Monday, November 14, 2011

Where Was Your Bicycle Made? ...and Does It Matter?

Torch, Dropouts
There are those who object to bicycles built in the Far East (specifically, China and Taiwan*), and the objections tend to fall into three categories. First, it is possible to get very cheap (as in both inexpensive and poor quality) goods mass-produced in that part of the world. So "made in China/ Taiwan" is interpreted as synonymous with flimsy, "soul-less" production methods and low quality materials. Second, the same factories that practice these production methods typically also have labour laws that are considered inhumane by western standards: long hours, low wages, child labour, air toxicity. Finally, these factories tend to use environmentally unfriendly processes, dumping pollutants into the surrounding landscape. These concerns have, understandably, made some wary about buying products made in that part of the world, bicycles included. However, they have also led to overgeneralisations and misunderstandings that result in unfair prejudices.

Aside from the obvious point that Taiwan and China are not the same, one thing to keep in mind when considering where your bicycle was made is that geographical locations are not factories and knowing the country of manufacture alone does not tell you much. Certainly there are factories in Taiwan where flimsy, generic bicycle frames are mass-produced in poor conditions. But there are also factories that employ highly skilled artisans, use quality production methods and the best materials, pay working wages, and are environmentally friendly. Typically, one can easily tell the difference by looking at the end product. And the cost of manufacturing differs considerably, despite both types of factories being located in Taiwan.

Many of the best bicycle manufacturers today outsource at least some aspect of frame production to Taiwan. These include favourites such as Rivendell, Retrovelo, Workcycles, Pilen, SomaSurly and Velo Orange, among others. These manufacturers have close relationships with the "good" kind of factories there. The resulting products are indistinguishable from domestic products in quality, because the same processes and materials are used, and because the manufacturer's specs are followed with precision.

We tend to assume that outsourcing is a cost saving measure, but it may surprise you to learn that cost is not always the reason for turning to Taiwanese production. One very real problem, is that there is a shortage of European and North American factories capable of producing bicycle frames at high volume. This is an issue manufacturers almost inevitably run into when they begin to expand production. The remaining old-school builders are small and are often unable to expand their workspace, buy additional equipment, and hire sufficiently skilled employees. There are some factories in Eastern Europe - namely Poland and the Czech republic - that are more versatile and can handle medium volume, but it's still often insufficient. Short of establishing their own factories domestically from scratch at astronomical costs, going to the Far East can be the only viable option for manufacturers. Furthermore, some manufacturers complain that the domestic factories they've tried produce inferior work to the "good" Taiwanese factories, and claim that moving production to Taiwan is a means of improving quality.

All of this is not to "defend" Taiwanese production, but to give my readers a better sense of what it actually means, so that they can make more informed decisions regarding their own stance on this issue. Personally, I prefer it when a bicycle is made as part of a small production run, by hand, and within a culture that I have some personal connection to. It's just more interesting to me that way. But I have nothing against Taiwan or China per se, as long as the specific factory provides good working conditions, employs environmentally safe practices and uses high quality methods of production.

On a separate note, I also feel that manufacturers should clearly and truthfully disclose where and how their bicycles are made. If they are going to go the Taiwan route for the very legitimate reasons described, then they ought to "own it" and not obfuscate the fact. It annoys me to no end when manufacturers boldly state on their websites that their bicycles are "proudly built in European Country X" only to reveal in some obscure small print buried deep on their site that the frames are made in Taiwan, and what they really mean by "built" is "designed and assembled." It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when manufacturers come across as trying to hide or distort the facts in this manner.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Does it matter where, or how your bicycle is made?

---
*Edited to add in response to some of the comments: This post does not mean to imply that I believe the People's Republic of China and Taiwan to be politically similar, or to have the same labour and environmental standards. I include both countries here, because people do group them together under the "made in the Far East and therefore bad" label (interestingly, Japan is now exempt). And while factory conditions in Taiwan are typically better than those in China, the point of this post is that country does not matter. It is possible for a "good" factory to exist in China. It is not about labeling geographical locations as good vs bad, but about being aware of what process is used - regardless of location.  

108 comments:

  1. It is wrong to equate China with Taiwan. Taiwan is a first world country with factory conditions often exceeding those I've seen in the USA or Eastern Europe. The workers I've met in the dozens of Taiwanese factories I've visited enjoy decent working conditions, subsidized health care, vacation time, while living in a country that is a modern democracy.

    I challenge you to name a single factory in Taiwan where frames are made in "appalling conditions". We at Velo Orange have many parts made in Taiwan because the parts are great quality (often better than what we can find made in the US) and reasonably priced. But just as importantly we have access to great engineers and world-class testing equipment. We also get the shipments from Taiwanese factories on schedule, something that I've found is rare with many US manufacturers.

    For what it's worth. we don't work with Chinese manufacturers, but I happen to know that there are many good ones who do treat their workers very well. And Chinese environmental laws are progressing rapidly.

    There are many of us who view ourselves as citizens of the world and find the whole concept of buying based on nationalism be distasteful. When one discriminates against a whole country one also discriminate against many honest and decent businessmen and, more importantly, their employees.

    Finally, I could name frames and components from top-end Japanese, Italian, and French bike companies that are actually made in Asia. It would shock you. But frankly, it is not important.

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    1. VeloOrange wrote "We at Velo Orange have many parts made in Taiwan because the parts are great quality (often better than what we can find made in the US)..."

      Taiwan didn't get to be the world's bicycle factory because of their inherently superior skills, talent, materials, tools, quality control, or anything else. ALL of those were imported from the West, and within the past half-century; we had to TEACH them and provide them with those things. Or are you suggesting that American or European factories and/or workers are inherently inferior? No, the *only* two reasons why companies go with Taiwanese factories is because of cost per unit, and because of their ability to crank out thousands of units per day.

      "There are many of us who view ourselves as citizens of the world and find the whole concept of buying based on nationalism be distasteful."

      More BS. If Velo Orange and other companies who use Far Eastern factories truly considered themselves to be "citizens of the world", why do they all trade so heavily on their Euro-American image? Why call yourself "Velo Orange" and not "Zixhing Chi Cheng", its approximate Chinese translation? Obviously, it's because you want to trade on that old-world Euro-American image. A true "citizen of the world", who had no embarrassment about their products actually being manufactured in the Far East would be proud to show photos of those factories and their workers. And yet, NOT ONE of the hundreds of bicycle companies in the West who source their goods there, do so. I dare Velo Orange to be the first.

      "When one discriminates against a whole country one also discriminate against many honest and decent businessmen and, more importantly, their employees."

      Oh, puh-leeze. One isn't "discriminating against a whole country", much less it's poor employees when one says that Taiwanese products lack a quality that most higher-end bicycle customers desire, even if that quality happens to be something as intangible as romance or tradition. Do you actually believe that vintage automobile collectors who disdain Japanese cars, are also automatically discriminating against all Japanese employees?!

      "I could name frames and components from top-end Japanese, Italian, and French bike companies that are actually made in Asia. It would shock you. But frankly, it is not important."

      Except that it IS, and to no one more so than the companies themselves. Colnago, Cinelli, Masi -- almost all of their frames are made in Taiwan. And yet not one of them admits this. Why? Because they're just too darned proud of the fact to admit it? Because they feel like they're citizens of the world? Hardly. You know as well as I do that the reason they hide it is because their profit margins are obscenely high. They can charge the same for their frame that was built in Taiwan as they could if it was built in the US or Italy, but pay their employees a fraction their Western counterparts would be paid. It's ALL about the bottom line, and no amount of prevarication, handwaving or appeals to sympathy can make that disappear.

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  2. Pilen (of Sweden) does a great job of setting the record straight with regards to where their frames come from.
    And as you have seen firsthand, the result is quite impressive: http://bit.ly/pilen_straight-tubings

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  3. I haven't bought a new bike since 1986, but then I considered the cost and quality, not where it was made and/or constructed. Today, I'm searching for a new step-through style of bike and will buy with the same principles in mind. That hasn't changed. What has changed is the availability of research, thanks to the Internet. To get what I consider affordable (which is relative), if I purchase a new bike, I know it will most likely be of Asian origin.

