Visit to Rivendell Bicycle Works

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My mother-in-law lives near Walnut Creek, and when we visit, I usually make a trip to Rivendell to see what projects they have brewing and to pick up a thing or two. I had my Protovelo, now with drops, back there for the first time since I picked it out as a frame/fork early last year. Keven had helped me decide on parts, and he got to check it out. Grant and I had a couple of conversations (journalism, cycling shoes, etc), but our talk about craft kept rolling around in my head.

I teach about global commerce, advertising, and everyday cultural life in a course titled International Media. Many of the discussions wander toward a critique of “race to the bottom” modes of production and consumption that have achieved a level of common sense in contemporary capitalism. The discourses that support this include efficiency, convenience, “shopping by price” and “more for less,” and manifest at places like Carl’s Jr, Target, Best Buy, Wal-mart, Toys-R-Us – and in the thousands of factories in poor countries that, to paraphrase Stephen Colbert, make our happy meals possible. Here’s how I think about race to the bottom from the moment of production forward:

Low Pay for Workers
Low Cost Work Conditions
Low Quality of Production
Low Quality of Product
Low Yield Per Unit for Producers
Low Pay for Retail Workers
Low Price for Consumers
…high profit with high volume for the arbiters of this phenomenon = mass market retailers.

Somehow the low price is enough for most people to justify the entire chain of production – complicit consumption completes the circuit and justifies the whole enterprise. Wal-mart’s argument is that this process allows for jobs on the production end, and the ability to more cheaply acquire stuff we want and need on the consumption end. More for less.

What about Less for more? In other words, I’d like to buy fewer, high-quality, high-production value, high-quality of life things, and pay MORE for them. The emergent craft industry taps into this feeling (I repeat this and elaborate a bit more here: The Plastic Society). At Rivendell, Grant spoke about the various craft producers that every consumer dollar supports: Nitto, Nigel & Smithe, etc. They don’t carry anything made in China, not because of the people or quality of work that comes out of that country, but because of the special relationships that an authoritarian capitalist society cultivates with both the overdeveloped and underdeveloped world. At Rivendell, there is much attention payed to craft, and pride of ownership. Their work at RBW makes for a very thoughtful enterprise. Its worth a visit.

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Speaking of Nitto, There are a few racks in development at Rivendell. I snapped photos (ie “spy shots”) of two of them. These are at least 6 months out, and are in the testing phases. The first is a porteur-style rack with very robust sides that can carry panniers. The second is a wonderful add-on to a mini front or Mark’s rack. Check ’em out:

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5 comments

  1. Pingback: Casing the Joint » Blog Archive » Why Not, Less For More?
  2. Pingback: Race to the bottom | Seven Sons
  3. Pingback: Casing the Joint » Blog Archive » More on Less for More
  4. Thom

    Hey, I’m glad to see you posting again, and I’m enjoying The Plastic Society, too. I’ve got a post on “durable technology” in the works for The World Awheel that you might like, but I can’t seem to get it right. Keep an eye out for it, though.

  5. Esteban

    Thom – I look forward to it. I once brought the Raleigh into class to illustrate vertical integration in production! So long as these blogs don’t take me away from my scholarship too much, I’m really enjoying the outlet and regualarity of writing them. Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement!

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