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 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.
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December 14, 2013 § 17 Comments
The whole Specialized – Cafe Roubaix brouhaha has ended. Mike Sinyard, the president of Specialized, flew up to Canada and apologized to Dan Richter, the owner of the bike shop, which is located in Cochrane, Alberta. ASI, the company that owns the worldwide “Roubaix” trademark, stepped in and told the shop owner that they would be glad to license the word to Richter for a very small fee.
Everybody shook hands and went home, except for Richter, who was presumably already home. I looked up Cochrane on Google Maps and confirmed what I’d assumed. Cochrane, on the outskirts of Calgary, is out in the middle of nowhere, about 450 miles from the huge U.S. city of … Missoula. It sure seemed like a lot of legal fees in order to crack down on Mr. Tinyshop.
In a sport that has a tough time stepping away from bad news, though, this vignette is a great example of what makes the bicycle industry less of an industry and more of a community. With annual sales in the neighborhood of $500 million in a market that in is estimated to be worth over $70 billion by 2015, Specialized, despite its relative market dominance, is a very, very small part of the community.
Specialized may represent the big corporate side of cycling, but in the global scheme of corporate entities it’s little more than a local bike shop on a very conservative steroid program.
Quick to blame, slow to thank
The rank-and-file bicycling community used Facebook and Twitter and email to send Specialized a message. The simple message was that bicycling remains a community that functions on the efforts of small shops. Sinyard got the message. The Internet, however much it may have taken a bite out of shop sales, has also contributed to more people riding more complicated machinery that requires, yes, a bike shop to repair and tune and ultimately replace what you bought online. Very few riders don’t have a bike shop to which they feel loyalty, and that loyalty is almost without exception the result of a good personal relationship they have with a real person behind the counter.
How many people can say that about their other shopping choices?
“I go to Wal-Mart because I love Fred, the greeter who’s there on Thursday mornings between six and ten.” It’s kind of hard to imagine.
Sinyard and Specialized got the message, and they acted with extraordinary swiftness. When’s the last time the CEO of IBM or Microsoft or Apple got on a plane to make a video and personally apologize for sending out a cease and desist letter?
We can criticize the steps that led to Specialized leaning hard on Cafe Roubaix, and we did. Can we also step back and thank Sinyard & Company for doing the right thing? I’m pretty sure we can.
I’ve ridden two Specialized bikes, the SL3 and the Venge. They were both extraordinarily good bikes. I bought them from PV Bikes, a Specialized store before the owner died, and the service I got at that shop was phenomenal. One of the biggest supporters of cycling and racing in Southern California is the Surf City Cyclery in Costa Mesa, run by Mike Faello. Mike and his team, with the full support of Specialized, put one of the very best faces on cycling in one of the country’s biggest markets.
Sinyard’s decision reflects well on himself, on his company, and on people like Mike who sell his Specialized bikes.
Thanks, Mr. Sinyard. Next time you’re in LA join us on the NPR and I’ll be honored to buy you a coffee, even though I plan to keep riding my Giant.
October 14, 2011 § 4 Comments
I’m trying to decide between a Venge and an SL4. They say the Venge is more for guys who are out in the wind, rouleur/solo attacking style, whereas the SL4 is more of a climber/traditional roadie frame. I’m a little of both. Your thoughts?
Both frames went through an extensive R&D period that included more hours in the wind tunnel than any bike, ever. They were also tested extensively beneath the pulsing quads of some of the greatest racers in the pro peloton. The consensus among people who have thoroughly tested both frames is this: they’re wasted on a weekend wanker like you, who wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an SL4 and a wheelbarrow. In any event, as with every other piece of cycling equipment you’ve ever bought, you’ll still be gasping at the back when crunch time comes, and you’re ejected from the paceline’s rectum quicker than a bad burrito.
I’ve heard people say that Specialized’s strategy is to vertically integrate and lock out all non-Specialized products from their shops in order to reduce competition, raise prices, and limit consumer choice. That’s why I refuse to shop at Specialized shops and why I support my LBS instead. I’m surprised you patronize such places.
I’ve also heard that Banana Republic’s strategy is to lock out all GAP and J. Crew products from their store, and that Toyota refuses to share its manufacturing plants with GM. Who fucking cares? Some people like buying a car off a showroom floor, others like surfing Craigslist and spending six months traveling around LA County to the homes of hookers, perverts, crazies, fraudsters, and axe-murderers in order to get the perfect deal on a lime-colored, low mileage 1997 Dodge LeDouche. My biggest gripe against Specialized is that they’re an adjective. See ya.
Specialized bikes are made in Taiwan, a place that’s notorious for low-quality, gemcrack manufacturing. Give me a hand-crafted European frame any day. Plus, there’s no cycling tradition in Asia like there is here.
I remember when the first Toyotas came into this country. Bigoted pinheads like you called them “rice rockets” and sneered at their shoddy quality and inferior design. You’re now collecting unemployment and the world’s biggest automaker is Japanese. You probably voted for someone in the Tea Party, if you even bothered to vote. Since you probably still drive a Dodge LeDouche, you’ve likely not heard that 99% of all bikes sold here are made in China and Taiwan. Among the Big Three–Trek/Gary Fisher, Specialized, and Giant, all are made in Taiwan. Last time I checked, Cav and Spartacus were making out okay on their “gemcrack” rides. Good point about no cycling tradition in Asia. There’s a much more vibrant bike culture in, say, Houston.
I saw you on your new Venge on Tuesday and heard that you crashed it after the Pier Ride. Heh, heh. How do you like it?
Have you ever heard of someone spending $4,000 on a new frame and then saying that it’s a piece of shit? Of course not. Here are a few iron laws about bike frame reviews: 1) You always like the bike you have. 2) The more you spend the better it feels. 3) Newer is always better. 4) Stern-O’s is newerer and betterer than whatever you’ve got, and has a lower serial number, usually 0001. Look forward to seeing you on the next Pier Ride and showing you a little move I learned from Walshie. Heh, heh.
Heard about your stooooopid Ride to the Rock on your stooooopid Specialized bike. Dincha get the memo? It’s off season, stupey-stoop-stoops. I’m talkin’ core. Build the core. Pray to the core. Turn the core into a rock-hard temple of fuckupedness. Ride tomorrow. Today? Core. Get it? Core it. Done, doodster.
Roger and out,
I failed my first mammalian zoology exam because I couldn’t name all the bones that made up the orbit of the eye. So I’m no expert on body parts. But what is this core of which you speak? I remember last winter when Frankendave came up to me on the track and said, “You need more core work, Wankster.” Frankendave squats 800 pounds and has more muscled ribbing on his abdomen than a Trojan. He has a twelve-pack. He sprints so fast that he’s finished with his third cigarette before I’ve even gotten on top of the gear. Then he took his index finger and poked it into the soft, flabby pouch of tenderness I carry with me wherever I go. As his finger vanished to the second knuckle, he thought it was funny. Then the joint disappeared. Pretty soon, his hand was buried up to the wrist, and he looked perplexed. Then the first half of his forearm vanished, and he got scared. That’s when I tensed my bowels. My jellied midriff went taut as I flexed my kidney and pancreas hard. Now his entire arm was locked in a vicegrip of blubber and internal organs. As the circulation shut off and his face turned purple, I pulled him up closely. “I think my core is fine, buddy.” I released him and he fell backwards, hitting his head (again) on the bike lockers. In other words, Mikey…my core is fine. And send me a picture of yours when you find it. I bet it looks a lot like Brett Favre’s, only lots smaller.