(Last) Weekly Roundup, Extended Edition: Blue Collar Foolishness and Grown-Up BMX Bikes

Last week, valued long-term commenter baconator offered a comment/topic for discussion that, to my mind at least, warranted a more detailed and considerate answer than I might be inclined to give in the comments. Read on to see if you’re convinced by my answer.

Quoth the Bacon Man:

Also, I’m fascinated by your attempt to identify yourself with the blue-collar worker through the spectacularly elitist exercise of building yourself a $3000 kid’s bike, then telling everyone else that’s what we should be doing, too? That’s fully 5% of the U.S. median household income, on something that is maybe, what, $500-1000 if purchased in a store? It makes sense as a patriotic donation, but I’ll eat *my* fedora if you can successfully explain what policy choices we could make to bring that sort of supply chain within reach of the average US consumer budget.

Well, allow me to correct you on something: after my handlebars are done, this will be a $3,729 kid’s bike, not a $3,000 kid’s bike. That would be like calling someone’s Tesla P100D a P90 or something like that. And it’s worth every single penny, because I can ride it without much pain for up to two hours at a time, and that allows me to spend time with my son at skateparks and BMX tracks as an involved participant, not as a distant observer. I am now old enough to understand that the value of money decreases over over the course of an individual lifetime much faster than it could possibly increase via investments. When I was fourteen years old, an extra $150 worth of bike parts would have won a few races for me. When I was 22, an extra $1000 worth of bike parts would have made it possible for me to ride far more often than I did. Now I’m spending close to four grand so I can hobble around a skatepark.

This same idea of decreasing returns over time holds true for almost everything in life, whether it’s travel, liquor consumption, or personal relationships. The $1,600 I spent on my ’86 600 Ninja in 1994, properly invested in some index fund, would be $16,000 now. Would I enjoy a $16,000 motorcycle now as much as I enjoyed my $1,600 one back then?

Hint: I have a $16,000 motorcycle now, and I do not. You can have a lot more fun on a motorcycle at the age of twenty-two than you can at the age of forty-seven. It gets worse: Let’s say I don’t buy the $1600 bike in 1994 or the $16k bike in 2016. I could get a $50,000 motorcycle when I’m seventy. How much would I enjoy that? Hint: not as much as I enjoy the ZX-14R now. Something else that crosses my mind, as long as we are on this topic: a friend of my father built an absolute stunner of a home in South Carolina a few years ago. He’d saved his whole life for it, and this place was truly something to see. Like the Robie House, only bigger and grander and with a lot more light, facing the water. It was the kind of place you’d see in a movie about rich people. Utterly stunning, and a true demonstration of what you can accomplish if you are patient and thrifty in life. While he was specifying furniture for the place, Dad’s friend was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. A few months ago, he sold the home to pay his medical bills, having never seen the sunlit top floor of the place under his own power.

It’s life, not the Game Of Life. You don’t count up the money at the end, even if you’re Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison.

Just a thought.

Where was I? Oh, yes; the ridiculousness of spending used-car money on a goof-around bike. What good could this possibly do? Well, as I mentioned in my previous piece, about $2,700 of it went directly to American workers, most of whom work with their hands. So yeah, I’ll agree with Baconator when he says that it “makes sense as a patriotic donation.” The second part of the question is trickier. What kind of changes would bring that supply chain back to the USA? To answer that question, let’s look at another shot from Charlotte’s OSO Skatepark, also taken this past Saturday night.

No prizes for noticing that I’m being out-ridden by my ten-year-old son. He is on the Cult Juvenile 18, made in Taiwan at a street price of $369.99. It’s not his Supercross race bike, which weighs thirteen pounds and contains more pure titanium than a Russian submarine; it’s something I bought a month ago so he would stop beating-up his race bike at skateparks. The Juvenile 18 is a dammed good bike, particularly when you consider the cost. I could duplicate it here in the United States right now for a total cost of about $1,900. It wouldn’t be a precise duplicate, mind you; the American version would weigh a couple pounds less and last longer. There are no longer any American bike builders who will “build down” to the standard of the Cult bikes. Don’t laugh, but there’s something sad about that.The streets of my childhood were filled with lowest-common-denominator cycles by the likes of Huffy, Ross, and even Schwinn, $99 specials sold at department stores that required constant maintenance but which nonetheless were produced right here in this country. They were fixable. You could get parts from the same factories that built them originally.

