March 2, 2009

A Framebuilding Guild?

Check it out for yourselves – The Framebuilder’s Collective.

I’m not sure what to think of this so far. The FAQ section (hard to find the link, look at the lower left portion of the page) seems to be pretty vague, in that:

-Essentially anyone can join up (as long as you say you’ve been building bikes for 5 years) – this looks like an effort to keep amateur and new builders on the outside to some extent, probably because of the frustration some folks feel about the way the framebuilding chat rooms (ie, frameforum, phred.org, mtbr) function these days.

-There are no standards. I wouldn’t expect people to be inspecting each other’s work anyway, and the marketplace tends to weed out anyone who builds really junky stuff.

-There doesn’t seem to be a concrete goal – “desire to pool our experiences, talents, and resources so that they all be can shared with whoever and whatever is next” doesn’t count, in my book, because those things can (and are) done online and in RL all the time without any organization whatsoever. The front page says some stuff about advocating for material suppliers to make appropriate supplies for framebuilders, but as of right now, I don’t see that as being a problem – we have more tubing and parts suppliers than ever. Furthermore, most of those suppliers are actually pretty openminded about making new stuff, as long as you make a minimum order – it’s pretty easy to post up something that says “who else is interested in a 42mm downtube” (or whatever) and go from there.

They do also want to “Support and promote ethical professional framebuilder practices” and “Mentor and preserve proven framebuilding techniques and business practices” – both of these sound like efforts to weed out some of the large crop of sketchy, uninsured newbies who have been hanging out pro shingles in the last few years. I don’t see that as necessary, given the state of the economy, but I do agree to some extent that small framebuilders are starting to get a bad name from some of these folks (and no, I’m not naming any names, but folks who have followed the online bike geek community in the last few years can no doubt think of a number of examples). The problem, of course, is that you can’t really force anyone NOT to open a business – perhaps the goal here is to set the guild members apart from rank newbies through their association with the group. I tend to think word of mouth does the job just fine (ie, I’d rather get a bike from builder X, who’s been around for 5 years, than builder Y, who nobody has ever heard of).

I’m not sure how this will work out (and I currently have no desire to join the group, since I’m not convinced there are any benefits to be had) but I wish them the best of luck in whatever it is they’re trying to do. Maybe the goal(s) will become clearer over the next few months. Kudos to all the founding members for making the effort – let’s just hope it’s worthwhile.