Friday, December 12, 2014

Dream Bicycle Industry Jobs - What's Yours?

Once in a while a really cool job announcement comes up in the bicycle industry and gets passed around via social media, in a way that you can practically hear the frenzied oohs and aaahs and "wish I could"s echoing through the ether. Oftentimes the job's awesomeness is matched only by its utter impossibility. Like the time a well known framebuilder out in the middle of nowhere was hiring an apprentice, requiring relocation to his remote abode and a 2-year commitment. Or that time a fancy cycling clothing manufacturer was seeking an account manager fluent in French and Japanese (and/or Hebrew). The professor in England recruiting an assistant for bicycling-related research, Masters degree in Psychology and 6 recent publications a must...

In cases like these, the sheer unlikeliness of these positions make them all the more entertaining to contemplate, placing them firmly in the realm of fantasy. Other bike job listings are more accessible. When hip component manufacturers or quirky world-famous bike shops are hiring, their fans know all about it, and - even if their educational backgrounds and career experiences are far removed from the bicycle industry - cannot help but imagine, if only for a moment, dropping everything and rushing over to work there, surrounded by their favourite bikey products, industry personas, and plain old fabulous bicycle vibes.

I would venture to say that most of us, regardless of our current employment or lack thereof, have at some point fantasised about a dream job in the bicycle industry. So what's yours?

For me it is a 3-way tie. With some regularity, I fantasise about being a part of the R&D team at Seven Cycles. Not only do I love their bikes, but the people who work at Seven are wonderful and the atmosphere in the shop is an intriguing combination of exciting and calming. Participating in the development of new commuting, mixed-terrain, and long distance bicycle models, complete with integrated racks, lights and such, would be a dream. Especially if testing them thoroughly during work hours is part of the job description!

Likewise, I often dream of being a product designer at Ibex. Over the years I have become a huge fan of this small Vermont company, to the point that now, of the non-DIY items of clothing in my wardrobe, there are probably more with an Ibex label than any others. I love the feel and quality of their wool, their tailoring, the versatility of their designs across weather conditions and activities. And hey, I already torment them with product feedback, ideas and requests anyhow!  In my fantasy, I take part in developing gorgeous cycling-friendly outfits, after which I (of course) diligently test them out on various types of bicycles. And this being Vermont, it goes without saying that in the winter I shall require a fat bike.

Finally - and this one is pure fantasy, as I am pretty sure no such position exists or ever will - I would love to be a traveling researcher for Compass Bicycles/ Bicycle Quarterly Press. I mean, Jan Heine is a busy man, right? Surely he could use a helping hand with all those trips to research the heck out of obscure vintage bicycle manufacturers. In my fantasy, I spend my days crawling around the dusty attics and cellars of old collectors in remote corners of Europe, photographing and cataloguing to exhaustion, and my nights madly scribbling notes on my findings by candle-light - which will then be promptly compiled toward the next hardbound, breathtakingly illustrated tome. Naturally, I shall be given the company vintage Rene Herse mixte for my travels.

While I've no plans to seek 9-5 employment any time soon, if I were to look in the future it would be in the bicycle industry and not in my former line of work. Despite its paucity of decently paid job prospects, there is just something about the bike world that's pulled me in and won't let go, for better or worse.

For whatever reason, the start of this winter season seems to have left quite a few of the bikey people I know "in between jobs." And I get the impression a lot of bike shops are doing the off-season layoffs early this year. I only wish I had some useful advice for those looking for real work in the bicycle industry this season. Based on what I have seen, twitter seems to be the most fruitful source for job announcements. The Alliance for Biking and Walking features a Job Board and includes a roundup of latest job listings in its weekly newsletter. Various bicycling forums will sometimes post job listings. And the Wheelwomen Switchboard has recently launched a job listing service that actually appears to be frequently updated. Aside from these resources, I would say it is worth writing to the companies you'd like to work for with a straighforward, enthusiastic expression of interest - I know of several folks for whom this strategy has worked over this past year, and the companies they approached weren't even officially hiring. It is tough out there, but you never know - a dream cycling job could become a reality.

65 comments:

  1. I've thought about leaving my job and opening up a shop catering to the "unracer/commuter" market segment. There is one shop in the area that comes close, but I think I could do better. I've even considered buying into their co-op arrangement. What's stopping me? 5 years to full retirement, a mortgage, and two more kids to get through college.

