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Sunday, February 17, 2013

TYA 650c: A New Taiwanese Bicycle Brand That Wears Taiwan On Its Sleeve


For the past decade there has been plenty of ink spilled and pixels pushed documenting and praising Taiwan's emergence as the world's center for bicycle production. International and domestic publications are quick to mention some of the larger manufacturers that produce high-end bicycles from factory complexes in both Taiwan and China. The focus has been mainly on composite "state of the art" racing bicycles that put a marketing premium on the concepts of "stiffness"and "aggressive" geometries. 

With Taipei Cycle scheduled for March 20-23, we will undoubtedly be inundated with a barrage of  pseudoscientific sales jargon hand crafted by marketing teams with the purpose of selling a technology that is over 100 years old. 

On the fringe of the exposition at the Nangang Exhibition Hall are several of the smaller players hoping to catch the eye of the discerning brand developer, consumer or enthusiast. 

At the 2013 Taipei Cycle I would like to direct a little attention toward one little company that is looking to grow and thrive in the gaps of sunshine between the shadows of industry titans through a fine focus on some of the basic elements of what makes a memorable cycling experience. 

At this year's expo the TYA Bicycle Company will be introducing three new models of their steel framed bicycles that use the 650c sized wheels. 

TYA Road

TYA Bicycles and its sister company TYALU were founded by Rocky Huang, the owner and operator of T-Mosaic Cycles where I usually have my bikes built, tuned and occasionally repaired. 

For the past three years or more I have watched TYA move from drawings and basic ideas to a stream of prototype after unpainted prototype. As a regular rider and competitor, Rocky brings his experience on the bike and behind the wrench to TYA design. I have spoken to Rocky on countless occasions on the topics of fit, materials, geometry and design aesthetic. 

Rocky is not only an experienced rider, but he has studied biomechanics and design, coming to bicycles from the world of advertising. As a cycling enthusiast, Rocky gives a nod to the classic steel bikes from the era of Maertens, De Vlaeminck, and Merckx in the lugged styling and steel tubing of the TYA. 

These TYA bikes are certainly coming at a great time as Taiwanese riders are becoming more discerning in their choice of bicycle rather than simply choosing the cheapest model from the Giant sales floor or the one with the virtue of being the most expensive. Taiwanese riders are becoming more versed in international cycling culture and are looking for a greater variety of bicycles to fit their needs. It is an interesting phenomenon to watch the cycling culture in Taiwan evolve and mature. 

The TYA can also hold the distinction and pride of being a bike that wears its Taiwanese roots with pride rather than obscuring its origin through tricky labeling loopholes. 

The badge is crafted in the shape of two Taiwans in mirror image. 


The TYA is not an all-out race bike and therefore makes no pretense of being a menace on the crit circuit. Instead the TYA is designed as a balanced road bike, offering lively and comfortable ride characteristics by maximizing the timeless benefits of ChroMo steel. Not every bike needs to win races. Some bikes just have to ride worth a damn. 

The choice of 650c wheels was aimed at smaller Asian riders who often have trouble finding appropriately sized bikes with 700c wheels. There are other benefits with an increased low range and less rotating weight for climbers. 

In Taiwan it is often difficult to find a decent steel framed bike in the first place. Very few offerings in the bike shops cater to riders who don't want to race, so this is a refreshing addition to the other available frames. 


Here at Taiwan in Cycles I have received numerous emails from riders looking for a steel framed tourer or light tourer with the purpose of exploring Taiwan's amazing landscape. There are some models by Surly and Salsa sold through a few select QBP dealers, but it can often take as long as 6 months to receive a bike. 

TYA is now offering both a Cyclocross/Light Touring frame, and a dedicated touring model complete with rack and fender mounts and cantilever brake bosses. 

Both of these bikes would be excellent for the rider who would like to cruise the highways or hillsides where the pavement is less regularly repaired if it exists at all. There are still some sections of gravel road in the foothills. These would also make excellent regular commuters. Both bikes bring the durability of steel as well as the ability to mount wider touring tires to better support a bike under load. The cyclocross frame could also be fitted with off-road tires to mix it up off-road.

For true classics lovers, the TYA is built with the versatility to support downtube shifters (remember those?). 


The new line of TYA bikes is a welcome change in a market that is increasingly saturated with composites, and there may be more on offer shortly. According to Rocky Huang at TYA, he is experimenting with both lugged and Tig welded frames. He has options for butted and straight gauge tubing and there may even be a 700c model on the horizon. It is still too early to tell how these ventures will evolve. 


