Made In The USA: Anodized Titanium Straws from Firefly Bicycles

Using the only criteria that matter — the ones maintained by the 12-year-old boy in the back of our brains — what was the absolutely most cool/awesome/dope/fly machine in human history? It wasn’t the P.K. Ripper or the 917K, cool though they may be. Nor was it the AR-15 or the Cigarette boat driven by Sonny Crocket. It wasn’t even the F-104 Starfighter, although that is the plane I would buy if I won the lottery tomorrow.

The apex machine, the alpha dog of technological achievement, is surely the SR-71 Blackbird and its “Oxcart” sibling. It went faster than the missiles fired in its direction and it made Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter look like a Toyota Yaris. I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to the “Hidden Figures”-style movie to be made about it where we find out that the Blackbird was invented not by a bunch of nerds with pocket protectors but rather by a diverse team of women’s studies majors, bronies-of-color, and MS-13 lieutenants. Good stuff.

The SR-71’s hull was made of titanium, a necessary inconvenience that required a massive amount of duplicity on the part of American intelligence agencies and/or corporations. Titanium is the king of metals: strong yet ductile, inert and hypoallergenic, able to withstand more heat than the other options in the craftsman’s arsenal. I have lived the vast majority of my life with various different titanium bolts holding me together.

There is little that titanium cannot do. Having saved the world in the Cold War (for a while, anyway) it is now ready to save the world yet again, in the greatest battle humanity has ever faced.

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Forget It Jack, It’s Chinatown: Richer Poorer Socks

I have a bit of a distaste hierarchy when it comes to made-in-China stuff. Are you a Chinese company, using your own brand and forthrightly discussing Chinese production? Then maybe we can do business — this article is being written on a Lenovo Y900. Are you an American company that makes some of your products in China, clearly labeling them as such? Okay, Pelican and SILCA… let’s give it a shot (although I just had an unpleasant experience with a Chinese SILCA product, more on that in the near future). Do you obscure the place of production in favor of long bullshit rants about American design and sustainability and being a force for good? Sorry, Patagonia, you can fuck off.

Ah, but there’s a level of Chinese obfuscation even below that of Patagonia et al — the level where you claim to make things in Western countries, or in Japan, only to send me Chinese products when I order them.

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Made In The USA: Liberty Bottleworks

Let’s just get this out of the way: If you like the idea of an American-made aluminum bottle with WWII graphics on it, then you can get it here. It’s built like a P-47 and it will just barely fit in a bicycle waterbottle cage, assuming that said cage is as flexible as the titanium King Cages I use on my bikes.

If you want to read a little bit about morality and empathy and food safety and whatnot, click the jump and let’s go for a ride.

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Forget It Jack, It’s Chinatown: Betabrand, Sometimes

Fool me one time, shame on you
Fool me twice, can’t put the blame on you
Fool me three times, fuck the peace signs
Load the chopper, let it rain on you

Imagine how happy I was to get my new Dragon-Hide Hoodigan from Betabrand just in time for a few long plane trips. Then imagine how I felt to see that they’d sent production to China. Well, it’s nobody’s fault but mine.

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Made In The USA: Weighting Comforts Blanket

From our valued contributor John Marks comes this link to a company that sews weighted blankets in Tennessee. They partner with Sew For Hope, a nonprofit that helps refugees in the Tennessee area learn to sew. So this is the rare company that should warm the hearts of America-lovers and refugee-lovers alike. I’m assuming that the refugees in this case are not 22-year-old former ISIS foot soldiers, but hey, even if they are, at least the blankets are made in Tennessee, right? Check them out — and while you’re at it, take a look at another link Mr. Marks provided, this one a defense of Trump’s “reset” with Russia.

Made In America, And Given Away Right Here: This Really Gay Cycling Jersey

Lost in the discussion about the revival of American-made clothing brands is the relative lack of sporting or special-purpose gear that’s actually done in this country. In particular, it can be very tough to get cycling stuff that was sewn in the United States. I placed a pretty large order with Canari a while ago, only to find that only a very small portion of their lineup is actually made here.

Voler is a different story. Everything I’ve ordered from them has been clearly labeled as Made-In-California. It’s also remarkably expensive — we’re talking $100 or more for cycling shorts that are functionally equivalent to the $49 product from Canari. Oh well. Sometimes it costs you money to walk the walk, as it were. And there’s nothing I love more than putting my American-made Lynskey or Laird bike in my USA-ish Chevrolet “Like A Rock” Silverado…

…okay, I’m just trolling part of the commentariat here. Where was I? Oh yeah. Voler is expensive. Occasionally, however, there’s a chance to save a few bucks. Which is where the jersey pictured above comes in. It was cheap for me, but it could be free for you.

