Did you know the three cyclists on the 2008 Tour de France podium all used bikes produced in the same factory? Yes, the design and decals might have varied but there was only one manufacturer behind all three riders.
Once upon a time an artisan would build a frame in their workshop and stick their name on the downtube, a practice that still goes on today but only in a niche of the racing bike market. Instead your Cannondale, Cervélo, Giant, Scott and Specialized was probably not made by these companies but by a factory in China or Taiwan belonging to a completely different firm.
The excellent Cycling IQ blog explains the process, known as the OEM:
Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s) are responsible for taking a bicycle brand’s unique design and fabricating it into a finished product. Depending on the client’s requirements, “finished product” can mean different things. It could be:
– a raw, unpainted, frame
– a commercially-ready frameset, boxed in after-market packaging
– a commercially-ready complete bicycle, boxed in after-market packaging
I’d really recommend the full CyclingIQ article, indeed the whole collection of Vertical Limit pieces explain in detail how the industry works. Taking the quote above we can see how the OEM in Asia works to the specification of a more well-known brand. For example Cervélo and Scott have used a company called Ten Tech Composites to manufacture their frames.
Ten Tech branches out to other firms and subsidiaries, for example Donguan Taihe is a supplier of composite materials, carbon to you and me. Here’s a quote that you’ve probably never read:
If like me you don’t speak Mandarin, that quote says “our production monopolised the top-three places of the 2008 Tour de France“. That means Carlos Sastre on his Cervélo, Cadel Evans on his Ridley and Bernhard Kohl on his Specialized (Kohl was since rumbled for doping).
Either way this means one company in Guangdong province is making the high end bike for several brands. It’s not alone, look closely at the pictures below:
All three photos come from a factory tour by CanadianCyclist.com, the same factory but we see a Giant frame, Bontrager rims destined for Trek bikes and a Scott box. This time the factory is run by Taiwan’s Giant Bicycle Corporation, the world’s largest cycle manufacturer. There wasn’t room to fit the picture on the page but Colnago frames are made there too.
The process is relentless. First manufacturing started in Taiwan but in recent years this has moved to China because of cheaper operating costs, mainly labour. But Europe levies import duties on Chinese bicycles so production is now moving to other areas, notably Vietnam and Thailand. One issue specific to the cycle trade is the bulk of the product, unlike, say, Apple with its tiny phones which can be stacked in their thousands into a cardboard box, a bike or a frame takes up a single box and so shipping costs are an important element of the bike trade.
This is not unique to cycling. For me the auto sector is a good example because the name on the outside isn’t that helpful. The design can be done in house but often consultancies are hired to provide advice on market trends or aerodynamics. Once production begins the car is made from thousands of pieces made by different companies. Ford and Subaru don’t have steel mills to make the body panels, Peugeot and Pontiac don’t make rubber tyres. Indeed, drive a Porsche then it might have been made in a factory in Finland belonging to a paper and packaging company. So who made the car? A global supply chain did.
Fake plastic frames
There’s some talk of finding $400 frames that are sold by some brands for $4,000 or more. Indeed the UCI President said frames are made in Asia for $30. But a cheaper carbon frame is like to be heavier, user cheaper raw materials and involve a less sophisticated manufacturing processes. Let’s spare the judgement of whether the price tag merits the performance increase, that’s subjective. I simply want to suggest that a high end frame typically involves more than the price tag.
Some bargains can involve products rejected by the factory quality control, for example a frame that emerges with a defect should get crushed to dust but “entrepreneurial” workers could sneak these out of the factory gates and sell them online. Indeed there are stories of counterfeit frames. You can fake fashionable jeans and handbags out of denim and leather with relative ease in a sweatshop but a frame is something else, you still need the composite materials and the sophisticated machinery. My guess is that the fakes are being made in the same factory as the genuine products but on the sly, either by the factory owner for extra income or by employees when the boss isn’t looking; or using old molds no longer in use in the plant.
This isn’t to say you pay for quality alone. Indeed the price you pay in the shop or online for the finished goods are not the cost of the frame, you are paying several people along the length of the supply chain, you’re repaying the marketing budget used to fund the pro team and there’s a down-payment on future support in case something breaks when you’re “just riding along”. If you could buy a premium brand frame on the grey market from the factory gates then you would make substantial savings.
From producer to designer?