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    1. I know several persons from completely non-bikey backgrounds who have done this over the past 3 years. Success seems to depend a lot on location. And industry trends. It's risky, to put it gently.

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    2. This shop is in Palo Alto, CA, USA:

      http://astreetbikenameddesire.com/

      They are all about the unracer/commuter cyclist, or as they call it, the "lifestyle" cyclist. It's where we got our bakfiet. They sell the cargo bikes, folding bikes, solid commuters. A great shop!

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  2. I'd like a job in the R&D department of Brompton as I live about 5 minutes ride from their factory in London. No more slogging through central London traffic, just a quick scoot down the road. Or is that too close? The dream cycling job must involve cycling to work and 5 minutes is hardly enough to raise a sweat. I could always move further away, I suppose...

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  3. Apropos yesterday's post, I would quite fancy working for Vulpine!

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  4. I expect your phone may start ringing with unexpected possibilities. Perhaps you are manifesting your destiny by putting this out there...

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    1. Not my intent, I assure you!

      Though if companies are hiring out there, that info will no doubt be useful for some of my readers.

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  5. You want the fun part of my job, so I can deal with all the not-so-fun things? Like not having any power in the office today, and running extension cords all over the place instead of getting real work done... Unfortunately, candlelight won't run our computers as we try to process all the gift subscriptions and book orders for the holidays.

    Apart from the candlelight, your description of my research trips isn't too far off. A friend in Paris used to loan me his late 1940s Rene Herse for commuting around town, and I have crawled through many a dusty attic. I look forward to returning to France next year...

    On the other hand, I think you have one of the more fun jobs in the bike world, and your blog continues to be fun and inspiring.

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    1. My mistake Jan. I had hoped your idea of which parts of your job were "fun" were reversed!

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    2. Jan: I don’t know if you’ll know this but Velouria’s old Rolleiflex camera is more or less identical to that used by your old hero ‘Jenks’ – D.S.J. – legendary Motor Sport journalist Denis Sargent Jenkinson – throughout his career (you mentioned him in a comment under a recent post on your blog – he was one of my heroes too). Jenks used the Rolleiflex on the recces of the Mille Miglia route in preparation for his epic ride as navigator of the Mercedes 300SLR with Stirling Moss in 1955. He willed it to his great friend Geoffrey Goddard, the motorsport photographer, who subsequently auctioned it at Bonhams (it sold for £4,600, although given its provenance it was priceless). I’ll let you ponder on the similarities between ‘Velouria’ and ‘Jenks’... ;)

      Velouria: Sorry to digress, nothing to do with cycling, but I’ll write you an email about Jenks, c/w a photo of him with his Rolleiflex. You and Jenks are like kindred – free – spirits, and not just in a literary sense – atmo, anyway... :)

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    3. Thanks Kyle, very interesting.

      I got my Rolleiflex in Vienna 6 years ago. It had only 1 owner before me, who had kept it in great condition. I have to say, that if medium format film is your thing this is a very convenient camera - small, light, durable, ridiculously easy to use, and unobtrusive. And because no one knows what a waist-level viewfinder is nowadays, when I am in the process of setting up a shot people usually think I am just playing with the controls and pay me no heed. I love it.

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    4. Jenks was/is a hero. If you are at all involved with old Sportscars or Motorbikes his name still pops up all the time, even though he's been gone for almost 20 years. His famous exploits sort of pale in comparison to the stuff he never wrote about. Pretty inspirational. I'd buy a camera just like his if I thought it could inspire me to hurl myself at life in some of the same ways...

      Spindizzy

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  6. Okay, so today I go from never commenting to posting two comments in one day. I have to admit that the Ibex gig sounds pretty cool. I really, really wish they would design (1) a slightly loose-fitting lightweight 150s slip to go under dresses and (2)tights in colors other than black. I have other thoughts, but too many to list here. My other bicycle industry dream job would be owning an upright bicycle shop that also had really fantastic cycling accessories for women and parents, and that also functioned like a community center in my town. Not totally crazy, I know, so maybe that will actually be a reality one day ...

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    1. They've had striped tights on occasion, though not lately. I want colours too.