TYA is offering a build package around each frame set. Details of builds and geometries can be found at the TYA website

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TYA also has a sister brand that is trying to fill the gap left in the market for an alloy TT/Tri bike with aero tubing in a similar vein as the popular Cervelo S1. Alloy frames are still excellent for racing but have lost out in the market to the composite frames that allow companies to take advantage of the higher profit margins of composites. 

IMG_3210 Tya Tour

TYA and TYALU will have test bikes available at the Nangang Exhibition Hall for riders to try. I highly recommend stopping by the booth at O0035 to pay Rocky and his crew a visit. He has some very interesting things going on and it might be worthwhile to pull yourself away from the plastic toys to remember why steel is still such an amazing material for the modern bicycle.

These are bikes developed and created by Taiwanese cycling enthusiasts for riders who share their passion.  


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tatajia: Taiwan's Other Cycling Monument

This Lunar New Year was supposed to be about four weeks of regular riding to rebuild and return to lost form in the wake of the wonderful life-bomb called parenthood. I was poised to take advantage of a generous vacation package with little weekday rides and longer weekend riding. 

Four days into my vacation I got sick. It always happens. Just as the stars start to align themselves... WHAM!... back to square one. 

I spent about a week coughing my lungs clear enough to get back on the bike. Things still weren't coming together. I had to do a couple rehab rides after being sick to wake the legs up a bit more. I messed around in the hills over Taichung for some training, but nothing too far. I was actually becoming moody that my vacation was slipping away without a trophy or monument to show I had done something special with the only valuable commodity I had in any reserve-- time. 

The posts on my Facebook feed were already streaming in with painfully spectacular updates and pictures of a crisp, gorgeous sunny day on a ride to Wuling that I had to un-invite myself from. 

Mentally, I was pacing like a caged animal. I was brooding, moody and growling under my breath about my blood pressure being higher than what is normally my normal. I was just really pissed off. 

Then on the way home from dinner the idea popped into my head to drive the car to Shuili and then bike up to Tatajia on Alishan's eastern flank and then cap the summit before heading back to Shuili. 

The idea made perfect sense and I quickly and half-assedly made plans for a day of climbing. 

This spur of the moment rush of inspiration gave me no time to properly prepare for a long climb with the right intake of carbs and liquids. It was also pretty late, so I would be riding on less than ideal sleep. As the notion of the ride edged closer to reality I was feeling the buzz of excitement again. 

It felt good to be riding with a purpose.

There was no way I could wake up early enough for a pre-dawn launch, so I hoped for the best and hit the road by around 6:30am. I pulled into a sleepy Shuili and thought I would take in a tall cup of black coffee and a few more carbs at the 7-11. 

I guess I lingered a while as I hit the road closer to 9:00am with leaden legs that were having a difficult time turning over. Climbing is like that. When you start out it feels like there is no way you can ever complete the climb if the first 50 meters of the slightest incline feel like your legs are made of concrete plunging into mud on every pedal stroke. 

Sometimes it takes a sharp climb to wake the legs up and they're good for the rest of the ride. 

As I loped along the Highway 21, I kept looking for the legs to meet me somewhere over the next rise. The road seems relatively flat and the discouraging forward pace on the gradual incline is a real heart breaker. Only on the descent can you fully appreciate that the road is a constant 2%-4% grade. 


In the morning light the mountains appear to stack up all upon each other as the highway dips and curves in a slow-motion roller coaster ride around old landslides and water hazards. 

The narrow river valley passes through some small farming villages that seem keen on making more money from tourism than farming. 

I hadn't taken the highway 21 in several years, so I couldn't remember how far I had to ride before the real climbing started. 

it seemed the river valley just went on forever. 

Finally, it seemed I had veered away from simply following the river and I braced for the serious climbing. 

Oddly enough, once the steeper grades arrived I felt better and more comfortable climbing. I eased up the mountain at an even pace with a few stops to simply document the trip and not the occasional strategic leg-rest-photo-op. 

On the map the road squiggled all over the hillsides like an anaconda sunning itself on a Taiwanese hillside. On paper it looks much more formidable than it really is. The confusing pile of roadway folded upon itself on the map was really a sensible grade that used each curve and bend to take some of the severity off the skyward ascent to 2600m. (8530ft.)

The scenery was spectacular and sheer cliff faces and towering mountains rise from the abyss below. 

