does the sourcing option work?

According to an article on Allanti.com, as many as 95% of the bicycles sold in the United States are sourced in China or Taiwan. For an investment comparable to a trusty ol’ Bridgeport and some tooling, literally, the aspiring bicycle designer is afforded the opportunity to more or less make his design a reality. A quick Google search of “Asia sourced bike frames” can lead to an impressive list, or you can get help from a specialist who can guide you in even deeper. You get to call out specs, preferred dropouts, etc, and voila! -a unique product. You provide artwork for the bike’s graphics, and the box they will arrive in. The products arrive already padded, and individually boxed, and ready for resale. In the upper-end mountain bike market, you can expect excellent profit margins.

Steel frames can be had quickly and at a price that’s far less than the average framebuilder’s cost for tubing… let alone dropouts, machined parts, etc.

The demand for carbon fiber frames seemingly couldn’t be higher. Unique shaping and stylizing are offered, and the profit margins are extremely good.

Savvy marketing and distribution can help the sourced bike company succeed.

How does the manufacturing option work?

At risk of oversimplifying, I’ll take a quick stab at this, speaking from our own experience. Unfortunately, there’s more to it that buying the aforementioned Bridgeport and tooling… You need a suitable shop space to use it in, for starters. And somebody with a good set of opposable thumbs to run the stuff (and that’s an understatement). Historically, this person is the Designer, often the founder of the company, at least in the beginning. Staffing wise, you need the whole run of manufacturing specialists, at the least on a contractual basis, if not in house at the start: Engineering, Machining, Welding, Finishing. Sourcing becomes a job in itself; from hardware to chemicals to packaging supplies. Again, I’m oversimplifying.

And it’s gotta be legit. Everyone involved has to be accountable, with assumption of liability, and responsible for providing American workers the right to work in “a safe, healthful workplace,” as OSHA describes. (I use the OSHA example as we’re a US based manufacturer- similar principles apply in Canada, and Europe)

And you’ve got to be good. Efficient. There’s more to building bikes than building the bikes… Efficient packaging, just-in-time parts sourcing (tubing, machined parts, shocks, hardware) and supply chain can make the competitive edge.

On a plus, in-house manufacturing in the bike industry can help maintain a competitive technological edge and greater flexibility. White Brothers, for example, were the first to develop longer-travel 29″ suspension forks, as they run a lean, flexible manufacturing system that allows for quick changes. And, as a matter of opinion; the more cutting-edge suspension designs are being executed at in-house facilities. Ellsworth and Intense come to mind. Ventana, as well.

Why we build

We build bikes for the simple fact that we believe it’s the right thing to do. We are proud to know that “the people of Siren” (full-time or contractor) get paid a living wage, are insured, and safe. The Chris King Components website has an excellent and well-researched article on Manufacturing Overseas, posing, among other questions:

What is the true cost of making something with the economic, social and environmental costs included?

It’s a good read and worth some time. Read it here.

Our profit margin is lower than many sourced bikes, but the money we earn is distributed among our local and semi-local economy, and recirculated. It makes sense to me that if my neighbors have money in their pockets, they will be better off, pay their bills, etc. We will be working even harder in the future to assure our responsible actions throughout the process, from sourcing to production to distribution.

So that’s it in a nutshell. We build bikes here, we’re darned proud of it, and hope to do an even better job at it. Thanks to the USA Made blog and AmericanMadeYes for adding us and getting my gears turning about this. Thanks too to Jeff of Intense Cycles for inspiring us- by example- to get all this started.

Further Reading

Why we need shop class (thanks to bikebuilding.com for the link)

Global Exchange

Amnesty International

World Trade Organization official site

Child Labor Coalition

OSHA

Laboratory for Responsible Manufacturing


6 thoughts on “Why we build bikes

  1. As if I couldn’t be more proud to be affiliated with the Siren name. It sure is good to be associated with smart socially minded folk that know their bikes, and how they fit into this world.

    Like

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