Where have I heard this before?

October 8, 2015 § 45 Comments

Cruising the ‘Bag yesterday I ran across a strong statement about the superiority of handmade Italian carbon frames. The writer was pimping Cipo’s new brand, which has the amazing benefit of being 100% fully made completely in Italia, and it is all Italian. The writer went on to say “You can feel a substantial difference between hand made Italian and the Asian made stuff.” For a minute I wasn’t sure the subject was still bicycles.

But he brought me ’round when he said “Specialized, Trek, Cannondale — wish they could say that #notchinese.” Then things came hot and heavy and illiterate with this gem:

“… to say Taiwan isn’t part of China is like saying Texas isn’t part of the US, both think there independent but in reality there not. The point is about Quality and workmanship. Nobody way back in 1998 said were sending our production to Taiwan/China because the workmanship is better, it was to increase profits with cheap labor. I have a few Asian bikes other then my felt’s and they ride fine, I might be wrong but made in Taiwan was not much of a selling point… BTW- I’ve shot over 15,000 x-rays on all manufactures and there is a distinct difference in workmanship with the big box Asian brands the smaller Euro brands. I’m pretty sure I’ve x-rayed more carbon then any man alive and can tell the subtle difference between the quality & run of the mill brands.”

So while the author trumpeted the awesomeness of Italian racing frames, a market they once owned and now have a tiny sliver of an itsy bitsy percent, I was left to try and understand what the fuck he was talking about. And then I got it! I’d heard it all before! Just substitute “Asian stuff” (because Asia is one place with one nationality), “China,” “Taiwan,” and “run of the mill brands” with the word “Japanese” and we’ll go right back to the early 1980’s–without even needing a flux capacitor.

Once upon a time …

The Japanese entered the U.S. market with transistor radios, courtesy of Akio Morita and SONY. In a short while they destroyed the U.S. market, first with products that were as good and cheaper than ours, and later with products that were much better, more innovative, and more expensive. Remember the Walkman? The PlayStation? Bet you’ve never owned a Sylvania TV.

The little Asian people who were only good at copying and ripping off the smart white man quickly proved his equal, then his superior, in the entire field of electronics.

Then Honda and Toyota got in on the act. They first had an uphill struggle even finding people willing to sell their cars, and the first Japanese vehicles I saw in Texas were labeled “rice rockets,” “rice burners,” or simply “ricers.” By the way, these are all considered pejorative, racist terms. As with transistor radios, Americans quickly chose cheap, reliable, efficient quality over the shitbombs that ‘Mercan ingenuity flung from the anus of mighty Detroit. Remember Lee Iacocca’s “The K cars are here!”

Hahahahahaha! NO, THEY AREN’T.

So the Japanese first knocked down our electronics and motorcycle and automotive markets with competitive pricing and competitive quality, then eviscerated it with vastly superior, innovative products that carried a luxury premium while Chrysler has been sold around to foreign automakers like a rusty old Colnago on e-Bay. Toyota is now the largest automaker in the world, and the first two Nobel prizes doled out in 2015, for medicine and physics, went to Japanese scientists. That makes a tally of 24 for the “copycat” race, by the way.

What happened?

What happened is simple. White people couldn’t fathom that “Asians” were able to learn, imitate, improve, and innovate. So what if they invented gunpowder, the compass, and Hello Kitty? When the ugly reality of WE’RE NUMBER ONE became a mantle assumed by Japanese carmakers, (number two is now German, give or take a secret piece of exhaust software), the former masters of the universe drowned their beaten pride in “classic car shows” and automotive memorabilia that glorifies some of the worst, ugliest, and poorest performing vehicles ever made: The “muscle car.”

So it’s no surprise that we have people like the ‘Bag poster dissing on Asian bikes while he reps Cipo frames on the side, and that he thinks “China and Taiwan” are just like “Texas and America.” It’s no surprise because racism and prejudice run deep, and when your “inferiors” kick your ass, take your markets, and scoop up your Nobel prizes, the best that most people can do is namecall and rest on laurels that haven’t meant squat since the first major American bike manufacturers began producing in China and Taiwan.

Why Taiwanese carbon bikes are the best

Actually, they aren’t. That’s because there is no “best.” Bikes are made to do a variety of things, and no single manufacturer does all of those things better than every other manufacturer. The U.S. handmade bike industry is proof positive that small shops with skilled craftsmen can satisfy many thousands of customers. And steel is not only real, it is one of many materials, along with bamboo, that has proven its mettle in the real world of real biking.

But Taiwan is the indisputable center of carbon fiber bike manufacturing technology, and its base is built on the world’s best carbon fiber which, if you want to name names, is made by Toray Corp. … a Japanese company, not an Italian one.