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  7. I'd be happy being an engineer, which is what I am by profession. Design engineering (rather than quality engineering, which is what I have more experience in) would be nice since we're talking ideals. Add some product planning, perhaps. And make it with SRAM, to allow me to continute to live in Chicago. Or, the horrors, the front range of Colorado.

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  8. I think I already had my dream bike job, working in a shop when I was in College. I lived in the dorm and had a meal plan, so could afford to get paid very little(and sporadically) to mess around with bikes for 4 hours 4 times a week and flirt with all the girls who wandered in. I also had a steady stream of people bringing tubulars in to be repaired since my Boss wanted no part of that, so I made more on the side than I did at "work". Of course my race bike spent as much time on the stand as the customers bikes but we were never busy and the boss realized that if he wanted to get away with only doing payroll when the Moon aligned with Venus he had to put up with it. Plus that was the shop we all hung out at and rode out of.

    Pretty cool. Too bad I was too dumb to pay attention and appreciate it. I left to go work in an auto parts store for like a nickel a week more.

    Spindizzy

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  9. Designer and/or material scientist for new bicycles and components. Which means that I would spend even more time with Solidworks (which is what I'm doing anyway). And it's in line with my education.

    Why? Because, IMO there is only one thing that is more fun than riding a bike - building one.

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  10. " . . . there is just something about the bike world that's pulled me in and won't let go, for better or worse." I highly recommend to all - Need for the Bike, by Paul Fournel. Available at Compass Bicycles.

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  11. I would love to be able to tie my masters in Library and Information Studies into the industry! I've seen the odd clothing manufacturer hiring for "textile librarians", and while that sounds quite rad, I would like something more closely related to bikes as well. If anyone out there is looking for an information specialist, records manager, or something similar, let me know! ;)

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    1. Yes! I've seen some major companies hiring for positions like this. They tend to involve management and organization of on-hand resources, an intimate knowledge of the properties of each fabric, and often being involved in sourcing and developing new fabrics, so really end-to-end integration from design to warehousing. I've got a background in textile work so it would be pretty neat. I could also see major bike industry companies doing the same, a materials librarian (eg: tubesets, alloys, etc)

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  12. Gosh... I'm not sure why, but this post totally blows my mind. It would just never occur to me to look for a job in the "bicycle industry" - I could see opening a shop, or creating some other sort of bike related business, but the idea of getting a job in an already existing bike company would just never occur to me. Somehow the words "job" and "bike" sorta seem antithetical to me.

    Anyhow, I think I've already got the world's greatest bike job - meaning living a minimalist lifestyle, which I finance through passive income streams, leaving me all the time in the world to ride as much as I want!

    Of course... there is an amazing retail space available right at the confluence of the South Platte and Bear Creek trails just south of Denver - should any entrepreneurs decide to set up a bike shop with a cafe on that site I would happily partake!

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    1. Consider that a good thing, EcoCatLady - you must be immune to the neurotoxin!

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    2. I agree with EcoCatLady. Enjoying a lifestyle which is minimal on the material side and riding a bike I love, which also loves me back, both for pleasure and transportation is all I can want. As I ride about town and beyond I'm constantly stopped by strangers who say they see me everywhere or who ask questions about my bike, or other bike related things, which sorta makes me an ambassador for all things bike related. I like that 'job!'

      About thirty years ago I worked for six years in a bike shop, which was a blissful time. Working on bikes all day and talking with folks who appreciated my knowledge and concerns for their bikes made the experience very rewarding.
      I don't think it would be the same today…

      Combining vocation and avocation is sometimes tricky.

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  13. I would like to play bass in a band doing promotional gigs around the world for an American or French bicycle manufacturer.

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    1. Probably not what you meant, but I immediately pictured this!

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    2. HA! Yes, exactly.
      Gilles Berthoud, Alex Singer, Peugeot, are you reading this?

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  14. Nearly did so in the "opening the bespoke bike/coffee/pastry shop right on the confluence of popular bike routes" sense this last year. We might still do so if the right opportunity presents itself.

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    1. If you do it I promise to skive off from my next roadtrip in that part of the world to have a cup and buy a waterbottle or something. Maybe have a quick root through that box of used brake levers under the bench when your back is turned...

      Spindizzy

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    2. Open it in N Ireland, Corey, and I'll come work for you : ) I even have a space in mind!

