(I did this Joe Rich interview for The Industry BMX Mag #2 a few months back. It got printed in the mag, but I kinda like it enough to reprint it here. Enjoy.)
THE FUTURE OF TERRIBLE ONE
For just over ten years now, the name Terrible One has been synonymous with high quality, US-produced frames made in small batches. The design, craftsmanship and outright willingness to work outside the box quickly transformed Terrible One’s range of frames, handlebars, components and soft goods into a highly respected brand whose supply rarely met the demand. This past year, following some deep thought, T-1 founder Joe Rich decided to change things up a bit, and move away from existing as a strictly US-made frame brand. He took a trip to Taiwan, explored several new possibilities and made the decision to push Terrible One in a fresh direction, one that would allow for more extensive frame production, new component options and in the end, a more affordable Terrible One frame that still retained the same attention to high quality. But the move wasn’t across the board. Instead, Terrible One will continue to offer US-made frames in addition to their new Taiwan-constructed Ruben frame. Following Joe’s return from Taiwan and a nasty bout with the flu, he took the time to discuss the future of Terrible One with The Industry. What follows is that conversation…
T-1 recently made the decision to do some manufacturing overseas. What was the impetus behind this decision?
There were a few reasons actually. For one, I would like to think of T-1 as not having limitations. If a rider has a good idea for something new, then I would like T-1 to be able to make it happen. The initial idea first came when Ruben [Alcantara] started asking me to have his frame made there. He travels an awful lot and meets so many people all over the world. Many of them would like to run his frame, but due to the cost of it being American made, they cannot afford it. Shipping and import duties add a lot to the already higher cost of an American made frame. So if Ruben wants the frame with his name on it to be made so that more people can afford it, then that’s the way it should be. I don’t want to be the one keeping it from happening. Another reason that goes right along with that, is the quality that is coming out of there these days. Over the ten years that T-1 has been around, Taiwan has progressed so much with their quality. They have pushed a lot of boundaries with what is possible with different frame building options. It’s all really amazing. They make a lot of really tech options on frames possible to those that can’t afford to do mill runs of special tubing when needed.
One reason we have remained American made for so long, would be because of the people that that have been behind the manufacturing side of our frames and bars. Peter Barrell, from Maas Specialties, has made our stuff since the year 2000. It’s been a really cool relationship in a lot of ways. He’s a small shop, we are a small company, and we have kind of co-depended on one another for a long time. We are a large part of his business, and that always made it feel like a family. However, this past summer, I talked to him on the phone one day and he told me that at the end of 2007, he was wanting to try his hand at something else for the majority of his work. He was feeling burnt out. He was still interested in doing customs for us, but the way things had been for so many years would be coming to an end. One of the main reasons I had always been so pro-American made was because of our relationship with him. And also with Dave Harrison of FBM for that matter. Dave used to build our frames during the first few years Terrible One existed. Those are two guys that I always felt good about being behind our stuff. I felt that if they were putting their names behind it, then the frames would be the best that they could be made. But if one day either of them couldn’t do it, then I would have to consider other options. Along with the rising costs of steel here, there are also limited options with special tubing. And by limited, I mean, if you don’t have a ton of cash to buy special mill runs of tubing, they either are not available at all, or just simply unaffordable. So you are limited in your options once again. The final factor came last month. I took a trip over to Taiwan and met up with David [Quesada] and Guiri from Fly Bikes. They invited me to join them on their visit and in turn show me the ropes while I was there. I have always been such good friends with those guys and thought it was an amazing opportunity for me to go with them. It was to be a huge learning experience, and I was blown away to say the least.
What frames are going to be produced in Taiwan?
Right now I am getting Ruben’s frame prototyped, and I’ve been working with Sandy Carson on doing a new frame as well.
What frames are still going to be produced in the US?
As of today, FBM are still lined up to make Garrett Byrnes’ new frame, and Peter has agreed to stay on and do what Barcodes and Hickerson/Moody frames we need for the time being, as well as doing some custom stuff too.
Was the decision of where each frame is produced up to the rider?
This is all real new to us so it hasn’t gotten to that point just yet. I don’t feel that it would be good to just move everything over there in one go. That’s too much. I don’t want to put all the marbles in one dish.
Is T-1 going to be producing any other products in Taiwan?
Well, we get our grips and pegs done there already, although the pegs are getting new revisions for this year. I’m also getting some prototype bars in at the end of the month. Two different styles. I’m exctied about that. All the technology there is amazing. And once again, some of our riders really expressed interest in having lighter bars, so I want to make that possible for them rather than telling them no. We’ve also been working on a pedal design for years now and that seems like it’s a bit closer as well. We’ll have to see though. I have a few more ideas, but they aren’t worth mentioning until they are a bit further along.
What’s more difficult to produce, a US made or Taiwan made frame?
That’s tough to say. For me, it’s always been such a hands-on process. I would drive down to Maas in Louisiana for a day or two when we would work on something new. I could be there the entire time and get all the little things figured out right there and then. I could see it tacked up and then decide if I wanted to change it to look the way I was thinking. But we would work together and come up with the best solution for the end product. With Taiwan, it’s quite different. I live halfway around the world. They go entirely off of CAD or Solidworks drawings. That way, there can be no mistake in figuring out if someone made something right or wrong. It’s gotta match the drawing you sign off on. If it doesn’t, they will figure it out til it’s right. So the way I’ve done it for years is so cool because you are taking an idea and watching it come to life right there before you. But the other way, you have to make your idea come to life on a computer screen first, then wait for it to arrive in the mail.
Where do you see the future of US made BMX frames heading?
I think it all depends on a company’s financial situation. Right now, I think we are one of the few BMX companies getting frames done here that don’t actually make them in-house. FBM and S&M/FIT both have a sweet set up. Since they manufacture in-house, they have more room to work with as far as pricing. But it’s tougher for a company like us that doesn’t have that leeway. Also, if you have enough money to buy larger quantities of machined parts and tubing, it can keep the costs down, but once again, if you can’t do this, it seems the price will just keep climbing. Especially with all the special tubes and different options on frames these days.
Where do you see the future of T-1 heading? And what do you hope to accomplish with T-1 this year?
I try to keep everyone involved with T-1 aware of how I am feeling about the company. All of their input means so much to me. So communication is very important. I recently wrote a book of a letter to all of them and the following paragraph pretty much sums it up for me for this year and the ones to follow: “I have come to terms with a lot of different things that I had been holding onto for so long. I was learning and working towards progressing all other parts of my thinking and how I approached life personally, but I haven’t been including the realm of possibility for T-1. When I really started thinking about what I loved about T-1 so much, a lot became very clear to me. I didn’t love the frames the most, I didn’t love the bars the most, or the pegs. Being American made wasn’t the best part of it, and neither were the sprockets or grips. T-shirts weren’t the best part, nor were the hats. The best part of T-1 for me, was just being a part of something that felt good to do. It has been the efforts of so many good people involved coming together in one place, and that place always felt good. This year, I want there to be no boundaries at all. I want to help make good things happen for all of us.”