Thursday, February 17, 2011

Manufacturers with 'History': Does Continuity Matter?

What does it mean, when we say that a bicycle manufacturer has a long history? There are manufacturers out there, whose names are legendary and whose origins date back more than a century. Bianchi was founded in 1885, Raleigh in 1887 and Gazelle in 1892. All three brands still exist today, and the company literature stresses their historical roots. After all, history means legacy, tradition, substance and trust - setting these brands apart from newcomers. But is it really accurate to connect the bikes currently produced under these brand names to their vintage predecessors? After all, Bianchi is now owned by Cycleurope, Gazelle by the Glide Buy Out Fund, and Raleigh by Derby International - venture capital conglomerates that own or manage a variety of brands. Not only has the ownership changed dramatically, but so have the basic designs, the methods production, the facilities, the country of production, and oftentimes the quality of the product. What is it then, that gives the manufacturer continuity?

When a small manufacturer with a history is acquired by a conglomerate, there are usually designers and marketing people assigned to manage the brand's "image." They research what it was that made the brand iconic, what associations the customer base has come to have with the brand name, and they incorporate these elements into the company's literature, advertising campaigns and mission statements. But is this sufficient?

[image via J. Ferguson]

On the other hand, there are brand names that, years after having ceased production, have been resurrected by a new owner who ardently tries to continue making the bicycles in the original tradition. RenĂ© Herse was a French constructeur  - a legendary framebuilder who created exquisite randonneuring bicycles in the 1930s-1970s. More than 30 years after Herse's death, the RenĂ© Herse name was purchased by a man in Colorado, USA, and Herse bicycles are now once again being built - this time by an American framebuilder. Though I have seen only pictures, it is said that the new bicycles look and handle similarly to the originals. Nevertheless, is it the same manufacturer?

When thoroughly examined, there are in fact very few, if any, bicycle manufacturers that have maintained continuity throughout the years. There are brands, once synonymous with quality, that have been sold to lower-tier mail order companies. There are brands that have been acquired by international venture capital firms. There are brands that have been resurrected under new ownership. And there are brands that have switched owners a number of times since they first started out. What must a bicycle brand retain of itself in order for you to recognise it as a manufacturer with a long history, rather than think of it as a different company under the same name?

55 comments:

  1. As a consumer, brand longevity must be coupled with brand integrity. That integrity is compromised when I see a brand going back into production that has been out of production for 10 years or more, in a different country, by new owners, with completely different frame materials and designs.
    Were I to see that Alcyon or Serius bicycles were back in production, I'd be very suspicious. But I'd look, and if I saw steel lugged frames with relaxed angles, cream tires and a very retro look that reminded me of those beautiful French posters, I'd hunt one down and test ride it, maybe even buy it. But if they were Tig-welded, metal-flaked, plastic-seated, 27-geared, carbon-forked, made in China, I'd probably wipe a tear and turn the page.

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  2. Phil - "brand integrity" is precisely the term I had in mind, but decided to avoid it in the post, lest it be misconstrued as referring to the owners' personal integrity.

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  3. I was a graphic designer for many years and can tell you that marketing, branding and history does not often equal a good product. So where I am intrigued by longevity and sometime impressed with a manufactures history, that doesn't always translate to a quality product unless I have seen it, rode it and hear from people like you that know what their doing, that the product is sound and worth looking at. After that I am attracted to a look and feel, but only after it passes the form and function requirement.

    For instance I had heard that Electra was just a fashion bike company and hadn't been making bikes for long. Their frames are not lugged and they use only chromoly steel tubing for the fork and the rest was aluminum. This turned me off, other than I liked the look and feel, but I wasn't going to buy a bike based on that. Then I went and rode it, tried a friends out for a month and then bought it cause it rode very well and I couldn't find an English Roadster at the time where I lived. This bike has turn out to be one very well built bike that has taken a beaten and is performing unbelievable well. I have driven many types of bikes over the 30 years or so that I have been commuting and it beats them all so far. I wouldn't have thought so and I would have argued with you if you told me this was going to be a good bike. My point I guess is that you can't tell anything about a bike no matter what the real history is until you own it and ride it. The proof is in the eating of the pudding, so they say.

    :-)

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  4. I miss my 1980s Raleigh Big Horn, sometimes.

    The new Raleighs SUCK.

    Sturmey Archer has some work to do on "continuity", also.