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  4. The "made in the Far East = crap" argument is crap and might be valid if you're living in 1980.
    Larger concerns include environmental, including fuel costs for shipping, including localized mfg. laws.
    Jobbers such as Zen Fabrication in the PNW have sprung up for small-medium production runs to compete with Taiwanese/Chinese labor, as on-shoring has becomes theoretically more price-competitive.
    I'm surprised people still think that sloppily regarding manufacturing abroad.
    Anyway, since we're all going to be replaced by IBM's Watson or his little mutant progeny, it's a nice pie-in-the-sky discussion.

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  5. My three current bike are USA built: 72 Schwinn Collegiate, 1987 Trek 830 and a RANS recumbent. Most people would love to own any of the bikes on your above list — but sometimes budget gets in the way. There are some decent modern Chinese-built steel bikes from Raleigh, KHS, Torker, Redline, Yuba, Linus and others. A few are built with Reynolds 520 tubing. These bikes are affordable and have their place. Also, bikes are very modular. You have a frame, wheels, components and other bits. It doesn't take long to completely transform a frame into something new.

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  6. It seems to me the design of the frame and execution/oversight is more important than all else. But does an American brand like Velo Orange make it an American Bike? Does a Dutch Brand make it Dutch?

    The question I asked in our exchange last night... (http://twitter.com/Bikes4restofus)
    My bike is a Batavus design with the frame made in China. It has Dutch geometry, but the frame isn't galvanized. It has braze-ons for a ring lock and big sturdy racks. It's assembled in Seattle. Is it a Dutch Bike? An American Bike?

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  7. My bike is made in Taiwan. The country of manufacture wasn't super important to me, as much as some of those ethical considerations you mention, and, of course, the quality of the product. When I was looking for a folding bike, I did look at Bike Fridays, which are made in Oregon, and Bromptons, and nothing against people who love their Bike Fridays and Bromptons, but I just couldn't get past the small-wheeled aspect of it. I wanted a bike that was going to ride like how I was used to, so I went with a Montague.
    I did do some research on the company's website before I purchased, and I found that these were originally produced in the U.S. (the designer was making them custom in his D.C. garage for a while), but that they eventually expanded to overseas production. And I've got absolutely no issues with the quality of it either. In all honesty, if I could have gotten the same thing made in the U.S., I probably would have done, (in order to help get our economy going again) but I can't. So in the interest of getting a bike that was actually going to fit my needs, I bought one made in Taiwan.

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  8. I am not sure there are facts to back up this lumping together of China and Taiwan: "This trinity of concerns associated with Chinese and Taiwanese production has, understandably, made some weary about buying products made in that part of the world, bicycles included."

    You also wrote "Certainly there are factories in Taiwan where flimsy, generic bicycle frames are mass-produced in appalling conditions."

    But how do you actually know there are "appalling conditions" in some Taiwanese factories?

    What you describe is how I think of China, but not Taiwan, which is a democratic, capitalist nation with close ties to the West and the non-communist East. China may be hell-bent on reclaiming Taiwan as their territory, but let's not hand it to them by lumping in the Taiwanese people, and their work ethic and production methods, with the evil empire to their west.

    (As for bike factories dumping pollutants into the landscape, it wasn't that long ago that Klein got busted for doing that right here in the US of A.)

    You wrote "But there are also factories that employ highly skilled artisans, use quality production methods and the best materials, pay working wages, and are environmentally friendly. Typically, one can easily tell the difference by looking at the end product."

    But how can one possibly perceive the working conditions, wages, and environmental attributes of a factory based upon an inspection of the end product??

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  9. You make some great points,and have given much food for thought.

    I too,am peeved about how some manufacturers muddy the water in where there products are made...or built,as it were. As if they would lose so much business they would go under? No,not IMO anyways.

    I agree with the "buy American" croud to an extent,but understand that sometimes,it just isn't a viable option,especially if one's often on a strict budget (and quite often,I am,FWIW),thereby making my choice for me on a scale of price vs "bang for the buck" of what my moneys buy.

    I also agree 110% on what your opinions on buying from companies who care about their environments,employees,and end products. In the end,I think that really matters,at least to me (and obviously you as well).

    Would I alays buy American if that were an option? Most likely (without getting into the economics and such),but I really dont' have that option as often as I'd apreciate,as many American owned\manufactured bikes have priced themselve out of my range it seems,which seems to be a "catch-22" of sorts,no?

    Thought provoking and enjoyable read,my friend :)

    Disabled Cyclist

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  10. A nice topic.

    I like what John at Rivendell responded to a complaint about their bike's provenance. "It's made in Taiwan, a democracy- what's the problem?"

    Some other tidbits about Taiwan:
    -- While I haven't been able to find a lot written about it (during a 5 minute search), much of its Environmental Protection Administration website is in english.
    -- Taiwan put in place a national health insurance system in 1995 (single payer with 99% coverage by 2004).
    -- Taiwan builds the majority of bicycles in the world.

    What I would worry about are Taiwanese (or most any) companies in China. While I'm sure they should be improving if they're part of the EU I'd be fearful of eastern European framebuilders' environmental practices as well.

    On the flip side I think it'd be great if you did a piece on the environmental and worker practices of a domestic frame builder. Here's what I'd ask:
    -- What are the environmental and worker safety risks of frame building?
    -- What kinds of air pollution are created? These might include sources like welding, ovens, painting, machining as well as the use of solvents and cleaners.
    -- What kinds of waste water are produced, and what's done with it?
    -- What kinds of solid or liquid chemical waste is generated and where does it go?
    -- Many small companies are exempt from environmental regulations which tend to be enforced at the State, county or municipal level- is this framebuilder also exempt?
    -- How often does a regulator or inspector come to inspect the facility?
    -- What violations/fines have they suffered?
    -- How much training do their employees receive on environmental regulations and worker health and safety?
    -- What are typical types of personal protective equipment that workers use to protect their safety and health?
    -- Do they have any staff whose responsibility it is to manage the health and safety of workers, as well as environmental compliance?
    -- What is their OSHA record? Violations? What is their "IIR" (= Injury and Illness Rate = number of OSHA-recordable injuries per 100 employees per year)
    -- What kinds of benefits (health, retirement, sick leave, holiday) are offered to employees?

    It's often implied in online discussions that if something's made in the Far East, it's necessarily done without regard to worker health and safety and environmental laws, and that on contrast, anything made in the US or Europe must be quite the opposite. Asia is quite changing. Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, and definitely Japan are high GDP countries, and many studies show that environmental protection as a societal value increases with GDP. I feel as if some of the discussion on this topic is a bit outdated. While at the same time, environmental regulations vary widely across the US. In CA for instance there are many chemicals that a factory cannot pour down the drain which can go down the drain in NH.

    Tse-Sung
    SF Bay Area

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  11. I like it when companies make their own product. A Schwinn should come from the US. A Fuji should come from Japan, a Giant should come from China. A Raleigh from England, a Peugot from France. To me, a Giant-made bike with a Schwinn sticker, is not a Schwinn.
    Obviously this happens everywhere in the marketplace, not just bikes. Now that most of these big corporations don't actually build anything anymore, brands means less and less to me.

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  12. Of course it would be ideal if all our bicycles were handmade by nice, well paid and smiling artisans at the shop down the street.

    Well, this is not the world we are living in.
    If more people were to cycle instead of driving, much of the world's pollution, factories etc. would disappear. A lot of what we complain about in respect to Far East factories are related to the the oil ecomony anyways.
    Can't have it both way. Let's get more butts on bikes, that's one part of the solution already.

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  13. My commuter Schwinn ( http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2011/11/2012-schwinn-coffee-review.html ) was built in China. Yes, it is an ugly, cheap, crappy frame but it does the job.
    My other bike is U.S. made.

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  14. yes, i believe it does matter. anytime you have something produced outside of the united states for consumption in the u.s. it means that the worker needed to manufacture that good is being displaced outside of the u.s. work force. generally speaking that means that the "middle class" worker needed to produce the item has been left out of the whole econonomic cycle. the corporation still sells the product and reaps the reward of capitalism while the tradesman is never in the picture......it really is all about the money.

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  15. First of all, there is a huge cultural difference between China and Taiwan as anyone that has been to both countries can tell you.
    Not in the least because of the difference between living under communism for the past 80 years or splitting off and become, essentially, a capitalistic Western country. Taiwan has a high level of education and a thriving electronics industry. Got a high-end smartphone? Chances are it is either a Taiwanese brand or its innards are made in Taiwan.
    The closest comparison would probably be East- and West-Germany.
    Similar cultural background, but quite different because they have been living apart for a while.

