More on Mirrors… and Business

Update: Sadly, Chuck Harris passed-away in mid-August 2012, shortly after this was written.

I received a prompt from YouTube yesterday that someone has posted a comment on one of the videos that I have posted and shared-out, noting I don’t really post that many videos to YouTube.  Moreover, they tend to be instructional videos that were used in combination with a posting to a forum or a blog entry where it was easier to show how something worked vs. a narrative description. So, getting any kind of feedback or a comment is pretty unusual since they’re hardly controversial.

However, this comment was a pretty direct and harsh rebuke of our friends at Hubbub for “ripping off” the design of their excellent mirrors from long-time Ohio mirror-maker Chuck Harris.  As I read the comment a couple of thoughts ran through my head, ranging from “WTF” to “welcome to the real world”.  Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes were the more rational thoughts that made me go do a quick retrospective on Chuck Harris and the evolution of mirrors, to include Hubbub’s back story on why they felt compelled to develop their own mirror.

As to why I’m even in the middle of any of this, it hails back to being asked to review Hubbub’s mirror back in March of 2011, which I covered in a blog entry, and then a follow-up with a brief blog entry to introduce a short video that showed just how easy it was to install and remove the Hubbub Mirror.  The folks at Hubbub asked if they could link to my video and I said sure, so that’s the relationship.

So, just who was Chuck Harris?  If you’d like the read a very nice biography entitled “The Mirror Man of Gambier” penned by Greg Siple that appeared in Adventure Cycling’s April 2011 edition, you can find it in .pdf format HERE. Suffices to say, something of an enigmatic icon of the cycling community who developed one of the “better” if not “the best” rear view mirrors that have been and remain on the market.  It has been a one-man cottage industry since the very first and got its start when Chuck met a doctor who had fashioned a mirror that was attached to the arm piece of his eyeglass back in the early 60’s.  Chuck eventually came up with his own variation on the doctor’s mirror that he fabricated with cast-off bicycle spokes, glass, and bits of aluminum. He went on to develop a second, larger mirror that attached to helmets using the same “green” fabrication process in his home shop (Photo at right by Andrejs Ozolins).

 

Marketing was and is mostly a function of word-of-mount and a small booth set-up at midwest cycling events, and to his last days was still a “mail in an order and check” enterprise.  From an intellectual property standpoint, neither of these mirror designs appear to have been patented or trademarked and if you look around you’ll find a wide variety of different adaptations on both.

Some have been mass-produced and marketed by small firms such as the Bike Peddler “Take-A-Look” (upper right), larger firms like CycleAware (upper left) or continue to be cottage industry enterprises like the Bottle Cap Mirror (lower left), another “green” mirror made from recycled spokes and bottle caps, and of course the Hubbub Mirror (lower right).

 

 

While I have always had a lot of empathy for the tens of thousands of Chuck Harris mirror owners and friends of Chuck who have probably taken exception to Hubbub’s decision to produce their own mirror based on Chuck’s original design, in the real world supply chain’s can make or kill a business or product.  As noted in Hubbub’s explanation as to why they finally developed their own helmet mirror, you will find comments by folks who used to buy the Chuck Harris mirrors form Hubbub that mention back-order issues with the hand-made mirrors, such as the mention in this article.

Why HubBub developed our own helmet mirror.

We never wanted to “take business away” from Chuck Harris. He’s a nice guy and makes a nice product. His mirrors have been on the market a long time and we bought many, many from him with our logo on the back.

Then, about two years ago, the mirrors began having issues – the mirror was discoloring – the silver was somehow coming off the back. Now, Chuck has always stood behind his mirrors and would replace them. But, here’s the thing; Chuck could not keep up with our needs. 

We tried to order as many as we needed – and we even tried pre-paying him for our orders. But, (and I don’t fault him for this) I know his priority was to fill his RETAIL orders first. He would go to rides and tweak a mirror for you – just for you – that’s pretty cool. But, HubBub would wait, and wait, and wait – sometimes as much as 6 months – and then only get 15 or 20 mirrors. 

So, HubBub always had a waiting list – a LONG waiting list. And then, suddenly we had several dozen mirros that had gone bad. 

So we began researching having our own mirror made – we even contacted Chuck and asked if he wanted to “collaborate” on the mirror project. His wire form with our mirror. Chuck never even answered our inquiry. 

So, we developed the HubBub helmet mirror and it is loosely based upon his idea. It is 100% made in NE Ohio. (except the DT spoke, which is made in Colorado). The differences? Our mirror is shaped differently ; every wire form is uniform in size, shape, length, and weight; our mirror weighs a bit less than his (just a couple of grams) and most importantly – we have them IN STOCK ALL THE TIME NOW.

Our mirror took 20 months to develop. We are proud of it and think it is at least as good, if not better, than Chuck’s. No, it isn’t made of all recycled materials – so for those who are interested in “green” – maybe Chuck’s is a bit more enticing. But, we have a huge stack of mirrors that can’t be used – or reused for that matter – so, I think the “green” thing might be moot.

At any rate, if you like our mirror – we are happy. If you like Chuck’s mirror, that’s okay too. There is plenty of room for two people making a nice helmet mirror in the marketplace.

So, even in retrospect I still am hard-pressed to find fault with Hubbub’s decision and product offering.   I do like the ‘funky’ aspect of the hand-made mirrors that use recycled materials, but no one sent me one of those to review so I was left to draw on my own product experiences when I gave the Hubbub mirror a try.  Therefore, while I’m sure that the Hubbub mirror has at least displaced the orders they used to place with Chuck, I suspect that most folks who would have sought-out a Chuck Harris mirror would have continued to do so.  The Chuck Harris mirrors remain a unique product with some very compelling features that the Hubbub and other mirrors don’t enjoy: the hand-crafted aspect, the use of recycled materials, the one-off custom look of each piece and of course the panache that came with having a mirror made by someone as iconic as Chuck truly make them  an interesting conversation piece, as well as a functional piece of safety gear.  Sadly, with the passing of Chuck I suspect his mirrors may now be collectors items, as it’s unclear if someone will pick up where Chuck left off.
I stand by pretty much everything I’ve previously written about the Hubbub mirror per my last update back in April 2011, which coincidentally was when Adventure Cycling did the aforementioned piece on Chuck Harris.  The only two caveats that I have found I need to provide with regard to tandem users are:
  1. If you have a stoker who is your equal in size or larger a helmet or eye-glass mounted mirror may not work for you.  I had an opportunity to have a good friend stoke on our triplet who is 6’2″ a few months back and my mirror was worthless: I’ll I could see directly behind me was Tim!
  2. If you spend a lot of time riding in the drops or on AeroBars you may also find that a helmet or eye-glass mounted mirror will not always provide you with a good reward view.

About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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