If Wuling is Taiwan's first cycling monument for its incredible height (3275m.) and short distance from sea level, Tatajia is Taiwan's second cycling monument. While the ride to Wuling throws much nastier ramps in front of a rider, its course through mountain farms, cedar forests and alpine meadows has a somewhat friendlier countenance than Tatajia. There is something very severe, stark and raw about Tatajia that is both frightening and compelling. It has a cold ruggedness about the landscape, and a glaring silence as well, that makes a lone rider skirting the cliff's edge feel totally exposed and unteathered to the roadway.  

After a succession of tunnels a huge, ugly scar rips across the mountain like nature's own warning sign. The area is strewn with concrete, rubble, rebar and other debris. 

As I made my approach the entire area was thick with the smell of burning brake oil as drivers overheat their brakes unsure and fearful of the scene of such obvious violence.  

As a rider I instinctively knew that this was the main event. It had the terrifying look of battle and I brought the fight to each pitch and ramp. 

The road looked as if someone had hastily flopped a wet ribbon across the brick-red clay and called it good. 

With my adrenaline pumping from hugging the guardrail away from oncoming traffic, I realized I had made it past the most imposing stretch of my ride and I would soon be surrounded by the cool shadows of cedar boughs in the forest. 

The air hand the crisp clearness of Winter. Off to my left I could see each crack and snarl in Jade Mountain, the highest mountain in East Asia (3952m./12966ft.)

It looked just like the picture on my bank book. 

With the turn of a corner I was looking down the northern face of Alishan. I was becoming aware of the thin air and I worked harder to make progress. I was also becoming aware of a growl in my stomach. I had burned almost 4000 calories on the ascent and I was out of food. The extra food was gone. I had been hoping to find a tourist stop with a few vendors selling stuff I swore I'd never eat. 

As I closed in on my goal of the God Trees, I was beginning to think more about food. The rule is to drink before you are thirsty and to eat before you are hungry. I was in caloric deficit and my body knew it. I did not want to bonk on Alishan. 

At last I turned a corner and found my trees. There were several tourists milling around taking pictures, but no food. 

I took a rest for a few minutes and posed for some tourists who obviously couldn't see how little enthusiasm I had for pictures. With my late start I was still able to summit by 2:00pm, which was my plan to land me back at my car before 5:00pm. 

My descent was incredibly fast. All the parts I had thought were dips or flat, were showing themselves to be pointing down hill. The only thing on my mind was to get whereI could grab some quick fuel for my legs. 

At the bottom of the climb there was a 7-11. I stopped for a late lunch that looked like it was chosen by an 8yo. It was all food high in sugar and caffeine to give my legs something immediate to burn. I threw in a rice ball to digest, but it was mostly all junk. I had about 1000 calories in 10 minutes and was back on my way. 

After about a half hour I was feeling much better with a new spring to my stroke. I launched up the remaining hills to Shuili and was back at the car early after logging 150k of riding. 

I popped open a bottle of water and quenched my thirst before heading toward home. 

As soon as I left Shuili I was stuck in a three and a half hour traffic jam to the #3 Freeway. All the mountain roads feed like tributaries into Mingjian causing severe holiday traffic. After al that riding I was stuck without dinner until after 8:30pm. 

The road up Tatajia is higher than the 149甲to Fenqihu, but it is also easier with easier gradients to climb. I had actually been contemplating returning on the 149甲, but my morning coffee was just a bit too long to give it a try. 

There were too many tourists on the road on my way out, but it was doable. The scenery was the type of spectacular you get when riding Taiwan's Central Mountain Range. Lots of good stuff on this ride, just remember to bring enough food. 

Bike route 1982118 - powered by Bikemap 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Random Riding


Contrary to plan I have done relatively little riding this vacation. If you happen to see me on the road, don't remind me. 

I started my vacation with the pleasure of riding with Wing, a visitor from Aussie/Hong Kong, who had chosen a pretty challenging route to circumvent the island. 


I was able to meet Wing in Jhuolan and pilot him through Taichung to Bagua Shan, where I sent him on his way to Nantou. 

Wing rides an exquisite custom steel Jim Bundy frame from the Bundy frame building family; one of the oldest frame makers in Australia. The three triangle design really sets it apart. 

IMG_2554 IMG_2550 IMG_1622 IMG_1624

We swung by Caffe Terry on our way through Taichung.

Unfortunately, Wing came down with the flu and was unable to continue his ride. A few days later I too was leveled by a fever and congestion in my lungs.

Wing was a very capable rider and I hope he can return to Taiwan and make good on his plans. I would love to see someone do the round-island trip with a bit of flare, style and panache-- the hard way. 