What killed the American bicycle industry? In this case, the obvious answer is also the correct one: overseas production, racing to the proverbial bottom from Japan to Taiwan and finally to mainland China. The big American bike makers like Huffy had been weakened by thirty years of labor disputes and, more critically, fifteen years of M&A shenanigans that frequently saw them leveraged again and again in pursuit of poorly-defined financial targets. At the same time, our government was actively encouraging companies to switch from manufacturing (here) to importing (from elsewhere) through a barrage of environmental, labor, and banking regulations. Want an example? Nearly every BMX bike on the market in 1988 was offered with a plated-chrome finish. Chrome plate is very close to an ideal finish for bicycles; it is durable, it resists corrosion, it doesn’t add much weight. Unfortunately, it is also unpleasant from an environmental and workplace-safety perspective. So California made it all but illegal to chrome-plate bike frames.

I don’t know what the lawmakers expected to happen, but what did happen was simple: every BMX company and MTB company simply started sending their frames to Taiwan for chrome-plating. Eventually, most of them realized that it would be cheaper to have the frame made there as well. (It was a similar regulation regarding the vulcanizing process for rubber that put an end to skate-shoe manufacturing in the United States.) And if you’re having the frame made in Taiwan, why not have the forks made there as well? And the handlebars? And so on?

If we want bicycle manufacturing to return to the United States, we have to rebuild the infrastructure piece by piece. That means starting volume production of low-cost frames and forks, followed by “hardgoods” like handlebars and seatposts, then bearing assemblies and derailleurs, then rubber goods like tires and seats. With the exception of tires, all of this is already happening in the USA — but at elevated levels of quality and cost. Not to put a fine point on it, but someone has to be willing to make worse stuff.

To answer Baconator’s question — If we want mass production of bicycles to return to the USA, we need to remove some of the incentive companies currently have to keep the production overseas. That means rationalizing labor and environmental regulations to more closely resemble those of our competitors — or applying tariffs which take those overseas advantages into account. It costs money to chrome-plate safety and sanely rather than just dumping pollutants into the river. So either we have to make pollutant-dumping legal, or we have to tax imported products in a manner that offsets the advantages of being able to dump pollutants. The same is true for a wide variety of other industrial processes.

The good news is that we don’t need the costs of manufacturing in the United States to be equal to those of manufacturing in China, because there are compelling reasons to produce bicycles locally. I’ll use my son’s Cult 18 as an example. Cult orders these bikes half a year in advance. Their manufacturer makes the bikes whenever it’s convenient for them, which means that Cult often misses the Christmas season or the beginning of spring. There is always a chance that the bikes will have significant hidden shortcuts in materials or manufacturing, so there’s a substantial inspection step, which costs time and money. The Cult 18 has been in short supply for years because the Taiwanese factory never delivers the volumes that American shops want. There’s also the fact that American importers are absolutely at the mercy of their factories when it comes to quality issues or unexpected price changes, a process documented in terrifying detail by Paul Midler’s book, Poorly Made In China.

It’s reasonable to assume, therefore, that the $369.99 street price of a Cult 18 includes significant fudge factors. American production by a vendor who subscribed to traditional American business values would fix the volume, delivery, quality, and pricing issues. All of which would give Cult a significant advantage over its closest Taiwanese competitors, Sunday and Fit. Eventually both of those firms would have to move production back to America. If this happens often enough… poof! You have an American bicycle industry.

What’s really required here isn’t a policy change, or a regulatory change. We need a change in attitude, particularly among our MBA class. We need to start valuing manufacturing as much as we value financial manipulation or smartphone-app development. We need “angel investors” who would rather fund a well-run bicycle factory than spend their time digging through YCombinator’s trash looking for “hundred-bagger” tech fads. Most of all, we need a cultural change. We need to be as excited about making things as we currently are about social media or trash television. It’s not a change that will happen overnight. We might need a few more years of watching Amazon delivery drones and McDonald’s touchscreens as they eliminate the service gigs which were supposed to replace the manufacturing gigs. Maybe we need a small shooting war with China, perhaps over some useless islands or something, to point out how deeply dependent we have become on a country which has its own best interests at heart. I don’t know when the tipping point will come — but it will eventually come. It has to. The alternative is too unpleasant to seriously consider.

