On March 3rd 2011 Geekhouse Bikes toured True Temper Sports in Amory, Mississippi– The three Geekhouse boys took a detour on our route home from the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Austin, TX to visit our steel tubing manufacturer. True Temper Sports is the primary, and one of the only, bicycle tubing manufacturers located within the United States. We received a radical shift in our perspective of what Made In the USA means and walked away with a new appreciation for every aspect of bicycle tubing. We did this, so that we could share it with you. It went a little like this:
We were welcomed by Nathan Hill. He’s one of the people in the industry with whom we’ve spoken to on the phone dozens of times but didn’t get to meet until The Handmade Show in Austin. He was happy to show us around and our excitement overfloweth. We started in a conference room adorned with golf shafts. Did you know: True Temper makes a majority percentage of the golf club shafts in the world? Fun fact. Back to the bicycle tubing… He gave us an outline of the company including some key facts about the employees, the factory itself, and their production and distribution methods including a few of their plans for the future and some links to their history.
On to the factory! At 300,000 square feet and located in Amory, Mississippi there are few, if any, places like this in the Northeast. Employing more than 300 workers with an average tenure of 24 years; True Temper is a bona fide unionized American steel producer. The tour started with someone telling us we weren’t allowed to photograph the factory floor. Oops! Here’s the one shot we got before the cameras were nixed:
Make no mistakes. Steel working is heavy stuff. We may or may not have been laughed at a few times for our New England-y looks including but not limited to polar fleece, ironically not ironic glasses, and skinny jeans. These were hard-working American heartland jobs and this was different to us to say the least.
We came around a corner to a very large (5′ x 5′ or so) roll of flat stock steel a few inches wide. Our first real resonating moment was watching this flat stock fed in to a long series of dies along a line of weathered benders that shaped this flat stock into steel tubes. The metal was shaped a little, then a little more, then as it finally formed a ‘tube’ it was quickly seam-welded just before the red hot seams themselves were scraped off from the inside (and outside). An employee then grabbed the discarded molten string to wrap it around a rotating arm that collected the still blistering-hot seam; leaving nothing but a perfect cylinder of steel. At the end, the tooling cut the line at intervals and produced a thirty foot length of generic ‘tube’.
As we continued around we saw the tubes cut into different lengths, swaged, bent, some golf shafts crimped and some bicycle tubes curved. Anything you could imagine was being done to these tubes to alter wall thickness, tensile strength, appearance, size and shape. From OX Platinum down tubes to triple-crimped golf shafts this is where steel tubing was truly born. It was a sight to behold and was strangely (and awesomely) reminiscent of the Discovery Channel show ‘How It’s Made’.
Watching the lifeblood of your business take shape from a roll of flat stock was enlightening to say the least. We were only a few days out from the North American Handmade Bike Show where we spent three days ogling the versatility and kinetic power of this material. Living and working in a world so deeply imbued with a respect for tubing was one thing, watching this steel come into existence was another monster entirely.
The factory was, well, a factory. The presentation of the floor is the last thing on the minds of the workers and it’s probably not every day they get a handful of custom bicycle producers begging to see where curved seat tubes are made. Working around these robust machines and technology- it’s bound to get gritty. But this compelling dedication to an expertly made product, designed, conceived, and produced on American soil is what Geekhouse is all about. It was vigorous work and a final product that reflected the awesome power of the rugged machines and people that made it.
We developed a real relationship with the factory. It meant so much to us to have the unique opportunity to be here. This enormous space wasn’t just a supplier anymore. We are married to the notion that Made In The USA isn’t just a ‘Go Green!’ sound byte. These jobs, the man peeling the igneous seam off of the 30′ length of tube, the woman moving 300+ piece ‘cans’ of top tubes with a forklift, a spot-checker doing quality control on a pallet made up of thousands of dollars of S3 down tubes, are all jobs. The kind of jobs that we need now more than ever. They are jobs based around making it in America the way that just isn’t done any more.
Making something that’s built to last a lifetime is a tall order. It’s cheaper to do it in China, it’s easier to outsource, and we could make a bigger profit, with better margins, and compromised working conditions elsewhere. But we use True Temper because Made In The USA means more than just a decal. It means jobs, employees, and a sustainable future for everyone involved. This is American steel. And we’re proud to say this is the steel that makes Geekhouse Bikes.
Stay tuned for next week when we visit the mine where the ore is extracted from the Earth!