Thursday, May 22, 2008

An Immodest Proposal

I realize the premise of this entire entry is probably off-base—and possibly completely offensive—but fuck it. Hasn't stopped me before. (Please go back and re-read my first paragraph from two days ago.)

To the best of my and virtually everyone else's knowledge, BMX got its start in the United States when a bunch of kids on Stingrays decided to emulate their motocross heroes in the California dirt. And much like many other brilliant American innovations, like jazz, fast food and Friends, it spread rapidly across the globe. Time passed, freestyle happened. Then, in the late '80s and early '90s, a variety of European (mostly British) riders came over to taste the American culture—guys like Lee Reynolds, Craig Campbell, and Nick Philip. They endured our weak beer, wore Life's a Beach and Jimmy'Z, and rode our bikes. Skyways and Dynos, Haros and GTs.

Jump ahead. Until as recently as a few years back, the dollar was quite strong. Gas cost way less than $2 a gallon, and Americans could afford to vacation in Europe without selling any major organs first. At that time, from what I understand, American BMX parts were quite expensive overseas. So a whole mess of new European companies popped up to supply the locals. Proper, Simple, WTP, Mankind, Federal, Fly, United, KHE. In no particular order. Oh yeah, Pashley, too, although they'd been manufacturing bikes since 1926.

At first, very few of these companies distributed their products in the United States. KHE is the first that I remember, with the Jason Davies (below) designed Beater. What was the point? American companies were perfectly capable of supplying home-built frames for the same price as a Taiwanese-made frame from a German company. Who in Cali would have bought a We The People over an S&M?

Then came the flood. European companies started sponsoring American riders as the dollar started to go belly-up. Companies like Fly and Federal could not only afford to market their bikes in the US, in most cases they could actually undercut the traditional American companies and still make a profit. Ten years ago, 90 percent of New York City riders were on Standards. A few years later, there were swarms of Flys.

Don't worry, I do have a point, and I'm getting to it right now.

My point, or perhaps question, is this: Shouldn't we, as American consumers, make it a priority to purchase frames from American companies? I understand that Federal sponsors Steven Hamilton, and Simple sponsors Oba Stanley, and Fly—well, they used to sponsor Biz. Some of that money comes back. But shouldn't we be spending our increasingly harder-earned dollars on supporting companies like Metal, Hoffman, Kink, Volume, Sunday, Fit, S&M and Subrosa (and even more so, Standard, FBM and Terrible One)? Not to be a xenophobe or anything, but if the prices are equal, and the specs are ident—I mean similar, shouldn't it be America first? As far as I know, no one is getting rich from owning a BMX company. Shouldn't we be supporting the people who live where we do, pay the same taxes we do, the ones who are part of our own floundering economy?

(Let it be known that I don't feel this way about everything. I fully support buying Toyotas and Hondas over anything made by Ford or GM, because American automakers are idiots. And I'd buy a PS3 over an XBox if I actually cared about video games.)

But why stop there? Perhaps we should focus even tighter, and primarily support those American companies that were there FIRST. Companies like Hoffman, Standard (provided they stop machining holes in everything), and S&M, who all helped jumpstart the evolution of the modern BMX frame. And ones like FBM and Terrible One, who started when BMX was—if not smaller, at least poorer—and have stayed true to having their frames built in the good ol' US of A. Don't they (once again, provided the product and pricepoint are comparable) deserve more of our support than the latecomers and imitators? I think so.

What say you? I'd be curious to hear what people outside the US think as well, if you're out there.

P.S. In closing, and perhaps in contrast to my entire opinion, I'd just like to add the following:


Anonymous said...

Fuck yea.

How do you feel about Odyssey (owned by a china man, with a primary designed thats a Brit, yet headquartered in California)

Anonymous said...

That Lee Reynolds ad is so amazing.

Stephen said...

I think I had every pair of those Airwalks at some point.

I see your point, and in some ways I agree with it. However, Hoffman stuff got kinda kooky, Standard sort of Lohan'd itself and S&M almost priced itself out of consideration.

I ride a Fly because Albe's had them on sale and I had 100 bucks to piss. It's a good frame and I am glad I got it. Now, if I could get any frame I wanted and price was not an issue, you bet I would have a T1. But I think even they are getting ready to step into the Taiwan made world.

I don't want to see a day where FBM and T1 have to shut it down. And I hope that they can keep it going because both Steve and Joe are made of BMX and that is as rad as it gets.

