State of the Industry and Coming Challenges

My daily work is as a PLM. I’d love to start a serious conversation about what trends are seen in the “high-end”/'enthusiast" custom market and where you’re honestly expecting to go in 2024.

  • For most bigger brands 2022 and 2023 were really difficult. Did the custom brands experience the same thing?
  • In MFG we got pinched on raw materials (ABS, magnets, etc). What did/do you experience now? How far out are you planning for changes in costs? (e.g. we provide a yearly forecast and update monthly)
  • Cost of acquisition skyrocketed during 2020 - 2022. It’s lower now but still quite high and limits profitability. How does this apply to your biz?
  • The return on Facebook/Instagram investments tanked (ad purchases, stories, etc). TikTok was better but is already starting to feel saturated.


Thoughts from a finance guy that’s missing out on MADE so I’m cruising the forum instead:

  • Supply side: The supply chains for mass market vs custom overlap some but also deviate quite a bit. Especially if components are excluded. We pay for raw material (metal) cost through Paragon/Columbus etc. so that could be easily tracked. Food for thought: high inventory = buyers market, acquiring stock to build bikes should continue to get cheaper.

  • Margins: For a custom frame, materials are proportionally low and markup/labor/owners pay proportionally high, as components of the sale price. Meaning supply chain price increases have a smaller impact on the bottom line.

  • Customer side - economic purchasing power: Covid was economically hard on some people, but also prosperous for others. Customers that can afford custom bikes are largely in the prosperous group. They’re also least affected by this recession that isn’t happening and the interest rate increases. Paying cash (or paying off credit card monthly) = interest rates don’t matter. Leaving $5k-$10k purchase on a credit card for an extended period = interest rates matter a lot.

  • Customer side - Demand: Others can answer this better, but gut is telling me it’s stable. Exposure is probably increasing but some people are probably pulling back discretionary spending.

  • Risks: Market Saturation/Reputation: How many people on the forum started building during Covid? (Me raising my hand, I don’t sell anything though). Customs bikes are a decent sized market but still small in the big picture. A large increase in builders - not just a couple but many dozens, would 100 even be a stretch? What serial number are the Cobra frame fixtures up to in only 3 or 4 years? - does thin the market. And if those new builders sell goods of a lower standard, (HUGE asterisk, all speculative, haven’t heard anything like that), consumer demand could take a hit.

  • Fun fact from one of your slides above: Many companies are more or less required by their banks to sell off the portion of their inventory above 12 months of expected sales at deep discounts or at cost. Banks stop lending money to companies with too much inventory on hand. How can you pay back the bank if you can’t sell your goods? If you can’t sell it, can anyone? The slide shows 14 month inventory levels. Get ready for some deep discounts.


I think Joe posted a video (story or reel?) and I believe the Cobra frame fixture serial numbers were in the mid-90s. He sold 3 last week including 1 to Canyon which I thought was very interesting. Good for Joe and Cobra!


I’m definitely not a finance guy and appreciate the insight!

Ooooh I’ve been seeing deep discounts for the past 10 months (40%+) and significant discounts (25%+) for the past 14. I actually just did a quick UK comp yesterday and saw that a few brands have raised their MSRP by 5-10 GBP in order to make the discount even more attractive – I wonder if that really works?

I’m not sure how far brands can go and still make some profit. Between buy-back $$, cost of acquisition, high shipping rates through Q1/Q2 things are rough.

As for 2024 + Demand: I’m working on 2 things for a big box retailer and the forecast has just been halved. I’m sure their data team is far stronger than ours so I’m taking this as a gentle sign that the bike industry probably won’t be out of the woods until 2025 – at least for the recreational cyclist. For the “enthusiast” I’d guess there’s still a bit of pent up demand . . . my only source of data for this, though, is looking at Shimano, BTI, JBI, QBP’s out-of-stock list and the current delivery dates. IIRC in 2021 Tektro (OEM not aftermarket) stated that they were at capacity/sold-out through Q3 2023

With only anecdotal evidence I think the boom in E-Bikes will help small frame builders in an indirect way.

