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.