* * *

For Hagerty, I wrote about a chance to drive the Nurburgring with American advice.

46 Replies to “(Last) Weekly Roundup, Extended Edition: Blue Collar Foolishness and Grown-Up BMX Bikes”

  1. AvatarE. Bryant

    “Now I’m spending close to four grand so I can hobble around a skatepark.”

    Well, shit, that was pretty much a direct kill shot to my ego.

    With regards to the question at hand, hell if I have a single good answer. All I know is that Trek managed to produce damn near every one of their aluminum-framed mass-market mountain and road bikes right here in the USA through at least the late 90s, along with premium models (including bonded-tube and OCLV carbon-fiber frames). Now, those bikes weren’t cheap (at least by department store standards), but they were competitively priced with the imported competition and Trek certainly didn’t seem to be suffering financially during this period.

    No single factor forced Trek to leave the US – labor hasn’t gotten significantly more expensive over the past 20 years (ask your local blue-collar worker), environmental rules regarding typical industrial operations haven’t gotten totally out of wack in most states (keep in mind that we’re talking about Wisconsin, not California), and Trek doesn’t even have public shareholders to keep happy. Premium bike prices have spiked in two separate legs (one during the Armstrong era, and again in more recent post-recession times), providing sufficient opportunity for margin. The single largest factor that I can point to is that John Burke wanted more cash to stuff in his pockets, and consumers didn’t mind that this meant displacing their fellow workers. I mean, I’m an engineer in Michigan; why would I care about an unemployed welder a couple hundred miles away? I mean, other than the fact that these newly-jobless guys ain’t buying the new cars that need to get built in order to keep my paycheck coming…

    As a somewhat related sidenote, the immense markups applied to the price of bikes (and many other consumer products) needs to be examined as part of this discussion. On the positive side, 30% of the sale price of a new (and 100% imported) Specialized S-Works Venge Vias sticks around in the immediate community in the form of gross margin “earned” by the local bike shop (“earned” in this case meaning “providing one hour of near minimum-wage assembly labor, and paying rent on an overpriced piece of commercial real estate”). That’s a cool $3000 out of my pocket and right into the pockets of local business owners (OK, more like $2985 after the college kid got paid for his assembly time). On the other hand, that’s $3000 worth of money that isn’t going to capital investment and blue-collar labor in an American factory. Dig another layer lower in the chain of commerce, and you’ll find a distributor extracting its pound of flesh, and Specialized’s state-side business entity buying the whole damn $10k (retail) rig out of China for maybe $2k (just the bare frame and fork retail at $4k, and the wholesale price of those parts is almost certainly less than $500). So the guys (or more typical, gals) in China performing the layup and paint work obviously aren’t making much, the factory owner there isn’t making much (despite significant capital investment), but Mike Sinyard sure as hell has a bit of profit left over after spewing the marketing BS around their “Win Tunnel”.

    The point of all that blabbering is to say that flattening the distribution network is a necessary step towards on-shoring manufacturing. But despite two decades of progress in reducing supply chain friction, it’s still easier to move entire factories overseas than it is to break down outdated business models and good-ol-boy networks.

    Reply
  2. Avatararbuckle

    “Just a thought.”

    I don’t know. I get what you’re saying, but I’m not 100% confident that I’d have less enjoyment owning a Hellcat Redeye right now versus how much I liked owning all the prior vehicles I traded my Crown Victoria for.

    I also think there’s importance in what you’re spending money on and what the tradeoff is. You can at least sell a $16K motorcycle if things get tight and giving up future ZR1 ownership isn’t really a life-wrecking event. I could spend $10K on a wild trip to Ibiza in October, but if I get laid off in February then I would really wish I had that $10K instead. So I compromise by going on vacation to South Carolina and I don’t have a heart attack anytime rumors hit the office.

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  3. AvatarJon

    The way I see it, the “kid’s bike” industry is threatened by a lot of factors. I’m glad American companies can still have a viable business model selling nostalgia and instruments of active parenting, but how long will it last?

    These are the main things I see threatening both BMX bikes themselves and the broad idea of kids riding BMX bikes to keep the industry alive.