    JoPo, the Finnish bike, used to be better.

    This is such a depressing topic.

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  5. I think that we have to be aware of why certain iconic brands are so important to us before we accuse the current holders of the banners we are so loyal to of being cynical or predatory.

    If you love Bianchis because Fausto Coppi rode for them in 1948, does it matter much whether they are built with the same philosophy and to the same standards now?, or is just making fast bikes in a specific shade of blue/green and sending them out to battle enough. Most of their production back then was inexpensive consumer grade stuff anyway so the top line bikes were sort of an anomaly in any case.

    I grew up thinking Raleigh made the finest bikes in the world because they embodied some noble "British" ideals and qualities that were superior to anyone else's. Besides being sort of xenophobic, That view is pretty far from the truth. It turns out that Raleigh were pretty ruthless in driving out competition and only made as good a bike as they needed to be as successful as possible. If companies that built arguably superior bikes were swallowed up or just driven under,well, so be it. I still think they built better bikes than most but I no longer feel like I need to choose sides. If the Raleigh of today builds bikes that are recognizable as "Raleighs" in some way than bless em'. If they build trendy junk than the name will mean nothing and won't seduce anyone.

    The case of Rene' Herse is different. To me, that's like purchasing the trade name "Van Gogh" somehow and trying to convince people that by using the same materials, techniques and adhering to certain compositional themes that I am somehow connected to his original genius. I don't like it. I might buy such a painting or bike if it was attractive and reasonably priced but I'd probably ask that it not be signed. If Rene' was still alive and was somehow involved or if he had set this enterprise in motion before falling down dead I'd think it was a valid expression of his creativity. But I would still feel just a bit of a fraud telling my friends it was a "Herse".

    If you really want to get me started(and I hope you don't), ask me how I feel about Mongoose. The little company from SoCal that, with a few others, made BMX a phenomenon and gave my 11 year old life purpose and meaning(don't laugh, I'm an unstable zealot and am capable of anything). To see nasty, misshapen junk, made of plastic and gas-pipe, dangling from the racks in Wal-Mart displaying the snarling, leaping rodent to which I pledged my allegiance in 1975...I despair.

    Spindizzy

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  6. Raleigh feels like a different company under the same name.

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  7. Along these same lines. The list of American made, quality, lugged steel frames is this:

    1. Waterford
    2. All the other small 1-3 person shops.

    That's it.

    Waterford is an amazing anomaly. It doesn't
    have the name of it's historical roots. But the owner sure does: Richard Scwhinn.

    I don't think there is another American bike frame "Production" company, other than Waterford. They are the historical legacy of America's most storied "Name" brand, having originally been the Schwinn Bicycle spinoff of their highest quality "Paramount" line.

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  8. And let's not get started about the most "American" of bicycle companies, Schwinn...(shudder)

    Without even trying, I managed to purchase a bike last year from a company that's been around for over 100 years, Worksman. They are an anomaly, a bicycle company that still makes all their bikes* in the US, hasn't been bought and sold, bikes still look the same, etc. Sure, they aren't performance bikes or have a cachet that's coveted, but for brand longevity and integrity, it's one of the few.

    *Before some of you jump over this statement, I am aware that they have imported some bikes, sold under a different name. Anything that says "Worksman" is still made in Ozone Park, Queens, though.

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  9. Chris Collins - How big is Waterford exactly? It would be great if they offered pre-made models and not only custom.

    adventure! - I am curious about Worksman Cycles, but have no way of seeing them short of ordering one for myself.

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  10. Continuity certainly matters if you're in the market for a new bicycle with an old name and expecting that classic quality. I think that also - sadly - lapses in quality can cause a brand's whole legacy to suffer. I'm thinking here of Schwinn - old Chicago Schwinns are classic, comfortable, sturdy, and beautiful to some beholders, but it seems there are so many crappy newer ones in big box stores and on the Craigslist market that the whole Schwinn name has been sullied. Or there is Spindizzy's example - I am maybe young and naieve, but I hadn't realized Mongoose had an honorable brand history at all.

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  11. Peppy (the amazing philosopher cat)February 17, 2011 at 2:05 PM

    I think some things said here have to be taken in context. Yes, the new Herse company is... new. But what if they continue to make wonderful bikes for 30 years? There will come a point when the new company is just as well respected as their predecessor.