    I do agree however companies should disclose where they build their bikes. Maybe not so much as an indication of quality, but more for transparency.
    With the right training, equipment and quality control, you can rival European or North-American companies in quality but still have lower labour costs.
    Every country has its specialists and low-quality brands. Sure a Gazelle or Batavus are okay brands, but it is no Koga-Miyata, RIH or even a custom built Santos. (all of them Dutch brands)

    What I am trying to say is; every country has its good and its bad manufacturers. Ignoring them because of their country of origin is wrong. Not everyone has the funds available to buy a custom bike.

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  16. To be clear, I am not equating the political regimes or cultures of China and Taiwan. If you've read my post this way, you misunderstood.

    I have changed the wording when describing some Taiwanese factories' conditions from "appalling" to "poor" - but I am keeping "poor" because yes, more than a couple of manufacturers have described them to me that way (while describing conditions in other Taiwanese factories as being very good - which is precisely my point). I've inserted an "edited to add" that hopefully makes my meaning clearer.

    Whether we like it or not, most "regular people" do combine China and Taiwan in the anti-"made in the Far East" rhetoric. But I don't think that saying "Oh no, Taiwan is good, it's China that's bad" solves anything. I believe that good things can come out of China and don't want to thrown it under the bus just to make Taiwan-made products look better. It is about the process, not about the geographical location. That was the whole point of the post.

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  17. Educating oneself about the social responsibility of the factory the bicycle is made in is important; the country of origin, not so much. How many here who would not buy a Chinese bicycle have telephones made in China--consider the history of child labor and epidemic of suicides in the factory where the iPhone is produced.

    We have sweatshops here as well. Three years ago, the INS busted a factory in New Bedford that had a contract with the US government to produce backpacks. The workers, most of them undocumented and most of them women were being paid far below the minimum wage and could not go to the bathroom without asking permission of the boss.

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  18. In a perfect world, America would be producing good steel bikes again on a mass scale. Dutch bikes would be Dutch and Japanese bikes like the Bridgestone and Kabuki would make a come back.

    Sadly, not going to happen....

    I remember growing up in Kokomo Indiana not far from the old Continental steel mill and watching whole neighborhoods die from toxic dust. The steel industry in America is pretty much dead because of the high costs, high pollution and worker liability. Our workers were left without secure pensions while dying from cancer and the land is STILL being cleaned up. We are dependent on steel from other countries and I know that has to get shipped here one way or the other either as raw steel or as finished products.

    The other answer would be to recycle steel fully, clean out the tons of steel buried in the ground in landfills and get back into smelting it ourselves. Probably not going to happen either. Recycling steel has turned into trash dumping on Africa's shores where little children look for copper in broken computers.

    We are stuck with someone polluting somewhere. Think I'll stick to recycling vintage bikes, keeping them out of the dump. Every bike saved is one less being made from scratch, one less being shipped on a dirty petrol using boat.

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  19. When Paul Turner owned and operated Rock Shox he used to talk about the amazing talented labor he could hire for cheap in the USA. During the founder's tenure, Rock Shox was 99-100% US made. The odd 1% came because Taiwanese jobbers were always trying to woo him.

    The Taiwanese were never able to meet his standards, or the standard his motorcycle hands gave him on autopilot. Five prototypes back and forth across the Pacific to get anything half right. Not cheaper once you got it sorta acceptable.

    If you read the Velo Orange blog you will see many many entries about the difficulty of getting Taiwanese jobbers to get anything right the first time or the second time or the third time. Taiwanese don't ride bikes. They don't know what you mean or what you want.

    Chris K is right that Taiwan is mostly a first world country. At the same time US wages are no longer particularly high. US marketed goods are manufactured abroad only because it is perceived as easier. If you simply perceive employees as a problem and a nuisance and the market will allow you to function with only vendors and no employees that's the business school way to do it.

    As a consumer I would buy much more US made if I could. It's not there. Instead I buy Italian or EU and accept that half or more of my made in Italy is made in Guangzhou.

    It should also be noted that both the Taiwanese and Chinese bicycle industries got off the ground with a major assist from Schwinn. We know how to make a bike. We should do it.

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  20. @Velouria: Clearly a lot people here understood you differently from what you intended.
    If 'most people' equate Taiwan and China, then 'most people' are wrong.
    Though it does make for a nice and easy worldview. ;)

    While I was writing my previous post I had to think about this one sentence from Back to the future: "No wonder this circuit failed; it says 'Made in Japan'." Marty replies, "What do you mean, Doc? All the best stuff is made in Japan."

    Let's hope people will look more at the brand, or even better, that particular model to see if it is done in a high-quality sustainable way.

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  21. I visited Taiwan in 1975 as part of a youth symphony tour, and we stayed with families rather than hotels. Some of our hosts owned factories, and proudly took us on tours. What I saw at that time looked like sweat shops from our own industrial revolution.
    I'm sure that's no longer the case, BUT: I want to point out that in 1975 Taiwan was a democratic capitalist society. And so was the US in 1900. My point is that political/economic systems don't have anything to do with worker conditions and care. Know-how (technology in it's loose sense), ethics and administration are the essentials, and those can bring about improvement in any political/economic setting...

    even ours!

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  22. JaccoW - Rereading my post before the edits, I can see how it could have been mis-read, especially by those who are sick and tired of explaining to others that Taiwan=/=China politically. I did not mean to upset anyone re this issue.

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  23. Lot of good comments. We know how to build bikes, but in states such as CA, as TS alluded to, the cost of doing business is prohibitively high.
    As a Klein owner I know about Chehalis 3-eyed Simpsons fish. The issue is where can a domestic mfg. set up shop so that the fish have just two eyes?
    Wait, you actually speak with people who think Taiwan = China politically? Why on earth would you do that? There are better things on the Cartoon Network.

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  24. One point that gets overlooked is that most companies don't know where their products are made. They work with agents, who place the job with somebody they consider suitable. It is common for Chinese companies to have a Taiwan front office, which enables them to place the "Made in Taiwan" sticker on the product.

    Few small makers today actually visit the factories where "their" components are made. When Compass Bicycles placed the job for forging and machining the new Rene Herse cranks, our engineer in Taiwan actually visited dozens of factories before we decided which was best suited to the job. Now, as the parts are being made, he is back at the factory to make sure everything is going well.

    This practice is common among major manufacturers, but most smaller makers consider this too cumbersome.

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  25. I have one of the Tiwanese Surlys and an English Raleigh. To me, the issue was quality and much of what I had seen coming out of China in terms of quality was less than acceptable in terms of obvious planned obsolescence.

    But then again, I'd say that we live in a world now that actually takes for granted (and accepts!) that planned obsolescence is normal. In my parents' days if the toaster broke, you didn't throw it out and buy a new one at Target, you got it repaired and it was expected to last 20-30 years with normal wear and tear. Some of the appliances my mom purchased in the 50's and 60's lasted much longer than that and many I am still using today.

    The problem is that we now live in a world where it's considered normal to have a new iPhone every year, where nothing is repaired and "cheap" and "breakable" are considered normal characteristics for products that aren't top-dollar (and even some of the ones that are!). That's why I get kind of sentimental about the old Raleighs, Cuisinarts and similar - they were built to last because that was the consumer expectation at the time back when people didn't have tons of credit to blow on new products every year. :)

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  26. "There are many of us who view ourselves as citizens of the world and find the whole concept of buying based on nationalism be distasteful."

    This isn't about nationalism, but on shoring.
    Do you even carry one single item manufactured on our shores?

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  27. Here in Australia I am just happy that the plummeting value of the US dollar means it is viable to have all the beautiful US made components I like. Lots of King, Phil and Enve for decent prices!

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  28. I currently own a Surly. They are very open about the fact their frames are made in Taiwan.

    I agree with those who point out there is a huge difference between Taiwan and mainland China. Taiwan is a first world country with first world labor and environmental standards. Frankly there is no shame in having a bike frame made in Taiwan and that has been the case ever since the quality of Taiwanese frames began to match Japanese frames over 30 years ago.

    As others have pointed out if you want a bunch of frames made at a reasonable price these days there aren't many choices outside of Taiwan or China.

    Finally trade is not a zero-sum game. If I buy something made overseas that means a company or a person overseas can buy something from here.

