Ladies & Gentlemen: A Case Study of Small Cycling Economy

By: Andrew Gardner Jul 10

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If you know the environmentalist and climate activist, Bill McKibben, then you know that he possesses a bike racer’s nervous system. Thin and fit, McKibben mostly rides the gravel roads around his home in Vermont, which is good for his health and the well-being of Vermont motorists. (I was once on a ride with Bill when he, driving hard on the pedals, blew through a stop sign - nearly ending his life and with it the world’s chances to solve the issues of climate change.) Road safety aside, Bill’s drive has given him access to a world that needs his vision and when he speaks, its like the final laps of a criterium- one just does their best to stay near the front of it all, to keep up with the urgency.

“We are all going to have to slow down.” Bill has implored consumers around the world. “We’re going to need to need our neighbors, to focus on the durable economies closer to us.” His written work continues in this pressing notion, highlighting the economy close to home and the benefits beyond mere money, “To wit, the farmer's market: energy-efficient local food, and the average shopper has ten times as many conversations as a supermarket shopper. No wonder they're the fastest-growing part of our food economy. Now we need to get going on other sectors too.”

Bill McKibben in the non-cycling season. (Print by JDK design.)

Other sectors like cycling. The regional loyalties that pervade cycling have catalyzed local fabrication, collaboration and creative economies. Sure there is large scale globalization, beautiful products from around the world, but one need only look at the rise of the regional frame builder to know that cyclists, in particular, long for authenticity in what we own. This takes a village. The people of Gaulzetti Cicli, the handmade, local offerings of this very website describe it thus, “It's a costly business, building bicycles in the US by hand. Skilled workers who have devoted their lives to their craft demand outrageous things like health insurance and a living wage. We're only too happy to be able to provide for those who provide for us, so we gladly accept the price of local, handmade fabrication.”

Not far from my home, the Burlington, Vermont-based frame builder, Hubert d’Autremont has a title for the needs and interconnectedness of his business with a larger creative economy, he calls it “Ladies and Gentlemen.” Working out of a studio in Burlington’s south end, Hubert has slowly and quietly built himself a following by mastering his craft and tapping into a collaborative approach to bike building- the deep economy of the industry.

“Ladies and Gentlemen is for me, a showcase of the people who have gotten me as far as I have. It represents the lifestyle I get to live and the ones I live it with. Ladies and Gentlemen is everyone from industry people like my painter, to suppliers and inspirational souls. It’s about people who have gone against the grain to pursue their dreams because they just don’t see living any other way.”

You can feel a McKibben-type of commitment in Hubert, the same urgent drive. Disposable life would be easier but crafted, durable work calls Hubert. His bikes are beautiful, lugged affairs- tasteful in the way you’d expect from a guy with no marketing, no website and no ads. In his entry for the highly regarded Oregon Manifest last year, Hubert built a Vermont-style porter bike capable of withstanding rides in miserable weather. The bike itself highlighted the craft of frame building while pushing a stout bike commuting agenda. In the process of building his manifest bike, Hubert researched the options for a daily porter bag capable of elegance and tough rides. Finding those options wanting Hubert launched a sister-brand, 27th Letter, a collaboration with Queen City Dry Goods maker, Matt Renna and another foray into creative hand-made materials. In addition to waxed canvas and leather porter bags, 27th Letter boasts cycling caps, flat kits and still more bits and pieces of cycling culture built with Hubert’s keen eye towards the details and the durable. 27th Letter stitches are tight and interconnected.

In a deeply thoughtful and bike-committed way, Hubert’s collaborations mean fuller living, more sustained living. He’s wildly grateful to the people around him and he’s a model for a small interconnected approach to business. He explains it the ease of a builder, putting together the pieces.

“Its about a balance of all of the enjoyments of the world while having big goals. It’s about being conscientious of the decisions we make.”



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