    1. Many parents aren’t letting their kids roam the streets with a group of friends on their bikes anymore.
    2. Skate/BMX parks often cost money and require a parent to drive the kids there. Fair enough, sure, parenting is expensive, but it’s an activity that will logically get cut when there are bills to pay.
    3. Gaming has gone Mainstream, and the level of dedication to electronics that was only had by “nerds” in previous generations is shared by a lot more kids now. Some kids want nothing to do with bikes, skateboards, scooters, etc.
    4. It’s easier and cheaper for parents to let their kids play video games than engaging in sports that might result in an angry mother and a potentially expensive hospital visit.

    This is just my perspective, and I do hope the future is brighter for kids and bikes, but it seems like a tall order.

    Personally, I’ve tried to get my kids enthused about riding bikes but nothing has taken hold yet. They’d rather spend their outside playtime pretending they’re in Minecraft, or Roblox, but in real life.

    The closest I’ve come is my four year old boy, he expressed an interest in skateboarding so I bought him a nice one, we will race down a little hill by the garages of our townhouse neighborhood with me on our Sunday BMX bike and him sitting down on the skateboard with Ninja Turtle trucks, Nineball wheels and all the stickers he wanted.

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  4. AvatarAthos

    “We need a change in attitude, particularly among our MBA class. We need to start valuing manufacturing as much as we value financial manipulation or smartphone-app development.”

    Sorry Jack, but good luck w/ that. And fat chance in hell at making it happen. Don’t get me wring, I love your idea, but we live in the world we live.

    Manufacturing things is HARD. A one off can be made, properly, by a set of skilled hands. Now try that on hundreds or thousands of units per day, using less skilled manpower, while hitting quality, cost and throughput targets.

    “Apps”, finance and related provide easily more than 10% ROI, for much less capital outlay. Or so we are told. And on the upside, you don’t get your hands dirty, deal with pesky workers, unions, regulations, etc. Nah, the MBA class is happy where it is.

    “I don’t know when the tipping point will come — but it will eventually come. It has to.”

    I’m with you. The reckoning will happen. It happened to the old Soviets, it will happen to the current ones, there is no escaping it.

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  5. AvatarE. Bryant

    The bicycle market in general is threatened, to some extent from external factors, and to some extent by its own greed and incompetence. But it’s a century old at this point and has probably survived proclamations of impending doom by people much more notable than myself.

    The whole pump-track and dirt-jump trend, combined with the inclusion of BMX in the 2020 Olympics, gives me modest hope for improving cycling’s popularity with the youth. Unfortunately, this does little to address the immediate problem, which is that the industry is juiced up on sales of high-end models to an increasingly narrow customer base. I think it’d be healthier if a half-dozen riders each bought an expensive bike instead of one rider buying a half-dozen bikes, but the latter scenario is far more common, and that buyer is not getting any younger. I took some time off from cycling to pursue misguided career goals, and the biggest surprise upon my return was to see that the majority of the riders are the same folks I lined up against nearly two decades ago. That’s not good, since many of us in our 40s will be involuntarily retiring from the sport over the next 10-15 years, and without hooking 20-year-olds now, there won’t be a sufficient number of thirtysomethings who can afford to drop $5-10k on whatever composite wonder-rig the industry cooks up in the 2020s.

    The industry seems to believe that e-bikes will be its next savior. That’s a whole ‘nother conversation.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      You could replace “bicycle” with “guitar” here and not change a word of what you’ve said.

      Reply
      • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

        There’s irony in the fact that in terms of inexpensive but playable instruments and gear, there’s never been a better time to be a young guitar player. Many of the guitar manufacturers in Indonesia and China have gotten their act together in terms of QC, and you can buy a pretty decent guitar for $200-$300 new that won’t chew up your fingers with poor fretwork, and will stay in tune, with pickups that sound pretty good. A 50 watt Boss Katana amp is $259 and sounds just fine. If you want tubes, Monoprice will sell you, direct, a rebranded 15W Laney with a 12″ Celestion for $250. Entry level equipment is a lot better than it used to be.

        BTW, in the early ’50s, the single pickup Fender Esquire was $150 and the Telecaster was a bit more, I think $189. That works out to about what an American Standard Tele costs today. Leo was selling professional instruments to working musicians. It took Valco and Danelectro to figure out how to make guitars kids could afford.