Almost every bike company of all sizes is dumping recourses into E-Bikes and with the squeeze on resources happening this has forced them to almost totally stop building bikes for the core enthusiast.

This problem is years in the making. Three years ago I broke my steel hard tail and the only big name option was a Karate Monkey. That frame is $1000 now…

This squeeze lead me to buy a Reeb and that made me interested in frame building.

I think there are a lot of core riders that are being left out with the trends and they will be turning to small companies to get what they want

1 Like

I am definitely noticing a down turn here for myself in Australia. I’ve chatted with a bunch of distributors and bike shops and they are all looking for customers.

I’ve reached the end of my build que and have had very little enquiries this last 6 months. The ones I’ve had have mostly been weird project bikes like a 36" wheeled road bike and tandem cargo bike. I could take those on but I’m just not interested in going further down the weird project bike path as a business. Stand alone projects they are cool as hell but my time is limited between my day job and my side hustle.

I’ll use the down time to refine my designs and rebuild my jigs and clean up my workshop etc. Time I just don’t get when I have a bunch of bikes to build.

I do think that rash of customers we had through the covid years means they are a year or two out from the big brands customers being ready for a new bike. Hopefully by then the new to the scene punters have discovered other brands and our corner of teh market as well. It’s hard yards here as our market is relatively small and the number of people who one, don’t know about custom bikes, two, don’t trust we can do better that the big marketing companies or three, don’t see value in a niche market frame. That’s on me to educate as much as possible but with a zero ad budget it’s very difficult to get that message out.

1 Like

I think this is interesting given the recent news about:

  • Kona Bikes
  • Guerilla Gravity Bikes
  • All City bikes
  • Nukeproof/Vitus bikes
  • Pole Bikes
  • Saris
  • Stages Cycling
  • Wahoo

I think you hit the nail on the head with reasoning, looks like they are mostly all victims of the Covid boom. I know hindsight is 20/20 but seriously, some brands played it so stupid during that time, including the one I was working at.

I can’t help but feel like this is just an acceleration of a natural cycle and really opening up space for innovative, lean, independent, small brands. Gonna be an interesting few years!


I agree. I’m fortunate I have a full time job currently and am looking at it as ‘riding out the storm’ until the graph starts pointing up. Like you said hopefully less bigger players in the market means us smaller guys can get a bit more eyes on our products and make some inroads. In teh menatime we stay relevant and keep refining our products.

Completely agree with you. In my mind, ^this is the biggest challenge to custom bike building (specifically steel). The thing I struggle with is how to create a ‘better’ bike in the eyes of the rider and then counter-educate what millions in ad dollars teach them. Lighter, more aero, more innovative, more durable, cheaper? - which dimension can I compete on, let alone win. You and I know, none of those things contribute to a ‘better ride’ for 95% of riders, but that’s not what they see or hear. Maybe I’m not even convinced it needs to be better. How does the customer define better? I think for bikes that’s a really ambiguous thing.

You know I love your work and your story and I think you’ve done a great job of it. This isn’t directed at you. It’s something I struggle with and the main reason I haven’t gone further into trying to make it more of a business.

The big companies can innovate so quickly now and their design, and supply chain processes are so tuned, that we have a hard time keeping up, let alone leading - COVID-like disruptions excluded.

And the money seems to be flowing away from custom bikes. In old days, a custom bike was the most expensive option - because it was the ‘better’ bike. I don’t know how many Trek, Giant and Spec sell of their top end bikes, but they have $13k production road bikes that then get upgraded and accessorized. I’ll bet there aren’t more than a handful of custom makers in the US who are selling $13k bikes regularly and that includes accessories, fancy brakes, custom fillet brazed cranks etc.

I think the only place we can win is having a story and something intangible that people can connect with and then getting that story out there - without ad budgets, that’s hard.


