On Carbon

The sharper-eyed among you have commented that we’ve replaced the Parlee Z1/Z2/Z3 page with our new Team Pro page. So true…

Short-story-made-long, the combination of the “new” economy, coupled with Parlee’s price hike of 18 months ago, has brought interest in carbon frames – at least among our customers – to a halt. I’ve had one nibble in the last year and a half for a custom carbon frame; a bicycle that will – let’s face it – retail for over ten thousand dollars. 

When Andy and I started our little enterprise ten years ago we never wanted to be the most exclusive or the most expensive. And a ten thousand dollar bicycle wasn’t even on anyone’s radar back then, couldn’t be done. But now with $7000 frames, $500 forks, $5000 wheels, $4000 parts kits – you do the math. These aren’t typical prices for most people, they aren’t what we sell, but there is a segment of the market that will pay those kind of prices. We have nothing against those products or people who are willing to spend that much – we just don’t want to be part of it.

Maybe it’s splitting hairs or the pot calling the kettle black to say that a bike for $6000 is ok but twice that is excessive, but there is a point after which – for me – it’s simply too much. I guess my own litmus test has become: can I afford to ride this bike, to keep it in my collection for at least a year? Will it drive sales if I do? If the answer to any of those questions is “no” then, Houston, we have a problem.

This isn’t about quality – Parlee’s bikes are top-notch, none better. And not about the people, either: I love Bob, Tom, Isabel – the whole crew. Their bikes ride perfectly, they look great, the construction is fantastic – no problems. But with the economy currently in the toilet my tendency is to look at what we do here at Hampsten Cycles and examine our basic beliefs, and to support our core business and focus our efforts where they need the attention.

We sell not-the-most-expensive-out-there custom steel and titanium frames and whole bikes with a smattering of aluminum frames thrown in. Our average frame price is $2800 and our average whole bike price is around $5500. To a certain extent we’re a company which specializes in welded metal bikes; sure, we do some lugged/brazed frames but they make up only around 20% of our output – important but not all-defining. We feel that carbon is an excellent material for a bicycle frame but maybe not the ideal match for us: perhaps it’s become a material too many when we’re already working with four. And if we can stimulate interest in magnesium…

I feel great about the 50-or-so carbon frames we sold over the last few years; they will be fully warranted if necessary and no one should have any qualms about owning or buying from Parlee. It was a huge deal to me and Andy when Bob told us he would be willing to work with us on carbon frames and I feel uncomfortable putting that relationship on hold. There are other builders who could supply us with carbon frames, possibly at a lower price, but it seems best now to keep the spotlight where it’s been for the last ten years.

Thanks for reading,


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