Dave Yeti
Ask Uncle Dave

Uncle Dave: Does it matter where my bike is built?

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Oct 10, 2017

Uncle Dave,

I currently find myself in the midst of a pre-midlife crisis and have decided I need a hardtail in my life again after 15 years without. Wanting to be supportive of small localish business I've decided to aquire a Chromag. Here lies my conundrum. I can get a frame that is made by what I am certain are very nice people in Asia from Chromag for approx $1000 less than one built with similar spec by our friends in Whistler (Rootdown vs Primer or Surface). My question for you is what value would you place on a hand made localish frame? I remember lusting over a green and orange Dekerf bike back in the 90's and having the option to build a green and orange frame built by the man himself is hard to resist. My issue is justifying the added (significant) cost to myself and my lovely spousal unit.

Please help!

Walls of Steel


Dear Waldo

I've often found myself longing for the simple days of bicycle yore, when a nice paintjob and a Made in North America tag were enough to justify calling your bicycle "high end". Sure, there was a lot more to it than that (we all seemed to relish talking for hours about weld quality and frame alignment), but that label seemed to be the starting point for justifying quality, and a must if you were aiming to create something lust-worthy.

And somewhere along the line, something dramatic happened* and our perception of a "high quality" bike frame changed. Cycling entered a phase of "new and improved" and build quality started to take a bit of a back seat, trumped by suspension design and shock spec. It would have seemed crazy not that long ago to fork out so much money for frame built god knows where by lord knows who, but people seem perfectly content to do so now. And remember when a decal from a well built tube manufacturer was a must? I bet you have no idea whether or not your bicycle is made of the latest in space-aged materials, or if it is just a bunch of Bondo spackled over a factory second. I find that to be really, really strange and kind of fascinating.**

Stranger still is that when we revert back to talking about hardtails it all comes flooding back to the forefront. Once you start talking about an expensive titanium hardtail, fretting about country of origin again becomes exceedingly important. Do we think that a hardtail requires more attention to detail than something made of patents and carbon? Or is our psyche just stirred by some kind of subconscious echo raised by the vision of a pivotless bicycle? Or have our perceptions changed now that we're so familiar with Taiwanese manufacturing? But then why is North American made so important on one kind of bike, but not with the other? It's very confusing.

And right in the middle of all of this sits Chromag, a fascinating case study in what we are willing to pay to have something built in a certain location. Who else out there is giving you two very similar products which effectively serve the same purpose yet vary in price due to the nationality of the hands that sculpted them? And it would be crazy, silly and irresponsible for me to speak about this any further without asking the man himself, Ian Ritz of Chromag Bicycles, to provide some sort of commentary on this subject.

The process of making frames in Canada is how we started. At the outset, It was very much reminiscent of when a high end frame had the builder’s name behind it and I did have a desire to revive that. It was a collaborative and hands on process, and it still is. I’m in contact with the frames from raw materials right to final prep and the process involves our community, our weekly Friday rides, our staff, the machinists next door, and of course the frame builder.  I regularly meet Mike and Chris to hand over a batch worth of materials, usually in exchange for a batch of raw frames. We talk about our latest ideas and observations in the process and how we can fine tune it going forward. It’s an organic process and it has a meaningful ongoing effect to the way we make our frames. 

Making frames in Canada also translates to what happens in Taiwan because most of the designs we establish here are mirrored with a counterpart model that we make at the production level. You mentioned Primer vs Rootdown and these are essentially the same frame built at two different places. With Taiwan made models, most of the savings boil down to the frame being made by a production team rather than one frame builder. Everything is done by hand, and the people who weld the frames are very skilled, but with a team of 20-30, you can have a very efficient process. 

Obviously we believe in both streams of production. Our Canadian made bikes are the platform for developing models that will be made in Taiwan, but interestingly many of the fabrication developments we have realized in Taiwan have advanced our local models. As we started building in Taiwan, we made a conscious decision to offer bikes made by both methods and let the customers choose…and guide our future direction. As it is, we’ve realized growing demand for both.

The price of our frames is a direct result of the costs that go into making them. The choice to buy a local vs production frame, and how to value the difference is ultimately the customers’.  There is a value and a sense of ‘soul’ in knowing the builders name, and knowing that person built your frame from beginning to end, just as there is a value of buying a relevant design that is efficiently made by a skilled team. How you weigh the value is really a personal thing.