I guess what I am trying to say (not very well, mind you) is that for the most part, we're all part of a BMX family, and hopefully by supporting the family, everyone wins.

Nationalism might make the trains run on time, but I am not sure it makes riding a bike any more enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

almost the whole u.s industry has been moved over sea's by design-compare exports now from the usa to 30 years ago.bikes are a tiny part of you're economy.this is a trivial matter really.

Chris said...

I'm from the UK. I have a frame from an American company, made in Taiwan. I bought it on merit. I would have had second thoughts if it wasn't made by a rider-owned company, but the nationality thing didn't really come into it.

Anonymous said...

Ha, I bet the small U.S. companies he's referring to don't think it's trivial.

Anonymous said...

Every single one of the companies you've mentioned has products made in Taiwan; most of them have all of their products in Taiwan and China (with the exception of maybe t-shirts). Remember, with your urge to support American companies, you're also making a few Taiwanese people filthy rich. We live in a free market society. Isn't that what "America" is all about...the choice to buy and ride what we want, and for Corey Bohan to live here and teach us all how to ride a bike?

It's BMX. Take a break. You contradict yourself often.

Russ said...

The economy stuff was a bit of a purposeful overstatement. Agreed it doesn't make a bit of difference as to how much fun riding is.

That said, it's pretty cool in this day and age to be able to buy something from an American company where they actually manufacture their own product in-house. Not many of those left.

I just hope I don't live long enough to see T1 or FBM become part of Pacific. Department store Barcodes, yeesh.

Chris from Odyssey said...

"How do you feel about Odyssey (owned by a china man, with a primary designed thats a Brit, yet headquartered in California)"-anonymous

Give me a break.

While I think that location is irrelevant for the most part, some of this needs to be corrected:

The owner of Odyssey is a US CITIZEN of Taiwanese descent that lives in California, and he has a son that grew up riding here. They live in the same city as our office.

75% of the product designers work at Odyssey in CA. Me and Jim are from NY. Ben's from Portland.

I've been here for almost ten years.

todd said...

BMXers are no different than any other kid under the age of twenty: nothing more than "wanting machines". they want what they want and it doesn't matter where it comes from, who gets rich from it or what the company is about, i've come to accept that. what i find more depressing than the U.S vs. Taiwanese debate is when i go to a bike or skate contest and more people are wearing Nike than Vans.

Anonymous said...

neither nike or vans is rider owned so what does that really matter? bottom line, support rider owned companies no matter where they're from. they're more in touch with what actual riders want plus they usually give back and do more for the core of bmx.

Si said...

Supporting local business is the bottom line. Free market competition only works to benefit shareholders in the long run.
Look at all the outsourcing of skilled labour jobs (here in the UK as well as the USA) to countries that have fewer labour regulations, hence lower overheads. Also if the work is subcontracted then the employee rights are not the responsibility of the contractor (1980s nike, addidas etc) making for lower costs.
Taiwan is developing as a manufacturer (more skilled labour, hence the quality BMX parts ade there) and demanding higher prices for work done so companies with contracts for all sorts of products are switching to China, where costs are lower and the cycle continues. However some BMX companies have had their hand forced, they want to make products, they can only afford to have them made in Taiwan (cheaper than USA/UK). I am not suggesting that these guys are taking advantage of foreign workers. I'm (trying to say!) that the BMX companies are victims too, I'm sure they would prefer to have a factory down the road from them that they could check on product development whenever they liked, in person.
It has nothing to do with xenophobia and everything to do with profit.
Buy local wherever and whenever you can, companies owned by real people who care about what they produce and not a suit who thinks that when your identikit one piece seat and post snaps and goes up your arse that it's great that you'll be forced to buy another piece of shit from him (and pay higher insurance premiums where he's also a shareholder) as there are no real, individual, person owned manufacturers/companies anymore because you wanted a cheaper bike.

Russ said...

anonymous 1:00 PM: I have not yet begun to contradict myself.

Anonymous said...

Vans had a BMX & skate team before either "sport" were on television. sure, both companies are Wall Street stock symbols now but at some point, regardless of how long ago, it seemed as though one of them really cared about this stuff...the other bought in when the money was right.

Andy said...

fly sponsors garrett byrnes, he is da beast.

James said...

I can't believe nobody has mentioned solid yet.They help out T-1 and FBM with some of their shit and make damn nice American bikes.

Russ said...

Forgot about Solid. Total oversight on my part.