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    3. Hah! I guess we ought to get to work revising that business plan.
      Major-partner-who-is-not-my-spouse said it will only work if we don't eat up all the profits.
      Is that even possible where fresh pie is constantly coming out of the oven?

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  15. For me, the ideal bicycle-related employment would involve researching, resurrecting, and re-developing all the "lost components" that can no longer be found: Morrow coaster brakes, 650A rims and tires, long-reach centerpull brakes, hubs with oil ports, and the like. Either that or review complementary high-end bicycles and clothing from a wide range of sources while living in Vienna, Boston, or Ireland...

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  16. I would like to have a bike shop in my shed, with light coming in via an extension cord from "the barn". I would be known by classic bike geeks the world over as a magician with a classic. I would never advertise, and I would work on classics when they came in any time of the night or day...keeping only the hours (and the customers) that I like. I would have an endless supply of dusty never used before classic parts, having the "only new one left on the planet" and I would charge next to nothing for my services.

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  17. Making pain faces for Rapha videos sounds like an easy gig. Except you can only move in slow motion.

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  18. Such a great topic! It's often struck me that you Velouria have one of the best "bike industry" jobs out there. In some sense you've created your own version of what you've said you'd like to be doing in your dream position at Bicycle Quarterly, no? Writing, photographing, researching, and philosophizing all things bicycle. I admire what you've done.

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  19. Re Lovely Bicycle being a dream industry job, it depends how you look at it.

    Admittedly, the blog is an enjoyable means of earning a part time income. But even combined with my other freelance sources of income, it's only feasible for someone with no dependents, mortgage, car, extensive hospital bills, etc. Otherwise a "job" that pays like mine is out of the question.

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    1. Like Dave, I also admire the space you've created for yourself in the industry, and would love to be even half as good at it as you are... both you and Snob alike. Best. Bike. Bloggers. Ever.

      The world would truly be a better place if you were well paid for your contribution, lovely Velouria.

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    2. Thanks babble. On my end, I think it's not so much "good" as persistent : )

      As for Mr. Snob, it might please you to learn that you can now acquire a genuine BSNYC journal! In Northern Ireland, at that.

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    3. Perfect! Now all I need to do is go for a ride in the country... the NI country!

      And persistent is good. It sure works for you. :)

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    4. The universe rewards nothing so well as persistence. It carries Talent on it's back.

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  20. Back in the 90s, Jayne and I came close to buying a cycling holiday company in Brittany, but we'd just moved house, I'd changed my job and Jayne had a new role, so we turned it down. Sitting here contemplating going back to work after some time off with stress related illness only compounds the regret.

    A new Evans opened nearby and coincided with some voluntary redundancies, but having had my pension screwed over by numerous TUPE transfers, we couldn't afford the pay cut.

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  21. In an old book I own, "The Bicycling Book" by John and Vera Krausz, is described a wonderful job: A Mr. Malte Nilsson of Trelleborg, Sweden was a tire tester for a Swedish tire manufacturer. The article said he rode 195 kilometers a day, 5 days a week, doing real-world tire testing. Another kind of professional cyclist! Now there's a job!

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  22. Is bike infrastructure planning the same thing as the bike industry? I'd love to have Marni Ratzel's job: Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Planner for the City of Boulder, CO. She's awesome in herself, but getting to work with a city council that actually understands the possibilities of bike transportation would be amazing.

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  23. Beware, all dreams are short lived.

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  24. I could have sworn I clicked "Publish" after commenting yesterday but I guess I didn't. I apologize if my comment comes up twice.

    Anyway, It's interesting you bring up the topic now since I'm trying to decide whether I want to pick up another bike job. I am currently the technician for the bike share at Ann Arbor where I get to fix and perform routine maintenance on the bikes and drive a huge Ford E-450 step van. It's a delight. Unfortunately, like many bike workers on the winter, I am unemployed at the moment. I am considering working for another bike shop in town where there is a "Help Wanted" sign posted because the owner, I know, is a huge fan of the Raleigh Sports just as I am. He has a bunch of Schwinns and Raleigh Sports there from the '60s that have been doing rental duty for almost 40 years.

