Small - Maybe Beautiful, But Not Always Helpful!
The small companies had their own unique challenges trying to balance the needs of their co-workers, customers, and finances during lockdown. We talked every day to our friends at Seven, Pegoretti, No22, Passoni, Open and FiftyOne. They had the advantage that they de-facto controlled the means of their own production - raw-materials in one end of the workshop – a bicycle frame rolls out the other. But they were also all working in horribly restrictive lockdown conditions – and in Pegoretti’s and Passoni’s case, under the severest restrictions. And to start with at least they were largely bypassed by the cycling blip, that was being enjoyed at the other end of the market, powered by new entrants into the sport. We were at least keeping our lights on at Cyclefit servicing clunkers and delivering commuter bikes around London, to start. But it was actually much harder for some of our friends in these specialist workshops. Rob Vandermark from Seven summed it up beautifully when I spoke to him in March:
"Everyone here is in good spirits, and I'm proud of how everyone is coming together -- at a distance -- to be creative in keeping up with the work in front of us."
And Aidan Duff from FiftyOne observed that:
"The great irony is that frame building is a solitary craft. Man and machine."
Nevertheless the good work carried on, on both sides of the Atlantic. It was touching that they would sometimes ask how each other were coping, but to my knowledge rarely, if at all talked to each other. Which is odd because we talk to other shops all the time - Bespoke Cycles, Pearson Cycles, Cotswold Cycles etc. This has been one of the positive aspects of the crisis - reaching out to and collaborating with, your community, whatever that is.
We felt a bit like a custom-bike information clearing house, pulling in news from all over the world, about how these talented craftsmen were toiling against the odds to keep the torch alive. They appreciated reading about each other in our newsletters – they enjoyed the kinship and sense of shared experience. At the other end of the spectrum, we heard rumours that some of the big brands were engaged in a virtual uncivil war with each other, in an attempt to get their own product booked into limited production slots available in the few behemoth factories, in the far east, that increasingly manufacture almost all of the planet’s bikes. Maybe some of the more progressive companies will now think it pragmatic to repatriate at least some of their production back under their own European and North American roofs, and therefore under their own direct control? Just a thought.