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Monday, March 12, 2012

Taipei Cycle 2012: The Bicycle Industry Touts Its Wares

Taipei Cycle just wrapped up after three busy days filled with companies that are both growing and showing.

Several of the usual suspects were present and accounted for, along with some new exhibitors. Meetings were held, deals made, palms pressed and opportunities gained and lost.

According to the numbers, international attendance was up 13%.

In over 25 years of Taipei Cycle the center of the cycling universe has shifted to Taiwan as the majority of engineering units and many fabrication facilities are still located in Taiwan, while many carbon shops are located in China run by Taiwanese firms.

There was a lot of cool gear on display, some echoes of the past and the future, and lots to think about.

I was happy too see a large number of non-carbon fiber frames on display. While China is becoming the place to get highest margins on composites, Taiwanese companies are forging ahead with producing the highest quality steel frames in mass production. Lots of slender steel tubes.

I stopped by the QBP booth and chatted up Zoe from Leeche International Sports Co., Ltd.
Zoe was very pleasant as I explained how one of the representatives from her company (Mandy) was less than courteous to us when I tried to warranty my broken frame. I tried to politely let her know that it made it very difficult to reward Salsa for standing behind their brand, when Leeche does not. I also let her know that Salsa and Surly make some great bikes for Taiwan, like the Vaya pictured above, but they are very difficult to find and are under-promoted.

Axman was out in force as well. As far as composites go, Axman makes some fine bikes. Moreover, they are highly regarded for their finishing facility in Fenyuan, near Caotun.

I was also happy to chat with Grace from Maxway.

If you have never heard of Maxway, you are forgiven. Maxway handles the TIG welding for some of the biggest bicycle groups. I have ridden a few of their bikes under different names. Several of their products were on display under the paint from other exhibitor's brands.

I was pleased to see so many titanium bikes on the showroom floor.

ORA had a few of their models on display. ORA has been in the titanium frame business for decades and puts down some fine welds for a non-custom shop. Companies can select over a dozen types of tried tubes, stays, forks, and geometries for their bikes. Motobecane proudly displays the ORA mark.

I loved the fillet brazing from Tange. It really gives the buyer a look at how finely engineered the tubing really is. So much for the reputation of the Asian pejorative in frame construction.

One of the biggest stories from this year's Taipei Cycle was the message that disc brakes are here to stay... and they aren't going to stay dirty. Expect to see a major push to have hydraulic disc brakes mounted on the latest road frames as well.

Ever since last year's announcement that the UCI would be allowing disc brakes in its sanctioned cyclocross races, there has been a flood of new frames sporting disc tabs. Stevens was one of the earlier adoptees (of course, I had discs on my 2007 Salsa Las Cruces).

Now with the rule change, it will be exciting to see where the technology goes.

Some people feel the rule change was pushed on the UCI by component manufacturers looking to sell frames and components for disc brakes.

That may be a part of the equation as bikes seem to stop perfectly well with calipers, cantilever and V-brakes.

There is also some concern regarding the weight.

On the other side, there is the argument that hydraulic disc brakes will allow for faster, safer stopping on tough descents.

Electronic shifting has allowed engineers to vacate the hoods of mechanical parts to use the open space as a reservoir for hydraulic cylinders to feed the brake lines.

A change in UCI rules for road racing may see even more energy and funding devoted to disc brakes. According to the rep from Formula hydraulic brakes, the disc braking system installed on the C-59 Disc is "lighter" than competing caliper options. I do not know about frame weight, as frame engineers may need to stiffen the drive side to deal with the stopping forces associated with disc brakes.

I was stunned to see Yoan Industries unveil several new models of their Speed One brand. Their CX8, a steel, disc brake, cyclocross bike, was absolutely stunning.

Unfortunately, when I tried to chat up the owner regarding his vision for his brand and its future, he blew me off and referred me to the little blurb in the brochure.

I can really see this as being a wonderful option for a light, multi-use bike. Speed One was also showing a Di2 and twist tubed bike with an echo of the Lynskey Helix. Something tells me Speed One wishes to work in Titanium.

Token put up a wide array of their product line, from wheels, hubs, and bottom brackets, to QR skewers and colorful spacers.

On occasion a deal could be seen being made to negotiate for some future model or another.

VP had some really nice retro components. Some folks are going for a simpler aesthetic. They put a real impressive finish on all of their stuff.

It was not just the moving parts that were put on show. Even the paint was shown off for perusal.

