27 June, 2007

For Your Eyes Only

Since the CIA has just released the "Family Jewels", describing how they spied on Americans and tried to assassinate various heads of state, I thought I would release some data on getting bike parts manufactured. Many people e-mail to ask how various projects are coming so I thought we needed to explain the delays. Now I'm still new at this, so I probably don't know all the secret shortcuts, but here is our basic operational plan.

Let's take the VO water bottle cage as an example. First we look at dozens of historical drawings to get ideas. Next I make sketches of the cage and send them off to my Taiwan agent by e-mail, not secret courier. At this point a few weeks have elapsed and he has given the drawings to a real draftsman and stopped giggling at my sketches, (Tom, have you stopped laughing?). The plans are drawn in Solid-Works, sent back and forth a few times as various versions are considered and several small changes are made. Now finished, translated, and double checked, they are sent off to five factories that make cages. Most have no interest in doing a small run of high-end cages for an unknown company, but one likes the idea. The problem is that they can't find exactly the right stainless steel rod to meet our specs. We broaden our specs as a few more weeks slip away.

So here we are, in a few more weeks we'll receive samples. Then we will pay for tooling cost. The tooling will be made and then the cage. Now months, not weeks, have slipped away as we wait for our turn in the production schedule. Eventually the first run will be completed and packed. Then we will wait for a freighter, not Air America, to bring then to the US and a truck to haul them to Annapolis. Eventually they will be for sale, but it won't be soon.


ANDY said...

This version looks nice, especially the secret VO logo as seen on bottom end view.

Joel said...

Elegant and pure lines. Very clever with the logo. Bravo!

John said...

Um, there is no bottom view.

James said...

It's a bottom view if you mount it upside down.

So when are we getting a velo orange handlebar bottle mount with appropriate corked bottle? Is there any reason why I need to put my hand between my legs to get a bottle?
How big is the back pocket on the Ostrich bar?

thefastfifty said...

all this talk of manufacturing makes me wonder: what are the working conditions like in the factories you deal with, Chris?

my sister works at the Fair Labor Assoc. here in DC (http://www.fairlabor.org), which works toward fair labor conditions in the apparel and footwear industries, so i hear a lot about such things. and she says if consumers don't ask, companies assume they don't care.

Ethan "smart ass"

thefastfifty said...

also yea the cage is totally sweet.

Anonymous said...

Chris, thank you for filling this niche in the market.

I went to grad school with a guy from Singapore who worked in the computer industry as some sort of middle-end engineer, and he told me that generally it is the apparel industries that have sweatshops--computers and other manufacturing ( I will bet bottle cages fall in there somehow) tend to pay a living (though not great) wage to their workers. I think he put it down to a gender difference--women sewed, and were easier to exploit, men worked in other industries, and were less so.... While this is depressing, it should give a clear concience in terms of buying a cage from VO.
M Burdge

Chris Kulczycki said...

M and Ethan, These are made in Taiwan, not China. There is a huge difference; Taiwan is an advanced first world country with strong labor laws. The average income is around $13,000. I also have heard that that is about what someone with skills, such as welding, would make in the bike industry.

Many of the factories that make parts like our cages are really just large family owned shops, not too unlike some specialty bike component manufacturers here in the US.

The major labor issue in Taiwan is with immigrant workers, who can face harsh conditions as can immigrant workers here and in some European countries. I understand that the government has been paying much more attention to enforcing immigrant worker rights in recent years.

Anonymous said...

I second the suggestion for a handlebar bottle mount. However it may be a security risk as it was the "hbm" which got my bike stolen according to the CIA... I still want a few!

'Brian' aka 'BG' said...

Agree or not, I always thought Dan's articles about the bicycle industry are worth the read. Here's the link to an old article that some here will find interesting I'm sure: http://www.slowtwitch.com/mainheadings/features/bikebiz.html

'Brian' aka 'BG' said...

My url link got cut off, try this:

Joel said...

Easy solution to that Brian. My bike frames are handmade in the US. Components are either from small US shops such as Paul, White, Thompson, or Japan for handlebars, France for cranks. Even my tires are German and Japanese.

Got some nice NOS and new Japanese stuff from a cool little shop called VO.

All this hand wringing over the bike industry can be avoided by doing just a little planning.

And yeah, it costs a little more. But I can sleep at night.

Karl Matthias said...

Those look great, Chris! I'll be ordering one when you've got them.

Anonymous said...

Thomson is also a defense contractor, which may affect how clean a person sees them.
M Burdge

'Brian' aka 'BG' said...

Yes, Thomson (no P) is more than just a bicycle component maker, and their Elite Stems remind me of a tooled firearm as much as a bike part (especially in black). I'm not nuts about supporting arms manufacturers (or people involved in the support thereof), but that said, I love the quality, serial numbered and precision machined quality of Thomson. I absolve much of my guilty conscience for having bought Thomson products in the past with the knowledge that BSA (and several other manufacturers) also produced arms and bikes, and I love the old British Isles bicycles.

JoelMatthews said...

Perhaps if people bought more Thomson bike products, it would have less need for federal contracts.

If more people had better made bikes, more people would drive less and the need to be world police would seem less pressing.

In any event, the fact Thomson makes product for Uncle Sam ensures by law it has to encourage union reps to come in and speak to workers (Thomson is a union shop in any event), must meet heightened minority and female hiring levels than state regulations require, and probably has better med benefits than most US companies, let alone those in the developing world.

In my mind anyway, that evens things out.

(and do you have any way of knowing Taiwan bike machine shops don't make AK47s on the side?)

JoelMatthews said...

Brian: Guess I had a major brain cramp last night. One of my bikes happens to be leaning against my desk. The Thomson logo is looking right at me.

One of the things that drew me to Thomson in the first place is they offer most of their products in silver as well as black. I'll have to take a closer look at their black stems next time I am at the LBS.

Anonymous said...

For the record, I intend on using the Thomson post (as well as the UN-71 BB) I found in a dented Santa Cruz Chameleon I found at the North Vancouver metal recycling facility. (I may even try to use the Chameleon!) I am just saying that it can be hard to make ethical choices--after all, one could make the claim that things producd in really cheap-labour places contribute to the overall development of the country, and eventually wages will rise, &c. My priority is to have a minimum of bikes, but I realise many other cyclists feel otherwise.
M Burdge

'Brian' aka 'BG' said...

I dumped my Altria stock I received as a gift because of its connection to tobacco products, but it's hard to avoid investing to some degree in businesses that deal in harmful products, heck even a S&P 500 index fund that anchors many a investor portfolio has some bad stuff in there. We do the best we can. BTW, has anyone here checked out kiva.org and that micro loan concept? I'm down for a small bike shop man from the Ukraine, and three mexican women and their little tortilla enterprise.

I like to think bicycling three-quarters of the time rather than using my motor vehicle makes a difference, but I wonder if it matters a whit as I look around at my fossil fuel burning environment.