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  29. I'll chime in with the "it's not the country, it's the factory" crowd (we have sweatshops in the US too), with the caveat that I think there are good, non-nationalistic reasons to buy American products, and I wish there were more American bikes (and well, MOST products) to choose from. Two bikes being equal in quality, I would prefer to buy the American one, and would pay a little extra for it. For one, American goods don't have as large a carbon debt, and while it might only take me a few months of bike commuting to pay off that carbon debt I'd rather it be lower in the first place. And two, I would rather jobs go to people who I know, or at least would have a better chance to know and interact with. Our economy is in the crapper, and the only way it's going to get better is if we start making things here instead of being a net importer. "Think global, buy local" is the way I've heard this expressed.

    But of course, the price difference between US-made and foreign-made isn't a hundred dollars, it's several hundred dollars. There's no American bike company (that I know of?) aside from artisanal frame builders whose bikes I can't afford and would be afraid to ride lest they get stolen. So the only bike I bought new was made in Vietnam, which I don't like, but what can I do? Not ride?

    I also agree with Montrealize that this all comes back to oil in the end. When it becomes too expensive to ship bikes from the Far East, you'll start seeing non-artisanal bike (and everything else) factories pop up in North America. Give it time.

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  30. Honestly, the concern of where it is made for me does include those three issues above, but even *more* importantly is what V mentioned regarding "made in a culture to which I have some personal connection." Because a) I live in the US, and suffer the sames slings and arrows of its economy/job market as everyone else, and b)I have multiple personal connections to Europe (specifically the UK, France, Ireland, and Greece), I look for bikes made in those areas. I want to support those countries financially...most especially the US, because I realize buying products made by workers in the US is returning money to our own economy and boosting our job market. If only more people did that, we might start to see our economy come back a little.

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  31. @Erica S.-- there are a few affordable, non-artisanal bike companies. Bowery Lane bicycles and Worksman Cycles spring to mind.

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  32. Phil Miller - That is precisely why I do not use the "It's okay to manufacture in Taiwan, because it's a democracy" argument. That does not necessarily mean anything. Technically, most former Soviet bloc countries are also democracies, and the working conditions I've witnessed in many of them as recently as 2009 are pretty horrible.

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  33. My brand of cycle (Worksman Cycles) is made in America with world sourced parts (Taiwan NOT China! ). The frames are handmade in NY,NY by American workers.

    If I were to have to choose an different brand the first question I would ask is where is it made and where are the parts from?

    Parts from China would be a deal breaker in most cases so my choices in the new market would get very limited very quickly !

    In other words it can come from anywhere but China if I have the option.

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  34. again, lets not forget the u.s worker that could have a job constructing the bike....regardless of the quality issue.

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  35. Back in '73 when I was working at the bike shop I took the phone call from Milano letting us know that Cino Cinelli had died. I almost simply typed 'Cino' as if everyone would know. Of course I never even met the man but the loss was felt immediately.

    The phone call came from his son, Andre. He did not need to do that himself. For any business purpose we would have known soon enough. The effect was that all at the bike shop became, right then, family.

    Who knows offhand, without the Googles, if Kozo Shimano is alive or dead? Anybody but his immediate family much interested?

    We had good products back then because we were family. We knew the guy building the bike cared about our ride, about our safety, about our lives. And we cared about him.

    Well, all of that is gone. The best you can do is buy local.

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  36. Sadly, Velo Orange just lost a customer.

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  37. Here is little about Taiwanese labor laws and conditions: http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/economies/Asia-and-the-Pacific/Taiwan-WORKING-CONDITIONS.html

    Ground Round Jim, VO still makes about a dozen products in the US. In addition we've been struggling for months to find a US manufacturer for three new products. We haven't found a single single factory here that can make them even though we are willing to pay considerably more than we would to a Taiwanese shop. This was my latest little experiment on on-shoring and it didn't go well; there have been others.

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  38. Just over 30 comments and only one has mentioned steel manufacture, but just in the pollution context.

    Steel - as I understand it, also for bicycle frames and parts - is made from pig iron and also charcoal from slave labour. Al Jazeera did a 25-min. piece on this subject a week ago: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/slaverya21stcenturyevil/2011/10/20111010114656316634.html

    If we want a "Fair Trade"-type label for bicycles it is time to work towards that goal. But consider that an automobile that is manufactured from 95% "Fair Trade" materials and labour still contains or represents more of both of those in the 5% left over than a bike which is made 100% "Unfair Trade".

    So probably the only legitimate certification lets us compare bikes against each other, but it has to be controlled by an independent third -party with fees dependent on the turnover or profit, etc. of the company which wants this... "Fair Bike!" label.

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  39. Chris VO - FWIW I agree with much of what you wrote in your original comment. Regrettably, you misunderstood my point somewhat is all.

    Ironically, I am more qualified to discuss international relations than I am bicycles. But political and labor law comparisons are outside of the scope of this post. It honestly did not even occur to me that what I wrote could be interpreted as equating Taiwan and China just because I did not explicitly focus on their differences.

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  40. Green Idea Factory - Interesting. From what I understood, steel construction is actually much "greener" and fairer than pretty much anything else, especially aluminum and CF. I do not know very much on this topic, but am curious what others think.

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  41. Chris, thanks for the response. It's important that you're trying.

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  42. My prized road bike was hand made about a mile from my house in Swartz Creek, MI and my Truss bike was made in Holliston, MA. YES it does matter to me, that is if I can afford it.

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  43. I wouldn't call steel manufacturing green at all. More like the opposite. Enormous energy must be used to mine, transport, turn to pig iron (cool story GIF), shipped, and processed and forged into various alloys.

    Compared with Al or CF I have no idea, but mining steel is an extremely dirty business.

    Bamboo, on the other hand...

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  44. I like the idea of a locally-built bike, not necessarily because I believe that imported frames are inferior, but because I like the idea of having a bike with a regional connection (ie, still drooling over Folk Engineered).
    The past year's severe underemployment means that it's out of the budget, but I do ride two bikes built in Taiwan for New Jersey-based companies (Jamis and Van Dessel).

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  45. Sorry: In my comment "pig iron" should be "iron ore".

    So is a "Fair Bike" label necessary, good or - even if as I suggested fees are based on the company's situation - would it just be exploited by bike producers with big marketing budgets?

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  46. You don't know the meaning of 'cheap crap made in China' until you have a product that you created, worked to have it realized and manufactured but is now available in an inferior cheapened copy "Made" in China.

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  47. I think one should at least comtemplate purchasing a bicycle that is made as close to their home as possible. However with that said I don't like products made in China, Japan, and many other places in the far east do to personal experience with their products not meeting my personal quality assurance standards. Most items I have purchased from over seas has had something go wrong with it in the first year of ownership or shortly after the fist year. Take for instance my Cannondale that I bought from my LBS a year and a half ago. 3 months into owning it a rear spoke broke got that replaced then it started breaking spokes every month and I ended up paying to have the rear wheel replaced completely. After it's 1 year aniversary I had to replace the cable to the rear derailleur. I owned Cannondales in the past and I don't remember having to replace so many parts as with this one. However I must admit that I do ride this bike much more than the ones I owned in the past but still. Well to be fair I did buy a low end hybrid so that I could save some money but I figured hey it's a Cannondale so it should be at least better than a bike from a big box store right but IMHO it has to been one of my better purchases so my next bike will be built closer to home and hopefully I will have better luck. Anyway stuff made local to you is always better for the environment but I think the next bike I get will be a used bike and/or a rebuilt bike which is even better for the environment.

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  48. I will say I'm considering "going local" for my next bike though. There are a fair number of very good custom and semi-custom frame builders located along the I-5 corridor between Eugene, OR and Vancouver, BC.

    Unless the builder has a relationship with another LBS here I'm going to have my favorite LBS order all of the components and install them as well as build the wheels. I know they will do the build right.

    For that matter if I decide on a mass produced or semi-mass produced frame I'll likely have the same LBS do the build.

    But at the same time I'm not going to get preachy about it. I buy more than my fair share of products made or grown overseas. Some of which I know for a fact is produced in ways that poison the environment and abuse the workers.

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  49. I also think most Americans don't realize that one of the largest bike manufacturers in the US (Trek)has most of their bike components manufactured in Taiwan. They'd also be shocked to find out that Giant makes a large percentage of their frames. The point being that just because you are an American company, it doesn't have that much to do with what you're getting.