    What I am saying is that it matters very much what new owners or even existing owners do with their legacy. Time will tell. They won't be able to hold on to their customers' respect if they continue to make garbage for several generations of new cyclists. No amount of name recognition will help there or even persist. It's important to renew and uphold the standards that made the original companies household names. If the new Rehe Herse company can do that, that is a tangible way in which they can gain and maintain continuity with history.

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  12. Such a good question. What's the most important thing about a bike manufacturer? I would say its people. Do they have the experience, have they built enough bikes to know what works and what doesn't?

    This reminds me of the camera world, in which a Japanese camera maker, Cosina, bought the rights to an old, old German camera brand, Voigtlander. They've come out with a line of rangefinder cameras and lenses branded as Cosina-Voigtlander that are highly regarded. In a sense, it's as if the brand has forced the company who owns it and builds for it to meet the expectations created by that brand. Luckily, the owner and CEO of Cosina seems to deeply respect the Voigtlander name, and has worked hard to build products worthy of this brand.

    So on the one hand we may think of the intrinsic value of an able bicycle maker who doesn't have the benefit of a brand: he (generally they seem to be men) is essentially building his own. On the other hand, you can jump start your business by buying a brand and trying to live up to it.

    I think that's why the discursive, opinionated (and sometimes meandering) writings of Grant Peterson work for him. He's created a brand by telling you everything he thinks about bikes and bicycling (and child-rearing, and low carb diets, and books, and....) so that you get a real sense of what he's like and what he cares about. I think it's very effective marketing- if you like his products and the philosophy that's associated with them.

    This kind of high touch marketing is so important in this day and age in which anything can be built anywhere, practically 3D printed. So what are you buying after all? The product? Or the ideas behind it?

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  13. You can't generalize anything!

    In some cases, yes, the older was better, the new cheapened and running on the good will of the old name.

    But I can think of one, Sturmey-Archer, as they have been bought out, that are introducing new, better designed hubs, than anything the old company had been producing for 50 years.

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  14. Your post brings to mind last December's "Marketplace" report on dead brand names:

    http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/12/08/pm-whats-in-a-name/

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  15. Peppy - I am not questioning the quality of the new Herse bicycles; by all accounts, they are top notch. But think of it this way: If Rene Herse himself were alive today and continued to make bicycles during all this time, would his process remain stagnant, or would it keep evolving? I'd wager the latter. By replicating the bikes Herse made in his life time, it seems to me that the new company is limited to just that: period replicas. That's the biggest problem I have with it.

    At the same time, I wouldn't go quite as far as Spindizzy and compare Herse to Van Gogh. Artisanship is quite different from fine art.

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  16. @Phil
    my thoughts exactly.

    The "Raleigh USA" name was purchased by Huffy in 1982, and that's when they started to go downhill. I think they may be making a bit of a comeback with a few mid and high level steel road bikes.

    One brand I will continue to be loyal to is Brooks, but of course they are still made in England, and they are pretty much the same as they have always been. That I am very thankful for.

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  17. Continuity means not only continuous production, but consistent quality. Actually, I'd say that quality is what it counts even when there is some discontinuity in production. For example, KHS used to be a great manufacturer. I still have one of their MTB models from mid 90s and I wouldn't trade it for anything. When I was buying a new bike my first impulse was to look for another KHS. But, what I saw in shops made me unhappy, both aesthetically and mechanically. Later I found out that the company went down and was bought by some Chinese bicycles manufacturer just because of their name. Continuity? Not a chance! And I'm not from USA, so there's no patriotism clouding my judgement here.

    On the other hand, there's Sturmey Archer. I have no experience with their products, but from what Sheldon Brown said, being bought by Koreans(?) made their product better! In his opinion, there's a lot of mythology being built about “old” Sturmey Archer that romanticize it but forgets all the faults. So, continuity? I'd say yes.

    About above mentioned Rene Herse, if it is of good quality and is still the same design, then where is the problem? Especially since Herse family is still involved in some way (presuming that what is written on their website is true). Of course, if someone likes old timers, than obviously this is not the thing to look for, but otherwise, I like the idea old brands being resurrected with dignity

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  18. Also another good brand is Pashley. Their bikes are still lugged and hand made, very similar to Brooks in that respect.

    A Pashely bike wouldn't be a right fit for everyone though, even though they make a good product. But anyone that doesn't like Brooks just doesn't get it. ;-) Just Joking, or maybe I am not.

