Back in the U.S.A.

Made in Taiwan

Not everyone may realize this, but nearly all low-to-mid level bicycles available at dealers in the U.S. are imported from China. It’s only when you get to the mid-to-upper level that you start seeing bikes made in Taiwan. In effect, Taiwan has become the new Japan, and the Japanese-made bikes that were reasonably priced and nearly ubiquitous for decades have completely disappeared, out-priced by the Chinese and Taiwanese. The cause for this shift mostly comes down to the cost of labor, the value of the dollar, and what we’re willing to spend as consumers. It’s good to remember that if you’re advocating for ever cheaper bicycles, you’re also advocating for production in China. As for U.S. made bikes, plan on bare framesets starting at around $1500-2000 and going up from there. A majority of the complete bikes made in the U.S. are priced in the stratosphere, well on the other side of $3K.

There’s an interesting article in the New Internationalist that talks about the possibility of Chinese investors moving some bicycle production back to the U.S. What an irony that would be! Here’s an excerpt:

It’s been 20 years since most bikes sold in the US were also made stateside. Several large dealers and about 100 mid-size brands are doing some domestic manufacturing (although one of the leading bike builders in this field — Cannondale — is just moving its operations to Taiwan). In addition, there’s a growing sector that skilfully hand-files a few hundred high-end bikes each year. However, the demand is overwhelmingly for mass-produced, affordable bikes made in Asia. The US imported 200 times more bicycles than it exported last year; 95 per cent of the 13 million imports were shipped from China.

But the factors that favour manufacturing in Asia are changing and the trade imbalance is about to shift again, says Jay Townley, a prominent industry analyst and 52-year veteran of the bicycle industry based near Madison, Wisconsin. Rising oil costs over the long term are making overseas shipping less economical. And US retailers now want faster turnaround. For these reasons, Townley predicts large-scale bike manufacturing will return to the US “in a bigger way” sometime within the next three years.

Imagine a U.S. branded and manufactured entry-level bike, produced at a Chinese-designed factory with U.S. labor, sold right here in the States. The idea sounds a little far-fetched after seeing so many companies take production of low-cost bikes overseas, but it would certainly be a good thing on a number of levels if it actually happens.

The New Internationalist

35 Responses to “Back in the U.S.A.”

  • Nicolas says:

    We have the same kinds of debates here in Europe. However, good town bikes are not so expensive here.
    Mine (a heavy steel framed Azor, 8 sp. Nexus) was build in the Netherlands, in a place where I am sure that people have decent wages, work and health protection. When using my bike, I feel satisfied about this, probably because it tends to become rare concerning the manufactured items we use to buy.
    Concerning a move back of some parts of the industry from east to west, this already happened in some specific sectors (for example glasses industry).

  • Fritz says:

    Is the Canadian bike industry still protected? As of a couple of years ago a significant portion of their low end bikes sold through Canadian Tire were made in Canada.

  • Elliott @ Violet Crown Cycles says:

    I’ve often thought after the summer of 2008 that bike companies should keep at least some minimal production here in the US as a hedge on gas prices. It’s not going to get cheaper to ship things half way around the planet.

  • Molnar says:

    I think you’re overstating the case a bit. U.S. framesets don’t start at $1,500 unless you’re talking racing frames (which I’m sure is not the case). You can get a pretty decent fully-equipped domestic bike for $2,000.

  • bongobike says:

    So how many jobs will be created here and how much will these U.S. laborers make? I bet in order to keep prices down and make a buck, they will have to automate to the max and pay the few people they hire very little.

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  • alan says:

    I second the opinion on the price of decently made bikes. That Surly LHT you have a photo of in this post, made in Taiwan, all time most popular touring frame as I believe you put it elsewhere, goes for less than $500 for frame and fork. And my Taiwan made Some smoothie es was only slightly more. Two years old and takes everything this 200 + lb. rider can throw at it. In my opinion, some of these hand made lugged bikes, whiles perhaps not overpriced, are over-touted. At least for us married working class stiffs.

  • clever-title says:

    Schwinn’s electro-forge technique in the 70’s was to automate the process and work from sheets of steel rather than tubesets.
    http://sheldonbrown.com/varsity.html
    Sadly, the lugged frames came into fashion, and electro-forge died with Schwinn.

  • Alan says:

    @Molnar

    “You can get a pretty decent fully-equipped domestic bike for $2,000.”

    I’m trying to think of which bike you’re thinking of. A.N.T. used to have their Boston Roadster but it’s my understanding that Mike is going back to custom only. Violet Crown’s start at around $2500 for completes. Co-Motion and IF complete builds are over $3K. All of the well-known Portland builders that I’m aware of are in this price range and some are much higher. I’m not doubting what you’re saying, but I just can’t think of a U.S.-built bike in that price range…

    Thanks-
    Alan

  • Yokota Fritz says:

    Danilo Massueli sells complete bamboo bikes starting at $1100 — handcrafted in Stockton California w/ California grown bamboo.

    Thursday Bicycles sells handmade steel frames starting at under $500 last I talked with them (it’s been a couple of years). He’s in the backwoods of Idaho.

    There are others.

