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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ride Like A King Day

One final piece of Giant News to report:

No, the title of this post does not suggest riding an early 1990's Cannondale aluminum framed bike over potholed roads for 8 hours until you feel like you've been beaten by a half-dozen of L.A.'s finest. No, no...

May 7th will be the second annual "Ride Like A King Day", in honor of Giant founder and Taiwanese cycling spiritual leader King Liu. According to Bicycle Retailer Magazine, King Liu is still riding strong at a spry 76 years of age. If he is not too old to clip in and hit the road, nobody has an excuse. Three years ago Liu covered the 927km around Taiwan to help promote cycling in Taiwan. I absolutely hate hearing the "age" excuse for cycling. Nothing can make a person feel like a kid again than riding a bike.

Speaking of age:
Joe Freil has a great piece on age and diet.

My GIANT Night Out

Last night I had to pick up some replacement cleats for my Crank Brothers pedals. I love how the pedals function. They are easy to clip in and out of and I can clip-in from two directions. The mechanism doesn't get clogged with dirt. They're great... except for the cleat mounts.

The aluminum bolts are just too soft and mine started to strip the first week I owned them. The mounts would come loose and I would torque them down pretty hard and strip them out even more.

I finally found my "spot" and they haven't moved, but they've certainly worn down from me walking around on them and it was time to change them out. That is... if I could get them unseated from my shoes. The hex holes were too stripped to take a wrench and no amount of hammering could do it, so I headed around the corner to the Giant shop to see if they had more tools in their arsenal to deploy against my cleat. I think I may have made it more difficult by forgetting to lube a bolt or two when replacing them in a hurry. ALWAYS LUBE THE MOUNTS!

The Giant guys kindly took a hacksaw to the cleat and it was off in about 30 min. During my time in the store I stood there with a bemused look on my face as I watched the sales staff sell bikes.

A tall young woman nervously walked in an grabbed a big mountain bike with full shocks and disc brakes. She rode in a few circles around the store and then picked up a micro-bike with flat-bar and 20" wheels. She did a loop on that. By then a sales rep went over to assist and mainly stood there talking to the woman about the "feel" of the bike. The customer was riding bikes with seats that were 4-5cm too short and then being asked how it felt. At no time was the customer ever asked what purpose she intended for her bike; leisure, exercise, commuting, errands, group rides...etc. She was never sized. The sales staff just let the woman randomly guess what might be a good bike. After that they took her over to look at mountain bike helmets and biking jackets. Lots of people really don't know what options are available to them and what characteristics they should be looking for in a bike. A knowledgeable sales staff can guide a customer to make better choices. The bottom line is that only the rider knows what they want... but the sales staff can help the customer focus on what might better suit their needs and at least size them for a proper fit.

800 lb. GIANT Gorilla?

An interesting little article appeared in the Taiwan-based China Economic News Service aka Taiwan Economic News Service the other day.

According to the article, the Taiwanese bicycle mega-manufacturers Giant and Merida are poised to see substantial growth in the China market this year. The article states:

"Giant is now the No. 1 bike brand in terms of sales value and with the highest the average selling price in the Chinese market for bikes. To cash in on the growing demand for leisure bikes in the market, the brand has launched a new sub-brand, Momentum, this year, which, bolstered by Giant`s solid brand recognition among Chinese consumers, is expected to help to boost the brand`s overall share in the market in the future.

With the aforementioned marketing strategies, Giant confidently expects steady growth in its sales volume and value of own-brand bikes in the Chinese market in the coming years. Presently, the brand runs three manufacturing factories in China, which have totally achieved annual output of over 3.7 million bicycles, with a majority of which for sale in the domestic market."
It is no revelation that growing affluence in China is driving many sectors of Chinese society to consume on levels that may match and even outpace their global counterparts in terms of their desire for the prestige of consumer goods.

What really interests me about this article is what this trend means to the old Fei-Ge or "Flying Pigeon" brand of bicycle and even the Taiwanicization of Chinese culture.

