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« Before there were Gays | Main | The Story of a 1985 Criterium »
Thursday
Feb062014

Prices then and now

Above is a retail price list for my bikes in 1990. The most expensive is the Fuso Lux which was custom built to order, with chrome plating, and retailed at $3,150 equipped with Campagnolo C Record components. This was probably the most you would pay for any top of the line racing bicycle.

I say this because my competition back then were the Italian imports like Colnago and Pinerello. You would pay a something over $3,000 for one of these lugged steel Italian bikes equipped with the same Campagnolo C Record group.

My production was only a fraction of these much larger companies, they probably each produced far more frames in a month than I did in a year. But I was able to compete because I had a much lower overhead, and I did not need a distributor to sell my frames in the US. It was the shipping and middle man cost that the Italian companies had to deal with that allowed me to compete.

I attended the big bicycle trade shows each year, and gradually built up a network of bicycle dealers all over the US. I could then sell and ship direct to them. My competition, the Italian bike builders, could not do this. The shipping costs alone on individual bikes or frames would have been prohibitive.

They had to ship frames over by the container load to a distributor, who would then market and sell to the individual American bike dealers just as I did. The Italian import frames were mostly built on a system made by a company called “Marchetti and Lange.” This was a conveyer track system, where the frames were completely assembled, front and rear triangle, and “Pinned” together, then placed on the conveyer.

Gas jets pre-heated first the bottom bracket area, the conveyer then moved on, with the bottom bracket and tubes glowing red hot from the pre-heating, and an operator quickly hand brazed the bottom bracket. While this was happening, gas jets were pre-heating the head lugs. Then the conveyor moved on to a second operator who would then braze the already pre-heated head lugs, and so on until a completed frame came off the other end.

By comparison I brazed together batches of 5 frames at a time, using a hand held oxy-acetylene torch with no pre-heating. This meant less heat went into the tubes, so the Columbus tubing retained more of its inherent strength. I don’t mean that the Italian frames were over-heated, but just a larger area of the tube beyond the lugs was heated, due to the use of pre-heaters.

The Italian frames came off the Marchetti and Lange track, were cleaned up and went to be chromed and painted. They mostly left the factory, with the bottom bracket threads not cleaned out, the BB and head tube were un-faced, and the frames were unchecked for alignment.

This work was done after the frames arrived in the US, either by the distributor, but most often by the bicycle shop. Any top of the line bike shop in the 1980s or 1990s had a full Campagnolo tool kit in a wooden case.

By comparison, I would braze 5 bottom brackets, check for alignment. Braze 5 head tubes, check the alignment, and so on. Every frame had the BB thread tapped and faced, and the head tube was reamed and faced ready to accept the head bearings. The seat tube was reamed, so the seat post would slide right in. All this was done before painting, along with a final check for alignment. When a dealer got the frame it was ready for assembly.

What I find interesting is the price comparison from 1990 to now. The most you would pay for a top of the line race bike was a little over $3,000. You might go to $4,000 for something special like Columbus Max tubing. (Picture above.) However, this would be an excaption. Today a top of the line carbon fiber Colnago or Pinerello will set you back $14,000 and up.

The average income in 1990 was $29,000, today it is around $44,300, a 52% increase. A Ford Mustang convertible cost $14,250 in 1990, today it would be not quite twice as much at $27,500. So the cost of a CF bicycle today would buy you a Ford Mustang in 1990.

Back when I built frames, as a small individual builder, I could compete with the larger import companies and still make a fair profit. Today, top of the line bikes are made by large corporations, and prices are not based on what it costs to produce, but rather by what the market will stand. With a consumer, it seems, who would rather pay more, if only for the bragging rights.

 

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Reader Comments (8)

Reaming the seat post - I'd pay extra and nominate you for a knighthood for that!

Now, if you'd gone for Superbe Pro instead of common old C-Record........ ;-)

February 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Macc

For what it's worth, adjusting for inflation, $3150 in 1900 is now worth around $5,614. If you want to dust off the torches, I'd gladly pay you $5600 to build me a bike! ;)

February 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMaxUtility

Campy Record today costs what a top of the line fully spec'd bike cost back then.

February 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

and the $14,000 carbon superbike you bought today won't last as long, or ride as nice as my 1986 Fuso

February 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBill K

Hi Dave,

You hit it on the head with this;

"With a consumer, it seems, who would rather pay more, if only for the bragging rights"

Unfortunately, this is what the bike culture is rapidly becoming, poorly informed consumers dribbling over the latest consumer products, aided and abetted by the pro scene and the accompanying media.

Sure cycling has always been a mix of improving technology, effort and performance. But increasingly technology and bits are becoming more important than effort and performance, pretty soon we won't be able to tell the difference between a bikie and a triathlete.

When you were building and I got my first custom - an SLX with C rec. it was possible for the average bloke to have one built exactly the same as the top pros, in some cases better and to the riders exact requirements. Not so much now. Despite the articles about pro's riding stock frames, you may be getting a $14,000 frame/bike the same as a pro sponsored team, but you won't get the same as Greipel, Boonen. Wiggo or Cancellara.

February 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKeith. British Columbia

I hate to think what the 'conveyer system' looks like in Asia, Viet Nam, or wherever else the big companies are having their frames built today!

February 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Katz

My bewilderment only increases each year that I witness this degree of *ankerism (obsession with over-priced carbon). I feel like a dinosaur on my 80s CroMo bicycles. But I'm a happy old dinosaur, albeit increasingly feeling estranged from most riders now who pass me.

February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul
February 13, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterts

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