    -Garret

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  19. I'm dealing with the same issue when it comes to pianos! One brand in particular, Knabe, has a long history. Pianos are still made today with that name, but without any connection (I don't think) to the people who were involved in its heyday. By the way, here is a little riddle... What is one physical thing that both pianos and bicycles have in common? Clue: you put your feet on them!

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  20. Garret - I owned a Pashley for a year, but ultimately didn't like how it handled and sold it. My husband still has his and is quite happy with it. The craftsmanship of the bicycles is impeccable as far as I can tell, and they very much are still made in England. Ownership did change hands though; not sure whether it was just once or more than that.

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  21. I recently tested a Cooper Bikes Sebring and was given to pause on such thoughts as you've raised here. Cooper Bikes are leveraging the name Cooper (of Mini Cooper fame) to give credibility and desirability to an otherwise anonymous frame. This could be seen as cynical marketing but I for one was prepared to buy into the myth for the sake of the enjoyment of the bike. I would do no less if it was a Bianchi or Raleigh..

    Malvern Star has recently been resurrected here in Oz and we all know that what remains of the original Malvern Star is the name only. They've sourced a frame from China, put some stickers on it and marketed it as the child of the Malvern Star we all grew up on. We all know (or suspect) the truth and yet the magic (or maybe just nostalgia) of the name still rubs off.

    Ultimately all manufacturers of any decent size will be knocking out bikes from factories, often in China. My wife's Bianchi is made in China, but it rides beautifully and is Bianchi Celeste blue. Unless we're prepared to buy a handmade frame from the local artisan then we'll have to buy into the myths of our manufacturers, and that's probably not a bad thing so long as their products are still great.

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  22. I don't caim to know too much about classic bicycles and the like, but the only builder that comes to mind is Ellis Briggs based a few miles from me in north England. The business has been family owned for the last 70 years and they still produce top-quality bicycles to this day: http://customframebuilding.ellisbriggscycles.co.uk/.

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  23. I take your point about Artists and artisans, if I overstated that I still think that there is a disconnect between the original and the unrelated successor. If the new Herse bikes become well loved on their own merits than they will still be referred to in future as the Rene' Herse bikes built by -----,in which case whoever ----- is has missed an opportunity to create their own reputation and make their own statement. Thats ok and might be the cost of breaking into an already crowded market of framebuilders. I buy lots of stuff that present me with bigger emotional conflicts but I don't have to like it.

    Melissa, in the beginning of the whole BMX explosion(and it really was a big deal to us back then), Mongoose was one of the very best and one half of the big rivalry between Red Line (which still exists in a way, building some first rate stuff) and Mongoose (which doesn't), in this sort of thing there has to be a rivalry and you HAVE to choose sides. I chose Mongoose. Then it all went bad.

    It's like if The Rolling Stones were to get old and soft and start playing crap and kept touring because they didn't realized they sucked and the money was good and people who didn't know better kept buying tickets because "The Stones are THE GREATEST ROCKINROLLBANDINTHEWORLD". Wouldn't that be horrible?

    Spindizzy

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  24. @Matteo: The parallels between bicycle and piano brand names and manufacturing are striking, but follow in the footsteps of much manufacturing: it's cheaper to make in Asia. Knabe, that storied American brand you mention, is now owned by Samick, the Korean manufacturer, which also produces pianos for Bechstein and others.

    Is an old Knabe or old Cinelli better than a new one? It's hard to say, but they're both made in Asia today.

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  25. Matteo & examinedspoke - It's the same story with fountain pens as well. Some of the famous brands dating back to the early 1900s still exist today, but in name only.

    What bothers me about the "in name only" thing, is not so much the country of manufacture, but the lack of individuality. So many of the bikes made today look like they come from the same factory, despite their different brand names, histories and legacies. And chances are they did come from the same factory.

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  26. If the best bike for me in the entire world were built by Huffy, it would be foolish to pass it by in favor of a storied brand that was merely good. Any manufacturer can build a great bike - or a dog.

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  27. "What bothers me [is] the lack of individuality."

    And yet, the quality of today's bikes is stunning. Some fan asked Greg Lemond whether bicycles were better in his racing days (mid-1980s) or now. His answer?

    "Pretty much any bike you buy today is better than what I rode in the Tour de France."

