Thursday, August 9, 2018

2018 OCBA handbuilt frame show CANCELED: Is too much too much?

The Oregon Bicycle Constructors Association have just announced the cancellation of their 2018 Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show, citing "low levels of interest". You can read about it here:
Predictably, lots of readers had plenty to say about why the bottom appears to have fallen out of the local framebuilding scene. Most mentioned gentrification and Portland's unchecked growth, citing new arrivals who want a cleaner, more pristine kind of lifestyle than "old" Portland provided.

Here is my response:

Portland has grown up. We don’t always like the way our kids turn out but now that they have to pay their own rent we don’t really have any say. (And don’t EVEN think you can move back home, because I’ve gone and turned your bedroom into my bike workspace.)


I worked in the bike industry full-time for almost two decades. During that time, I watched a number of trends come and go. Not ONE of those trends catered to lower-income transportational riders who worked on their own bikes because that’s what their budget allowed. Nearly all of the trends can draw a line of DNA back to racing (including mega-distance randonneuring and high-performance, credit-card touring).

Trickle-down from racing — and its accompanying design, production and marketing — is what has provided a great deal of the financial wherewithal to help grow bicycle innovation. Does it go in a direction I personally like? Not usually. But that trickle-down has long determined what our next bicycles will look and perform like.

Custom bikes are just that: CUSTOM, meant for a specific rider, a one-off. Framebuilders take time to learn their craft and longer still to build up a following. But even with carbon, how much of a following can sustain any framebuilder’s operations? (More baldly put: How many bikes does a person want, need or have the capacity to store?)
Past a certain point, growth becomes dangerously connected to excess and excess unchecked can lead to over-consumption.

One of the reasons I’m relieved to have left the new bike industry is that I’ve always been aware of this relationship and I have had an ambivalent, even difficult time reconciling my sense of ethics with that reality.
I greatly appreciate the devotion to craft expressed by our local framebuilders. And I understand the market forces driving the changes that have led to the cancellation of this year’s show. I wish all of them more success and fulfillment in their chosen line of work. I also hope they have other skillsets in case times get really lean.


I have only a couple more days working at Bikes For Humanity PDX this summer, before the demands of my musical work and the High Holy Days take over my life for several weeks. (We'll talk about what work I might be available for later in the fall.)
I've been glad to fix up old bikes meant for folks on a budget. I've also enjoyed coming up with solutions to mechanical issues on the fly. And the folks I work with are the nicest bunch of people you'd ever want to meet. If you're looking for a grass-roots bicycle nonprofit to give some love to, check out B4H-PDX.

Enjoy some good rides with what's left of the summer. Happy riding!

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