People like the ‘Bag poster can point to crummy carbon bikes that come out of China and Taiwan, but so what? Crummy cars come out of Italy, crummy cars come out of Japan, crummy cell phones come out of China, and crummy everything comes out of the U.S.A. This only points to market segmentation, not to bad products at the top. As surely as some Chinese manufacturers make shitty bikes, others make world class ones.

Do you really think that Apple uses Foxconn because they make a bad product? And do you really think that top of the line Specialized, Felt, Giant, and Cannondale bikes are anything other than superlative? Because if you do, you’re going to have to come up with something more objective than “there is a distinct difference in the workmanship.” Please do share some of these 15,000 scans with us and compare apples to apples. And then show us how those “differences in workmanship” which you can only see with a flux capacitor x-ray MRI electron scanning microscope translate into performance, durability, comfort, or aesthetic differences.

And this is what gets the “Made in Italia” people’s goat: China and Taiwan (and before them Japan) entered “our” markets with products that had a high cost/quality compromise, and now dominate the market across all segments, from entry level to expert.

Nor is the story limited to bikes, cars, and electronics. Canon and Nikon are all there is in the world of cameras; everything else is a tiny little asterisk, and the Germans haven’t gotten over that, either.

Code word: Bigot

Using words like “Asian stuff” and conflating Taiwan and China is racist. Taiwanese speak a language that is unintelligible to speakers of standard Beijinghua; it’s called “Taiwanese.” Taiwan has a completely different political system, a radically different history, and a totally distinct economy from China. Just because the writer is too stupid, too lazy, and too prejudiced to know the difference between Taiwan and China doesn’t mean that Italian bikes are better. It just means that he is stupid, lazy, and prejudiced. Oh, and the Taiwanese use traditional kanji rather than the simplified ones introduced by the communists, so the writing is different, too.

In other words, not the same as “Texas and the USA.”

The market is screaming at you, glad you’re listening

Ultimately, the “Made in Italia” hard-on that Cipo’s bikes are using to try and get a tiny sliver of the U.S. racing market is a good thing. The customer, who’s apparently lots more discriminating than an x-ray, has told Italy that their bikes suck. People don’t want to pay a premium for something that’s inferior, or that is only marginally better for an astonishingly bigger cost, which is why the Italian bike making industry has dried up and mostly blown away. It’s why Campagnolo is now a niche product and it’s why Shimano and SRAM dominate.

But it’s disingenuous to take a technology that was perfected in “Asia” and whose products saturate the global bike frame market and claim that this is somehow Italian, even when the brand is Mario Cipollini, a guy who doesn’t make, has never made, and will never make a bike. Italy has given the world some great things, and forgetting bikes for a moment, has given us the most wonderful food known to man: Pasta.

Oh, sorry. That too was originally MADE IN CHINA.

END

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§ 45 Responses to Where have I heard this before?

  • Sandy says:

    Over 50 years ago I bought a Carlos Montoya LP and on the back it said “…only gypsies can play flamenco”. Huh? And, didn’t I read on a Bianchi bike the other day, “Made in Taiwan”?

  • Glenn M says:

    funny thing about purchasing a Cipo frame is that after spending $4,695 retail (frame only) you still have to get over the fact you have to ride it and spend another 2 or 3k. So what does a damned ”Merican do? Slap Shimano or SRAM to make it run. Who has time for Campy Super Record?!

  • Joe C says:

    The ‘Bag lost me when they couldn’t differentiate between there-they’re and were-we’re. I can do that, and I went to public school in Texas (and not some snooty Bellaire school either!). Does that make me a grammar bigot? Anyway, my “Asian” Colnago was a smoking hot deal, looks great, and rides fantastic. More so than the rider deserves.

  • DBrauch says:

    The more I learn about the differences between China and Taiwan the more the Texas/’merica comparison rings true.

  • bejoneses says:

    Looks like that poster could have taken advantage of Mark Twain’s advice: “IT IS BETTER TO KEEP YOUR MOUTH CLOSED AND LET PEOPLE THINK YOU ARE A FOOL THAN TO OPEN IT AND REMOVE ALL DOUBT.”

  • Gus C says:

    well said sir. Marco Polo brought pasta (“paste”) from China. My only US made bike is one I earned as I would never be able to afford it. Giant, Specialized, Trek, Cannondale, Felt, etc…When you’re in the heat of the battle at a race/crit/hammer ride/scary descent, i’m sure italy-made vs east-made are not the first thoughts that come to your mind. wanna pay tons for your bike? go right ahead. but i agree that quality is pervasive because humans want it, so humans make it happen, regardless where they’re from.

  • Doug J. says:

    I have to call BS on pasta from China. Pretty sure that Spaghetti trees could never have lived through a long ocean voyage from China to Italy.

  • Cesar Chavira says:

    If there are Nobel prizes handed down for #EpicSmackdown , you, good sir, deserve it. Chapeau! #RacismSucks

    • fsethd says:

      Thanks!

    • GDMerican says:

      haha ‘Mercans so dumb!