    I am also in the process of restoring a '76 Schwinn Varsity for a good friend and I realized a little while ago that building up a bike for someone else is some of the most fun I have these days. On my spare time, which is limited because I'm an architecture student, I get bikes from places like the re-use center and sell them to friends after making them roadworthy. It's just so exciting to order and receive brand new parts and then put them together for the first time. Building up a bike for somebody else also eliminates some of the decision-making and cost-cutting that often plagues my own projects; the only choice is simply to order the best part within budget (if needed) and install it in the best possible way to ensure reliability and safety. No bolted-together brake cables and sketchy assembly methods like on my Ross ten-speed. I just think I'd be happy to deal with repairs and assembly at any local bike shop.

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  25. "It is tough out there, but you never know - a dream cycling job could become a reality"

    ...and you too can experience the joy of working for minimum wage without health insurance! : )

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    1. Minimum wage?! Lucky bastards.

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    2. Yes, most folks I know do it for the discounts and and the love of bicycling. Though more and more are providing health insurance.

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    3. I know of 2 bike shops in my area that offer health insurance to their full time employees.

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  26. I'm a bit of a Jack (or Jill as it were) of all trades, with a resume that's all over the place. Since my current profession is as a seamstress, I would love designing and creating cycling clothing. I've also worked in the musical instrument case and gig bag industry both as a designer and maker, so creating saddle/handlebar bags (I've made several for myself recently) would also be fun! I've had long time a fascination with machining and would love to learn to make custom components. I've worked with leather (making horse tack) and would find saddle making exciting. And I would love to try my hand at frame building. If anything just make one for myself.

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  27. My dream job would be to make a living as a framebuilder, but that tends to be a contradiction in terms. As Mike Flanigan put it in a post on the Velocipede Salon (‘heather’: if you read this, it’s the answer to the question you asked under V’s recent post about Mike): “I do not want to sell or help a 5 ft person design a 29er, with good standover, set up for Rohloff, belt drive, derailleurs, single speed, disc brakes... but V-brakes too (just in case). Actually making the bike is no problem. Having someone ask me my opinion on the matter is what I can no longer do, but that is what you need to do, unless you stand up for yourself like Richard Sachs and a few others and just make what the builder wants and that is that. My hat is off to those few who can do it.”

    I figure prospective or fledgling framebuilders should put that on their wall, but antbikemike has been one of my heroes ever since I found him through this blog and I’m sure he’ll flourish at Seven. At least he had the nous not to try to hold out too long and then go under, the error I made in my only profession so far (I had similar experiences in a different field). I’d always worked on the principle of ‘the only time you lose is when you quit’ (Katharine Hepburn said that), but you have to go wherever life takes you.

    As it is, I’ve yet to cut a tube or wield a torch, unlike a certain illustrious photo-journalistic resident of Bellarena (you are so NOT not a framebuilder!) – I’m perpetually skint – but in desperation, to emulate my heroes, I’ve thought I could at least make a start by getting an ear pierced and wearing a dangly earring like e-RICHIE, or growing a moustache and waxing it like antbikemike (or maybe even both, although I really should develop my own brand atmo).

    http://www.velocipedesalon.com/forum/f50/branding-atmo-32408.html

    In August, out of sheer despair and despondency, I stopped shaving and haven’t trimmed the beard since, so I’m beginning to look like a cross between Jeff Jones and Eric Estlund, or maybe even an early Bruce Gordon. It’s not very original, but everyone has to start somewhere, and it keeps my face warm in the winter. And you never know, maybe some day I’ll be a framebuilder.

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    1. The problem is that the very idea of the "custom" bicycle is doomed from the start. Its selling point is that the customer can get whatever unique/special/nonstandard frame they want, yet 99% of the time the customer does not truly know what they want. Even if they do know, they are seldom able to express it in the framebuilder's language, using instead subjective terms that can get misinterpreted along the way. When you think about it, the odds are just not in favour of a happy outcome on the first try. And as a framebuilder who offers truly "custom," you are setting yourself up to deal with that again and again.

      What Richard Sachs and a few others do, is protect themselves from this booby trap by making "made to measure" bikes in a standard design of their choosing, rather than offering a custom experience. And that's certainly an option, but it's not the same thing as being a custom builder. To some, it is the very innovation & problem-solving aspects of the latter that are exciting, despite the extra time spent on each project, the losses they take on a good portion of their "paid" work, and the high risk of customer dissatisfaction. It's a job I wouldn't want in a million years. But I'm sure glad there are those who do!.

