Local boosterism and Taiwanese carbon fiber

Road 10 67

It is no secret that I like living and riding in Greenville, South Carolina. Regular readers are probably used to mentions of Greenville on the blog from time to time, especially toward the end of summer when the U.S. Pro Championship races draw near. As soon as I saw a recent Competitive Cyclist newsletter article titled, “We check out Greenville, SC”, I knew that I would probably want to pass it along.

The fact that they praise the riding here is the main reason I wanted to share the article, but not the only one. There is also interesting content about equipment, specifically George Hincapie and Craig Lewis’ Columbia Team issue Scott Addicts. The article points out the various equipment sponsors’ logos on the seat stays of the team bikes. Among the familiar brands, Continental, Elite, Fizik, SRM, etc., is the logo of Ten Tech Composites, a Taiwanese frame manufacturer that produces frames for many high-end brands. “We don’t recall ever seeing a pure Taiwanese manufacturing company serve in the role of supporting sponsor like this,” say the guys at Competitive Cyclist. The article on to say:

“The worst-kept secret in the bike industry is that the best composites manufacturing is done in Taiwan. Ten Tech’s decal suggests that Taiwan is ready to come out of closet. They want brands to promote Taiwanese manufacturing. It’s an elimination of smoke-and-mirrors. It’s truth-in-advertising. As far as we’re concerned, it ‘s awesome.”

Awesome indeed. I have touched on this subject on the blog before, and I agree that it is time to dispel the myth that Asian manufactured frames are somehow automatically of inferior quality to those manufactured in the U.S. or Europe. Certainly the quality of carbon fiber frames on the market varies, but country of origin is most certainly NOT the sole factor that determines quality.

Photo credit: Competitive Cyclist

Related Posts

10 Comments

  1. Josh Boggs January 13, 2009 at 10:51 pm -  Reply

    Great post, James.

  2. Charlie January 14, 2009 at 8:10 am -  Reply

    Interesting–you encourage being open minded and progressive by accepting that Asian frames aren’t automatically inferior to US and European frames. But what Competitive Cyclist actually says is that the best frames are made in Taiwan. That’s a step further.

  3. James January 14, 2009 at 10:55 am -  Reply

    Thanks Josh. I know that you are pretty familiar with some of the riding around this area

    Good point Charlie. Competitive Cyclist happens to sell some really nice bikes that are made at Ten Tech (Ridley, Cervelo, Scott, etc.), so naturally they are going to really like those. Personally, those brands are among my favorites too. CC also sells bikes made in Europe and the US though, so I don’t think the accolades to Taiwan are biased.

    I think some great bikes are made in the US and Europe, but I am annoyed when I hear the “Euro bike” roadie crowd dismissing Asian made frames as inferior junk. As an example, just think of all the people who were SO upset when Colnago started producing the CX1 in Taiwan. Why? Sure there is a long tradition of lugged steel framebuilding in Italy, but what makes anyone think they know more about composites than the Taiwanese? A company like Giant, to name another Taiwanese manufacturer/brand, weaves much of there own composite to ensure product quality. How many European brands, that offer a few high-end carbon models, can say that?

    I will still stop short of saying Taiwanese bikes are necessarily better, but I will stress that the factors that determine product quality are design, engineering, and manufacturing process related. Those things require a commitment from the company and are not arbitrarily defined by a factory’s location. I am sure that some poor quality bikes come out of Taiwan, just as I am sure some poor quality bikes come out of Italy. Overall though, both countries make nice bikes. It is just a shame that the Asian manufactured bikes are sometimes looked down upon because they lack a certain Euro mystique. Personally, I would take a Cervelo or a Ridley over a Colnago or Pinarello, but that is just my preference based on the designs.

  4. Ron January 14, 2009 at 12:59 pm -  Reply

    There is often little fanfare when things are made in Taiwan. The Iphone is made in Taiwan. The handsets are assembled at Hon Hai and Quanta. So are the Ipods and imacs. Many small parts come from other Taiwanese suppliers.
    But Apple remains very silent about their clients.

    I’m sure if you dug up into the records of the biggest bicycle companies, what they say is actually “designed” in the us may very well be actually made in Taiwan. You would naturally source your product to the folks who know the product and have the expertise with it. Taiwanese make many sports equipment, and supply composite parts for aerospace companies in the US as well.

    Equating Asian countries with bad products is largely due to our prejudices and what the stupid media fills into our heads. As for the lead paint issue, Mattel publicly apologized for putting the blame on Chinese companies after they recognized the fact that their toy designs were actually flawed.

    Oh. And Rapha is made in China too

  5. Anonymous January 15, 2009 at 10:24 am -  Reply

    No bad intentions James, but it’s quite hilarious to see two TWnese CF bike manufacturers to share exact mission, business philosophies and core values.

    compare:
    http://www.martec.com.tw/
    http://tentechcomp.com/

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say?

    That said, it’s really impressive that these Asian manufacturers are finally stepping out of the shadows. Some might still have doubts regarding Asian builders’ quality and company integraty or so….. but only time will tell.

  6. Ron January 15, 2009 at 12:26 pm -  Reply

    I’d like to correct my previous comment. The iphone is assembled in China but most of the small parts seem to be sourced from Taiwanese companies.