    Go figure.

    http://velonews.competitor.com/2010/11/bikes-and-tech/technical-faq/ask-nick-the-best-bike-innovations-what-the-pros-really-ride-and-stretching-cables_151355

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  28. ^ I don't know whether I quite believe that, and of course it depends on the bike. It's complicated.

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  29. i actually live in boulder very close to where Herse bicycles is located..........ill be making a visit very soon thanks for todays topic. i never knew Herse was here!!

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  30. Velouria- Worksman builds the same bike as they did 60 years ago: classic American balloon-tired cruisers. You have to like (or at least accept) that in order to want one. I own a Low Gravity cycle truck, basically a large basket cargo bike built onto a cruiser frame. Got mine used off of Craigslist here in Portland, you might find one pop up on Boston CL occasionally.

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  31. I think this depends on what you consider better. From a Tour de France point of view when you go from heavy metal to carbon fiber this is much better as weight means a lot, but to a commuter this is not a good thing, carbon fiber is a bad word and weight is not as much a concern. It gets even more complicated when you consider the difference between a Gazelle or Rivendell-Sam-Hillborne this become subjective, both great bikes, but which one is better? That would depend on taste and how the bike is going to be used.

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  32. I think that some of the changes in these brands are appropriate to the maintenance of their image. Bianchi was, and is, primarily a manufacturer of road race bikes. If they weren't making lightweight, high tech, aggressive bicycles today then they would be disconnected from their history. The fact that they do make that type of bike (in addition to other types) in their heritage color provides adequate lineage in my mind.

    Schwinn is another good example because they have always been a department store brand. The big difference between the Schwinn of yore and today's brand is what customers expect and are willing to pay for. My Stingray (thrift store buy when I was 13) was a great bike when I bought it in '93, probably 2 decades after it was made. It was durable, wheelied almost uncontrollably, and was a lot of fun. I bought a Suburban when I was in high school that was equally old and it worked great, was a bit heavy but wheelied shockingly well anyway, and was also very durable. Yet Schwinn wouldn't be able to sell those bikes today because department store bike customers want the cheapest option and are ok with purchasing disposable goods that won't last 20 years (or 10, or even 5 maybe) and get picked up in a thrift store by some kid in 2030. So Schwinn mostly makes crap because they understand their market. My 1998 Schwinn Home Grown xc-race mountain bike, however, was an outstanding bicycle (and yes, it did wheelie quite nicely, thank you for asking).

    I might have gotten a little off-topic; I just mean to say that the long history of a company doesn't mean that the bikes are going to look today like they did back in the day. Some companies change their bikes dramatically while adhering to one, or some, core value(s) while others make bikes identical to the models of years past. Most have probably not been owned by the same person or family for the entire history of the brand, so buying new purely for the heritage of the brand is sort of silly. But how many of us (here, reading this) really buy bikes just because of the name on the headtube?

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  33. brands are built by artists, entrepreneurs, mono-maniacs, freaks and engineers.
    brands are bought by investors.
    -
    if investors have their brands run by managers, these brands - more often than not - are up for a slow death.
    it can also happen though that investors have their brands run by artists, entrepreneurs, mono-maniacs, freaks and engineers... - not the rule yet but most likely the future.

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  34. There are some bikes I'd want in my stable in a heartbeat. The new steel Raleighs (I'm thinking specifically of the Grand Prix and the International), the Masi Randonneur, a few of the steel Bianchis, etc.

    However, with old companies, my experience is that I care less about their new products than their old ones. Huffy might be 70 years old, but I am not that interested in their stuff, old or new (though an old huffy balloner would be awesome!). Raleigh on the other hand, I think I'd take one of each of their bikes for any year from 1967 to 1980ish.

    I will say this about Raleigh and far-east bikes - I've got a "derby" bike - a '93 Univega. TIG welded Tange chromoly. I love it. Rides well, good components (suntour all around), etc. Everything I'd want from a bike. Not necessarily pretty, but very well put together.

    I have a Raleigh built Phillips (1967 or so). The lugs aren't set right, there's slag everywhere, and while it's certainly serviceable and looks good, the quality isn't there. The Raleigh Professional I have has file marks on the lugs. On the other hand, I have a Taiwanese built Raleigh Rapide mixte. Built beautifully, no slag, no separating lugs, and no file marks. Quality-wise, it's everything that the other bikes aren't.

    Now, all of these are perfectly serviceable, and all are quality pieces, but (excuse the car analogy), it's the difference between a brand new car with a rattling dashboard and squeaky seats, and one that is silent...