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    2. Running a blog, with all the pressures of producing content on a regular basis, posting reviews, dealing with rude comments and keeping readership numbers up for the sponsors, is a job I would not want in a million years... but I am sure glad there are those who do!
      :)

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    3. Ha. Honestly it's not that bad. I try to set things up in a way that doesn't generate pressure. My sponsorship agreements do not obligate me to deliver minimum readership numbers or to update my posts with any regularity; sponsors just buy an ad for a predetermined price for the month/year and that's that. Posting reviews or not is entirely up to me. There are times I like doing it; but if I don't feel like reviewing stuff there are plenty of other things to write about. Trolly comments can be a drag, but it happens to everyone so the key is to not take it personally. I have also found it's helped to post a coherent moderating policy.

      Basically, the good thing about writing your own blog (as opposed to, say, working for a magazine) is that you're in control. If there is pressure, then you are creating that pressure for yourself. Which also means, you have the power to reduce it.

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  28. I used to work in a shop in Chicago and apparently there was a former employee who left to work as the engineering mechanic (or something similarly titled) at sram. From what I heard, it basically involved assembling all the cnc'd parts that the engineers had made and making them work on a bike - without a doubt my dream bike industry job.

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  29. I love the article, I have recently left my well paid office job to retrain as a cycle mechanic, currently I am working part time in the shop and loving every moment, no regrets although taking the plunge was a big thing for me and I am living the dream.

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  30. I already h ave my dream job being a self-employed bike mechanic. But--I'd REALLY like to be the bike buyer for a big chain like Walmart and see how useful a bike could be sold at their prices instead of the horribly bad imitation mountain bikes that seem to be their current standard. Internal hub, front mechanical disc brake, fenders, decent saddle, and multiple frame sizes--I'd try for a US$200 retail knockoff of the Bianchi Milano.

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    1. It sure would be great if you manage to accomplish that.

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  31. I used to think being a custom builder would be my "bike job". Working in a shop or barn, a la the Taylor Bros., in the countryside, doing everything by hand, that or a rider/racer traveling the world. Was never fast enough for the latter, and I now know a couple builders and know the "reality" of being a custom builder I'm not so sure, although their lives aren't too shabby and they seem to do plenty of riding on a plethora of bikes they've built. I met a guy, Imran Mughal, earlier this year from Leeds who was riding his bike around the world. I don't know if I'd want to ride 'around' the world, but riding around the world and exploring sounds like fun.

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  32. I would love to do something that gets more families out on bikes. It would be a combination of policy advocacy for better, safer, more extensive bike infrastructure, as well as increasing the options of bike and accessories for family cycling. People around here assume I'm from the Netherlands (someone once started speaking to me in Dutch) because I ride my bakfiet everywhere. I'd love to get to a point in the USA where this kind of thing is not seen as foreign or unusual, but just as normal as anyone else on a bike.

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  33. When my wife and I went on our year-long bicycle trip through France, Italy and England in 1975/76 we mostly lived in a tent. We rode 40-50 km a day. Every night a campground, of which there was one in every French and Italian village. Along the way, I invented many things that, had had access to capital, lawyers, and engineers, would have made me into a an empire of bicycle touring: ways to sit in a tent without strain (strap support); rain gear with ventilation; lightweight tent designs with bathtub floors; flashlight lanterns; low-center front rack; improvement on Pletscher rear rack; waterproof and compact/ compressible panniers; lightweight stove designs.. the list goes on.

    The point I am trying to make is that an intelligent person who thinks about her experience and takes notes (let me repeat that: AND WHO TAKES NOTES) can and will discover insights into any endeavor that may ultimately be commodifiable and marketable, if that is your inclination. You may object to the focus on commodification but my wine-addled memory says that was the original point of the post. Velouria is the best example I can find in a long time of somebody who has turned the will 'o the wisp of an idea into a way of life. But lots of people are doing it. Think deeply, then get to work. PJT

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  34. My dream job? I have it already but I'm not in the bike industry. But for retirement - I'll be training for working in a bike shop, hopefully as a mechanic. I have a few years to training, take the UBI classes, rebuild my bikes a few times but it's probably just a dream.

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