So. There you go. They're both great! Which is almost no help at all, really. If I were you, I'd for sure go for one of the handbuilt options. It's hard to beat something handbuilt by either Truelove or Dekerf. Of course...with the pace of change, you don't want to put a bunch of money into something that might be obsolete in the next few years. Best go with the Taiwanese build option. But then again...I mean...It's only a few hundred dollars, really. Maybe a thousand. What's that when you're getting a frame built by hand by a master? Stop being such a loser.

Shit...I have no idea. Good luck!

Sorry,

Uncle Dave

*I'm going to blame freeride. Once people started breaking everything, and once it became obvious that the average frame builder didn't know a damned thing about full suspension, it made way less sense to spend a bunch of money on something that looked really nice but didn't work and/or would break in a few months. 

**Even though you probably do not.


Walls of Steel - it sounds like you are going to win either way but Chromag is going to sweeten the pot by hooking you up with  a Raglan Kuma Tee in one of three colours shown below. Send us an email to claim your prize. If you'd like to win a prize send your fascinating and hilarious question to Uncle Dave. He loves getting mail. 

Kuma

The Kuma Raglan tee retails for $34 Canadian. To see Chromag's entire line of apparel come this way for men and over here for women... Chromag also has a new line of technical apparel. Check it out!

Uncle Dave's Music Club

I'm kind of surprised that it has taken me so long to get to this point, but today, we're going to talk about Les Savy Fav. My first exposure to them was hearing "Tragic Monsters" at a party and repeatedly asking my friend "Who is this?"  This is the same guy who a few years later would storm out of a house when a girl he didn't think was worthy asked him a similar question under similar circumstances, so I should feel kind of blessed that he stayed put for me. Anyhow, Les Savy Fav are awesome. And I realize that I've barely listened to their last album, but we're not going to talk about that one much here today.

We'll start with this stop motion animation that somebody put together for "Yawn! Yawn! Yawn!" because that's something a person would do and we should all give them some attention.


Next, the aforementioned "Tragic Monsters", because I think it might just be their best song.


Let's add in "Hold on to your Genre".


And we will end with "Pots & Pans", because it seems mildly autobiographical, and it would probably be how I would describe my band, if I had one.


Actually. We're going to end with "The Lowest Bitter", as it is the final track of Let's Stay Friends and that feels appropriate. More appropriate.


Comments

nouseforaname
+3
Nouseforaname  - Oct. 10, 2017, 11:20 a.m.

Doesn't matter which one you chose. When you realise in 6 months that hardtails are hard and your back hurts all the time and wouldn't this be easier with "just a little bit" of suspension; you'll get destroyed on the resale value no matter where it's made. Because 95% of the market is firmly in the new/carbon/2018/2019/boost/suspension camp.

But still, when you've been bitten once by the hardtail bug, it's easy to succumb again regardless of how much you lost selling it.

Reply

mammal
+4
Mammal  - Oct. 10, 2017, 1:32 p.m.

Translation: Buy what you really want, and don't sell it for a long time.

Reply

craw
0
Cr4w  - Oct. 10, 2017, 4:12 p.m.

This is true of all bike gear.

Reply

tashi
0
tashi  - Oct. 10, 2017, 5:31 p.m.

Harder, definitely not "better" but different and a modern 29er is really pretty awesome.  "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up"

Reply

fartymarty
0
fartymarty  - Oct. 13, 2017, 12:22 p.m.

A steel 29HT is all you need.  

If I had the money I would get something custom made frame which is relatively easy living in the UK as there are plenty of quality frame builders.  Then you have something that is unique and fits you.

At the moment (with young family) I couldn't justify the extra expense so would buy something off the shelf and a Rootdown is very much up there on the list.

Later in life my hope is to do a frame building course and build frame for myself.  Whilst it would be a little scary knowing you welded up your own frame there must be something really satisfying about riding something you have built yourself.

Reply

drop32table
+4
drop32table  - Oct. 10, 2017, 1:19 p.m.

This is a great question, and applies to much more than just bikes. 

For me, I'm lucky enough to be at the point in my life where I can afford US built/made goods if I want to. Maybe not all the time, but if I really want to get the US made version, I can usually swing it.  But I'm under no false premise that the US made, or UK made, or EU made product, is any better or worse than a Taiwan, China, Thailand, etc made product.  Or even the Designed in USA but build in China. The product and product line and the values of the company as a whole dictate the physical qualities of the product, not where it is made.   I've even been to factories in Taichung and met the owners of the factories and builders of the frames, and they are people just like anywhere else.

