Long ago, way back in the days when a colour TV was considered to be something of a luxury, those tiny little stickers on the back of cheap Christmas gifts that said “Made in Taiwan” used to be embarrassingly peeled off and abruptly trashed, while anything with a “Made in China” badge wouldn’t even make the bottom shelf of a Sunday market stall. Made in Japan, back then, was not far behind either; with their famous “rot-box’ Datsun 5’s and ultra-cheap electrical gadgets that required a slap or two to get them started.
Oh how things have changed; Made in Japan is now something of a quality guarantee, and made in Taiwan has fast become the industry standard when it comes to bikes – all be it that the sticker may be buried by three coats of paint - often under the “Designed in Italy, Assembled in the USA or German Engineered” branding.
We all know that some manufacturers produce bikes here; but often we still like to think that their high end lines are home ground and filed by aging Italian frame building maestros and aeronautical engineers in secret carbon fibre laboratories hidden deep in the Swiss Alps, and for sure some are, a very few. Even though their virgin prototypes may have been created in these environments, what often actually reaches the bike shops is more than likely made in one of these Taiwanese factories, which is why most mainstream manufacturers and niche brands have either an office, a factory, or a full time “envoy” based in Taiwan.
It’s been a fair few years since bike companies did all of their own manufacturing work themselves. With increasingly high labour and production costs most sought alternative options during the early 70’s, and some even a decade before that. Japan was the first port of call, initially through its fledgling component manufacturing industry, but not long after Taiwan entered the arena.
Smart and long term planning by Taiwanese manufacturers has seen many (such as Giant and Merida) successfully moving on to market their own brand products, and taking on the major western brands at their own game. Currently the majority of the Taiwanese bike industry is reworking its home-grown strategy and is focussing on quality (as well as quantity), which seems like a wise move, especially when you’ve walked through a factory and seen several niche European and North American brands all coming off the same production line (all be it made with different materials designs).
Here are a few images from a couple of recent visits to Taiwanese factories.