Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Made in USA on a budget 

My focus again is bikes, but the same aspects apply to several other engineering related industries, where skills and quality matter over sheer volume and lowest price.

There was a time when the USA was a leading bike manufacturer by volume and I'm not expecting that to return. However there are a range of quality jobs particularly for small innovative companies that do make sense and should be supported here in the USA.

One popular option is to locate the design, research, sales and marketing, support, final assembly and packaging in the USA while actual manufacturing is overseas. The most well known of these is SRAM.  But there are also a range of companies making components here in the USA and this is a welcome trend.  Many people don't even realize that they can source almost all of the components on their bike from USA companies.

These components tend to be aimed at the serious biking community, off-roaders and commuters rather than the casual urban cyclist.  However, by careful use of eBay and internet discount sites along with direct ordering from USA companies sites you can definitely equip your ride well without over reaching your budget.

Parts such as bars, stems, seat posts, brakes and headsets are all available with several choices.  Then accessories such as bar tape wrap, bottle cages, bottles, hydration systems, bags and cycling computers can be found too.

My previous blog post was on lighting systems and here I feel most people will not want to skimp on price and quality.  Being safe and being seen early and often clear makes sense on the road anywhere and a lot of reasonably priced lights are available from USA companies and quality suppliers such as REI.

Wheels are one area I think there is more opportunity. Right now companies assemble in USA from Taiwan components, with some USA made parts, such as hubs, but there is no entire made in USA wheelset maker.

So, what does a made in USA bike look like with a majority of USA made components that is not a boutique highend purchase from a custom builder?  I've been working for the past six months via eBay and internet deals on slowly retro-fitting parts on my ride, a Bike Friday Crusoe, that I originally acquired on eBay.  My cost has been a few hundred dollars total on these USA made switch out components, but the ride quality and overall improvements have been worth it.  Far better brakes, new replacement headset (old Taiwan one was simply worn out), vastly improved lights, and superb seatpost being the main parts. Then accessories include a wicked stainless bottle cage, bar tape and new 130mm stem. You can see the entire list of components here and their sources, along with the bike itself here.

All this was triggered in part by Bike Friday itself, I was disappointed in how many low end Taiwan parts come on their regular bikes.  Well hold that thought, as part of their 20 year celebration they have produced an "almost all made in USA" bike, collectors edition, 20 bikes, sticker shock on these is $6,000 but they will be snapped up I'm sure because Bike Fridays hold their value very well.  You can see this machine and the story of how they sourced the parts right here.  I wonder how much customer pressure they have got to not just make in the USA but source in the USA.  I see encouraging signs in their new releases such as their Llama with Aerospoke wheels and the Tikit commuter with belt drive. Of course you can always buy a bare frame set and add all your own components. Clearly they can do more, without tagging you with a $6,000 sticker price!

So the message here is one of citizen power.  As consumers we have choice, see this "Buy American" site, and regardless of politicians and government "stimulous packages" our choices are generally much more effective and direct in influencing our lives.  Read the packaging carefully on products and use the internet to make informed buying choices, and as I found recently, if unsure Google for the same item in Canada where their sites actually show you the country of origin details.  Just in case you had any doubt about the power of big corporations to restrict your access to information during your buying process!?

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