So how to choose.  I guess I try to buy US when I think the money will have more impact to go back into the pockets of the workers.  But typically before I by US I try to do some research, even call or email and talk with the company before buying to see what the people are like and how things work.  Sometimes asking very blunt questions, which I find people who treat their employees well have no problem answering and are generally more than happy to brag about it.  If the owner cares, employees tend to be cared for.

Is there a way to know 100% of the time, no.  But I try to do my best to put my money where I think it makes the most impact and with people who treat their employees well and care for similar issues to my own.

Think that is about all that can be done.

Reply

xy9ine
+1
Perry Schebel  - Oct. 10, 2017, 1:38 p.m.

i've owned a couple bikes of which i've had the opportunity to chat with the people that designed & built them. while they may not have been measurably superior to the offshore factory built hardware of the time (in some cases, they possessed notable flaws, due to quirky design choices), they also turned out to be the most loved bikes i've had. two of which i'll keep forever, another i regret selling, despite it being patently ridiculous by modern standards. it's a silly intangible, but there's something to be said about character / soul imbued inanimate objects. chris & mike are icons of local framebuilding; so much history between these two torchwielders. if you have the means to buy locally handbuilt, and have pseudo justification in terms of mid(ish)-life crisis, i say go for it. and keep it forever.

Reply

tashi
+2
tashi  - Oct. 10, 2017, 1:52 p.m.

All things being equal it's obviously better to line the pockets of a local as they are spending in your community, growing your own local economy, which will benefit you in the end. I've built plenty of houses and sold pool tables to people I've bought products from - I don't think I've ever had the Wal-Mart family members call me up to build them a house. 

That being said I own a Rootdown, not a Surface. In my case the extra $$ would have meant not buying a new frame at all. I may not have sent any money to DeKerf but the boys in Whistler still got some coins to spend in my home province. If I bought a Cannondale or something the $$ would have just gone to some random shareholders who are just as likely to live in England as they are to live around the corner from me.

Reply

natbrown
0
natbrown  - Oct. 10, 2017, 3:57 p.m.

Where's Omar?

Reply

UFO
+1
UFO  - Oct. 10, 2017, 4:34 p.m.

Buy nice or buy twice; I was in the identical position early this year, Surface vs. Rootdown BA. Waffled back and forth for a month, then succombed to my logical side and went in on the Rootdown thinking that was that. 

I was and still perfectly happy with the bike itself, but just knowing that there is something with that bit of extra je ne sais quois within reach (or just a tiny bit out of reach), its hard to keep your desires from wandering. Here I am some 9 months later and pondering the same question of moving up to a Surface. Had I spent the extra few hundred bucks at the outset, life would be gravy right now. Now I'd stand to lose a bunch on the BA. First world problems to the biggest extent. 

I have no worries about lusting after a Ti-Surface though. That is so far out of reach for me--even IF it was locally made by Dekerf, it would be difficult to justify as it's still 'just' a $3500+ hardtail at the end of the day.

Reply

NealWood
+2
NealWood  - Oct. 10, 2017, 11:07 p.m.

I'm generally on the same page as drop32table up there in that I tend to think about where my money is going.  In my case I ride a Rocky with Raceface kit.  Most of it may be made overseas but at least the companies are local and I know people who are employed by them.

As far as * I am more likely to blame suspension.  My background on this, is that I worked in engineering at Syncros for most of the 90's.  When I started there was no front suspension much less rear suspension.  Back then the material and tuning of your handle bar, stem and seatpost really mattered.  The same could be said for the ride quality of the frame.  Then came front suspension and then rear and these things were dominated by suspension related math as well as the advancement in geometry that was then allowed. The feel of the frame or components is much less important than the spring and damping rates once you introduce them into the overall system.  Now we all get nostalgic for hardtails and again the frame feel and quality gets important.  I'd say the same about wheels.  You are going to notice a real nice set of wheel way more on a hard tail than a bike with 5" of suspension.

My two cents.

NW

Reply

XXX_er
0
XXX_er  - Oct. 19, 2017, 3:50 p.m.

Back in the day I met a certain local character at a demo so i asked buddy where he was making his bikes and it was Taiwan so why not Canada?

He told me Taiwan is where its at cuz the best welders are there the best factories are there, he can hop on a bike and ride up the street a few KM to find components or tubing factories or anything he needs ... its all right there  

and the beach was at the other end of the street

Reply

Please log in to leave a comment.

Trending on NSMB