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  6. AvatarRJ

    I wonder whether we are losing our institutional knowledge about how to build stuff. Many of us who grew up in the late 70’s came from families where someone did construction work or worked on a line , and a lot of us had similar first jobs.
    I spend a fair amount of time with younger adults at my local fencing club. None of them has a job anywhere near manufacturing. We do have one toolmaker in his late 50’s, but , apart from him, nobody who does anything related to manufacturing. I live in what is commonly thought of as a blue collar town.

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  7. AvatarJim

    RJ, I hate to say this, but that might be more of a function of your choice of venue than your town. I’m in an industry heavily associated with manufacturing and construction, albeit in that disastrous area known as California. The guys you’re thinking of still very much exist. They are just at the shooting range, or in an off-roading group, or camping – fencing isn’t a common hobby with that group.

    I think that Athos largely nailed it. Manufacturing is HARD, especially to high quality standards. I believe that the US is in an awkward spot in terms of manufacturing capability right now. From what I see, both the Germans and the Japanese regularly produce high quantity goods at a higher quality than we do, so that rules out the high end of the market. And as for the bottom, Jack nailed it with his recommendation of Poorly Made In China – I know people who have run factories assembling bike parts over there, and the rule of thumb is that the product will be cheapened in whatever area you are not inspecting vigorously.

    So what do we do to get out of this awkward middle ground? I think it starts with buying American, and patronizing both the craftsmen and the few remaining factories that are here. Part of it is restarting shop classes and allowing high schoolers to apprentice more easily with factories or skilled trades. Part of it may be leveling in the playing field in terms of regulations, whether that means lightening our regulations or using tariffs to increase Country X’s costs to account for environmental and currency games. Beyond that? I don’t know.

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  8. AvatarE. Bryant

    Yeah, the brain drain caused by 40 years of outsourcing and automation has formed a positive feedback loop. Jobs go overseas or get displaced by robots, talented people go into other careers, companies complain that they can’t find workers (which usual means “can’t find anyone who is talented, disciplined, can pass a drug test, and is willing to accept a wage barely higher than they’d get working normal hours at the local Home Depot”) and send work overseas.

    I know a couple young kids who are going into the tool and die industry instead of doing the college thing (they’re super-bright and like hands-on work). Very few people my age made that same career choice 25 years ago, and fewer still remain in that profession after its nadir in the early aughts. It sounds like the logical outcome had occurred – everyone on the shop floor is either an apprentice or a few years away from retirement. It’s going to be a real mess when the old timers leave before the newbies gain the duration of experience required for full competency.

    The same story is playing out the same elsewhere – automotive and equipment service, HVAC, welding and fabrication, etc. And unfortunately, the folks driving the current focus on STEM still cast a downward eye on anyone who isn’t on the traditional college path.

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  9. AvatarNYCFinanceGuy

    I would add that manufacturing jobs can be more emotionally fulfilling to blue collar workers – they can proudly look at and show others the things they helped build. Is anyone proud of his accomplishments in taking your burger order? Or other service jobs? Of course not.

    I think this is a factor in the huge declines in labor participation for prime working-age men in recent decades.

    Reply
    • AvatarAthos

      I’ll put it to you this way, you don’t need to be a blue collar worker to find manufacturing more fulfilling. White collar workers also benefit from that environment.

      Paper pushing is mind crushing. The guy at the burger joint may actually have it better.

      Reply
    • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

      I’m loathe to praise the Europeans, but the Germans seem to have given vocational training the status and funding that a modern industrial country needs.

      After the feminists killed off auto-shop and home-ec in American high schools, and the school administrators segregated the vo-ed classes into regional standalone schools, it seems that only a small percentage of young people in this country know how to do anything at all that doesn’t reguire the use of digital electronic devices.

      Frankly, if I was president, I’d require all potential cabinet level appointees to perform a practical skills test. Can they balance a checkbook, solder two copper wires together, frame a square 2×4 wall, change the oil and oil filter in their car, and with a light bulb, one wire, and a battery can they get the light to shine?

      Reply
      • Avatar-Nate

        “if I was president, I’d require all potential cabinet level appointees to perform a practical skills test. Can they balance a checkbook, solder two copper wires together, frame a square 2×4 wall, change the oil and oil filter in their car, and with a light bulb, one wire, and a battery can they get the light to shine?”

        congress too along with everyone else on the govt. dime.

