This week, the second week of December, I am in Taichung, Taiwan for Taiwan Bike Week. Most of you wont have heard of this event. It doesn’t have the glamour of industry and press highlights such as Eurobike and Interbike.
So what is it? Well, it is where manufacturers and bicycle companies meet. It is where they discuss the specification of next years bikes, negotiate prices, talk to assemblers (the people that put the bikes together for brands, which is why you will at times see pictures of bikes from many different manufacturers apparently pouring out of the same factories) about their plans, their price points and differentiating the products. If you ride a mid to high end bike, then the likelihood is that it will have formed a discussion at this event or in Taiwan at some point in its existence.
The reason you haven’t heard about this show though, is because most of the time the industry, and certainly the press shy away from this part of the bike trade. It prefers ‘passion’ and European / American flare to sell products and sell a dream. Not that their isn’t passion in Taiwan (or elsewhere in the World), but most big brands prefer to sell their European or American credentials, where indeed much of the design and engineering will have taken place. Not all of it though, not by a long shot.
Which draws me to my next question. Why is it that ‘Made in Taiwan’ or indeed ‘Made in China’ is banded around as a bad thing? Who cares that Mr Cannondale handmakes his frames in the US? Does this mean that it is a better bike than something coming out of the Far East which is also ‘hand made’. Certainly, no one goes as far as to claim that, but the implication is there. Why aren’t the bicycle magazines more honest about the bikes that they get to review, and why are brands secretive about something that most of us know? Perhaps it is because of budgets and actually having the money to fly to the other side of the world to look at production there? Perhaps it is because the intangibles sell too many products, and advertisers would be scared off? I don’t know, but I find it sad that many people have this distorted idea that ‘Made in Taiwan’ is a bad thing. It doesn’t just apply to bikes, it applies to many things. My experience is that there is always this underlying connotation that if it wasn’t made by people we can immediately relate to, then it is somehow not as good. Perhaps that is it. Perhaps it comes down to a fear of the unknown? A discomfort of a culture to which you have trouble relating, where the core values might be different and therefore you are unsure that their motivation to do a good job is there?
On internet forums you read about people wanting to keep the ‘money in their economy’ and buying accordingly. I find this argument to hold little water however, as very few companies are using all materials and labour sourced in one place. And if they are, it is probably to the detriment of that product in the long run. Just as humans benefit from diversity and a wide gene pool, so does product design and innovation.
I work for a German brand, but it is a very international team behind everything. My boss is perhaps the least German German that I have ever met, both in terms of his mannerisms and his approach. We have partners all over Europe, in Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, Japan and China. The diversity is one of the things that keeps things fresh. People approach things from different angles, and we all gain from that. Do we use our German roots in our marketing – yes, however read the first page on any of our brochures and you will find information about our international nature.
So what am I doing in Taiwan, and why Taichung. Taichung is perhaps the heart of the cycle industry. Giant are based here, Velo are based here (if you have a saddle made by your bike manufacturer, or with their name on it, chances are if you look underneath it says Velo), and all of the large manufacturers are either in our about town. I am here in Taichung for the first time, despite it being somewhere where barely a month passes without one of our design team being in town. I am meeting with product managers, who are putting together bikes for the next couple of years. OEM supply (selling parts to bikes brands to put on ‘new’ bikes) is part of my job, and it is something that we are putting more efforts into. My trip to Taichung is therefore ‘scouting’. We aren’t entirely sure what to expect. I have some meetings lined up with existing customers, but much of the reason for going is to ‘be seen’. Sales is, as always, about personal relationships.
Here are some pics from my day so far….