  7. -p January 15, 2009 at 11:09 pm -  Reply

    Let’s not group all Asian countries together. Taiwan and Japan have many great examples of locally owned manufacturing businesses that are responsible and reliable (think Honda, Giant Bicycles, etc). China still has a long way to go before their business practices catch up. I would not ride a Chinese carbon fiber bike, but wouldn’t mind owning a Taiwanese one.

  8. Petro January 17, 2009 at 1:15 pm -  Reply

    Charlie says:
    But what Competitive Cyclist actually says is that the best frames are made in Taiwan.

    No, what CC said was that the best composite frames were made in Taiwan, which is a considerably narrower statement.
    Ron said:

    Equating Asian countries with bad products is largely due to our prejudices and what the stupid media fills into our heads.

    Um, no.

    It’s not the media that fills our heads with those stories, it’s our day to day experiences.

    As companies move production around to reduce or maintain low costs, the first companies in tend to have to deal with workers who have less attention to detail than we would expect in the west, management that is willing to cut a few more corners and suppliers that are a little less clear on the specifications.

    You should see what seriously dangerous crap is being sold in some non-western countries–some of the electrical products we get here in Iraq are incredibly badly made AND have forged/fraudulent CE/UL markings on them. And yes, most are made in China.

    As these things get settled and fixed, the cost of good and labor rises along with the quality. This drives companies to move their manufacturing to a cheaper local, and the process starts all over.

    And as this happens the reputation of the country as a manufacturing location starts to rise–no one complains about made in Japan anymore (like they would have in the 60s and early 70s. Well, except for Harley Riders and people who work for The Big Three) because Japan figured out fairly quickly how to make *better* products than Americans do.

    Japanese manufacturing is some of the best in the world. The build quality of Honda and Toyota is the best in the world.

    South Korea is another Asian country doing well. They have educated workers, a moderately free economy, and low to moderate levels of corruption. Most people, when they see “made in Korea” no longer think “cheap trash” like they would have in the 80s.

    China has the additional problem in that they are corrupt as all hell. Worse than Chicago or Boston even. As a country they have no respect for Intellectual Property (most of the pirated software and media CDs/DVDs come out of China and South East Asia.

    Heck even Vietnam has a better reputation (though spread out over a much smaller product line) than China.

    As for the lead paint issue, Mattel publicly apologized for putting the blame on Chinese companies after they recognized the fact that their toy designs were actually flawed.

    It’s a LOT more complicated than that:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/22/business/worldbusiness/22toys.html

    http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1664428,00.html

    The Chinese goverment, like petty children and politicans the world over is vindictive. Mattel cannot move production back to the states for MANY reasons (cost, pollution controls etc.) and certainly cannot do it quickly, so they NEED the Chinese factories. On the other hand, of the more than 75 toy recalls that happened last year, Mattel’s was the highest profile.

    Speak of which, let’s say Mattel’s second story (the apology and the acceptance of responsbility) was the truth.

    What about the other 75 or 80 cases?

    What about the dog food, and the FREAKING POWDERED MILK.

    Asia isn’t the problem. China is.

  9. Tim Jackson- Masi Guy January 17, 2009 at 3:53 pm -  Reply

    James;

    Great post- again.

    I won’t go into the specifics of all the various comments here because I don’t have all day to do my usual rant…

    Here is what I will say though-
    Geography doesn’t mean anything for quality. Our company has had frames made in Italy that were overpriced and crap compared to what we now get from Taiwan. I have seen crap product from the US, from Italy, from Taiwan and from China. I’ve also seen amazing gems of quality from each. As you and others have said- it’s the manufacturer, not the location, that makes the difference.

    It was Faliero Masi who brought Masi from Italy to the US to work with great builders in the late 60’s and early 70’s. At the time, it was a scandal, but he always stated that it was the quality of the work and not the location of the worker that was important. I can only assume that Ernesto Colnago was pleased with the quality of the frames he had made in China as samples, or he would not have made the choice. After all, it is still HIS name on the product and he is quite proud of that name and its reputation in the cycling world (and rightfully so).

    Here’s my usual closing comment; ride waht makes you happy about your purchase. If that is lugged steel from Italy, then enjoy. If it is monocoque carbon from China, then awesome. If it is a custom ti frame from New England, then ride with a smile. NEVER let the geography of the frame make the decision for you, unless that is the only reason why you want the product. Personally, I like to ride bikes that look good and ride well. But I’m a fool that way…

    Tim

  10. Ron January 17, 2009 at 9:08 pm -  Reply

    Petro said : ” It’s not the media that fills our heads with those stories, it’s our day to day experiences. “

    Thats only partly to blame. A lot of American news media project the sentiments of patriotism. In America, its good to “buy American.”

    Nothing wrong with that, but also figure in the fact that China is seen as a global threat to the US. It is also perceived as taking many jobs away from US manufacturing. Not many can compete with the labor costs in China. Feels for China are not so good…

    In such an environment, any news about the dark sides of China is welcomed here and is pursued without seeing all the sides of the news.

    I find it hilarious that some of these same people who criticize Chinese products can confidently walk into a Chinese restaurant in the U.S and eat a plate of their chow. What makes them think that their food, made by Chinese people, is any safer than the millions of products sourced from China by the U.S after extensive production, quality and standards scrutiny?

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

   
 
 
Bicycle Design Merchandise=  
Competitive Cyclist - Santa Cruz