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OM in the News: The Customized Bicycle Industry

April 16, 2014

bike custom

The vast majority of bikes sold in the US are made in Asia and a handful of companies dominate the market, writes The Atlantic (April 3, 2014).  Custom-made bikes are a very small slice of the industry. “But right now is the Golden Age in custom frame building,” says one industry expert. “There have never been more builders producing, and the quality has never been higher.” Though thriving, the 100 or so builders in the hand-built bicycle scene make up about 3.3% of the overall U.S. bike industry, valued at $6.1 billion and is sourced almost completely overseas. Almost 99% of bicycles sold in the U.S.are assembled in Asia—93% in China and 6% in Taiwan.

Additionally, just four companies—Dorel, Accell, Trek Bicycle, and Specialized Bicycle—own about half of the 140 bicycle brands available in this country. Technology, though, is very accessible to a one-person or two-person shop or frame builder. A lot of the innovation and creativity comes from the thinking that smaller companies can produce. Technology has made the production side more important by lowering the cost of reaching customers. The internet opens up selling opportunities–and more competition. So production and design capabilities are critical.

Unlike production bicycles that come off the rack in standard shapes and sizes, custom bikes are designed specifically for their owners’ bodies, riding styles, and aesthetic preferences. In determining the angles, rigidity, and flex of the frames they construct, hand builders take into account dozens of measurements and factors—everything from customers’ inseams, arm length and hip flexibility to whether they prefer a stiff ride for efficiency or a softer ride for comfort. The customer also has a say in the bike’s finish, color scheme and design. Ranging in price from $3,000 to more than $15,000, the primary market for custom bikes is affluent people in their 40s or 50s—more men than women—who are steeped in the cycling lifestyle and already own one bike, if not 10.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Which of the production processes described in Chapter 7 applies here?

2. Why is the industry surviving–and succeeding?

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