      [Most Nobel laureates in the sciences]

      ‘Mercans are nothing at electronics, for example behold the PlayStation 2…

      [Invents transistor (silicon and graphene), integrated circuit, microprocessor, etc. x 100000]

      • fsethd says:

        Of the IC’s four inventors, only one was American, sorry. First solid state replacements for vacuum tubes were invented and patented by Lilienfeld (Austro-Hungarian) in 1925 and Hell (German) in 1934. So, no cigar there.

        Anyway, your sensitive ‘Mercan skin missed the point, probably while you were fondling your gun collection. It’s not that you’re dumb (which you well may be), it’s that other nationalities aren’t dumb. Ponder that.

  • tb says:

    This is actually a real problem.

    Any time an innovator teaches a vendor his methods they stand a very high chance of getting ripped off.

    Vendor learns how to make X. In making X, vendor starts to get better and more knowledgeable not only about making X but about what X is.

    Before long vendor owns the technology.

    For example, lawyer hires junior partner. Junior partner does all the grunt work. At some point junior partner has to be promoted to partner or he’s moving on.

    This assumes vendor/junior partner is competent.

    Why is US losing/lost it manufacturing? Nobody knows how to make anything anymore, and the supply chain is gone… Possibly forever.

    In a free market, with the potential of constant innovation, this should not be a problem. However, we can see how poorly non-free markets perform – pre fall of the wall Eastern Europe destroyed everything they touched.

    Chinawan is kicking ass because the markets are freer than they had previously been.

    The more we outsource the more we practically guarantee losing whatever it is we innovated.

    I could prove all this pontificating if I owned a friggin’ X-ray machine!

    • fsethd says:

      Or a flux capacitor.

    • channel_zero says:

      As someone that’s worked for a Taiwanese company, the concept that one country “loses” innovation to another is problematic.

      The Taiwanese make great product. Chinese wages are closing in on Taiwanese and the quality out of Taiwan is still world class.

      Countries that peg their currency, as China has, will always, always, always have “fast follower” advantage. But, they just don’t think like the West. The ones that do, move to the West.

      • fsethd says:

        Who is “they”? And how does the West think?

      • channel_zero says:

        The “they” is Taiwanese, and to some extent the Chinese.

        There is a rigid social order that discourages innovation to some degree. At least there was when I worked for them.

        For example, there’s no way a Roku would ever have made it out of a Taiwanese lab until Roku itself was showing up in retail channel research. Now, you can go on Amazon or wherever and choose from a dozen variations of the Roku.

        The Taiwanese would never have taken a chance on a Roku before Roku was considered a success.

      • channel_zero says:

        BTW, I’m sure the Roku is contract manufactured like most electronics.

        The Taiwanese are happy to build it for you and they do a great job at building other people’s ideas. The electronics industry is the perfect example.

      • fsethd says:

        This is an old accusation, long ago disproved, that the social order discourages innovation and is only a copycat industry. This tiny island has a Nobel Prize laureate, and is the center of carbon frame manufacturing innovation.

  • Tamar T. says:

    Best thing about Cipollini is that his brand sponsors a women’s team and a good one at that. Plus one to any cycling manufacturer who supports a women’s team. http://www.alecipolliniteam.com/ (Oh, and all my three carbon bikes made of carbon were made in Taiwan and they are awesome.)

    • fsethd says:

      Italy has lots to offer, and Cipo has lots to offer women. Anytime a small maker gets market share with a hand built item, it’s great.

  • deanabt says:

    I love it when you hold back. Cipo does have pretty girls in his marketing…wait.

  • George says:

    I love international bikes. My Cervelo was created by Canadians, built in Asia and the company is owned by the Dutch, My components are from Shimano (Japan) as are the wheels, Saddle fizik from Italy while my bike computer (Garmin) Incorporated in Switzerland) and Power Meter (Stages) USA . The rider was built in Canada, developed in Israel and rose to cycling obscurity back again in Canada

  • Usta BeFit says:

    I just built a steel frame designed by an American icon & built in Taiwan. I purchased it from a German company & am running Shomano Ultegra 6800 with Fulcrum Zero wheels….If I can find some bars from Africa & a saddle from South America & maybe some bottle cages from OZ I should be bigot free.

  • Jorgensen says:

    Having worked for a Japanese company, my assessment is that there is no exclusivity of creativity to the West. But, there are expectations of consensus building that do set aside some creativity. That is changing, especially for those who have had some education in the West.
    There is though I have observed, no hang up of “not invented here”. They observe keenly and and employ innovation no matter where it came from.
    Refinement is constant and expected. in manufacturing, again, not a “home” idea but good implementation of Deming principles.
    Good ideas I have seen get used even if proposed late in the process, scrambling to use them happens but is not met with resistance.
    Not perfect, just as seen by the reaction of nylon resin to moisture absorption and its part in unintended acceleration.

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