  • Alan says:

    @Fritz

    Cool. Keep ‘em coming… :-)

    Alan

  • Yokota Fritz says:

    Oh, and how can I forget about Workman Cycles in New York? Made in America steel cruisers for just over $200!

  • Doug R. says:

    I find it a crazy shame that Taiwan is the new Japan! I understand that the manufacturers are
    putting in better quality controls and shops, but, God! whatever happened to “Made In America”!

    I just went through buying anxiety worrying about ordering my Rivendell Sam H. because the frame was made in Taiwan. (I bought it anyway because they make the bike here in California)
    I hope factories come back to America and that eventually Americans buy out there foreign masters and bring the pride home again! We as a nation have become “Lazy” and we are now paying the price by buying cheap Chinese products! I used to work for a company called Post Tools and the Chinese tools and equipment we sold were absolute CRAP! The metal was so substandard that when we tried to assemble drill presses etc. the clamps and housings would snap or fall apart. My boss would simply grab another part from a huge pile and say “try this one”. My poor customers! I left post tools ! So, bring it home and make it right America.
    Dougman.

  • Andrew says:

    @ Doug R.

    I find it fascinating the way that people rail against the quality of products made in China, yet there’s nothing inherent to manufacturing in that country that means that it will always be shoddy. The majority of Chinese products are cheaply made because they are, quite literally, cheaply made, and the reason for that has almost nothing to do with China (except for the price of labour, which we simply wouldn’t stand for) and everything to do with the demand-side of the equation; that is, Westerners who want inexpensive things. Obviously if you’re going to buy a bicycle or a drill press for $100, something’s got to give, and that happens regardless of where its manufactured.

    “They don’t make them like they used to,” mainly because things cost so much less than they ever have before.

  • Molnar says:

    No, no, A.N.T. is doing custom in addition to the Boston Roadster. (Mike, stop reading blogs and get to work on my $1,450 Scorcher.)

  • Alan says:

    @Doug R.

    “I find it a crazy shame that Taiwan is the new Japan!”

    Don’t get me wrong, there are some very nice frames coming out of Taiwan. Maxway does great work. Toyo of Japan opened Toyo Frame Co. of Taichung in Taiwan earlier this year:

    http://www.handmadebikes.net/toyo-framebuilding-dynasty.html

    Their Taiwanese frames should be every bit as good as their excellent frames made in Japan.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Molnar

    “No, no, A.N.T. is doing custom in addition to the Boston Roadster.”

    I’m glad to hear that! I had a different impression from an e-mail Mike sent a few months ago…

    Alan

  • David says:

    Don’t forget about R&E Cycles here in Seattle. You can get a full bike built around a hand-welded Rodriguez frame made of True Temper American steel for $1600. Their catalog is here:
    http://www.rodcycle.com/

    Click on “Download 2010 Catalog” in the upper left to get the details.

  • Alan says:

    @David

    Thanks! I had forgotten about R&E. If I remember correctly, those frames are made by Dennis Bushnell (somebody correct me if I’m wrong).

    http://www.bushnelltandems.com/

    Alan

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Nicholas – According to a seller’s website, many of today’s Azor bikes are in fact made in China, because “Dutch production can’t keep up”. See here.
    I have nothing against either Taiwan or China per se, only against inferior manufacturing methods. In addition, I simply like the idea of owning things that were made in a place that is somehow relevant and dear to me. Mind you, that does not necessarily mean the USA. My city bike is a Pashley, which was made in England – the country where I went to university and spent a major chunk of my young adult life. My custom mixte is being made in my own neighborhood in Boston, Mass. But whether a bike was made in, say, Texas or Taiwan makes no difference to me as long as the quality of the products is equivalent, because neither place is relevant to me.

  • Doug R. says:

    Oh, I have stirred the pot again! @ lovely Bicycle I like your words, however, I am an American and my country is dear to me (even if it a screwed up one). I grew up with a nationalistic pride in our products and I used to be proud of using American made “Craftsman” brand hand tools. The warranty was simple: If you break it, bring it in and we will replace it free. (no questions asked)! I only broke a few tools back then, and yes, I was abusing them. They still took a beating before I broke them. I can’t keep living in the past, however, I wish for a brighter future, and America should have quality in a gross national product that is exported to loving customers outside of our shores. I also collect and ride British motorcycles, because in the sixtys/seventies they were better than our Harleys! Like you, if the quality is there, the relevance factor will fade. I am just a stodgy old fart hoping we can do better and climb out of a bad economic time. (good products can help that). Dougman

  • Christina says:

    Thanks for another thoughtful post.
    I live in Taiwan now and the cheap bikes (under $150 US) all come from China, even ones from companies that are headquartered in Taiwan, like Giant and Merida.
    I’d like to say that, at least if you’re buying a bike from Taiwan, it wasn’t made with slave labor. Factory workers here make well above what would be minimum wage in the US. I know that’s no great shakes, but her’s it’s a living wage that easily covers expenses- and not too much less than I make as a full-time teacher.
    I liked seeing the links to lower-priced US-made bikes; when I come back to the US it would be great to have that option! Maybe it would be a conflict with your sponsors, but I’d love to see a post laying out the more affordable domestic options, maybe with an explanation of what makes them a good choice?

