Sunday, February 27, 2011

Custom Motorcycle - Intro

I'm building a custom motorcycle. By far the most frequently asked question is "why?". This is usually followed by:

  •  "why don't you just buy one?"
  •  "is it cheaper to build your own?" 
  • "what type is it?" 
  • "what about safety?" 
  • "are you going to ride it?"

I'm building it because I can or at least I think I can. No, it's not going to be cheaper; it is an American V-Twin custom; it will be safe and it will be ridden. If I just wanted to ride, I would buy a fully functional hi-tech machine. Riding is only part of the experience and something that can be accomplished with a big enough wallet. Building your own ride also requires a wallet full of cash, but that's only the start. It is a decently sized challenge requiring design, part sourcing, mechanical and electrical skill. It is even more challenging if your only knowledge of bike building comes from watching too much TV.

The Discovery Channel popularized custom bike building resulting in thousands of people building their dream bikes in garages all over the world. Current shows like American Chopper and Cafe Racer keep these activities going. I've been hooked since early 2000 after watching Motorcycle Mania starring Jesse James at West Coast Choppers. There have been other shows like Discovery's biker build-off which showcased the talents of some of America's best custom bike builders. As with anything that makes it big on TV, there will be people who bemoan the loss of the true custom as a result of TV popularization. But thrusting chopper building into pop culture has provided a boost to the bike industry and increased the market size for custom frames and parts. This in turn has provided many new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Unfortunately this country insists on exporting manufacturing jobs to lower cost countries at the expense of society. As soon as someone comes up with an idea or product, business moves to lower the cost so as to maximize revenue and competitiveness. I have no problem with the general economic and competitive principles involved, but I can't stand the fact that this inevitably means offshoring of the manufacturing to some low cost geography. I don't know that a country can survive without a manufacturing industry. People need stuff and we need to figure out a way to make the stuff. Recent articles in trade journals suggest that the tide is turning as the true cost of quality, shipment delays and loss of intellectual property is becoming an issue with offshoring. Labor and material costs have risen over the last 10 years forcing many companies to rethink the economics of manufacturing in "low cost" geographies. At the same time manufacturing in the USA has worked hard to reinvent itself so as to become more cost competitive while delivering high quality.

Many of the custom chopper bike parts available today are made in America which is a good thing. But, a lot of parts are made elsewhere. Sometimes it is difficult to tell where the parts come from. I have bought a number of different parts for the bike. Some proudly proclaim to be Made In The USA while others may be from an American company with no clear indication of the origin. Does it matter? It is what it is.

1 comment:

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