Thursday, September 22, 2011

Expertise lives everywhere

Back in the 1990s there was a brief surge of interest in "buying American." This trend in patriotic consumerism seems strongest during recessions, when citizens suddenly care who is getting paid to make the things they buy. This does not stop them from chiseling the retailer mercilessly, by the way.

"Buy American" is back. The 21st Century version is more potent, the same as all the partial solutions rigidly demanded as complete philosophies in society and politics during the last few years.

When I posted a comment on someone's Facebook link pointing out that buying only American items would eliminate the vast majority of bicycles and their parts and accessories, he replied with a link to American bicycle products that contained few surprises. Least surprising is the fact that Buy American consumers are perfectly happy to buy a frame made in America, festooned with parts from all over Asia.

Even many American cars are stuffed with foreign parts. My Dodge van had a Mitsubishi engine. The Pontiac Vibe was a joint venture between GM and Toyota.  And Toyotas (to name but one foreign brand) are made in several of the United States.

While it is true that customers putting money into American companies on American soil will keep that money in somewhat tighter circulation in the domestic economy, it does not assure that American products will meet every need or be the best in their category. If the primary attraction is an American flag on it, that lowers the bar considerably. Look at how long the Big Three bike makers -- Huffy, Murray and Columbia -- pumped out truly reprehensible crap in their American factories until finally moving offshore before the turn of the century.

Matters get more complicated when the American worker, wages eroded by decades of pressure from other economic factors, has to flock to places like Wal Mart to find products they can afford. Consumers want to consume. If the goal of life is to make as much money as possible and get as much crap as possible for it, price is a factor. In fact, if you simply need to outfit yourself with clothes and appliances on a very tight budget, price is a factor.

Value is not the same as price. Whenever possible I buy a better-made item because it will work better and last longer than a flimsy, cheap one. I appreciate being able to shop from a world-wide selection. When the American product is the better choice I will choose it. The economic anomalies that have made it cheaper to ship things all the way across the Pacific Ocean to this country will continue to give a pricing advantage to certain items. That decision is controlled at the top management level. Company owners send jobs overseas. Take it up with them in strong language.

In olden times one might argue that you got better product support from a company that wasn't spread out across half the globe. These days, product support is a bad joke in nearly every industry. You call a support number or send an email assuming you will spend a long time in a telephone labyrinth or get a reply email from someone who signs the name Chad or Cynthia, but whose use of English betrays that it is not their first language.

The bicycle is a world traveler and a world citizen. It knows no boundaries any more than birds and animals do. It is a human creation shaped by contributors from many lands.

To consumers I say, "Insist on good stuff." To manufacturers I say, "Make good stuff." The rest will take care of itself.


RANTWICK said...

Well said... it's pretty much how I operate too.

I once saw one of those "Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign!" t-shirts in a mall. I checked the tag and the t-shirt was made in Taiwan.

kfg said...

Last time I checked the actual numbers the most American made car was the Honda Civic at 98%. The Lincoln Town Car had so few American made bits that it was legally an import.

I like English and French bikes, got a couple of each, and love classic Italian, but I can't understand why these bikes are culturally chic while Asian bikes are Un-American.

It's difficult not to conclude some form of racism, especially given that the Asian product includes the finest stuff that's ever been made.

cafiend said...

Rantwick -- That's too perfect!

kfg -- My racing bike when I raced had an Italian frame (After the used Eisentraut cracked) with Campy Nuovo Record derailleurs, Campy Record hubs, Suntour Superbe brakes, Campy steel road pedals and a Dura Ace crank. The headsets were various. I think it ended up with Campy there, too.

My latest road bike has a Trek frame. The crank is Sugino. The front derailleur is the unkillable old Nuovo Record, but the rear is a newer Japanese-influenced Campy (slant parallelogram) that shifts much better than the old Nuovo Record rear.

Much as I loathe Shimano's merciless obsolescence, their barcon shifters are the only ones to offer a friction option among the Big Three component makers: Shimano, Campy and SRAM. They also offer relatively decent mid-grade hubs when no one else does anymore. The Big S giveth and the Big S taketh away, but they've kept those few really useful items in the lineup for many years. I'm trying to stockpile.

kfg said...

There's an old saying; if you find something you like, buy two, 'cause they'll stop making it.

If that something is made by Shimano, buy as many as you think you're going to need for the rest of your life, 'cause they'll stop making it - next week.

But they are keeping the loose ball hub flame burning, so we've got that going for us, which is nice.

I have a set of Silver down tube shifters sitting in a UPS depot in Indiana right now, trying find its way east through the flood zone. It appears to have left there, and then gone back. My current road bike (just a Schwinn labeled Giant that I bought because it was the ONLY steel framed road bike in the shop) is slated to have its STI balls cut off and I'm one of those people who has just never gotten along with barcons for some reason.

But every time I see I see some film of Fuentes I think I should give it another proper go; and perhaps some day I will.

Always wanted an Eisentraut, but you can't have everything unless you have everywhere to put it.

cafiend said...

The 'Traut was a random find in 1979. It was a Limited frame that had been through who knows what between its build date (1975) and the time I found it in a bike shop basement in Alexandria, VA. The fork was replaced twice (the first replacement was already on it when I bought it); the chain stays cracked in 1982 and were replaced in 1985. The seat tube was replaced in 1996. At that time my torch wizard suggested I retire it or build it for only ceremonial rides. I could never afford it today.

The Trek my torch wizard sold me was built by Tim Isaac in the Trek factory some time in the 1980s. She made me an unbeatable deal on it. I've been incredibly lucky.