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Made In The USA: Pelican Coolers

True story: Last year I spent three days exploring the ghost towns of Colorado with a nature photographer and his best friend, who also happened to be the model for some of the photos used in the article I wrote from the experience. When I got to the photographer’s house, I saw that he had YETI… everything. Four different sized YETI coolers. A whole bunch of YETI insulated cups. YETI stickers on his truck and on his photo gear. He was all about the YETI.

I was confused because the only YETI I knew was the high-end bike maker that sadly moved to Taiwan for production about fifteen years ago. But I didn’t give it any more thought, until last week. That was when YETI became involved in a whole bunch of drama regarding its decision to withdraw its support from the NRA. To be honest, I’ve read twenty articles about the YETI/NRA thing and I still don’t know the truth. YETI claims it was all a misunderstanding — but is that just a case of a company walking back a social-justice policy when they realize just how unpopular said policy is among the hunters, woodsmen, and explorers that make up the company’s customer base?

In the middle of all the drama, Pelican Coolers popped into social media with a very canny promotion: buy a USA-made Pelican Cooler using a certain code (PELICANPROUD) and the company would donate ten bucks to the NRA. Plus you’d get a (Chinese-made) insulated cup similar to the YETI one that every thirtysomething mother in the Midwest has in her immediate vicinity at all times. So I took a look at the company’s offerings. They had a 30-quart cooler that looked about perfect for my summer NASA/SCCA/BMX/skatepark/World-Challenge season. And it was available in Lime Green. The price was a bit breathtaking, but I justified it using some absolutely stupid math that I’ll share with you after you CLICK THAT JUMP.

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Dearborn Denim Is Saved, Offers Savings In Return

A few months ago I visited Dearborn Denim and bought three pairs of pants that so far have held up quite well. There was some concern at the time that Dearborn would face some genuinely negative consequences from Denim North America’s decision to terminate denim production. “DNA” is Dearborn’s source and with Cone Mills closing at the same time it looked like there would be no reasonable way to do a fabric-to-finish American-made set of jeans in the long run.

This morning I got an email from Dearborn stating that they have convinced DNA to continue the supply at a higher cost and minimum-volume requirement. They also gave me this discount code. You’ll save ten or twelve bucks when you use it… and I think that if five of you use the code then I get one free pair of pants. I tell you what, the chances to milk you rubes for sweet cash and prizes just never end, do they?

An alternative that uses Cone Mills Denim and doesn’t put one-fifth of a pair of pants into my crooked pockets: the Cone Stretch from Gustin, which is $81 plus shipping. Either way, I think you’ll be happy.

In Which The Author Learns Some Hard Truths About American Bicycle Manufacturing

Last month, I pointed an emerald-green S63 AMG across the California desert separating Pasadena from Apple Valley. My purpose: to meet up with my old pal Bill Ryan, owner of Supercross BMX. I hadn’t seen Bill for more than a decade and a half, although we had kept up a sporadic conversation via email and social media. My plan was to order a new race frame to replace the 2001-vintage Supercross UL that Bill had custom-built for me and maybe to make some plans for my son’s next race bike.

Bill was in fine fettle when I arrived and we chatted for the better part of two hours. “Let me give you the tour,” he said. We walked through a series of warehouses. “This is where the fabrication line was… this was where we painted the frames… Right there was where we did all the machining and drilling for the stems.” And as we walked it dawned on me that every single drill, every single jig, and every single fixture I saw was coated with the thick dust of long neglect.

We returned to his office, where a massive whiteboard detailed every incoming shipment of frames and parts along with cost, supplier, and various conditions regarding delivery. Almost without exception, the names of the contractors were established Taiwanese OEM cycle suppliers.

“Bill,” I said, “I don’t understand it. Fifteen years ago you were making a ton of stuff here. Regular production, custom builds, small parts. What happened?”

“Well,” he exhaled, and some of his infamous manic energy seemed to evaporate, “…we’re in California.”

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Made In The USA, Affordable (And Used) Edition: The $59 Wilberts, Two Years Later

Would you buy, and wear, a set of used shoes? I don’t think most people would, but there is a solid case to be made for certain used-shoe purchases. To begin with, it is often possible to get a nearly-new set of American-made dress shoes for half the price of Chinese department-store junk. Furthermore, if you pick the right shoe, you can get a pair of used shoes and a set of new shoes for 2/3rds of that shoe’s street price.

To demonstrate how this works, and to show you how to achieve footwear nirvana for the price of a two-top dinner and drinks at Applebee’s, I decided in January of 2016 to buy a set of used Allen-Edmonds off eBay and to see what happened next. My long-time readers know that I own close to a hundred pairs of dress shoes from A-E, Alden, Grenson, Crockett&Jones, Bruno Magli, Edward Green… with the exception of Ferragamo, Gucci, and TOD’S, I think I have an example of pretty much every high-end shoe out there. I don’t typically buy used shoes. As you will see, however, there was no penalty to my having done so, and over one hundred wearings later, I’m still feeling good about my purchase.

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