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  50. According to the following URL China is the leading Steel producer in the world by a very large margin I might add http://www.indexmundi.com/minerals/?product=raw-steel&graph=production

    I don't know if this steel is being used to make the majority of bicycle frames however it would seem that a bicycle manufacture plant would source steel local before importing it.

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  51. Made in the US frames - Waterford / Gunnar, their lowest "level" of brand are in the ballpark with Surly, Soma, etc. With the cheapest finish. You then are supporting a US company with a lot of history. And they are just about some of the best riding frames out there. Also - Rodriguez on the west coast, though I haven't ridden one I hear they're great. Waterford is a regular factory situation, Rodriguez I think more of a boutique factory. But the point is to keep the $$ in the economy - there are a few choices that aren't high end and costly frame builders, but production facilities.

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  52. "I think one should at least comtemplate purchasing a bicycle that is made as close to their home as possible."

    One of my bicycle frames was built 0.8 miles from my house...

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  53. Anon @ 3.41pm I am sure you're just trolling but why did VO just lose a customer?

    I get lots of stuff from VO (their own or 3rd party) and they've always been on the ball.

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  54. First, Taiwan is not China or Chinese in any way shape or form. Just being clear.

    What is clear is that many of the large Taiwanese bicycle companies including: Giant, Merida, Ideal as well as smaller companies such as Trigon and PMG, have outsourced much of their manufacturing to China or have integrated their processes with Chinese subcontractors.

    In many cases the frames and components are made in China and shipped to finishing warehouses in Taiwan, like Fritz Zhou or Axman, where they do some of the painting, finishing and even assemble complete bikes thus leveraging the economy of scale on components acquisition while being able to label the bike Made in Taiwan, which holds more market cachet than Made in China. You may think that bike is made in Taiwan, but it may actually be made in Shenzhen.

    Taiwan factories still produce frames and the conditions are excellent. Even much of the R&D and prototyping is done by Taiwanese engineers and then sold to foreign customers. It is great to see ODM/OEM frames pop up with new logos as fancy marketing language about how company X engineered a frame for the ultimate frame for lateral stiffness while being vertically compliant. LOL!!!

    Most of these bikes that come out of Asia are good bikes. Not all. The question remains... are they worth what you pay for them?

    Andrew Kerslake
    http://taiwanincycles.blogspot.com/

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  55. My steel Trek is made in the US, with US-made steel (Tru-temper). However, as stock, every part that hangs on it came from Japan. Does that mean the bike is American? It's certainly assembled here, and the frame is certainly American made, but if you add up the mass that makes up the complete bike, more mass came from Japan than from the US.

    So just because one's frame may be US-made (even locally), there's still a lot of outsourcing of parts elsewhere... unless you own a Workman, which uses as many US parts as possible.

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  56. I've owned some really fine bikes made in the UK (Raleigh), Japan (Specialized, Bridgestone, Rivendell) Taiwan (Surly, Rivendell, Bridgestone) and the States (Schwinn, Trek, Gunnar, Co-Motion, Santana, Rivendell). ALL have been great bikes, made by people who put high effort into their job. This is evident in the quality of the bike frame. All were special and unique in their own way and I have been happy to ride all of them!

    At this point in my life, I intentionally try to buy frames (and components!) made in the States. Not that I think they are inherently superior, but because I am voting with my wallet to support an industry I think is valuable, and people with skills that should be supported.

    @rural 14: I was just going to chime in with a Waterford/Gunnar recommendation. They make some fine bikes. The Gunnar line is priced incredibly well. I encourage people to give them a look-see if you're in the market for a great steel frame: Gunnar Bikes

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  57. Andrew Kerslake said...
    "First, Taiwan is not China or Chinese in any way shape or form. Just being clear."


    Hmmm...
    Well, it is not the People's Republic of China (PRC). But see the Republic of China (ROC).

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  58. Re Gunnar Bikes: There are lots on the floor of Harris Cyclery, I see new ones all the time and apparently people love them. I am not attracted to the aesthetic, but will have to give them a try.

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  59. @Velouria: They're good bikes. Not a fan of the cartoon dog motif myself, but if you can get past that, good bikes! They build w/ OS tubes, so you may or may not like that.

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  60. I'm surprised that no one (unless I missed it) has suggested buying their next bike used?

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  61. Velouria,

    That was a title that was not chosen by any Taiwanese as Taiwanese were subjects of the Empire of Japan from 1895 to 1945. They were then placed under martial law in 1947 and again in 1949-1988 under the Republic of China, which operated as a colonial entity for the duration of the martial law period. Taiwanese held no real voice in government until after 1988. Much of the ROC programs were instituted under the threat of state violence.

    During its experience on Taiwan the ROC actually had to transform itself into a Taiwanese entity and not a Chinese entity to better reflect the wishes of the Taiwanese following the end of martial law. This is a Taiwanese nation and the result of a Taiwanese experience and not a Chinese experience.... In short.

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  62. Andrew K - I sort of agree with your description, though it still doesn't change that ROC and Taiwan are at least technically synonymous. But we could debate political and historical details forever. My point is that I think we'd be getting carried away in saying that Taiwan is entirely dissociated from anything Chinese. This is different from saying that Taiwan=/=PCR.

    cyclotourist - I will really have to try one. My problem is that the built up models usually have the Shimano STIs, which I have trouble using.

    somervillain - Some custom builders will do an "all American" bike as well, though it only works for non-derailleur bikes. Phil Wood, Chris King, Paul, handmade stems, even US-made wheels exist I am told. ANT is one builder who offers this options.

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  63. "You wrote 'But there are also factories that employ highly skilled artisans, use quality production methods and the best materials, pay working wages, and are environmentally friendly. Typically, one can easily tell the difference by looking at the end product.'

    But how can one possibly perceive the working conditions, wages, and environmental attributes of a factory based upon an inspection of the end product?"


    Sorry, I thought the connection was obvious. Poorly made, mass-produced products take less skill to make and are typically made using different methods. As a result, workspaces are different, environmental impacts are different, etc. The well being of workers is less of a concern if they are perceived as replaceable assemblypersons as opposed to skilled artisans. Conditions tend to be more cramped. That sort of stuff. A master builder in a small factory specialising in high quality frames has a different experience from an assembly worker, no matter what country we're talking about.

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  64. I remember Taipei as being dirt streets, all kids in school uni's at 7am, the smell of Chinese donuts being fried in the middle of intersections every few blocks, 2-3 story houses only, no firecracker restrictions on Chinese New Year, gunpowder haze everywhere.
    Bikes too.

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  65. A master builder in a small factory specialising in high quality frames has a different experience from an assembly worker, no matter what country we're talking about.

    But how many of the high quality Taiwanese bikes that we're talking about are really made in small factories by 'master builders'? None of the higher quality marques (Soma, Surly, Rivendell, etc) would seem to be made by master builders. It's still assembly work.

    Also, I have a friend who used to work for a local frame building shop. It's now-defunct but was well known in its time (and was a predecessor to a current shop that is very well known and respected). The bikes were of high caliber, yet he described a very high stress working environment... one which caused him to burn out and get out of frame building forever. He continues to know people who work at the current incarnation of that shop, and says the employees "aren't whistlin' while they work!"

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  66. Anon 8:53-
    Better yet pull it out of the dumpster. I had a great Lejeune that way. Stronglight 57 crank, Phillipe steel stem and the handlebar that Grand Bois copies now. Be patient, be observant. Good things come.

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  67. “There are many of us who view ourselves as citizens of the world and find the whole concept of buying based on nationalism be distasteful.”

    Citizens of the world. Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble couldn’t have said it better. I would submit that “many of us” also believe that some semblance of regional and local economies is good for jobs, stability, sustainability and community. Part of the reason the USA has become poorer is because of trade imbalances. We need to be able to make more of our own stuff and within our own communities and with our own skilled workers. There is nothing distasteful about that aspiration.

    “And Chinese environmental laws are progressing rapidly.”

    I was there last year and the place is an environmental mess. They have begun to recognize they have to do something about it but there has been little if any real progress, only talk.

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  68. somervillain - I would say that Rivendell frames are as expertly made as it gets for lugged frames, and ditto with Pilen for TIG-welding.

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  69. My husband and I are two of those odd people who ride Dahon folding bicycles (although I think mine in particular, a Dahon Ciao P8, is quite beautiful). Dahons are less expensive than many European bicycles and are mass-produced, but they are incredibly well-designed and made and much more aesthetically pleasing (IMHO) than Bromptons or Bike Fridays, with good-quality components. Sorry if I sound like I'm shilling for Dahon--it's just that mine is the best bicycle I've ever owned.