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  35. Chris Collins said...
    "Along these same lines. The list of American made, quality, lugged steel frames is this:

    1. Waterford
    2. All the other small 1-3 person shops.

    That's it."

    Sorry but no that's not "it"........

    Worksman is a 100+ year old AMERICAN cycle maker located in
    NYC,NY. ALL of the bicycles they make are steel framed fully lugged and always have been.

    As to branding......
    IMO it's critical to keep "brand continuity" so that the mere mention of the brand name tells the listener what the product is as well as the products historical quality level.

    People can be assured that if they buy that product today it will be just as good tomorrow. Toyota had "brand continuity" going to the point that most people just assumed that the Toyota they bought was as good ,or better, than any other competitors cars. Then Toyota slipped forever tarnishing decades of quality workmanship in the publics mind.

    If the product gets stripped of "brand continuity" i.e. like Schwinn did when it was sold, then the name becomes a sick joke having nothing left of "brand continuity".

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  36. Velouria said...
    "adventure! - I am curious about Worksman Cycles, but have no way of seeing them short of ordering one for myself."

    Come and visit me! I'll let you ride my new Worksman as much as you want to!! :))

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  37. I have to second the Sturmey Archer product being built today is in many cases better than the old. I have several old Raleighs and love them and their Sturmey Archer hubs. But, the new Sturmey Archer is no slouch and is building a very good product again. It's nice to know that new owners don't always go downhill and cheapen a product. The new Raleighs, well, the jury is still out. One of my friends just bought a new Raleigh this week. I will be watching and comparing "what was" with "what is".

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  38. M. Pewthers, Schwinn definitely was NOT always a department store brand. Until the buy-out in 1992(?) every Schwinn was sold in a genuine Schwinn dealership, assembled by genuine bicycle mechanics and supported by the company to the point of being able to order the exact replacement for ANY part on a current bike and a surprising number of older models. They weren't all old fashioned retro models either.

    Of course all this contributed to their demise(among other things) but it wasn't that long ago when grown men with families worked for Schwinn dealers as mechanics and were the equals of other respected tradesmen(sometimes women too)like the milkman or the person at the T.V. repair shop. When I used to go to Corpus Christi to the Schwinn shop as a kid I would spend as much time gazing at the owners latest Corvette as I did at the new BMX bikes in the store. I don't know if it was "better" but it sure was different.

    Spindizzy

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  39. Spindizzy,

    Sorry, that was a bad mistake on my part, Schwinns were not sold in department stores. Though not all of the authorized dealers were bike shops specifically (some were hardware or automotive stores), they usually could perform service on the bikes which is far more than most department stores offer. I stand corrected.

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  40. thanks, Spindizzy. so you were the kid at my shop!

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  41. Spindizzy--You are right on Schwinn NOT being a department store brand. From about 1950-1990ish, they were probably the only American bicycle maker that didn't sell stuff in department stores. Most others would sell re-badged bikes to places like Sears, Montgomery Wards, Western Flyer, etc. But Schwinn stopped doing that after WWII and you could only get them in Schwinn authorized dealers.

    M. Pewthers, do a little research about Schwinn before you say statements as fallacious as "Schwinn has always been a department store brand." (emphasis mine) There are plenty of books out there about Schwinn history.

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  42. I agree that bike makers evolve. So if Rene Herse were alive today, he'd probably still be making hand-brazed steel bikes, but they wouldn't be the same as what he made 40 or 50 years ago. However, I suspect that his craftsmanship would still be up to his old standards.

    That is the reason why I object to "resurrecting" venerable names. As nice as the new Herses are, I don't think they're what Rene would be making today. Something similar can be said for those mass-market brands that were resurrected by e-Bay retailers. I'm talking about Dawes, Motobecane, Windsor and Mercier and Cinelli. The bikes being sold under those names today are built in the same factories. However they might have evolved from their old bikes, I don't think they'd have produced the stuff that bears their names now.