        Those who can’t pass this simple test maybe could get remedial training……

        -Nate

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      • AvatarDirt Roads

        I got my government job because I spent 30 years in industry as an aircraft mechanic and inspector. Does that count? I can also frame a square 4×4 wall and solder wires so I’m in 🙂

        But… I also grew up on a farm in Montana and was a ranch hand for all of my teen years so maybe I cheated by driving all those old John Deere tractors. Hand clutch, ya know…

        I love when people group ALL government workers into a lump as though all we do is push papers when we’re actually, some of us, required to have actual, real-world skills and experience.

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        • Avatar-Nate

          This and I thank you for it .

          I too was a Farm Boy and it helped me all through my long life, the common sense problem solving that seems to be missing these days .

          Another endless alt right rant is the “HUUGE gob’mint retirements !” .

          I know plenty of retired Civil Servants and all are making ends meet by driving old cars etc. .

          Only a very few get the 6 figure slaries the pinheads claim .

          -Nate

          Reply
      • AvatarVincent

        I just got mine a couple weeks ago. Haven’t had a chance to wear it yet but first impressions are good.

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    • Avatarrambo furum

      That awful looking shirt shows the often justified fact that often foreign items are superior at any price. I’ve seen better looking flannel shirts for $12 at JC Penney. I have several domestic-made garments, that likewise exhibit careless construction not found at the shoddiest sweatshop levels.

      For God’s sake, no effort to match the pattern on this flagship flannel shirt. I bought some boxer briefs for $6 last weekend, and was delighted to see that the patterns matched perfectly at the seams. But look at that picture. The collar isn’t centered on pattern, the pocket is lazily cut on bias, and notice how the pattern is all squares but the placket screw it all up with rectangular blocks more than twice as long as a square. This is low effort cutting, pinning, stitching. I have no shortage of <$50 shirts that get this stuff right like they are Jermyn Street.

      So that's where I differ with Mr. Baruth. When quality is subpar at a higher price, I opt out. I love American manufacture, but if they give me crooked loose seams for healthy prices, they have chosen to be noncompetitive. Of course there are reverse circumstances where the US does it far superior, and at a justified or even economical price. That makes it much easier to swallow.

      Reply
      • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

        Not everyone thinks shirts should pattern-match, FWIW.

        I live and die by it but Borelli made (and I have) a lot of $700 shirts, hand-sewn right down to the button holes, that defiantly do NOT match pattern.

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        • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

          My ex is a seamstress, quilter, and textile artist and OCD is strong on her X chromosome (family lore has it that her mom was toilet trained as a one year old), so her patterns always match to about a millimeter.

          In a fit of passion, I once quoted her a verse from Bob Dylan’s Never Say Goodbye. Her response? “That’s not how it goes.”

          Reply
  10. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    Perhaps this is relevant: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-06-17/world-s-top-bicycle-maker-says-era-of-made-in-china-is-over

    “Last year, I noticed that the era of Made In China and supplying globally is over,” Tu said. The maker of mountain and racing bicycles closed one plant in China at the end of 2018 and shifted most U.S. orders out of the country. Giant announced last July it is setting up a factory in Hungary “as moving production close to your market is a trend.”

    Reply
    • Avatareverybodyhatesscott

      When I originally saw that I was hoping for more positive news than “Moving to taiwain instead” but maybe it’s a good first step.

      Reply
  11. Avatar-Nate

    ? Only $3K to be able to try and keep my son in sight ? .

    Deal, sign me up even though I can’t afford it nor ride a bicycle anymore….

    Spending time with one of your children is priceless .

    I wish I could post pictures here like some can, Sunday I rode 1/2 day on a CT90k2 and the other 1/2 of the day on my vintage BMW Motocycle, guess which one I enjoyed more ? .

    On a related note, I consider my self a ‘Cruiser’ but the guy following me up the Angeles Crest Highway said I was traveling between 65 ~ 70 MPH the entire time, this on an old Boxer twin dsplacing 600CC’s and making about 40 horsepower, I can’t see it going anywhere near that fast with my fat bum on it .

    Buy/build/fix the damned bike and go have fun with John .

    BTW : Huffy had a factory in nearby Azusa, Ca. and they made the very worst & cheapest bicycles I’ve _ever_ seen, nothing Chinese is as bad as a huffy .