    There is at least one large Dahon factory in China, and it's often held up as a model factory as far as worker welfare and safety are concerned. Dahons are hugely popular in China and among the Asian students in the major Midwestern university town where my husband teaches. So, yes, if you buy a cheap, mass-produced Wal-Mart bike (very likely made in China) it probably was produced with little concern for quality or labor standards. But keep in mind that there are good bicycles coming out of China as well.

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  70. solitary bee - I think it's great that you like your bike so much, regardless of where it was made.

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  71. Out of curiosity,
    can anybody provide some links about that Klein Bicycles enviroment pollution bust?
    Never heared of that and google didn't help me either.
    Thank you

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  72. I have 4 American made bikes, 2 Taiwan made bikes and 1 Italian and they are all very well made. I like that with the American made bikes, I have actually met the people that made them. It may not make the frames any better, but it makes them a little more special.

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  73. The reason there are no factories or jobs in the USA is because we buy these lower cost products from foreign countries.

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  74. I hear more people complain about Chinese goods at Wal-Mart than any place else. I guess us Wal-Martians all like to show others we don't enjoy "cheap" stuff.

    Bicycle making isn't rocket science, the biggest difference in handling is fork trail, something I think people from any continent can learn and master in time. I doubt 90% of the recreational cyclist can tell the difference in geometry in the first place.

    Has anyone reviewed bicycles with the decals covered? It takes thousands of miles and a lot of honesty for me to admit my Jamis Sputnik (TIG welded Reynolds 631) with zero pedigree is my favorite bike.

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  75. Regarding where made, England, Austria, not sure, and Taiwan. Just picked up two bikes off the street, England (Philips), and I think the Nishiki claims to be "made in USA", which seems a little improbable.

    As far as build quality goes, that's got more to do with the factory, than the country. The Chinese have known how to work steel just fine for decades; I've seen knock-offs of agricultural equipment from the early 80s that was completely competitive (the raw stainless steel, however, came from elsewhere -- back then). Just a little while ago I was shopping for generic parts for a bike build, and saw a bunch of stuff from a brand I didn't recognize that looked pretty good, and it turned out to all be Chinese.

    Politics, that's a harder call. As others have noted, Taiwan has universal single-payer health care, and (ahem) we don't. That ought to be a big problem for a lot of people -- not only does it raise our costs, it also is a human rights issue for all the early deaths we get from the uninsured and underinsured (yes, I know ACA is coming online, we have an oldest son who will ride on our insurance for a while yet). China's still iffy for me, though the grand pattern of oligarchs skimming the lion's share repeats itself in many places.

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  76. Wow, such great comments. Velouria, you really hit a sensitive topic :) You could make a whole new blog, just on this subject!

    After reading all the comments I really do not have the time to respond fully [I need to get back to work], however here are a few thoughts.

    First, thank you to anyone reading here that bought a bike built by me. I really appreciate the business.

    Made in USA has been a topic that I have had different feelings on all through my life. When I was a kid in the 70's made in USA, pretty much meant crap. Huffy's, Murry,s Columbia's, Sears Free Spirit and even Schwinn [while good quality, were made very heavy with 1940's technology].

    In the 70's if you wanted a good bike with good components, then you bought from Italy, England or France. Then by 1980 the bikes from Japan were really good, if not the best by mid 80's

    The American companies refused to re-tool and even followed the lead of the auto industry, by spending millions in lobbying congress to fight imports and have tariffs put in place to stop the flow of imports.

    I remember seeing a clip on the TV news of the last Huffy to come off the assembly line, with the factory workers crying. At that time I laughed, thinking what did they expect to happen if they continued to make that crap.

    The only thing that seemed to make "Made in USA" come alive were mountain bikes [in the 80's & 90's]. Now here in the turn of the century the term Made in the USA has taken on a few new meanings [which have been put forth here in the comments]. In the last five to 10 years, there has been an explosion of "Crafters" of all types [not just frame building] and that has sort of redefined the MUSA scenario. Not as manufacturing per say, but more personal and often local.

    I would like to see these bike manufacturing jobs come back, but at what cost? Are there any Americans that really want these jobs? I think there are, but not that many years ago I would say no.

    Many American factory workers made sure their kids did not end up in the factory floor, put them them through school to not have these types of jobs. These people fought to have better working conditions and factories were sued for dumping waste etc...I believe that these were the driving force in sending jobs to Asia and elsewhere...it was us. Now we are are a country of "Designers and consumers", not makers.

    I can relate to what Velo Orange has gone through with trying to source locally. getting a local manufacture to make things for you is painful, not impossible, but many of these shops just blow you off...because you are in the bicycle business. Now since the economy has crashed these companies are a lot more receptive to my business :) However in the end I think the main problem with design shops like VO and all the rest is that they feel that made in USA products are over priced and that the customers in the USA will not pay the price that it takes to make it.

    Now to make somewhat full circle thinking...I kind of want the Huffy's back. Now when I look at the imported bikes at Walmart, Target, Dick's sporting goods etc...they are really crap. Even the Huffy's of the 70's were better than this stuff.

    On the high end area I think of how successful Chris King is. I am so impressed with what he has done and how happy his employees are, that I am now going to only install King Headsets on all my frames. King has done this by charging the right price, doing the job right and investing in his employees health. A shinning example that it can be done.

    Kind of rambling here, sorry.

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  77. @mdi. First let me say that I was not trolling. I see now that I should not have posted anything. It was more of an emotional posting than anything else. I took offense at the statement, "There are many of us who view ourselves as citizens of the world and find the whole concept of buying based on nationalism distasteful". I won’t go into why but what is so distasteful about wanting to buy products that are made in the U.S.A.?
    This coupled with the rather less than pleasant experiences that I have had with them on purchases in the past resulted in my post; my apologies to VO for airing grievances in a public forum but I will say, I do agree with Bif’s post at 11:04, “Citizens of the world. Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble couldn’t have said it better. I would submit that “many of us” also believe that some semblance of regional and local economies is good for jobs, stability, sustainability and community. Part of the reason the USA has become poorer is because of trade imbalances. We need to be able to make more of our own stuff and within our own communities and with our own skilled workers. There is nothing distasteful about that aspiration.” And it is my hope that VO sees and understands that it is vitally important to keep our money in our country for our economic health. There’s a lot more I could say on this but this is not the forum to delve into that.

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  78. @RayC, "Has anyone reviewed bicycles with the decals covered?" That would be a sweet project for a blogger, ahem,...V?" Perhaps get several riders of varying degrees of skill to test bikes and review them? Maybe standardize a list of questions for the riders to answer.....who knows...

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  79. Anon 9:58 - Thank you for the clarification. I was torn re whether to keep or delete your initial comment, only because it was so short and consisted of just that one phrase. People will sometimes post that sort of thing just to provoke. Your subsequent comment puts it in context though and the argument you present is entirely reasonable. As someone who has literally and not just figuratively been a "citizen of the world" (long story), I can relate to Chris VO using this phrase. But I can also see how one could have a problem with it, especially as used by an American manufacturer to explain why they outsource to Taiwan.

    ANTbike Mike - Thank you for the fascinating narrative. The changing significance of any "made in X" association is not something often remembered or even realised.

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  80. i agree with velo orange on all/most points. if you know where to look, also in mainland china today you can find amazing factories building bike frames of highest quality under worker friendly conditions.- and, yes, also chinese environmental laws are improving rapidly. - and asian producers are up to speed and true to schedule in a way that is by no means easy to find anywhere else .
    so why are we as BELLA CIAO producing our frames with a small manufacturer in italy? - the most important reason is a metaphysical one: authenticity. we like our frames being built much the same way they have been built for generations in the very same family workshop.
    today - and for the near future - in my view there is maybe only one thing that one still can firmly hold against 'made in china' - and that is that every business there is programmed on hyper growth, being naturally extremely open to the superiority of the infamous concept of 'planned obsolecence'... = soulless products?
    believe it or not: 'bringing the soul into products' nowadays is a burning issue in china, being addressed in countless government initiatives and business conferences. - still they have a long way to go.
    -
    in the meantime in a small village in northern italy the world is much as it has always been. politicians come, politicians go. and the alchemy flows effortlessly from the hands (and welding torches) of our wonderful master craftsmen...