Yeah, absolutely agree with everything you’ve said. The market is definitely fickle but it is consistent in gobbling up the ad copy as a whole. I keep seeing people I know who say they love my bieks and what I’m doing and they take them for a ride and always come back smiling saying they need to own one. I then see them the next month with a standard more expensive carbon model from a ‘boutique’ brand. I’ve tried but have no idea how to convert that enthusiam at the test ride to a sale.

I get the perceived safety in buying from a big established brand and the general consensus that the small one brands that make up most of teh custom scene couldn’t possibly build a better bike. I do think getting bikes to the publications be it print or digital to test ride is key in getting the comments and idea that we are building an awesome product. I’ve chatted with Henry at Pinkbike and he is keen to get a bike in for review but that for me is like a minimum of about Aus$6k to do which is just not feasible to do at teh moment. So I wait.

But to your comment about the best bike for someone. It definitely is a variable that each rider needs to weigh up. An A grade club racer or someone aspiring on the national circuit needs a different tool to the guy riding on the weekends with his mates or someone doing big arduous Fondo/Mass event style rides. I see the industry picking up and starting to build bikes for the weekend rider. Less of a hard nose race tool and more of a bike that is nicer and easier to ride. Obviously fit is the biggest determinant to teh ride outcome, in my opinion, and that’s where we have to keep on our soap box…but social media only has so much reach.

I do know that Bastion sell a hug number of their frame/bikes into SE Asia. On average they are sending out 6-8 bikes a week and from what I’ve been told 3/4 of them are going off shore and mostly to SE Asia. With 4.5 billion people in the region the pool of disposable income is massive and I think finding a way to get a foot in the door there would pay dividends. It’s definitely paid off for Bastion and Prova and the likes.


Customization (size/body specific geometry) at scale may be the next chapter for the industry. The “x% lighter/stiffer every year” narrative is shaky already. Above a certain price point (5k USD for a complete bike?) a custom geometry frame brings the most benefit to the consumer.

The pieces to do this at scale were not in place 10 years ago but are now: widespread availability of bikefitters and technology to make every bike shop into a rudimentary bikefitter, direct to consumer culture and online marketing, technology (3d printing, bonding) may also help, supply chain uncertainties may also incentize more onshoring which also makes this more feasible.

I’m often daydreaming how this could be implemented specifically :slight_smile:


Back in the old days, framebuilders were likely the best bike fitters in town. Now, every PT and bike shop has a bike fitting station with cameras and lasers so you know it’s good! At least here in Seattle that’s how it is.

You make my point well. I don’t know how we make a ‘better’ bike. You outlined what a better bike is to you. To me, I fit a 56cm frame perfectly so custom fit doesn’t mean much. If that’s the case - if we can’t make a better bike - then what we’re selling is the ride, the feeling and the connection to the maker or the process.

@DEVLINCC I don’t generally think of international markets but that is an interesting thought that Asia presents a big opportunity.


I keep writing responses to this thread but they’re all long winded. Here’s my end-of-April Haute Take

  • Custom isn’t better for most people, it’s a flex.

  • Five road bike sizes suit 95% of people just fine. All brands need to do is offer 3 fork options and work with retailers to stock the appropriate stem, handlebar and crank length. To be honest, I’d be OK if this shit was proprietary – as long as bike stores are equipped to deal with it.

  • Our competitors are big bike brands but we’re not their competitors. / Big brands use marketing speak to out-do each other, not us.

  • Our “marketing” needs to side-step “better” or “tech” or “aero” or whatthefuckeverelse.

  • Let’s stop talking about “better.” Let’s talk about what’s “right” for the moment and what flexibility we can build in to help ensure a bike will last longer than a Shimano/SRAM product cycle.

  • The best thing we can do with a customer is to listen (actually listen) and then build our best answer to the customer’s “problem.” No big brand and most sales associates cannot do that.

This is polkadot man.
I believe he’s the patron saint of framebuilders.


Agreed. Better is subjective. But what people think is better is influenced by millions of dollars of marketing budgets, making it harder for different ideas to stand out.

Also totally agree, especially with the last point. I inevitably find myself getting pulled into the bike industry churn. I have to take a step back every month to remind myself of my vision to stay on track. I think if we (as a group) can reach a certain size, we can break free of the bike industry product cycle churn.