    -Nate

    Reply
  12. AvatarKeith

    This genius can’t make the connection that the median household income is so low due to globalization.

    Reply
  13. AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

    There is some hope for the return, albeit less than levels from 40 years ago, of manufacturing here at home.Our company focus’s mainly on the installation of metal processing equipment and there has been a significant uptick in our work the last couple years. Significant enough for us to add an additional crew to handle the increased workload. And not all of it is in traditional manufacturing strongholds. We currently have projects going in Tampa, Jeffersonville Indiana and Huger South Carolina. Over the next 4 months we have projects booked in LA, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Miami. Some are union shops, most aren’t. However the pay is competitive between them in most locations due to the low participation of younger folks (companies not wanting to lose experienced help). We have the same issues, what we do isn’t rocket science, but it is fairly technical and involves a fair bit of math, and the ability to improvise regularly. You also need to know a bit about various trades; welding, electrical rigging. Those can be taught, IF someone is willing to learn. I have been recruiting at a tech school nearby, with mixed results. Some recruits don’t care for the travel involved and seem to prefer traditional factory jobs. Some end up preferring to stick to the trade they learned and thats fine. At least they are learning trades that they can always fall back on if they ever move up the food chain and it doesn’t work out.

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    • Avatar-Nate

      Nothing wrong with being a Tradesman ~

      When I was young I had to listen to endless B.S. about ` ‘go to College, don’t be a loser’ .

      I’ll never be rich but I have a decent little Blue Collar life because I studied and worked hard to learn my trade…..

      It’s good to hear some young folks are learning the trades, I know a _lot_ of College & University graduates who are seriously under employed and cannot even buy a crappy little Ghetto house like I am .

      Plus, the knowledge of trade works is directly applicable to general life situations .

      -Nate

      Reply
      • AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

        “Nothing wrong with being a Tradesman ~”

        Absolutely nothing wrong with it, and you can make a good middle class living at it, IF you are willing to put in a bit of effort. I notice you find that life more in rural areas than urban. I suspect it might have something to do with the life lived in rural areas, as there is more opportunity to tinker on and build things. If you want a shed, you build one. If/when it falls down, you learn how to build a better one. You want transportation,you gotta figure out how to keep it roadworthy (sucks being broke down on a county road, 20 miles from home, cell phones help these days tho).

        It sucks that most all schools dropped vocational/shop classes. In high school in the early 70’s, we could take woodworking, auto shop, electronics (I still have a Radio Shack dwell meter I built from a kit in 9th grade) and even drafting. For females there was the Home Economics classes. When I was in 10th grade, they switched up things, had the girls take shop classes and had the boys in Home Economics, renamed “Bachelor Survival” (don’t remember what they called the girls shop class’s). We got to learn different cooking tips, how use a washing machine, why you don’t mix various cleaning products, etc. Most of us hated it, but damn if some of that stuff didn’t stick with me years later. I suspect most of the girls hated the shop class’s, but at least they knew how to change a flat tire, add/change oil, minor electrical repair, etc.

        I think this should be brought back, but I’m old and my opinion matters little these days.

        Reply
        • Avatar-Nate

          I was pushed hard by my then live in girlfriend to take Home Ec. in the 9th grade, I foolishly thought I was too whatever to bother with it and have wished I’d taken it ever since .

          Too soon old, too late wise .

          I wasn’t aware they ever allowed girls into any shop classes .

          I agree, knowing the basics at least allows people to void getting cheated by Tradesmen….

          I’m close to useless in the kitchen in spite of several years of K.P. but I don’t mind the clean up and I can fix things so it’s a reasonable trade off for most of the Women I know .

          I’m old too so I understand your reservations of your opinions, I learned much from my Elders, once I learned to shaddap and listen =8-) .

          -Nate

          Reply
          • AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

            “I wasn’t aware they ever allowed girls into any shop classes’

            It wasn’t the same curriculum the boys took, more just basic stuff. They were not rebuilding engines in auto shop, just learning basic car maintenance/repair. Same in woodshop. Not building furniture, just refinishing and basic repairs.