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  43. Continuity matters in that one expects more from sacred bicycle names-but these major bike companies have been producing nasty blobs of aluminum for years. Plus all the bikes are made in a few factories in China or Taiwan so one can't say one aluminum blob is any better or worse. It is more sad than anything to see that they threw away their integrity, quality and cowtowed to the bottom line above all else.
    It's all about profit and making as much product as possible rather than making a better product that can be ridden for years. It is sad to see what companies today make that in the past were regarded as excellent bicycle builders. Another issue of disposability and cheapness is these great companies having moved all manufacturing to Asia leaving heaps of people unemployed and losing an industry and skills. And now we are left with huge holes in our economy because we can't make anything.
    My old raleigh is a beautiful bike and by no means top of line, my old clunky low end gitane is a beauty to behold and even my 89 trek is beautifully built.
    It's great that steel bikes are being built again by the major companies on some level, but the quality isn't there and all still made in those same factories. Even Surly who shower themselves in Minneapolis pride, or SomaFab in San Francisco coolness do not build their own bikes. yep, manufactured in the same factories as all the other bike companies.
    I hold more stock in independent, young and emerging companies building bicycles in the old-I mean well made way. Rivendell is an excellent example of holding onto the art of bike building and marketing themselves in a great way. It doesn't hurt that their bikes are gorgeous to behold. They also find the best builders in Japan and now Taiwan more to build their bikes along with US made by waterford etc..
    I also love Grand Bois. Their site is just too cute, the bicycles are breathtaking. They fulfill a niche of french nostalgia while building their own name. Ditto for Velo Orange for reproducing parts and bicycles in the french tradition. So, I found the Rene Herse site awhile ago and was perplexed. I mean it just isn't right. The guy could have introduced a bike building company in the spirit of Herse, but to use the name is misleading and probably sacrilege.
    Masi is another example of using a brand to exude a history.
    Brooks has had a tumble of a time but never stopped making beautiful saddles.
    Sturmey Archer was not doing very well and was bought by a company in Taiwan. I read that the company bought all the equipment and sent it to Taiwan quickly realizing it was all crap and set out to redesign everything and get new machinery. They have some work to do on rebuilding Sturmey Archer's reputation, but I hear good things about the new gear.

    There similar issues in the camera world. I do have a voigtlander Bessa camera. Cosina has a long history of building cameras and I see no reason why they insisted on buying the Voigtlander name for their rangefinder series. It isn't relevant or honest nor does it make much sense other than competing with Leica with a german sounding name. Voigtlander has little cashe that I know of other than alluding to the past when Voigtlander made strong incredible cameras. But ALL the camera companies used to build cameras to last forever.
    The Bessas are not built like leicas in any stretch of the imagination BUT work really well, are practical and affordable to mere mortals.

    As it stands, the small bike builders making beautiful lugged steel bicycles that ride like the wind and last forever are still in the niche realm like Leica and cost a great deal of money. It would be great if one of these esteemed bike companies would open a factory, hire people in Europe, Canada or the US and build great lugged steel bicycles on a large production scale that are more affordable like Cosina and say yes we're _____ made.

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  44. This issue was crystallised for me last night; I rode 10 km uphill to visit my father on a Raleigh Twenty, whose design was completed in the mid 60s. I rode home downhill on a Raleigh P1000 whose design dates from the last decade. Despite the ride there being uphill, I found the Twenty both faster and more comfortable than the P1000 on the way down.

    Raleigh exploits its history as a marketing advantage, but the bikes built now have little to do with the bikes they used to build. In saying this however, I would make an exemption for Raleigh of Denmark, who still manufacture high quality bikes in the tradition of Raleigh of old (Including the DL-1)

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  45. The histories of Raleigh, Schwinn and other long established bike companies have parallels throughout the manufacturing sector. Whether it's autos, clothing or electronics, manufacturing jobs migrate to low-wage countries. It's a fact of life in capitalism, and the brands "evolve" over time.
    Given that, it's thrilling to see so many small frame builders and bike-parts companies thriving. They are the true innovators.

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  46. Wow! This topic has spawned lively responses. Most of us are highly invested, wanting the industry to stick to it's roots and be ethical. Shows how much we love our bikes and that our choice of bicycle has a lot to do with the history of it's manufacture. We are bonded, connect to our bikes in such away that we need to know that they have not only been made well but that the company that manufactures them is ethical.

    I just found this very interesting and realized that I too am heavily invested in where my bike comes from and why.

    Velouria, thanks for posting this topic; it has opened my eyes to why I look at certain bike manufactures and partially why I make the decisions that I do. Also, thanks for the Feedback about the Pashely Roadster. I have been waffling back and forth between three very different types of bikes, LHT, Big Dummy and the Pashely.