It can be hard to not get sucked into the marketing vortex. My engineering background has always been from a conservative approach of implementing new ideas etc. So I tend to push back at most of what they try to pump out into the market as the next greatest thing. Invariably there is no advantage and can be a hinderance to people enjoying riding. If we can get the media on our side then we’d do a lot better as well. It doesn’t help when GCN and even Escape Collective/Huang/Rome keep talking about lighter/stiffer/aero etc. etc.

1 Like

Exactly my point.

Agreed. We’re selling “The Custom Flex” and a connection to us and what that bike will do for the rider.


Some more thoughts and opinions:

  • We don’t need to be better, just different. Companies market off of differentiation. Speed is the most straightforward performance differentiation because it is both measurable and desirable. Finding another easily measurable trait to market on might be challenging, but it’s very easy to list out a couple dozen desirable traits that custom metal bikes can provide vs mass market. From comfort, fit, and customization, to longevity, to supporting local.
  • The differentiation needs to happen in relevant price point buckets. If your prices are in line with top-tier race bikes, that’s the submarket you need to differentiate from. If your prices are in the mid-tier prosumer range, that’s your submarket. The consumer decision making process is “for $XXXX, I can get A, B and C from company 1 or X, Y, and Z from company 2”.
  • Copy their methods, change the message. Marketing people are the best at what they do and we should absolutely copy how they market. It’s the message that needs changing.
  • But, we don’t have their budgets. Which is why things like MADE are so important. And The Radavist. Local exposure is easier, national/global exposure is hard. To some extent, exposure for anyone is a win for all.
  • In the absence of budget, you got to put in the work. Social media marketing can be highly effective, if you take the time to develop a strategy supported by high quality images and copy. Every localish bike shop should know who you are, and I would establish a handshake commission agreement for any customers they point your way. Bring a tent with a couple demo bikes to local races. Join group rides. In person marketing is highly effective in local markets, we need to remember to look beyond digital/publication marketing.
  • The multi-million dollar marketing budgets exist because large companies need many more millions of revenue dollars to stay profitable. They need to find tens of thousands of customers every year. But a single builder only needs to find dozens (for the most part).
  • And possibly the most important thing to remember is to stay focused on your goal. Marketing so you can find enough customers to have a business is VERY different from marketing with the goal of idealistically changing the industry. Pick your goal and stay on point.

Remember that most people are buying the brand and the image more than the actual product. People want to be part of the brand’s community.


Here’s my personal thoughts. My husband and I own a BMX shop, plus it’s a value LBS. Not a lot over $1,000. You can’t get more niche than that. Our competitor is not the other LBS across the street, but Amazon. It’s tough to compete with an online listing of a $300 bike. What works for us is the customer service. The “hello” at the door. The ear to listen to what the potential buyer wants and not sell them what they don’t.

I’m also a personal trainer at my local YMCA. New clients want info on crazy diets or the new exercise trend. But that’s what it is, a trend. Internet memory has a 5 minute span. I keep my clients down to earth with solid advice and what’s the truth about working out. The same should go with our frame building community: Not everything shiny is good for the customer. But man, it’s tough when the customer has been sucked into the the marketing vortex of aero /lighterthanair /electric technologies. I get that. There will be those non-customers who will buy the latest and greatest just to show off on their socials and be the BMOC during their group rides, but I think that’s only a minority of bike owner/riders.

Everyone on this thread is correct, maintain your base vision, listen & understand your customers, know your own value.


Completely agree, it’s about just getting your name out there and doing good work.

Seattle has a pretty active winter training scene and riders outfit their bikes with fenders and ride in horrendous weather with a decent sized group. I have a few friends from my racing days and I make them good deals knowing some of their teammates will see the bikes and it will resonate. I actually met up with them in my car at a stop I know they usually make. I had a dirty bike with me on the car rack, it was totally staged. Several showed interest and now 3 years later, I’m working on a design for one of them. Be creative!