  14. Avatargtem

    Hey Jack not sure if there’s a better way to reach you on this website, but if you’re willing to drop a bit of knowledge, I have some questions about how to make an old Neon survive on track (keeping a 2.0L DOHC engine in one piece, namely). A few friends and I are planning on building a car to run in the “factory FWD” class of the Indianapolis Speedrome 1/5 paved oval (plan to run next year, been spectating so far). Not sure if the Neon you campaigned was SOHC or DOHC. The fast cars on the track seem to all be older double wishbone Hondas (’88-91 prelude, ’90-93 Integras running B18As).

    Reply
  15. Avatarhank chinaski

    Related current events: Perot dies. ‘Giant Sucking Sound’ was even larger than predicted, and apparently also trans-oceanic. It also turned out to be an inhale preceding a massive vomiting of peasant scabs back Norte.

    Also, both houses of Congress vote for H1B increase with strong bipartisan support. Bezos very grateful! America First!

    Reply
  16. Avataretc2000

    Jack,

    Interesting thoughts. While the decline of American manufacturing and hollowing out of the middle class is sad, I wonder if you aren’t letting consumers and the political class off a bit too easily?
    Part of the problem seems an unwillingness on the part of US consumers to pay more for quality. Why did most US dress shoe manufacturers outsource? They could have kept quality relatively high and raised prices but they didn’t. Part of that is corporate greed, but almost certainly the flip side is US consumers are not willing to pay $300 plus for US made dress shoes. And for whatever reason, US companies can’t seem to do luxury products well, so they didn’t go upmarket (Allen Edmonds seems to be facing this problem now)
    The other part of it is most middle class people had their wages squeezed by greedy corporations and a government unwilling to raise the minimum wage or provide significant tax relief to non upper-income earners. So what was once affordable is suddenly too expensive. Anyhow, interested to hear your thoughts.

    Reply
    • Avatarjc

      Well, I’m not Jack, but I can clearly remember a time when shoes were made in the USA. One thing that was different in – let’s say – the late 1960s, is that the average grown man (not a dandy, as we called them back then) had a pair of dress shoes, a pair of work shoes, and a pair of sneakers. All of these shoes, if you corrected for inflation, would be quite expensive in 2019 dollars.

      So we seem to have two possible models:

      1) People buy lots and lots of stuff because it’s cheap because it’s made overseas, and to keep buying that same quantity of stuff domestically made, would be prohibitively expensive;

      2) People buy a small amount of stuff because it’s expensive because it’s made in the USA.

      I will leave it to the rest of you to judge which has the better chance of being a long term sustainable pattern.

      Reply
      • Avatar-Nate

        Just find me a pair of shiny black steel tipped wingtips and I’ll be forever grateful ~

        I no longer care where they’re made, I just need a farking pair of shoes I like that will help my mangled and broken feet walk a few more years .

        I’ve run out of places to buy decent quality used shoes and have them re soled .

        I expected some place that serves the movie studios to help me but no dice .

        Even the cheapo SEARS Die-Hard shiny black brogans are N.L.A. dammit .

        -Nate

        Reply
          • Avatar-Nate

            THANK YOU ! .

            Alden looks nice but the PDF catalog doesn’t appear to have steel toed shoes, the wingtips look glorious but once you’ve had a foot crushed and life long foot pain you really need to have the steel toes to relax .

            -Nate

          • Avatar-Nate

            Yes ! .

            Wolverine stopped making their good quality steel toes & shank wing tips nearly TEN YEARS ago ~ I get about two years before a pair of shoes looks raggedy and needs resoling (tip : don’t be fat), I ordered in several pairs before they said ‘for GOD’S SAKE stop asking for these discontinued shoes !’ =8-) .

            I’ve even bought used shoes and re soled them and polished as best as they’ll go .

            THANK YOU ALL for trying to help me, I’m sure they’re out there somewhere, I don’t care where or even of made by little froggy boys in leather aprons in whogivesadamnistan at this point .

            Rockpoints are O.K. but not glossy…..

            -Nate

        • AvatarK18B73

          Have you checked out Oxford Steels? I can’t speak to the quality yet, but was recently directed to them by an associate after sharing my challenges finding a dressy steel toe shoe.

          Reply
      • Avataretc2000

        Sounds like we’re on the same page. Though I would say higher cost should also represent higher quality, not country of origin. Unfortunately, most US consumers seem to feel differently.

        Reply

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