Anonymous said...

what about gack?

Anonymous said...

Solid is one of the few companies that has all of their operations based in the US. They do send out to Super Rat for machining nowadays, but again, still in America.
As for Gack, they went under a long time ago. Nice company with some great ideas and parts, but just got lost in the ages.

wade said...

The Made in America / pride thing has always seemed silly to me (as a Canadian). Plus, the worst frames I've had with regard to construction have been American made. The MacNeils and the Volume frames that I've had over the last five years or so have been the best (and were made in Taiwan).
You know what is better than a rider welding your frame? A welder.
Still, I like this topic. It seems to me that there are many different arguments / priorities / criteria when choosing parts / brands. As discussed before, rider-owned companies could take precedence. Then, perhaps, companies run by riders (but owned by non-riders). Maybe companies that sponsor a rider that you like (this seems sillier to me all the time). Maybe a company that was started by a rider, but is now run by non-riders. Or, perhaps, the companies that are supposedly owned by a rider but are actually financially backed by others (a BUNCH of these). Or maybe you don't care about ownership / political support.
Smart parts? Originality? Stylish parts? Cheap parts? Expensive parts (bling)? How long a brand has been in business? National pride?
No one really thinks about this stuff, but how many of us have these things organized in a hierarchy? Russ is boldly calling for some American company loyalty. OK. Should Canadians all be running MacNeil stuff? The British United? Spaniards Fly? Seems reasonable. works for rider-owned, too.
OK. Pick a part and see what fits with the arguments. I'll use something I run: a MacNeil Cell stem.
Supports a Canadian, rider-owned company. Smart? Well, it's light, front-load, hollowed out, Oryg tabs. Not original in that it could be said that Solid did hollow first (Front-load Redneck, GT Mallet, etc). GFR Redneck was first. So maybe loses points there. Plus, I think that the Elementary stem is the smartest. Stylish? Well, it's brown, which is nice. Cheap? For me it is. Expensive? The titanium bolts in it are, so pose / bling points there. Longevity of brand? Longest running Canadian brand other than Norco. Made in Taiwan by machinists rather than in North America by riders.
So, I'm pretty content with my stem. Conversely, I run Profile hubs, which work for some criteria and conflict with others.
Again, most people don't think about this stuff. It's hard to think, that's why people have such an adverse reaction to it.

Russ said...

Obviously buying an S&M or Standard back in '97 made a much bigger statement: telling all the "major label" companies that corporate BMX still sucked. Now, it's not like anyone's buying GTs or Haros anymore except for maybe clueless parents who last paid attention to BMX back when Blyther and Fiola were duelling it out at Pipeline.

But now there's that influx of completes to think about, and obviously companies like FBM and Fit, who were previously content to just deal in frames and parts, want to get a bigger slice of that local bikeshop pie. It makes sense. If BMX kids are going to grow up to want Maneaters and Edwins, why not have them start out on bikes from the same companies? (I realize I'm mixing topics here, but bear with me.) I believe it's safe to say that more 12-year-olds ride BMX bikes than 25-year-olds. So if a company like FBM can become a player in the entry-level complete game, that will not only inspire brand loyalty from the jump, it'll allow them to make profits on something they don't even have to make themselves. Which hopefully will allow them to keep making the high-end stuff in-house.

Look, most everyone buys things for a reason. It's just a matter of knowing what that reason is, and trying to contribute to things you believe in. To use Wade's example, yes, I think if I were Canadian I probably WOULD run a Macneil, provided they made a frame that suited me. And definitely the stem. Sure, there are any number of hollowed-out frontload stems on the market, but you run what resonates with you.

Take my bike for example. I like to think there's a reason behind most everything on it. The Odyssey stuff, I appreciate the effort that George French, Chris Cotsonas and company put into it all. There's usually a well thought-out reason behind everything they make (and not just "it's lighter, duh"). All the Animal parts, well, I'm in New York City, it's actually a law. Plus I've (namedrop) known Ralph Sinisi since he was riding a chrome STA with a twisted rear triangle. The Edwin is a show of support for Ed, as well as Rob-O, who—like me—grew up on Strong Island. I bought the T1 sprocket just so I had at least one T1 part on my bike. All the other stuff—the seatpost, the chain, the headset—just works. And that's more or less it.

Anonymous said...

Hoffman was taken over a couple of years ago by their Taiwan agent so I don't see how they can be counted as rider owned or American.

Anonymous said...

