Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yes We Can! (Build Bicycles In America, That Is...)

Defying modern "wisdom," the team at Bowery Lane Bicycles have chosen to build bicycles in the USA. But wait... Not only do they build bicycles in the USA, they build them in New York City, an area renowned for sky-high rents and salaries. This location choice would be remarkable if Bowery Lane were building ultra-expensive boutique bicycles, even though the manufacturing costs of such custom machines might be overwhelmed by the price customers were willing to pay. But wait a little bit more... The hand-built bicycles made by Bowery Lane sell for less than $600!
Any reader who has been following "Cycloculture" for any amount of time knows that one of my primary interests lies in finding USA-based bicycle builders who are offering products at prices which are affordable to "the masses." No company has succeeded in accomplishing this mission better than Bowery Lane Bicycles. I needed to find out why and how the comany was taking this approach. Co-Founder Patrick Benard was kind enough to answer some questions for me.
The "Broncks Black" - Reliable, American-made transportation for less than $600

Q: Why did you choose to manufacture bicycles in New York City? How is that working out for you?

A: My partners and I chose NYC because we live here and managing the manufacturing and launch of this project from anywhere else would have been impossible for us. The fact that the bikes have a certain NYC cache has been a definite benefit though.

Our project really has the history of a cooperative effort that has ended up leveraging the skills and good-will of a dozen professionals (photographers, graphic designers etc.) that we had access to (many in our own building). There are only a few other places in the US where this could have happened.

NYC has allowed us to be very flexible and nimble in every respect except one. Commercial rental space is so prohibitive that it limits our potential as far as retail is concerned.

Q: Describe your manufacturing facility and process, please.

A: We designed the bikes and were fortunate to find a small manufacturing facility in the heart of a West Indian neighborhood with many talented welders. I've said before that we aspire to be the Model T of American bicycle manufacturing and that remains true. Our manufacturing principles are: local, affordable, durable, and stylish.

Q: How many bicycles do you make in an average month?

A: We have made 500 bikes in our two year experience. We are aiming to make and sell twice that in 2011. We also have accessories planned such as front racks, clothing and cycle caps.

Q: Do you see areas for potential improvement, in terms of manufacturing? If so, what are they?

A: A friend once said that the ideal bike was cheap, strong and light and that we should pick two out of these three. Our bikes have not been light. The production we are presently preparing is lighter. Our bikes are relatively inexpensive and we make it a priority to keep it so. Our bikes have been and will be strong.

We also hope to produce more and more of the components locally in the future, chain guards, fenders, racks and anything we can keep in house.

We will continue to innovate and learn keeping our principles in mind.

The "Broncks Raw," All the fun of the "Broncks Black" with clear-coated tubes and brazing.

Q: Please describe your design inspirations.

A: My wife and I visited Amsterdam in 2008. I've always been a cycling enthusiast, and the holiday, the city, the people, and the bike culture inspired me. We wanted to create a Dutch inspired bike that was NYC- street tough. Basically, if our bike can make it here, it'll hold up anywhere...

Q: When someone buys a bicycle from you, what do they get that they cannot get anywhere else?

A: A hand built bike made in America, that's stylish and functional while remaining affordable.

Q: How are your bicycles equipped? What accessories are included?

A: We've tried to offer a complete bike that's ready to ride once assembled. We include a bell, cork hand grips, chain guard and fenders, kickstand, rear rack, as well as our signature wooden crate.
An excellent use for a large cargo box.

Q: What is the price of one of your bicycles? Do you see that price changing in the near future?

A: We'd like to keep a basic single speed bike in the $595 range. We'll be offering a few internal geared versions that will add a bit, price wise, but affordable is our goal.
The "Breukelen," for those who prefer a step-through.

Q: Where would you like to see Bowery Lane Bicycles in five years?

A: I hope to have a five year plan in five years.

Q: What else would you like to say?

A: There are reasons why so little manufacturing is done in the U.S., it's difficult. But it’s important.
The "Reclaimed Crate," a cargo box made from re-used lumber.

Q: What do you like for breakfast?

A: 3 cups espresso, toast with peanut butter and honey from my own hives. Hope the girls (bees) are weathering the cold alright.


Anonymous said...

Why am I suppose to be excited about a $600 gaspipe singlespeed? Simply because they're made in New York? What am I missing?

Forbes Black said...

openmammon, Feel free to remain unexcited, if the Bowery Lane bicycles do not tickle your fancy. I, OTOH, really do get excited when I see someone trying to build wonderful, practical, affordable bicycles in the USA. Sure, you could get something similar from China for about half the price, but anyone trying to BUILD something in the USA gets my support. Well, almost anyone...