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  81. Jens -To play the devil's advocate, there are family workshops in Taiwan that have existed for generations as well...

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  82. and i am eager to meet with them if they have great traditional products in their archives eagerly awaiting to be brought to light...

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  83. If you're saying that you don't like the cultural connectedness between the product's design and manufacture, then I agree. In other words, I would be more excited by actual Taiwanese bicycles made in Taiwan, than by, say Finnish bicycles made in Taiwan.

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  84. This is a peculiar medium. Nuances of style and tone are easily lost, and just as easily inflated out of proportion.

    Still, one should be polite to one's hostess. Customers, virtual or actual, should be valued and respected. Anyone who deals with customers knows that often it's necessary to bite your tongue.

    Some facets of personality come through the small screen regardless. I would like to go for a ride with Velouria. I'm almost ready to buy a Ciao Bella I don't need at all from jens. Before reading his posts here I couldn't figure out what Mike Flanagan was doing with those antbike things, now I respect them a lot more. Velo-Orange has lost my business.

    If V thinks this is piling on, feel free to delete. It could also be good for Chris K to get it straight. JCW

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  85. It really is a peculiar medium. Blog posts are not articles. I write them quickly and without the benefit of an editor - how else would I be able to do it on a daily basis? As a result, I run the risk of technical and intellectual sloppiness, either of which can result in failure to get my meaning across as intended, particularly with any topic that is even remotely controversial. It's something I am willing to live with, and all I can do is hope that readers will give me the benefit of a doubt and ask for clarification if something sounds "off."

    Having said that, I don't really perceive any of the comments here as problematic. Civilised debate is a good thing.

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  86. A late thought - what about robots? I've seen an amazing video of a robot building/truing wheels, and this multiaxis metal cutter:
    http://singularityhub.com/2010/04/05/5-axis-robot-carves-metal-like-butter-video/

    The typical pattern here seems to be that the robot is expensive, and Big Capital spends a lot of money on a robot to put a lot of people out of work. It would be nifty (a pony would be nifty, too) if this sort of tech could instead be used to let single humans (e.g., Mike F) work faster/better. An example from the electronics world -- I design my own lighting circuits, but I don't fab the PCBs -- I send them off to batchpcb.com, they collect a square meter's worth of orders, and ship them off to (I think) China. So, for bike work, maybe there's some custom widget that would be cool to have soldered to a frame, too time-consuming for a human to make (or rather, too expensive to sell), but that could be fabbed by (say) Shapeways or Ponoko, and welded or brazed on to the bike. In the world of bike tools, you can see this from places like Thinwrench or the Park chain tool, where a 2-design is precision-zapped out of steel plate with a laser.

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  87. To describe Chinese product as soul-less could be construed as rooted in a racial stereotype. As a non-american it is disturbing to see how acceptable anti-chinese rhetoric is in the US. The PRC is a vast country with many faults but also many great things therein. It is certainly not perfect but neither is Taiwan/ROC nor indeed the USA. Much of what is exported by the PRC is of poor quality I admit, but this is mostly due to clients in the west demanding ultra-low prices from suppliers. For the record, the ROC claims the entire PRC as its sovereign territory, along with large areas of 9 other asian countries, including the entirity of Outer Mongolia, and the PRC also has an extremely good education system.

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  88. When it comes to bikes, it's difficult for me to conceive of a world wherein each country has a viable indigenous bike industry that could satisfy each and every consumer taste, whim, fad and fetish.

    Elvis t-shirts being another thing; the guy on the otherwise vacant corner of this and that swears to me that he and family lovingly silkscreen the Image at home in the USA even though the base t-shirts are hecho elsewhere.

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  89. Anon 3:21 - In the post, the "soul-less" refers to the good having been mass produced, not to it being Chinese.

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  90. rural 14:
    Rodriguez is indeed more of a boutique type builder. As I understand it the frame and paint shop is in the basement of the R+E Cycles store. What they offer is closer to a custom build experience at a high-end mass market bike price. The story of how the current owner resurrected the business after a near-death experience in 1993 and how he got the labor involved in hand built frames down (and thus the price) is amazing.

    antbikemike:
    Good points all. People forget that with the exceptions of the Schwinn Paramount (now Waterford/Gunnar), and the early days of the current big-name US brands (Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, etc.) there simply wasn't much in the way of quality lightweight bicycles being made in the US back in the day.

    That said I wouldn't mind seeing high-volume framebuilding return to the US, but I don't see that happening any time soon.

    BTW in addition to Chris King there is Phil Wood and Paul Components, as well as a number of other companies making components in the US.

    dr2chase:
    I believe to some extent the use of outsourced automation already happens in the bike world. One issue is the setup charges for fabrication and machining tend to offset any savings from automation for small production runs.

    That said the possibilities for a small firm are much greater than they used to be.

    As an aside there is plenty of manufacturing left in the US. It just tends to be capital intensive and highly automated.

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  91. When reading the Breezer Uptown review a short look at the bike was enough for me to lable it "Taiwan Bike". In Northern Europe this kind of frame can be found "soul-lessly" rebadged with traditional European names of brands that went broke centuries ago on millions of bikes. They´re known for being fully equipped, cheaply avialable (even in discount supermarkets) and rousing nobody´s passion. This snobby reaction of mine was exercising in my mind when passing the riders of even these bicycles like these on my way to work. I was accompanied by another admirer of lugged steel on his Bella Ciao Reporter that day and we were regarding each other´s urban style proudly everytime an average aluminuim bike went past. Objectively considering this behaviour later on, I found no reason why our bikes were any better than those we went past. My friend´s Bella Ciao has exactly been bought in the "soul-full" nexus Jens was emphasizing some posts upwards. Not in a supermarket of course, but in a yuppie bicycle boutique called Stilrad ("stylish bike"). The district this huge steel glamour gallery is situated in is one those areas of Berlin with the most advanced status of gentrification - simply not affordable for most of those who have been expelled by rising rents from their changing neighbourhood.

    Since bicyles became hipster must-haves, neighbourhoods can often be evaluated by the number of expensive Fixies from European and US framebuilders. Stylish upper class Moms are riding their Nihola and Christiania bikes with a (status symbolish) pride comparable to drivers taking their kids to school in expensive cars. Considering degrading views on "Taiwan Bikes" in this context really made me thoughtful.

    P.S.: It´s a pity that the anonymous post with a solution for a cheap (and so called soul-full) bike has almost been ignored. Buying a used bicycle really can be considered as enviroment friendly. In Copenhagen for example many bike workshops can be found being specialized on (helping of) restoring old bikes. Others like "cykelfabrikken" sell restored and powdercoated bicycles for affordable prices.

    P.P.S.: For those who speak French/ German an ARTE TV documentation (e.g. on youtube) called "Portland: Bobo, Bio, Velo" could be interesting in terms of the connection of bikes and gentrification.

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  92. I've got bikes that I love from all over and for the most part I don't have really strong prejudices anymore. However, there are some bikes that are all about romantic notions and dreams. When I indulge myself in fantasies of riding the roads of the legendary European stage races or fast touring through Britain, the image isn't of me on a Giant.

    When I buy bikes for the purpose of connecting with those daydreams I buy something that says something like Guerciotti or Mercian on the downtube and Reynolds or Columbus under the seat-lug. Now that I can actually buy a NEW bike again for the first time in years I'm going to do just that. It's going to be Shimano free as well.

    Spindizzy

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  93. @Anon, regarding used bikes and curbside rescues; I think it's hit or miss, meaning a little bit of caveat emptor, and a little bit of can you size up a bike that quickly and accurately. My "average" here is about 2-out-of-3; some bikes, in hindsight, I should have left alone, and one finally turned out okay, but I really paid too much money for it, it had more problems than were immediately evident. And I'm pretty good with a wrench, and have been eyeballing bikes for decades.

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  94. As a bike lover in Singapore, it's not easy to get a good selection of quality steel bikes as most local riders favour carbon fibre racing cycles or mountain bikes. Brands like Trek and Santa Cruz are very popular here.

    I'm glad that some great taiwanese made steel bicycles by Soma Fab and Surly have recently becaome available here. Steel bikes which are made in the States, Japan or Europe remain too expensive and often take too long to arrive. So the taiwanese bikes do fill a void in the market by catering to people like me who do not want to spend too much on, nor wait too long for a bicycle.