I ride a 99' T1 Barcode wich was $1200 Australian (About $900 US back then) when it came out (late 99'). Fuck knows how it got that high but we accepted thats what it cost. The cheapest good frame was a Volume Hellion at about $700 and all S&Ms were about a grand. So when cheaper frames started coming out it was all too late for us in australia who bought indestructable american made frames. Now that must have "Made in USA" sentiment is all but gone.

g. edward jones, jr. said...

"I believe it's safe to say that more 12-year-olds ride BMX bikes than 25-year-olds."

Yeah, but it's also probably safe to say that most of those 12 year olds are riding big box store Mongeese than low end Easterns or Fits. If I'm a parent whos kid wants a BMX bike and I'm NOT a rider, then they're getting the Schwinn for $100 from Target. If I was a rider, then they're probably getting that GT from Sports Authority and if I AM a rider, then I'm going to the bike shop.

Which is a problem for the ninetyleven rider "owned" (fronted) companies getting in the completes market. They CAN'T fight Pacific/Dyna at the bottom end (and I don't know if it's fear of brand dilution or inability that keeps "core" companies out of big box stores, but they're not there, so they're not even in the fight). In the middle they're at a distinct disadvantage and at the top end most kids are opting to build up their own bikes. So, everyone's really competing in the upper middle, which just seems iffy.

Anonymous said...

fit, eastern, subrosa, are killing it with complete sales... You see more of them at corporate shops now then you see redline, giant etc. They appeal beter to the end user for reasons that I don't think have been brought up. What those reasons are exactly I'm not sure but I think it has something to do with them marketing and styling the bikes in a similair manner to that of the skate companies that are selling shit to these same kids. Good or bad the step that would blow BMX up would be if mall shops like zumiez carried lower end completes from real companies. That is how skating got huge. Either way if you are American you know our economy is in a serious slump and supporting American made or even designed products can only help. S and m built frames may be one of the only actual American exports haha.

Smitty said...

Anonymous said...
Hoffman was taken over a couple of years ago by their Taiwan agent so I don't see how they can be counted as rider owned or American.

May 22, 2008 9:17 PM

C'mon, do some homework. Mat has taken on partners, but he still is very hands-on with regard to Hoffman Bikes - despite all his other enterprises. I know this through first hand dealings with the company.

It is interesting that Hoffman used to manufacture product in OKC, and then went the taiwan route for completes, then closed up shop.

Could this be the path forward for FBM? S&M? God, there's got to be room left in this market for SOME U.S. built frames.

Are overseas people taking the opportunity presented by weak US Dollar to buy American BMX stuff? I haven't heard if this could yet be spotlighted as a trend or not. Probably not.

Anonymous said...

How does a weak dollar help European companies? Surely it makes their products comparativelt more expensive?

Anonymous said...

I'm Native American, i see all these whites making bikes claiming they're REAL AMERICAN bikes, i just laugh in their face. I'll buy a WeThePeople frame from germany over any of those because those europeans at least know their REAL origins, not some transplanted vanilla face who calls himself a 'real american' the only real americans are NATIVE

Anonymous said...

Well if thats the case nothing is American made except indian casinos and buffalo jerky

Anonymous said...

I live in Vancouver BC. S&M Frames, if you can get them(from the one store the sells them)are crazy expensive. Sunday Ian Schwartz frame $499. FBM Frames $399-$499, they don't even sell standard here and most other American made(T1,metal etc) are a special order frame that you have to wait for. For the average kid that wants to ride, they first off don't have that kinda cash and second off don't wanna wait that long for a frame when they can just buy a macneil or something made in Taiwan

Heyyy Brian said...

volume is owned by a vietnamese dude...
brian castillo is just a like robbo morales... a frontman for a company

odyssey makes good shit but needs to lay off the color coordination and focus on making shit...

FBM is primarily owned by a skateboarder... he funded them so they wouldn't go under.

SBC is coming back strong with there in-house productions.

SandM likes making magazine ADs about not being trendy but are they epicenter of all trends... F-IT is owned by SandM... I bet sam moeller rides to work on a F-IT LRG complete bike (LRG the primarily black urban clothing company...) slam bars, down low stems, f-it sky high bars, etc...

Smoov J said...

Amazing Ad - Lee Reynolds was/is amazing.

no pads, looks to be no helmet, and HUGE as shit. In case you didn't already know, Lee has a nice NEW photo in a recent issue of RideUK...

nice website, russ