Framebuilder Survey: Summary Report

I am finally ready to distribute a data summary report from the Survey of U.S. Framebuilders!

You can find the PDF report in a link at the bottom of this post.

The report–which includes a brief introduction/overview section–should speak for itself, so let me just say a few things that speak to the broader context:

Why did it take so long?

In a word: Covid-19. Online teaching and pandemic disruption took a lot of my time/energy across the second half of 2020. Then, when I sat down earlier this year (2021), I realized I needed to do more data cleaning. This got pretty involved, down to contacting a few builders who had filled out certain important questions (i.e. income, full/part-time status) in somewhat anomalous ways to clarify their responses. What is more, the actual construction and formatting of the tables took about 4 times as long as I thought it would!

The good news about the delay: this improved the data quality/validity, especially by eliminating the influence of a few outlier cases that had an outsize impact on a few of the more important variables.

I closed the survey on 1.20.2020, after having provided some preliminary analyses here on the blog and at a panel at the Philly Bike Expo, near the end of 2019. The survey thus captured a pre-Covid handbuilt bike trade, and I’m glad that it did! As anyone reading this knows, almost very dimension of the bike trade has been massively disrupted by the pandemic, with ripples or echoes of that disruption projected to last well into 2022. Unlike the “mass” enthusiast end of the market, the handmade trade does not seem to have been as negatively impacted by the disruptions as one might have initially feared…even if many builders are scrambling to find parts to complete builds, etc.

But, the basic point is this: take this data report as a snapshot of the the pre-Covid handbuilt trade.

What about my previous analyses published here on the blog?

Ignore them as they have been supplanted! This report speaks from the fully cleaned and verified data whereas previous posts here on the blog used data that were pretty clean but not the final product! Nothing has changed all that much, but–from here on out–please only refer to the analyses from the report!

What next?

While running these analyses for the report I also continued with more builder interviews during 2020/2021. With those in hand, I finally feel ready to put together a few definitive article-length analyses. These will be more academically-oriented articles, though they should nonetheless be interesting to the “general” public–well, to the extent that public is interested in the bike trade or the challenges of artisanal producers overall!

Right now I’m outlining and drafting two papers:

  • One paper looks at different ways in which framebuilders define what it means to be a “professional” in the absence of any real credentialing, industry organization, legal regulation, or even formalized training process apart from UBI and some other classes. I’ve spoken with many builders, at many different career stages and, frankly, at different levels of “success” in terms of building a sustainable and profitable business, about their notions of “professionalism” and how to draw that boundary, as well as those involved in various attempts to construct some type of “industry organization” in the past. Specifically, the paper will include an analysis of The Framebuilders’ Collective as well as the Oregon Bicycle Constructors Association and the ways in which these organizations dealt with the “professional” boundary in terms of who was allowed in, as well as what types of potential benefits these organizations envisioned as flowing to members, to other practitioners/builders and to the handbuilt segment as a whole. In this analysis, I think that findings about builder livelihood and work structure from the survey will be very helpful in contextualizing these different–and even competing–notions of what it means to be a professional builder.
  • The second paper looks at the persistent/recurring appeal to expanding scale in the handbuilt bike trade….and with the evident limitations or challenges to “scaling up” that so many builders have encountered. There have been multiple “waves” of growing scale in the handbuilt trade, including–I would argue–one that followed the NAHBS renaissance . While the handbuilt bike trade has its own peculiarities and particularities, I would also assert that the question/challenge of scale is indeed a central one in many artisanal or craft domains/economies. This is a challenge conceptually, in terms of defining the product being made and whether something can remain “artisanal” through being fabricated in a more standardized and larger-scale process. But it’s also a challenge pragmatically, in terms of whether “scaling up” is actually a viable pathway to a better livelihood for most builders. Here again the survey data will be most helpful in situating builder livelihoods as well as actual production models and output levels being used by more successful (from a business standpoint) builders.

So, feel free to download, read and pass along the report–and I welcome any comments, feedback, further questions or whatever else on either the report itself or my ongoing work!

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