    I am aware that the quality of these bikes may not be at the level of custom builders but that's only to be expected given the price difference.

    That's also not to say that I do not care for bicycles made by artisans. I do love the custom bikes featured in Lovely Bicycles such as the Sketchy or the Royal H. I too dream that I might someday own a bicycle that is comparable but in the meantime I am very happy with my Surly Cross-Check and my Soma Buena Vista.

    I would like to add that I was pleasantly surprised that the comments for this topic were generally balanced and informed. This has not always been my experience with Americans.

    Many of the arguments proffered here seem to have the theme that the Chinese (I refer to both Taiwan and China) manufacturers obtained an unfair advantage because of poor environmental controls, labour laws, etc.

    It's my view that such arguments miss the point. Certainly, I agree that chinese labour and environmental laws are poorly enforced but that argument falls flat when you consider the situation in Taiwan.

    When I go to my LBS, I simply can't find any US made frames or parts sold at a reasonable prices. American products like Chris King or Pauls occupy the high end. If a US brand can make frames or parts for the mid end in the united states at a competitive price (say maybe 10-15% over the chinese competition). I would certainly be happy to buy.

    The challenge is to inovate the product, the manufacturing process, labour processes etc to make a product with the quality of a Chris King but with the price close to that of Chinese product.

    For this to happen, the bike companies need to invest in new manufacturing technologies which can up the quality and the productivity. In order words build it better, faster and for cheaper. Instead, many companies seem keener to highlight their adherence to traditional methods of manufacture which is not a bad thing as the products will have hand built quality but the output will remain small and the prices high which in the modern globalized world means 'Game Over'.

    Raphael Chen
    Singapore

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  95. Raphael,
    Chris King, Paul Components, Phil Wood, and other high-end somewhat botique US component makers are doing a good job by focusing on quality rather than price. While I'm sure all are trying to keep their costs under control there is a limit to what they can do without comprimising quality, offshoring or both. For many companies doing so would go against their core values.

    The prices really aren't all that out of line when compared to the best parts from larger well-known component makers. Compare prices to comparable components in Super Record, Dura-Ace, XTR, Red, or XX groups.

    Is $150-$200 really all that much for a headset or bottom bracket that will likely outlast the bike?

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  96. Hi Christopher

    Thanks for your comments. I am not suggesting that any compromises be made just for a lower price. Even in Singapore, Paul's, Chris King et al are legendary amongst bike lovers.

    Rather, I am saying that for 'made in USA' products to be received by the wider audience, it's important to offer the best quality at a competitive price at all levels and not just at the high end.

    It's crazy to think that $200 alone for a headset is really ok. I have purchsed a Chris King before and I knew that it was partlybecause I wanted the bling factor. It's the same with the records and dura aces.

    For an industry to develop it's gotta be a numbers game. I'm reminded of a TV programme I watched featuring a custom car builder called Moal. They made beautiful cars which were obviously very expensive. I am sure the quality of his cars are amongst the finest but Moal will always be a minnow compared to Giants like VW, Toyota and Mercedes.

    I am saying that for American bikes companies to be on top, they cannot just be boutique brands, they have to be Giants (apologies for the pun). Off-shoring is obviously 1 method which Trek has used very sucessfully but if 'made in USA' is important then very high tech methods of manufacture which enable high quality and low prices might be another option.

    Raphael

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  97. Raphael,
    The reality of the bicycle world is the successful 'made in the USA' component and frame builders have to focus on the upper end of the market.

    To go after the low to mid range of the market means dealing with primarily price focused customers. To take on the established brands is risky even for an overseas manufacturer with low labor costs. To do so in the US would require highly automated manufacturing operations, which requires large amounts of capital, which requires high volumes in order to get a decent ROI.

    In short I think it is unlikely to happen other than to the extent some of the current 'made in the USA' makers might want to broaden their market by introducing some lower cost products.

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  98. Anon 6:37
    Thanks for the video. Yes indeed gentrification and cycling seem to come together somehow. We do have the same phenomenon.

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  99. Re why vintage bikes were not mentioned: It is simply a separate topic. I have loads of posts here about buying vintage bicycles, but the focus on this one is on the meaning of where new ones are made today.

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  100. Taiwan is not such a problem because it has high standards, regulations etc and most of the major bicycle manufacturers make their bikes there.
    A whole industry has sprung up in Taiwan producing high quality product. China is another problem altogether. While we would like to think the factories are eco certified, the bikes built there are often very low end bikes with a likely low concern for environment and worker safety.
    The thing that bugs me is a company like Surly which is all about Minneapolis and creating a brand, culture etc based on the concept of Minneapolis. There's the rough and tumble fonts that they use, the knarly website graphics, guys with beards and toques, references to things in Minneapolis. It makes me wonder if it is all a ruse. One bike shop mechanic told me their headquarters were in California!? I don't know about that, but Surly is actually part of Quality Bicycle Parts a very large supplier of bike parts. So, is the entire thing a myth? Was surly ever a small company with bikes built in Minneapolis with people wearing winter parkas? The bikes are produced in Taiwan, they are mass produced, shipped across the ocean...
    Soma doesn't resonate as strongly for me as a vibe or brand, but it's the same sort of thing: evoking a very specific city and the bikes being built overseas. I think if a bicycle company is going to be branded around a city or place, they should make an effort to build the bikes in that place.
    Another smaller builder Steelwool from Ottawa Canada are having bikes made in Taiwan as are other small builders. To me it defeats the purpose!

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  101. I see the validity of many of the criticisms above. I think that another important consideration, one that is as important to me in many ways, is that much offshore production is cheaper, yet the savings are not passed on to the consumer. If someone gets a frame built beautifully by happy well paid workers for $100 less in Timbuktu I hope that I as consumer get at least a $50 or $75 rakeoff on the final price.
    Often a bike built overseas is imported and sold slightly under the price of the name brand original, while it costs hundreds less to make. We have seen this with Dutch made box bikes and their copies, as an example, and the quality of even the good copies is not the same. Did Trek etc lower their prices on the models they outsourced?

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  102. I do not get why everyone is getting so bent about this subject! Just about every single item we buy comes from the overseas market. For those who say buy American good luck! We have been sold out for a long time now plus we also have a culture that feels that work is not an option, just give us the pay check. I know because I've been a line supervisor for the past 25 years and it amazes me on how workers will always have a million and one excuses to why someone did not do their job. Sorry folks but that's the truth! In the past 30 years plenty of factories have said goodbye to the USA and our jobs has dwindle since then. From what I remembered about bike parts made 30 to 40 years ago in the USA, they were lousy and always rusted or broke down immediately! For the past twenty years the stuff I've been buying sure does not say USA but they sure last and work very nice too. There are no comparison between the two.

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  103. “If someone gets a frame built beautifully by happy well paid workers for $100 less in Timbuktu…”

    Sorry there are few bikes and no frame builders or well paid workers in Timbuktu. Mali is very very poor, especially north in the Sahara (where Timbuktu is).

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  104. @Anon 9:03: My 40 year old Schwinn Racer is still a nicer bike than any current department store bike sold today. Not rusty, and hasn't broken down once in the past 40 years. I don't know which US made products you were buying at the time, but there was plenty of good product being made.

    At the moment, I'm trying hard to support some of the factories that didn't say good-bye and move production off-shore/sell their name to the highest bidder.

    That said, there is plenty of good stuff you can buy made in other parts of the world. Some even from China, People's Republic of.

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  105. @dr2chase 1:54

    Please, do not call the 5-Axis CNC milling machine a robot. This would have been programmed by a VERY skilled machinist, complete with, most likely, about a dozen tool changes, speed and feed regulators, and much, much more. Calling it a metal-cutting robot is a disservice to both its creators and programmers.

    Also, a machine-built wheel is NOT a viable alternative to a real handbuilt wheel. They will fail, no matter how good it looks when it's spit out the wrong end of a quarter-million-dollar setup. Sure, they're quick, but they don't hold up the same way.

    2¢ from a machining student and bicycle mechanic of six years.

    PS- I would also like to bring up the fact that US manufacturing, especially in the machining arena, is very short of workers. It's one of the few industries that is actually growing right now in this economy. Let's all hope it keeps up!

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  106. On a slightly related note, I’ve been trying to get Halfords to tell me whether they pay their workers in Cambodia a living wage, but Halfords are refusing to answer the question. Do you have any advice on how to get them to respond? Or where I should buy my next bike from?

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