November 02, 2018
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they take their tea. The same goes for a bike brand, especially when it's only two people.
This morning I was having a bit of a tidy-up which I generally do on a Friday for two reasons. Firstly because I'm quite fastidious and I like to come in on a Monday to a clean workshop. And secondly because Friday is finance day and if there's one thing about owning a small business that grinds my gears, it's balancing the books. So in other words I was trying to avoid doing my homework by tidying my room.
Anyway in the process of tidying up I came across these two mugs; one upstairs in the office and the other downstairs in the studio. And since I was doing everything possible to avoid the tedium of this week's book-keeping, I thought "these two mugs pretty much sum up Airdrop Bikes" and decided to write a blog about it. Bear with me, this'll all make sense in the end...
This here is James' mug left in the workshop over night. James has managed to achieve the holy grail of tea-making... he doesn't even need a tea bag now. Just pour in some hot water and it'll self-brew. It's not my cup of tea (boom) but hey, it's how James likes it so fine by me.
This is the kind of mug you'll find in bike shops everywhere; it's part of the universal language of the LBS spoken the world over. In fact if you dropped in for a brew, what you'd find downstairs is a workshop just like any you'd find in a quality independent shop (but you could have a clean mug). The only difference is that all the bikes say Airdrop on them. When you order from us, whether it's a frame only, one of our stock builds or a full custom spec, we build it to order right here. Whilst drinking tea, obviously.
The workshop is not a dirty environment - it's well organised, we have quality tools and we put every bike together with a great deal of care. It's just a hands-on kind of place where we work closely with our bikes every day. Downstairs, practical considerations rule.
This one's mine, from first thing this morning. You might be wondering why the hell I was cleaning this desk, but remember: I was avoiding doing the finances. Yes it's clean. My mug is clean, my desk is clean, my keyboard is clean. In my book every brew should start from a blank canvas: a perfectly clean mug, freshly boiled water added immediately, and care taken to get everything just right. I don't mind if you think that's stupidly meticulous - you're probably right - but that's how I do most things. I like to focus on (and enjoy) the process.
I guess this is the kind of mug you find in design studios. Which is essentially what our office is. Don't forget I used to be a designer in my previous career, so what I've set up here is a studio dedicated to designing and developing our bikes. In the same way that the downstairs is a proper workshop, upstairs is a proper studio; we just don't have external clients.
While downstairs we're working in the present - building bikes for customers, setting up demo bikes and so on - upstairs is where we're building the future of Airdrop Bikes. A big proportion of our time and effort goes into developing new bikes and refining the ones we already have, and like everything we do, that's done with care and attention to detail. If you could see the whole office what you would see is every stage of the development process right from initial sketches, through 2D and 3D design, kinematic work, 3D printed prototypes & alloy samples, to the photo studio and decal production area.
This is the side of Airdrop that sometimes takes people by surprise when they come to visit. I think maybe people are expecting to see a workshop full of boxes, tools and bikes in various stages of production, complete with dirty tea mugs. What they're not expecting to see is the kind of professional environment more akin to bigger companies. Clean mugs included. What really confuses people is when they realise that we work together to design the bikes, and we both build them, in spite of our tea-mug preferences.
In a way this sums up what Airdrop is all about - we're doing both these things at the same time. Yes, it's a lot like you're LBS in that we're a small business, we're independent and we get our hands dirty on the bikes. We work closely with every customer to make sure everything is just right. And yes, it's a lot like a high-end boutique brand in that we're authoring everything ourselves, focussing on quality and attending to the small details. The thing that we do well (in my opinion) is balance these two aspects of the work; we do both things equally well, and balance the different personalities that James and I have. That's what makes Airdrop a little different.
Footnote: For the record, we drink Yorkshire Gold. Strong enough for a builder who's actually done a full day's work. No sugar, just a splash of milk. Milky, weak tea is the work of the devil.
Ed is the owner of Airdrop Bikes. A former web and graphic designer, he sacked off his job one day and decided to start up a bike brand.
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