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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure: The Tale of Taiwanese Bike OEM

The Torqued Wrench has an interesting little piece about The Myth of Origin for bicycle brands.

It reminded me of an OEM catalogue I recently came across that listed dozens of possibilities a brand can choose from in building their next frame. The tubes are ready to go.

This is how many brands "engineer" their frames. Despite the volumes of marketing literature on the brand's investment in state of the art engineering, this is how many modern bikes are produced. They are pieced together from a catalogue like choosing upholstery.

It is not that these are not great frames. Some of them are fantastic. It just gives a window into the economies that drive bicycle branding and production.

Multiple brands often work with a single OEM, and each of those brands may be working with multiple OEMs to build different bikes. The web is wide, and quite tangled.
For example, OEM firm ADK is partnered with CSG group, which owns Cannondale and GT, and is also partnered with Felt and ASI, who own Fuji and Kestrel. So you have frames from Cannondale, GT, Felt, and Kestrel, among others, all coming out of the same factory in Taiwan.
Giant Bicycles is unique in that it started out as an OEM, and still partners with other brands (Colnago’s M10 frame is built in a Giant factory, for example), but has also spread into doing its own R&D and, more importantly, its own marketing.

It continues...

Details of OEM relationships are therefore extremely difficult to pull out of brands. A cynic would presume that these OEMs, it seems, are good enough to build their products but not good enough to publicly associate with. Their location does not match the origin story put forth by the brand’s marketing department.
From a pragmatic view, this makes no sense. Today it is understood that Taiwanese production is as good, if not better, than anything coming out of the United States or Europe. It is clear that origin has zero relevance to end quality. But Trek reserves its top-tier frames as the only models still built in Waterloo, Wisconsin, and Colnago’s beautiful C59 is still built in Italy, while the rest of its production has gone overseas.


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