Prior to Trek's using automatic brazing machines in 1983 I'd always thought that all bikes were handmade, or maybe I should say hand-brazed. For me the distinction was more akin to a production shop (i.e. current Serotta ) as opposed to a small handmade custom builder (i.e. e-RICHIE). Back then the componentry and the frame material were what defined first, second and lower tiered bikes. Now, it's not so clear. For many here on the list, any bike that doesn't have its heritage (or it's builder's) tracing back to Faliero and/or the Carlsbad Masi shop is viewed as second tier. For others it has to be French, or Italian, you can see where this is going. I happen to find Dutch bikes particularly interesting, its a quiet, oft neglected corner of the classic bike universe. Many of the bikes that occupy either my stable (meager as it is) or my wish list would be considered second tier if only for the fact that most people have never heard of the builders. That said, today my favourite 'second tier' bike is my Jan de Reus KOF frame. The bike just likes to go, it's responsive and carves a turn as well as a finely tuned GS racing ski. Tomorrow that may change, depending on what I choose to ride. I also immensely enjoy my RIH , but I would hardly call that second tier, not with the palmares that particular marque has accumulated.
This is an great topic, much more interesting to me than arguing whether Cinelli Lasers used Bondo or lead body filler, or arguing q-factor vs tread width, which came first and what did the pro's use.
Frisco, Texas USA