Framebuilding has been going on for over 100 years, and we’ve never needed a map before! So why now? Customers know how to find framebuilders for a bespoke frame, and reputation spreads by word of mouth as it always has done. Quality speaks for itself, right?
Why do we need a Framebuilders Map?
Well, bicycle framebuilders are very busy people and have work coming out of their ears! These are often engineering or creative types who are passionate about riding and making beautiful bicycles. They can be one-man (or woman) bands, beavering and fettling away in a cold workshop all day trying to get the job done.
They might have little idea about marketing. It’s also unlikely that they are up with the latest Google algorithm update. Some have a big enough operation to employ a professional in those fields to increase their reach. But most can’t do this and don’t have much time to dedicate to the above.
The customer’s journey of discovery
In order to commission a custom bicycle the customer must jump through a series of considerable hoops. Now, I’m not talking about the actual process of speaking to a framebuilder about their requirements. I’m referring to the rider’s journey of discovery. How does a person come to realise they have the option of a custom bike?
My own journey of discovery took some considerable time and effort:
- Riding a truly terrible Van Nicholas for 9 years
- Endless research on titanium bikes suitable for racing (months)
- Test riding of various titanium and carbon race bikes which left me confused about carbon, but certain that titanium was not the answer
- Attending a 10 day framebuilding course at a cost of approximately £1200
- Social media engagement and research into framebuilder options
- A total of around 500 miles travelling to and from the framebuilder to measure up, and collect the finished bike
This is just too much to expect from most people. It would be far more convenient for them to go to their LBS (because it’s close!) and see what they have in stock. Or peruse the endless bikes on offer at online retailers. Most don’t even realise there is another avenue to consider.
It only actually occurred to me that a bespoke bike was an option after it was suggested by the instructor of the framebuilding course! I had assumed I couldn’t afford it. I thought bespoke frames were only for riders of freakish proportions, as per the mainstream narrative. These views are shared by many riders I know.
This journey of discovery took a lot of effort on my part, and much of it entirely accidental. Of course, the journey is ultimately worth it for those who end up there. But it doesn’t result in lots of cyclists having that realisation. It’s a massive limiting factor on the size of the industry, and the number of jobs it can support. This in turn increases the waiting lists and decreases our options depending on where we live.
Did I really need to clock up 500 miles to visit my framebuilder? Probably not. There was probably someone closer, but I went off a recommendation from the course instructor. But how could I have found someone closer?
I could have spent hours on my computer researching the established builders and the new generation of artisans. I could have trawled social media or reached out to more people in the industry for advice. If I was willing to put the time in I could have built up enough insider information to narrow down my options to find somewhere more local. But who exactly has time for all that?!?
Having just left the RAF and started a new job, I was trying to settle in a new town on the other side of the country. I was also planning a wedding, selling a house 200 miles away and looking for a new home.
I’m sure you can appreciate I wasn’t really in a position to put in all that extra work! And most people who are looking for their next bike have these same pressures. People want convenience and in a global economy, convenience and world of accompanying information is only a click away.
Competing with mainstream brands
I’ve heard people say that bespoke bikes and the brands of the peloton are completely different products for a different subset of consumers. I think it’s more nuanced than that.
There is no doubt that big brands have the marketing down to a T. You can buy their bikes at the click of a button. They supply a number of retailers who compete with each other to sell the bikes and kit in order to increase their sales throughput. There are many detailed reviews available which tell you how it rides generally, and break it down to component level for you. They have also mastered the crucial yet dark art of SEO, and product placement through social media.
Playing them at this game, there is no way a small company can compete.
Location has always been crucial to the bicycle framebuilding industry. The local guys were well known in their area and you still see their bikes being ridden today. Where I live for example, it’s very common to see old Mercian and Rourke bicycles being ridden or parked up. In other areas, it’s other names of their local builders you see, such as Bob Jackson or Ron Cooper. This local aspect to bespoke builds is still a huge advantage in my view, and one that could snowball as more handbuilt bikes are seen as a real option again.
The days of a framebuilder in every major town and city are long gone. It’s unlikely they will ever return. But we can definitely get more bespoke bikes on the road and trails if we can lower the barrier to entry for the customer. Broadcasting workshop locations makes it easier for the customer to discover bespoke as an option. The framebuilders map is just a tool to make it easier to broadcast and discover locations where framebuilding takes place.
The large bike corporations rule the industry because they have the budget and the knowhow. The bespoke industry can fight back by being that ever present local option. But if we don’t know where our framebuilders are, they lose this advantage.