Estimating Handbuilt Bike Segment Size: Next Steps

The first steps in my “estimating the size of the handbuilt segment” effort were pretty successful in soliciting some useful feedback directly and on the forums…while also kicking off some interesting discussions (on list and off) about how to delineate and categorize different parts of the segment as a whole. Knowing the scale of the “handbuilt in the U.S.” segment is interesting in its own right and is absolutely necessary in trying to get some sense of where this all “fits” in the bigger picture. In many respects, though, the boundary work of who is considered worth counting, and why, is even more interesting; I’ll get there eventually. Two basic things emerged from discussion and further thought, and I’m tossing them up here as a note to myself as well as preview of what I’ll be working on next (with respect to the industry size estimates):

1. Probably most obviously, this process underscores that I really need to deal with the mid-size/larger-than-1-person/sometimes custom/sometimes production builders (e.g. the Mosaic, Moots, IF, Seven, CoMotion, Waterford-type builders many of whom have little in common apart from not being 1-person shops). I’d intentionally ignored them in the first pass in an effort to make sense of the (really) large number of individual builders that numerically dominate any comprehensive list, even if their output isn’t very significant. The inverse – the numerically small producers with massively higher output – matters as well, especially if we are trying to get a handle on the total output of the “handbuilt” segment. Good news: there aren’t that many of these larger builders, so getting some basic sense of their output shouldn’t take all that much effort. Which leads me to…

2.  The first step was a basic logical deduction from a couple of informed guesses about the total number of builders, how much they might produce and how much the average or typical (which are really two different things) product sells for. This is a useful strategy for a first approximation and a sort of diagnostic check, but the variation in output, selling cost, frame material and production methods means that I will also attempt another estimate based on more direct observation. Starting from a reasonably comprehensive list of builders (again starting from the list), I will compile a more comprehensive database with multiple variables (output, materials and techniques used, prices, employees) so that any number of different classification schemes might be used for comparisons (like “Ti builders doing custom” compared with “steel builders doing batch built frames”). If collecting the data for the full population of builders turns out to be too difficult, I could also draw samples from the full population list, which would at least give an additional estimate for the size of the handbuilt segment.

All of this work would also pave the way to my larger goal of administering a more extensive survey covering broader issues like business practices and life strategies/philosophies amongst a large sample of builders (if not the entire list). This work may require some additional research assistance, so the full estimate may not be completed until I have a student or two who can give me a hand, but I’ll start working on it myself in the meantime. I can at least get going on the larger-than-1-person shops, given there aren’t all that many of them.

Most immediately on the “to do” is some more trade show field work in Philly! 

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