  • David says:

    Alan, you are correct. Dennis Bushnell is the master behind R+E/Rodriguez, Bushnell Tandems, and Trillium Custom.

  • BikeBike says:

    The idea that bicycle production could move back to North America in the near term is very interesting, will probably happen, and is not without precident. I read recently that IKEA was building a manufacturing facility in NA because they also see trans-oceanic shipping rates going up with the price of oil and they are trying to insulate themselves from those coming price increases.

    Essentially, everything that comes across the ocean will be going up with the steady rise in the price of oil. For some interesting reading on this coming reality – check out http://www.theglobeandmail.com/books/why-your-world-is-about-to-get-a-whole-lot-smaller-by-jeff-rubin/article1148668/

    I am excited that major production of bicycles (and accessories?) may be coming back to our continent soon. i suspect that these NA products might be more expensive but so will everything else.

    @fritz – my understanding is that Raleigh Canada still produces low end bikes here in Canada for Canadian Tire and IBDs. So does ProCycle (Miele, RockyMountain, etc).

  • Mr. CrankyPants says:

    @BikeBike – Devinci is another Canadian brand that also manufactures in Canada. I’d place them as a mid to high end bike (depending on the model of course). I think Brodie still makes some of it’s models here too, but I’m not 100% certain.

    An interesting side note: both Schwinn and Cannondale are currently owned by Dorel. Dorel is a Canadian company, so technically speaking, two iconic U.S. brands are now Canadian. Who woulda thunk it?!

  • Greg says:

    @YokotaFritz: The Atlantic cruisers are made in China. Per the Worksman cycle page: “Note; Atlantic Coast Cruisers including the Dura-bike are Imported from China…..while Worksman Cycles are proudly Made in the USA”.

  • Hercule says:

    It’s maybe more accurate to say that your bike is assembled in the US, or wherever. Yes, you can get a custom built frame built locally – although I think your US prices are steep compared to those in the UK. But many of the other components will be built in Japan, Taiwan, China or Malaysia. Even the supposedly British built Pashley may have a Stratford built steel frame, and a British Brooks saddle, but those Sturmey-Archer brakes and gears will be made in Taiwan (S-A was acquired by Sun Race a few years ago – and is probably turning out better products than the UK operation (like the new BWR hub on my Brompton, and the S3X fixed gear hub).

    Many years ago I read that the bicycle was a triumph of international collaboration – then they could claim British frame and saddles (Reynolds and Brooks), Dutch rims, Swiss spokes, Italian hubs, French gears – well, OK, European examples, but you can easily add in some other examples. International trade isn’t all bad – it’s a chance to exercise some leverage on other countries to bring them up to common standards, be they industrial or social.

  • Jeff says:

    The price of oil is making it difficult to manufacture bicycles. Does anyone else see the irony in that?

  • George says:

    I am proudly riding my new made-in-the-USA Bike Friday Tikit, for which I paid considerably less than $2K.

  • Mohjho says:

    My first upscale bicycle is a mid 90s Canondale, I still own it and am proud to show off its welds and brag about the American engineering that went into its production. Last I heard, Canondale was trying to move production overseas.
    Last year I built my first bike around a new Surly frameset and am 100% impressed. I figure that the builders in Taiwan need to make a living same as us. Build a good product at a reasonable price, back it up and ya got my vote. I did build it with Paul components made right here in Chico, Ca. Kind of pricey but hard to find better a product anywhere in the world.

  • Doug R. says:

    This weekend I will drive to Walnut creek Ca, to take delivery of my new Sam Hillborne bike from the Riv folks. I have tossed back and forth these past few months about the frame being made in Taiwan, however, Alan and others who own the Rivendell products have assured me of the quality of the frame construction. I am proud that the Riv shop is located here in California, and that Americans are the employees building my bike! I will write in once I have a chance to’ examine welds, tubing, and ride quality. I hope the Taiwan factory brings Rivendells frame manufacture to America, I would like our workers showing what they can do with ChroMo! Dougman

  • Alan says:

    @Doug

    Congrats on your new bike, Doug. Can’t wait to see it.

    Some of Rivendell’s frames are built here in the U.S. at Waterford:

    http://waterfordbikes.com

    Waterford has a long history of doing good stuff with chromo… ;-)

    Alan

  • RJ says:

    All Trek OCLV (carbon) bicycles are made in the US.

    Waterloo, WI.

    Still a few thousand dollars, but at least you get a complete bicycle! But yes, only recreational bicycles.

    The only ‘major’ bike company making bikes in the US, I believe. (Cannondale got bought out..)

  • john Riley says:

    My problem with China would not necessarily be quality, but environmental and labor issues.

    The Taiwanese seem to have made bike building a specialty, and seem to be good at it. They have lots of component makers too.

    European car companies are moving more production to the US because of the low dollar, but low end cars are often made in Mexico, including many “American” cars. If cost was the reason for moving bike production, you might see it end up in Mexico.

    If being closer to the customer, more tuned into the customer, were the issue, then maybe US production might happen.

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