  • The 2013 NAHBS (North American Handmade Bicycle Show) will be on from Feb. 22-24. NAHBS is a great way to see what the imaginations of non-corporate designers can come up with. Sometimes the small builders can shake the industry.
  • The legendary Dario Pegoretti teams up with some art students from Stuttgart in the name of charity.
  • Tom's Bike Trip details one guest's experience on a government sponsored junket to ride Taiwan. Not a bad article, though I wish writers would quit using the false construct of parity between China and Taiwan. The idea that Taiwan is what China "could have looked like" is wishful ignorance at best, that ignores Taiwan's unique historical trajectory that traverses numerous state projects and the popular reaction to those projects. *sigh*

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Like Pedals in the Wind: Brand Loyalty

When I find a brand I like, I am not ashamed to champion the products or core values of a given brand. I have remained aloof from tricky sponsored writing, not necessarily by design, but my current equipment was purchased with my hard earned cash and with a baby at home, I can not be buying superfluous things. This stuff counts. I don't mind using this space to highlight products and companies that do right by me. Then there are the products that don't....

After seven years on Crank Brothers pedals, I have decided to leave them behind. 

Crank Brothers uses a light weight innovative design that allows four points of entry. They are minimalist and attractive for mountain bike pedals, and they seemed to make sense as a pedal system I could use on both my road and cyclocross bikes with just one pair of shoes. It made for some redundancy, despite running against roadie etiquette. 

For me, the problem comes from their reliability. 

More pedals optimized for the world of cycling that exists away from the pavement, my pedals could barely handle a season of light road riding before falling apart. 

I used a set of Crank Brothers Candy SL pedals, the mid range 1st Generation pedal, and they lasted for four years despite cosmetic damage. I "upgraded" to the Eggbeater 3, a lightweight pedal without a platform. The numeral 3 indicates its stature as one of the more expensive in the line. It was supposed to be a bit more robust. After several months the pedal started to feel a little loose. My foot would occasionally pop out of the pedal. This can be pretty dangerous on a climb as you can easily lose control and veer into traffic. There were a couple of times I popped out at critical times. 

I blamed the fast wear of the brass cleat and switched to newer cleats. I always hated to mess with the cleats because Crank Brothers uses very soft screws to hold them in place. On my first set I completely rendered the screws unusable while finding my ideal cleat location. Mind you, I was doing nothing out of the ordinary, just installing a cleat a few times to find the "sweet spot". 


The long term effects of a loosening pedal manifested themselves in an overuse injury as I overcompensated with my left leg. I still feel the effects of this. I finally retired the pedals after about a year of light road use (not much riding in 2011) and pulled the Crank Brothers Candy pedals off the CX bike. After about six rides the spring went out on the left pedal. I had a ride I was hoping to catch the next day and picked up another set of First Gen Candy pedals on clearance for NT1000 ($30). They are having trouble selling in Taiwan and many retailers are just trying to recoup their cost. 

I only switched out the broken pedal and left the remaining pedal. 

On the very next ride the right pedal had the spring go out. Again I was hobbling back home too early and having to fight my own bike to get home. 

There are several people who have had their Crank Brothers pedals last for several years. I may have simply had two defective sets... in a row. That is a possibility. But it also seems Crank Brothers recognizes that their pedals sacrifice durability for weight and form factor. They offer a fantastic rebuild program for their pedals, which tells me the company recognizes the gentle limits of their products.

As a consumer, I was attracted to the idea that the equipment had been designed for off-road use. It made me feel I could expect quality and longevity if I never left the road. 

I was wrong. 

So, I am looking to replace my pedals and the Crank Brothers pedal system with something else. 

Again, it may have been a bad batch. I understand that in the manufacturing process shit happens. But as consumers and users and cyclists and as people... trust goes a long way. 

I no longer trust Crank Brothers pedals to serve flawlessly when I need them. I do not expect them to function correctly 100% of the time. I do not believe they will not fail me high on a mountain road or stay clipped in as I hug the rail on the Route 129 as a cement truck flicks my earlobe in passing. 

As cyclists we put our trust and safety in the products we buy. Once that trust is gone, it may never return. There is lingering doubt. That is not to say we can't expect nothing will fail, but we need to believe it likely will not. It is fine to be loyal to a brand or a system, but always be ready to leave it behind when it becomes a liability. 

Crank Brothers had their chance and failed. 

As a rider and consumer, Taiwan in Cycles can not recommend Crank Brothers pedals at this point in time. If you want reliability, look elsewhere. 

Let's see what the future holds.