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  47. Steve A said...
    "If the best bike for me in the entire world were built by Huffy, it would be foolish to pass it by in favor of a storied brand that was merely good"


    I thought Huffy was a storied brand : )

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  48. The Rev said...
    "thanks for the Feedback about the Pashely Roadster. I have been waffling back and forth between three very different types of bikes, LHT, Big Dummy and the Pashely."


    I keep asking the Co-Habitant to write a review of his Roadster, but at this rate I may have to write it on his behalf. Be aware that the Pashley is heavier than the Surly LHT. But it is a cushier ride and more suitable as a transportation bike if you ride in "nice clothing" at all. Also, it amazes me that the Co-Habitant rode it not only all last winter, but also this winter. He took almost no "snow days" despite the blizzards, and says that his Pashley was just fine on the roads.

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  49. Write a review, that would be great! Yea, I rode my Amsterdam for the last two winters and it worked great. It's basically a copy of the Pashely Roadster and not as well made, so your feed back is good news.

    Yea, I drive my bike to work on Sundays, with a suit on. :-)

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  50. Hmm people want my Pashley review? I better get cracking. I've ridden that thing for thousands of miles and have things to say.

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  51. I've ridden my Long Haul Trucker with "nice clothing" plenty of times, and had no problem with that. If drops are the problem, you can always put more upright bars on it--I've seen plenty of folks do that.

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  52. This topic is why I can't bring myself to purchase a brand new bike from most of the popular manufacturers. There was a tiny stint back in 2005 where I owned a Bianchi Pista for all of 3 weeks. It was alright, lightweight, but in all honesty it really didn't feel like a bike that would hold up to the normal wear and tear of commuting. But that was just my own impression.

    Next to that, the newest thing I've ridden was a Dahon MuP8 which, again, had the aluminium frame and brand new components. But again, it just didn't have that sturdy, bullet-proof "quality" feel to it that I've come to expect from my heavy, steel Raleighs.

    The Electra Amsterdam intrigues me (there's a lot of dealers around here who sell them) and some other brands of production bicycles (Brompton, Gazelle, Batavus, Pashley etc) but I've still got this weird tic about buying new bikes that might take a while to overcome.

    Oh, and I guess I should mention that my first bicycle was a late 70's purple Schwinn with a banana seat that had strawberries on it. I rode that bike into the ground and then, once I outgrew it, I gave it to the neighbor's kids, whose children are riding it today. Now THAT is a bike to be proud of!

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  53. Ah yes the anonymity of modern bikes.
    I race an updated Gazelle Champion Mondial from around 1979 or 1980. Back then, Gazelles were definitely not "artisan" bikes. The lugs are quite crude and the paint was fairly sloppy, but this makes them unique. I actually like the look of the lugs, although they are not finely filed, and it looks like whoever did the pinstriping did it in about 2 minutes. These imperfections give it character. A modern, factory built bike looks pretty much the same as every other brand. The craftsmanship is the same. No little quirks to distinguish them. Plus they only last a fraction of the lifespan of a well built steel frame.

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  54. Waterford is really interesting. I bought a used Waterford touring frame and fork, a T-22 "Adventure Cycle". Waterford offers what's called "Provenance Reports" which are copies of the original order and the build schematic of the bike frame. I called Waterford to ask about them and upon the phone being answered I heard "Waterford, this is Richard" ... Mr. Schwinn picked up the phone. He was nice. I gave the bike's serial numbers and said how I wanted to get the report. It was almost a fifteen year old frame, and he remembered it and the person who had ordered it. He told me the color before I mentioned it to him. I was amazed.

    So, what I know. They are a "Production" company. I think the have variously swelled and shrunk over the years. I know they had an off-the-shelf series of bikes, and as a service any frame you ordered they would modify the dimensions for a little coin. Not full custom, but variations on their basic frames. Occasionally they make frames for Rivendell on contract. And they do full custom bikes. One cool thing is they will take any Paramount and they offer full 'original' restorations. They have all the details, drawings, records, sticker, colors, etc.

    Lastly, they are "Waterford" beautiful silver brazed lugged steel....but they have another tig-welded line "Gunnar Cycles USA." which are less expensive.

    They are an anomaly. I'm happy they exist and I'm really happy I have one (though Majestic Purple is not my first choice in colors.) Last winter I took it on its maiden tour down the Baja Peninsula.
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/bajabiketour

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