There was a nice piece on NPR a few days ago to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Dr. Seuss’s first book, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. In the NPR story, Seuss’s struggle to get the book published hinges on one point in time, where Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel, credits a chance meeting on the sidewalk between himself and a friend who had recently acquired a job in the Children’s division of a Manhattan publisher. The story goes that if Geisel had been walking down the other side of the street he wouldn’t have become a children’s author, because he was very close to quitting the search for someone to publish his book. What the story barely glosses over is that Geisel submitted Mulberry Street Twenty-seven times before that chance encounter. 27 times he faced rejection. I believe in luck and I believe we can make luck too. We have the gift of Dr. Seuss because Geisel was relentless and luck doesn’t always happen by chance.
In the sense of the effort involved, entering the market with a bespoke product is similar to the struggle faced by Suess. Bicycles today are better than they’ve ever been, if you consider them a mass-produced product; a sporting good. The benefits of small production are not always apparent. In my previous opine I suggested that the benefit of buying a bike from me is that the client is the only person that is considered in the design. There are other benefits too. The closer a product gets to being just a sporting good, the more likely the product was built within a widening range of quality control and objectives. The frames go from “this is the best I can do” to “this fits within our standards of acceptability” to “they are so cheap to make, we can handle the warranty claims”. Please, don’t consider this a rant about Asia or American jobs. I’ve seen this with frames produced in the USA, England, and France during the bike boom of the 70’s. It’s just a reality of piecemeal work, deadlines, and manufacturing. This quote from Gary Smith, the owner of Independent Fabrications, made in a posting for a job opportunity with his firm, says it all: “So, what’s really important is that you have major GAS factor (give-a-shit)”.
In my shop I obsess over process. My goals this year for JG Cycles mostly involve how to improve each part of the assembly process. Not to improve for manufacturing efficiency(that’s on my mind too), but to provide the straightest, repeatable, and dynamically stable frames I can. My name is on the downtube, so it’s important to me. If it’s not the best I can do it won’t leave the shop dot period. It’s a hard way to build a brand and I’m happy that cats like Dr. Seuss have been around to provide inspirational stories, because it takes some of that to keep it going.