On this blog, we have interviewed a number of clothing and accessory designers that have provided a unique perspective on the “hand-made” process. Seven Cycles offers a whole new spin (pun intended) on what it means to make a custom piece.
The Valente: Why the name Seven Cycles?
Seven Cycles: Names are hard. To begin with, we didn’t want to use a person’s name, because then the company seems to be all about that one person’s vision, and that wasn’t our case at all. Seven is very much a collaboration. Additionally, our experience suggests that almost any word you pick will have negative connotations somewhere in the world. Since we were hell bent on sending our bikes all over the world, to the 7 continents maybe, we felt we needed to be extra careful. After rejecting hundreds of possibilities, the idea of using a number began to appeal to us, and the number 7 has especially positive associations in many cultures. The word ‘SEVEN’ also has a nice symmetry and balance. It looks good on a bicycle’s down tube.
V: What was the inspiration to start the brand?
SC: The core team who started Seven, most of whom are still here 16 years later, came from Merlin Metalworks, and so we had this experience of the bike industry and what it was offering riders. When we left Merlin, which had been bought by a competitor and moved to Tennessee, we knew that we had to do something different if we were going to stay in the bike business. The paradigm at that stage, and how most of the industry still operates, was to design a bike with your best guesses about what a rider wanted, and then go out and sell it, essentially trying to convince people that your ideas were good.
The whole impetus behind Seven is inverting that process. We build custom bikes, so we start by asking exactly what the rider wants, and then we design and build it for them. It’s really a lot more fun that way. You could get a custom bike before Seven started, but we took the custom idea and married it to a production model that allows us to get from order to delivery on a very short timeline. No one in the industry was doing this when we started, and we are still in a fairly unique position 16 years later.
V: What has the benefit been in sticking to your philosophy of building each bike with “One machinist. One welder. One finisher.” ?
SC: There are so many benefits. The primary one is that by working on only one bike at a time, our craftspeople remain focused on the rider first. As soon as you start doing things in batches, you lose the individual, and since all of our design is based on that one person, we had to have a manufacturing model that allowed us to keep them in the front of our minds.
Of course, once you’re working this way you realize how much single-piece flow, the fancy name for building things one-at-a-time, contributes to both quality and flexibility. The quality comes from personal responsibility. The fewer people share a task, the less likely they are to pass along problems to their teammates. In our system, there is no place to hide. Everyone’s work speaks for itself.
Finally, our customers want flexibility. They want options. When you build a custom bike for yourself, you want it to be exactly what you want. So our production model and the way we manage materials really frees up the bike builders to be able to do the widest possible variety of customizations. We keep frame tubing in its rawest form. All our small parts are designed to be modifiable by the builders. Even though we are manufacturing here every day, there is a strong craft component to our work and so, one builder/one bike is the source of all that craft.
Sticking to our philosophy isn’t hard, because everything we are is a product of that philosophy. If there is another, better way to do it, we haven’t seen it yet.
SC: Favorite place to ride a Seven Cycles bike?
SC: The world is full of great and iconic places to ride, but we are partial to our New England home. The topography has great variety. You can ride urban. You can ride rural. The road system is just a serpentine mess, which is a nightmare if you’re driving a car, but it is beautiful for exploring on a bike.
V: Have you customized a bike for any special clients or any with a unique design?
SC: At the risk of sound corny, every Seven is unique. Every one is built for a specific person, and so, even when that person looks ordinary and average, there are things about the bike’s design that are special. Of course, we have done dozens of really time-intensive designs, show bikes (like the Berlin Bike, pictured), race bikes, bikes for people with special needs. We did one for a gentleman who had lost both his arms in an accident. We put a lot of energy into getting him in the right, safe position and giving him alternate ways to use his brakes and change gears. It is supremely gratifying to work on a project like that. At the same time, we try never to lose sight of the specialness of each one. You have to enjoy every design.