Stephen Bilenky Speaks – Part One

China cnc machining do not get more “real world” than those produced by Bilenky Cycle Works (BCW). Are you looking for a comfortable, efficient commuter? Look no further than BCW’s “Metro” line. Want to haul a bit more? How about A LOT more? Bilenky’s line of cargo bikes is impressive, and it is expanding dramatically! If you have special needs, if you want something uniquely suited to your riding style or your aesthetic tastes, BCW will make your custom dreams come true with a one-of-a-kind “Signature” or “Artisan” model designed and built especially for you. And while BCW cannot match the prices of mass-produced bicycles from China, with frames starting at $950, even the prices are real-world enough for me.

I have admired the bicycles made by BCW for many years, so Stephen Bilenky was one of the first people I contacted for an interview when I started “Cycloculture.” He graciously agreed, and I e-mailed him a list of interview questions. Most folks simply send me back a list of answers, which I print in my blog. Bilenky, on the other hand, pondered the questions for a few weeks then worked with me to arrange two telephone interviews so we could discuss his answers in depth. Throughout the process, he struck me as an intelligent, thoughtful man, in the sense that he carefully considered every question and gave me real, in-depth answers, not the “talking points” one sometimes gets from a publicist who is more interested in spreading hype than providing information. As a result, these two articles are a bit more conversational, perhaps a bit more personal.

When I asked Bilenky what he had learned in his three-plus decades building bicycles, he started off by saying, “Fillet braze quickly and shapely.” He went on to talk about the importance of both solving and avoiding fabrication problems. “Learn how to do the craft well. Learn how to fix mistakes. Learn how to avoid mistakes.”

He stressed the importance of using machine tools properly, and I knew what he meant. Almost anyone can grab a file and do a “good enough” job of shaping tubing after a bit of practice, but in order to perform these operations quickly, accurately and in large quantities, machine tools are required. Currently BCW uses only standard mills, lathes, etc. They contract out some work when using automated CNC machines makes more sense. Bilenky also stressed the importance of proper metal finishing. You need the right expertise and the right equipment for preparing surfaces for plating, polishing, painting, etc.

He went on to talk about the nuts and bolts of running a design/manufacturing business. Computers are critical not only to design bicycles and communicate custom designs to customers, but also for running a business in general. He discussed the difficulties involved with coordinating multiple projects. Every day, he must juggle tasks such as building frames, granting interviews, training employees, preparing for various shows and events, and a list of other responsibilities. Over the years, he has learned to balance these jobs and keep BCW running as smoothly as possible. Critically linked to this balance is the art of getting along with people. Bilenky talked about the importance of working well with customers, suppliers and employees.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *