The Taiwan Bicycle
Manufacturing Industry Review

But You Guys Don’t Ride Bikes!

Glenn Reeves

cycling. . . heralds a kind of social revolution Dr. Yeong-Tyi Day

Revolutionary reflections as the Republic of China (ROC) begins looking to its centenary in 2011. This will mark 100 years since the fall of the Ching Dynasty in China, one the the great revolutions in history. (On the relationship between Taiwan and the ROC). Part of the commemoration will involve a celebration of the progress Taiwanese have made in the development of a strong cycling culture.

Revolution is not too strong a word for it. When working with Trek’s technical people (ODM), we would find that they were, on one level, quite surprised that we were not bike riders. We were experts in the technical aspects of bicycle design and production. However, we did not ride bicycles.

Actually, this was not quite true. There was a cycling culture of sorts within Giant. But what our business partners were getting at was the image of a nation of bicycle producers who were not at all into riding. So on another level, they were a little bit scornful of us.

Thinking back, it was only members of the expat community that we would see out on the roads. Local Taiwanese would admire them. But most were not particularly inclined to join them.

This is now rapidly changing–has rapidly changed–in respect of the greater population. In 2008 a cycling boom hit the island (2 separate links here).  Local speculation on the roots of this include that the release of a locally produced movie Island Etude, and Giant Bicycle president, King Liu’s  cycling trip around Taiwan in 2007 were important factors. This ride of a bit less than 1000km was completed in 17 days at the age of 73.

I can recall talking with people I came into contact with during this time, who did not know much about me. Whenever I mentioned that my profession was the design and manufacture of bicycles every one of them would remark “Bicycles! Wow. That’s really the business to be in now! Lot’s of money to be made…”

Actually my sales showed a steady year-on-year increase for that year as my focus is mid- to high-end road bikes. Nevertheless many did attempt to cash in on the boom (largely folding “mini” 16-20 inch wheel diameter bikes), with dozens of new bike shops opening and riding the wave.

The goal of a nation of cyclists is one that King Liu has been working towards for some time. It is not stating the case too strongly to say that he has been looking forward to a social/cultural revolution based on cycling for more than 30 years. In this he is possibly one of the world’s longest serving advocates of such a vision.

His cycling formula comes in the form of his 1330 Rule. This provides that each week (1) you should ride 3 times for a minimum of 30 km each time. If you do this for 2 months or so, then you will become a devoted cyclist.

Many who cycle will identify with this. The discipline of cycling expands boundaries. Before you know it, it becomes a habit that going without can leave a cyclist with a kind of withdrawal symptoms. You know what I mean…the itch, the urge to be on the road–or off (MTBers). Just not on the couch!

In what may come to be seen as a milestone event, the inaugural Taiwan Cycling Festival will kick off in October 2010.  Not surprisingly, this is one  of King Liu’s initiatives.

It kicks off on October 16 in the Hualien-Taitung rift valley area. It has been designed with a varied program in mind: races, personal challenges, and extended touring.  The hope is that many international cyclists considering foreign touring will include Taiwan in their cycling travel plans abroad at this time.

“But you guys don’t ride bikes”. “Er…excuse me, we do now”. We still design and make them for cyclists right around the world, but now also for ourselves.

I’ve got a feeling this change will have an impact on the bicycle design and manufacturing sector in Taiwan in ways, possibly profound, that are not clearly visible at the moment. I’ll talk about this more when I post on my own journey to develop a women-specific road bike.

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