I was happy to meet up with Steve Fenton of Pro Lite. Pro-Lite, among other things, has one of the finest wheel building shops EVER. So many things on display from Pro Lite: Bars, saddles, bikes, wheels, clothing... you name it.

I also took a minute to chat up Perry from Lezyne, which is getting ready to open their new factory in a matter of weeks. I can not believe the number of pumps and devices offered by this one company. I did have to sheepishly mention the trouble I have had with one of their CO2 units. It wouldn't be a big deal... if it didn't mean getting stranded on a desolate mountain road with the only thing separating you from civilization being 15km of deserted pavement and a pair of cleated shoes. Perry was awesome about everything.

I had a great time chatting with the multinational force from Argon 18. Some fine bikes from a great brand. Roberto, the Italian member of the team, was great to chat up. We talked bikes and the faltering Italian presence in production. The question remains... can you truly build a 100% Italian bike these days? I have my doubts.

I created a little bit of a scene when I was surprised by the Sheng Yang booth. I stumbled upon the Axiom S, from Seven Cycles.

As I stopped to get s few pictures, a few more people stopped to see what I was looking at. I must have exuded my own enthusiasm for the bike and went into pitchman mode enough to draw a small crowd into hearing me proclaim it to be the magical bike that disappears beneath you...right here in River City!

I did get to meet the youthful William Ko from Sheng Yang in Tainan. I had only dealt with William via email and over the phone in regard to Seven, but he remembered my first email to him in 2007 asking about a Seven CX bike.

Another company that was busy showing its array of subsidiaries, was the Accell group. I missed the chance to meet up with their talented new Asian Market Manager for Lapierre, James Murray, but I did get a look at the new Lapierre bikes.

Another one of the big stories from Taipei Cycle was Tern Folding Bikes.

Tern is in the middle of a major marketing blitz after announcing plans for a full rollout of folding bikes this year after a messy divorce from Dahon. The Tern reps were unwilling to comment on the legal entanglements, but gave no sign of trouble.

Personally, I really liked what I saw. It was almost like a Project Runway Finale at Bryant Park. Tern successfully rolled out sever different looks to cover the entire range of the folding bike niche.

The designs are sleek, modern, simple and practical.

Moreover, Tern has taken the initiative by constructing an entire ecosystem of Tern related bicycle accessories under the Biologic brand name.

It is easy to hope for Tern to take control of this market and make folding bikes a more elegant, useful mode of transportation that can seamlessly integrate into our lives. It is incredible to see a brand enter the market so well equipped.

Another one of the show's stars was the impeccable C-59 disc from Colnago.

Ernesto Colnago is known as a man who wants to push the limits of design and technology. Here, Colnago has done it again by bringing a disc equipped road bike to market along with a similar CX option.

With its hydraulic brakes, the C-59, under the stewardship of one of the big names in cycling, may be forcing the hand of the UCI into allowing disc brakes in road races. Only time will tell, but there is money to be made in new tech.

I have to admit, it is a sweet looking machine that really gets the mind wondering about the possibilities of disc technology. For now, the same ISO disc tabs apply, as well as the 135mm rear hub spacing. Shimano has already announced a lighter mechanical disc unit for 2013.

Another highlight of the show was the public debut of the TYA brand. TYA will be offering an all steel road bike in classic styling as a 650B model.

The possibilities of a 650B road bike are interesting, not just in their ability to accommodate shorter riders, but also in their versatility and ability to quickly wind-up to speed.

As far as components and tools go, Birzman had a whole selection of nicely crafted bike tools. They had just about everything a rider or wrench might need to tear down or put up a build. Nico Ferreira, the Birzman rep, did an awesome job showing me the entire line of what any Bird Man might need .

I was also interested in hearing from some of the companies over dealing with the devil, so to speak. many have made arrangements with some of the largest manufacturers in Taiwan to produce their lower to medium cost frames, in exchange, they are limited to only selling the highest-end frames NOT produced by the really big Taiwanese manufacturers... and only at one or two locations. This severely limits the choice Taiwanese customers have in selecting a bicycle. It also ensures a situation bordering on anti-trust that squelches competition.

The laws of the market dictate that sacrificing the Taiwanese market is preferable to producing frames elsewhere.

On a final note:

The 2012 Taipei Cycle was split between locations in Nangang and Taipei World Trade Center near Taipei 101.

The Taipei 101 location was for first-time exhibitors and it looked like the junior Varsity league. At first glance it looked like the venue was abandoned. It was a real disservice to those exhibitors eager to expose their products to a wider audience.