44 "Flow Team" Collection

One of my goals with 44 Bikes is to produce bicycle frames here in New Hampshire from as many U.S. sourced materials as possible. I see it as my responsibility as a business owner to look no further than our own shores for materials to build my bicycles. Now I know you can’t get everything right here in the good ol’USA and I am well aware of the global nature of our economy. That’s actually nothing new. We’ve always been a global economy. I’m not sure why this is a hot topic of late but if anyone knows their history, we’ve had a history of trade that spans oceans for a long time. What has changed, however is our ability to “make”. As rewarding as capitalism can be, it also has inherent issues with the never ending tail chasing penchant to find a cheaper means of production. So even before I started 44 Bikes, I knew that I wanted to make it a priority to partner with U.S. based manufacturers when ever and where ever I can. My customers don’t expect this. But I take a mindful approach to seeing the bigger picture when it comes to the importance of a healthy and vibrant U.S. manufacturing base. So although my contribution may be small, or however insignificant it may appear, I rest a bit easier at night knowing that my dollars are helping to support my friends and neighbors right here in the USA.

Fast forward to the morning of May 10, 2016: I received an email from Chris Merrill at Henry James who has been a long time distributor of True Temper Tubing and of which I have pretty much exclusively sourced all of my bicycle tubing to date. The announcement, in short, stated that True Temper would cease production of all bicycle tubing. All production in their Mississippi plant would exclusively be leveraged to make golf shafts, with their last effective purchase orders ending on December 31, 2016. All remaining production and shipments of new orders of bicycle tubes would permanently cease on March 31, 2017. However, Henry James was actively seeking a US based replacement for production of their tube profiles. But in the meantime, I still needed to basically “stock up” in the event that search ended without anything to show for it.

Now I didn’t sit there at my desk in front of my computer feeling genuine heart felt sorrow over this loss. As surprising as it was and as disheartening as it appeared, my first thought was to begin the process of getting answers for what I needed to do to ensure I could still make bicycles the way I need to make bicycles. Phone calls were made. Emails were sent. Conversations were conversed. From this I compiled a list of what I used most and started comparing with other suppliers who made what and what was similar or identical. From that list it appeared that Reynolds made what was closest to what I was sourcing from True Temper / Henry James. Reynolds is made in England however and is distributed via 2 sources on the West Coast. Or, as my Dad would say: The “other” coast. It was good to have a back up plan in hand in case Henry James plan did not become a reality but that still is a ways off.

As always, fellow builders of which a handful are good friends started to talk. Privately and amongst ourselves. What became apparent was some did not care where the source was so long as the source was reliable and delivered on the quality and consistency which True Temper in recent years was a bit hit or miss. Long story short: True Temper just did not want to be bothered with making steel bicycle tubes anymore and that lack of interest was reflected in the finished product. True Temper tubes are some of the best but sometimes they can lack that consistency and quality which as a niche of builders we strive to ensure with our own product. So the conversation went back and forth in terms of what to do and where to get materials. I have to say, I was not surprised by some who really had no interest in the where the material was sourced. Regardless of what “that guy” says, it should matter. IT DOES MATTER. AND it matters to me.

Opportunity came knocking when a fellow builder (Steve Garro of Coconino Bicycles) suggested Vari-Wall Tube Specialists, Inc. based out of Columbiana, Ohio. Apparently he had received a cold call from their founder Randall Alexoff who started Vari-Wall in 1985. Things just got interesting. A little digging and Vari-Wall has been working behind the scenes of bicycle tubing since the early 1980’s delivering the worlds first butted aluminum bicycle tubes as well as being an integral supplier from the likes of Huffy to Rock Shox. Best part? They are committed to manufacturing quality steel and aluminum tubing right here in the USA. This is exactly in line with my expectations and my own vision. An email later and I was speaking with their Operations Manager via the phone and I hope to speak with Randy in the coming weeks when he gets back from work related travel.

What is important to note is that from the first phone call to the last email I just received from Vari-Wall: Everyone is excited about the job they have to do. There’s enthusiasm and a cheerful voice at the other end of the line. This indicates a clear passion for what they do and it’s refreshing to have this new possible source for quality steel bicycle tubing made right here and none other than Ohio of all places which has been hard hit by the loss of manufacturing related jobs. Better yet? Vari-Wall is listening to builders wants, needs, experience and suggestions. I think collectively we’re going to be in a better place than where we were for steel bicycle tubing just a few short weeks ago.

Now to come full circle on this whole idea of “Made in the USA”. I’ve been working on a modest collection for a few months. Needless to say, I’m pretty stoked with the results. Just about everything is sourced here in these great 50 states. Luck would have it regarding a few items: They’re made right here in NH. Now I know that everything can’t be made here. I know our economy is a global economy. I know some say stuff like this doesn’t matter, that it’s a waste of time or you’ll hear the same dog and pony show stating that US Manufacturing is gone and it’s never coming back. That irritates me. Hearing that smoke screen to try and brainwash consumers into not taking U.S. based manufacturing to heart angers me. I’m going to come out of my shell and tell you something: They’re all dead wrong.

First: it does matter. Having a healthy, prospering U.S. manufacturing base that employs skilled workers and invests in that same workforce ensures we have a strong middle class with good pay. This strengthens the very foundation of our society which creates mobility and even more important: Stability in the market because workers who have money in their pocket spend that same money on goods and service. That’s why I take some time, care and pride in partnering with local manufacturers when and where I can. It’s a two way street. What goes around comes around.

Second: US Manufacturing is not dead and in many cases, it’s growing. Slowly. Inch by inch. Small step by small step. As a business owner, I see it as my responsibility to take this seriously and take the necessary time and care to ensure a quality product that is Made in the USA. Sometimes it will cost a bit more, or perhaps the wait will be just a bit longer. But you know what? It’s worth it. I know my dollars are going back into hands of friends and neighbors right here on these shores. And THAT matters. My customers don’t ask for this. I see it done. Never assume company’s are doing the same. Don’t just ask for it. Demand it. They will listen.

So when it comes to tubing, steel bicycle tubing: I’m looking to my sources to produce what they can here in the USA. I know it may take some time. I know it may not be the cheapest. Some may chide me that it’s just dreaming or I’m too much of an idealist. Well, they hit the nail on the head: I do dream and I do have ideals. That’s part of the American Spirit that was instilled in me by my parents and by their parents before them. And you know what? Shame on anyone for telling you otherwise. Shame on anyone telling you it “Can’t be done”. That gets me fired up. That gets me ready to rumble. This is the kind of stuff our fighting men and women serve to protect: The ability and right to dream. The ability and right to get after your ideals and see something through. At the end of the day, I go to sleep at night knowing my partners are committed to the same vision that I’m committed to and together, we’ll turn things around inch by inch. One small step at a time. And I’m here to tell you I don’t give a damn if someone tells me that’s idealistic or if that’s dreaming. And I said before: They’re right. I’m someone who does dream and who has ideals. Shame on them for not having the guts to envision a better way forward.

In order from left to right: 44 Flow Team Kit / Exclusive and Limited : ENDO Customs – Los Angeles, CA / 44 Flectarn “Skull Cap” : Yanco Javier – Los Angeles, CA / “I’m Painting My Bike Black” Poster : Printed by Brainstorm – Dover, NH / “Shred More” Water Bottles : Specialized Bicycles – Morgan Hill, CA / 44 Shield T-shirt and Black T-shirt – Printed by DadoPrint – Warner, NH