Every year, before the majestic Taipei Cycle show, TAITRA (Taiwan External Trade Development Council) will invite journalists from all over the world to give them a little preview of what visitors can expect from the renowned bicycle show. Logically, I thought this would mean that we would get to see and experience some of the freshest innovations from the cycling world before anyone else, but the preview was more of an insight into the cycling manufacturing sector.
My colleagues have all attend this preview before and wrote about it, but never did I expect that the real life experience would give me such an insight into the cycling industry. The trip to Taichung, Taiwan was a five day tour of what the Taiwanese are currently doing in the cycling world, which included a day of product testing, with the rest of the days seeing us visiting big manufacturing players.
According to some international journalist who have repeatedly attended this preview for many years, they have witnessed the progress and growth of the industry in tandem with the growth of the factories that are there. Small factories have become larger whilst some factories has been modernised and other becoming more efficient.
On the first day of our trip we were taken to TAITRA’s headquarters in Taichung where we were given a presentation about the current state of Taiwan’s bicycle industry. According to the customs administration as well as Taiwan’s ministry of finance the first three quarters of the year saw an increase of export revenue. The overall export value reached USD 2.64 billion, a growth of 11.09 per cent. The demand for E-bikes increased by 219.83 per cent compared to the same period last year. The export value doubled from 70 million US Dollars to 210 million US Dollars. The top five exporting countries are Netherlands, United States, Germany, United Kingdom and Spain. The Netherlands replaced the United States as the largest exporter of electric bicycle in Taiwan. Although the volume of E-bike exports is still a quarter of the normal bikes the rise is there, and if the demand doubles every year like this year than it would overtake the conventional bikes in no time. One journalist sarcastically said “who would have guessed we would have had a rise of e-bikes,” because it’s a powered bike and many more would enjoy it over a conventional bike. This was echoed later on by one of the manufacturers, but we will get to that later.
SRAM has been in Taiwan for nearly three decades now. Next year will be their thirtieth anniversary in Taiwan. The Shen Kang which is close by to Taichung’s airport is also SRAM’s Asian headquarters. There are only two foreign upper management workers there. The rest of the staff are completely Asian, which includes the General Manager. They currently use Toyota’s JIT (Just in Time) manufacturing process. Whilst it is efficient SRAM are always trying to make things better and based on some recent third party consultation, they believe that a one piece flow manufacturing process will make them even more dynamic and efficient. Whichever process they use workers must go through a three day training before they actually get installed on the assembly line – that is if you get the certificate after those three days. Currently on one of their lines they have managed to decrease the line from 7 to 4 whilst maintaining same output. The quest to be more efficient never ends at SRAM. Saying that however, the factory is a bit on the older side as they have been increasing capacity slowly over the years adding more space by reinventing buildings next to the factory.
On the second day of the media tour, we were taken to the Ironhill Cycling Sports Village testing ground which is about 30 mins away from Taichung. Here we got a very small scale experience of what the Taipei Cycle show would be like with companies opening booths to show their proudest and most recent innovations. Some of the companies that were there and had great innovations include;
Taiwanese brand Ciclovation make a lot of products for cyclists, but their most noticeable one is handlebar tapes. The Ciclovation handlebar tapes are different because they were made to please everyone, including shop owners because of their great price, mechanics because they are easy to install and users because they are durable and re-usable. Their most recent handlebar tape the Magma is a tacky handlebar that has a leather feel to it whilst their Rainbow bar tape is industry leading due to its iridescent properties.
Prowheel is on to a winner here because they want to solve the problem of a chain drop. Through an insert between the chainring and crank arm a drop chain will no longer be a problem for most cyclists. The device which is in its final stages of testing guides a dropped chain back on to the chainring and voila, you’re good to go. Currently it is only compatible with Prowheel cranksets but they will start to make for other drivetrains soon.
Nuvo has 50 years’ experience making bike accessories such as bike stands, bottle cages and more. They have come up with a bottle cage that has everything you need to repair a punctured tyre – something like the Topeak Ninja. Unlike the Ninja where you have to purchase add ons, the kit is sold as one. It feels much lighter than the Ninja too.
For those of you who have not heard of Dare bikes, you must look it up. They are a direct selling bike manufacturer like Canyon but gives you the freedom of customising the components on your bike. We finally had the pleasure of testing a Dare bike which was their Endurance model called the GFX. Although it was a brief ride, we could tell the frame was superb. Although the Carbon Fibre frame was stiff it also has shock absorption properties. The best thing about the GFX was that it can be converted from an endurance bike to a gravel bike just with a few tweaks. The chainstay can be adjusted to allow the frame to take on fatter tyres, and the fork can also release up some space by removing the fork insert allowing the fork to make space for some bigger tyres. It’s pure genius and we like the feel of the complete bike.
Taya has been making industry leading chains for some time now. They have always had the lightest chains available on the market. They have once again reconstructed the bicycle chain to produce a strong yet lightweight chain. Called the onze117 the chain weighs only 220grams and is strong enough to be slapped on to an e-bike.
Sunny Wheel or better known as their western name, Flinger makes all those bicycle accessories that you just never think of. From bells, to stands to fenders they do it all. They currently produce many of these small bits for major brands including a child seat for Bridgestone. They are also the largest bicycle fender manufacturer in Taiwan producing over 1 million fenders a year.
Tektro needs no introduction as they are one of the best brake manufacturers in the business. They also have their premium line TRP who are also now producing drivetrains. They have been in business for 10 years and are currently doubling up their office space which is soon to be ready by 2020. With 1300 employees, they are one of the biggest oem brake part manufacturer and you would probably see a Tektro brake everywhere you go. Their TRP line uses MTB champion Aaron Gwin as their go to development and test person. Whilst at their huge factory a certain poster of an upcoming TRP drivetrain was spotted, but we respect them too much to tell what it is. All we can say is 12.
Jagwire are probably the go to guys if you need better cabling on your bike. Their name is synonymous with better performance and after visiting their factory we now know why. All their current products is an evolution of a previous iteration and we single handedly experienced the difference between a good cable and a bad one. A good cable would have a cable housing that lets the cable move freely and smoothly, whilst a bad one seem to have friction in the movement of the cable. Jagwire are also gearing up for the future of non-wired drivetrains and have started to make their own brake line called RideRever. The moto of RideRever is that “ brakes are too important to only work exceptionally some of the time”. We certainly did not get to test the brakes but it did look like the brake systems had serious hardware to handle heat dissipation.
Apro is the company that makes X-Fusion suspension. Not only are they affordable suspension, they are also one of the most durable ones out there. Their factory is equipped with a lot of CNC machines as the details in the shocks are what makes them all the difference. X-fusion shocks can be found on many stock bikes and it’s no surprise why brands go to them for their shock options. Although it was not said or mentioned anywhere, we couldn’t help but notice that a certain Swedish shock manufacturer had a wifi channel in the same factory. If you don’t know who these Swedes are let us help you and tell that their name begins with an O.
If you are riding a Cannondale, Canyon, Pinarello or Bianchi, chances are your bike was born at FritzJou. With a very humble exterior, the factory looks like one of those very old Japanese building. Step inside and instantly the perception changes. With an automated and hand built mix of manufacturing methods, it’s no surprise why these brands like to build their bikes here. They use QR code records for every step of the manufacturing process and if chances are your bike did have a manufacturing defect, they can probably trace which line and which person had a hand in that. They have also closed down their factory in China and have opened one up in Portugal.