In Taiwan we are used to understanding culturalization programs from the receiving end of different state centered programs to colonize and transform the people of Taiwan into something more desirable to the state. Over the past 60 years Taiwanese have been subjected to the Chinese Nationalist culturalization program that positioned Taiwanese people and cultures in terms of "inferiority", "backwardness" and "weakness" in consideration of the Taiwanese willingness to cooperate with the Japanese colonization program. Beginning in the 1950's the R.O.C. government on Taiwan instituted several items of culturalization legislation aimed at transforming Taiwanese people and cultures to conform to the ideals of the highly centralized state culture of the R.O.C. -- to transform Taiwanese into Chinese.

Taiwanese are used to seeing their cultures under assault from the "other" and Taiwanese have also sought out and adopted many new cultures into the dynamic discourse of "Taiwaneseness". It could be argued that The United States served as Taiwan's cultural center for much of the post WWII period as strong Americanization filled the gaps left by Japan. It is through the process of local interpretation that these symbols and meanings became "Taiwanese" culture rather than the mysteriously applied and poorly defined measurements of "mainly Chinese with Japanese and American influences". I would go so far as to argue that "Chinese culture" is a bogus term outside of the current nationalist construct. Still, there is a continuing battle between the constructed "sinicization" promoted by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and "localization/indigenization" of people who view Taiwan as the center of their world and their culture.

From Taiwan we still, and rightly so, see China as a potential hegemon. As China's economic power increases, the Chinese will be more able to project their interests beyond China's borders and attempt to draw the periphery closer to the center. Of course the periphery can never occupy the same space as the center and will always remain "peripheral". Still, the questions raised by the CENS article ask us to consider the possibility of and response to the "Taiwanicization" of China. It turns the equation on its head and begs us to examine the impact of Taiwanese culture on the Chinese.

Giant and Merida are Taiwan's two largest bicycle brands. Giant is the "kleenex" of bicycles in Taiwan. I do not know how often I am asked if my Salsa branded bicycle is a Giant. But beyond simple brand recognition there is a real sense of national pride in Giant. It represents the "Taiwan Miracle", it validates the sense of Taiwanese accomplishment and acceptance in the world to help counter the Taiwanese tragic lack of self-confidence that has been cultivated through a failed Chinese nationalization program and Taiwan's shameful diplomatic isolation (and the appeasement policies that have been promoted to avoid defacto Taiwanese nationalism). Giant has become an expression of Taiwanese economic and leisure cultures.

Now Giant is poised to take over the Chinese market, which has been dominated for decades by the ubiquitous Flying Pigeon. The Flying Pigeon is China's major domestic supplier of bicycles. Although it was originally founded in Tianjin by a Japanese businessman, the Flying Pigeon was taken over by the state following the Chinese Civil War and it essentially grew into China's national bicycle in much the same vein as Hitler's Volkswagen-- a cheap form of transportation for the masses.

The Flying Pigeon virtually became a part of daily life for Chinese. It pervaded Chinese cultural life as it transformed China by providing not just physical, but economic mobility for millions of citizens. Much like Giant in Taiwan, the Flying Pigeon symbolizes something greater than just the bicycle in the imaginations of the Chinese people. It is an icon of Chinese cultural life and of the Chinese experience that most people who live outside of China can not really understand. The Flying Pigeon is the type of shared symbol that breeds culture and now Giant is poised to replace it.

It makes me wonder at what point Chinese people will begin to develop a sense of nostalgia and start to seek to protect and retain the contemporary symbols of Chineseness rather than simply promoting the silly myth of "5000 years". Will they resent Taiwanese (and others for that matter) for their own cultural hegemony as Taiwanese bring their culture with them to China and inadvertently engage in replacing Chinese culture with Taiwanese ways of doing things? Will the Chinese cultural pendulum eventually swing back as they fight to hold on to the symbols of their unique and special experience?

It makes an interesting scenario.