Of course many carbon frames are made in-house, for example Look or BMC. But increasingly the OEMs are branching out, look at Giant and Merida for obvious examples that make plenty of frames for others but also offer their own branded products and distribution channels. This puts them in an interesting position, able to see what potential competitors are up to and to survey massive sales.
There’s a good chance your carbon frame was made by a company you’ve never heard of. Many companies still make their own frames but the majority of 2012 Pro Tour team bikes are made by OEMs. Make no mistake, the frames used for the 2008 Tour de France were premium products requiring sophisticated design, but still they were all made under the same roof by a company you probably hadn’t heard of.
Perhaps we should not expect cycling goods to be any different to other consumer products that rely on OEMs for much of the manufacturing but few are aware of the actual companies and workers who made your bike.
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Its interesting how bike snobs often deride the Asian brands (incl. Giant) compared to their Euro steed….until you point out where the actual manufacturing occurs – despite the ‘Made in Italy’ sticker.
Cycling Tips wrote a good blog about the problem with counterfeit frames including a chat with Raoul, who is ‘THE carbon guy’ in Australia, though I’d mainly heard of him previously in the construction of carbon kayak/ski paddles for Olympians.
you are right most of them do for everything or near so as German on East Euro goods, as American.
You need to know your builder nowadays – in Italy Ciocc, Scapin, Pegoretti, Zullo are still making frames themselves, if not you have in the US great people like Moots or others independent that are making great stuff, once again check who is really behind a private entrepreneur or a Venture Capital !
Enjoy your ride.
I would rather leave carbon composite engineering to the big boys with RD&D budgets and steel, aluminium and bamboo to the artisans. The pace is such that it’s beyond their reach now.
P.S Giant TCR is a kick ass frame.
The Giant TCR started life as a BH design. Giant copied this design (it makes the frames for BH) and released it as the TCR.
mind giving some evidence that back up your guess, and why BH?
Mike Burrows designed the TCR for Giant.
Mike Burrows did indeed design the TCR. I rode with him (in about 1993) when he was running a Giant mountain bike frame with road wheels in, working on the concept of the compact frame. Before then, road frames were all big and horizontal.
“The pace is such that it’s beyond their reach now. ”
Not so, really – it depends very much on what you are looking for.
If you want ultimate light weight on a one-size-fits-all type philosophy, you are possibly right – but there are artisan carbon makers out there like Marco Bertoletti (Legend) making superb frames on a one-off, made to measure basis.
As an example of the pains that are taken by some of these guys, Marco lays his own tubes up in his high end frames (I have been lucky enough to watch part of the process) because he is never 100% sure how bought-in tubing has *really* been made and that will impact on how they are assembled … a level of care that probably isn’t available to customers of some mass produced brands.
That’s not to say it’s abetter way of doing things – just different …
There was a great article in the New York Times recently about why the iPhone is made in China. It turns out that the cost of labour isn’t the only factor. The supply chains and speed and flexibility of the manufacturers in South East Asia are unparalleled in the Western world. I suppose most bike companies aren’t as demanding as Apple, and bikes are less complicated than iPhones, but I’m sure the same reasons will keep the vast majority of bikes being built in Asia for a long time to come.
a couple of skate shoe brands had a long standing issue in the late 90s-early 2000s with their manufacturer(s) making an excess of product for them and then retailing it through a number of ‘grey channels’.
In Australia (and parts of SE Asia) it was not hard to find ‘real’ shoes (and sometimes apparel) being sold outside of the standard supply chain for 1/3rd the normal retail price. I remember reading about a couple of people getting busted for shipping a couple of container loads of emerica(?) shoes out of china.
I’ve long suspected that a few of the unbranded frames are ones that are snuck through at the end of the scheduled run, sometimes with a lesser carbon but using the same moulds.
In 2009 I bought a Tarmac, Gerolsteiner Edition from my local dealer in a small town in China. I paid 5000 RMB (~$800) for the F&F and thought it was cheap, but nothing that set off any alarms in my head. I weighted it, it was dead on to what others were reporting. The painting and craftsmanship was top notch. I e-mailed Specialized and asked if the serial numbers were legit and they were, so I was good to go. ~12 months later I cracked the BB just slightly (but what’s a good crack?) and contacted SP to see what to do next. I sent them the F&F to their distribution center in Shanghai and they said it was a fake. Even after I showed them the e-mail from SP USA saying the numbers were legit they said it was a fake. They showed me some minor detail about the front-d cable routing in the BB was the only way to “tell”. I do not know to this day if it was made in the same factory as the real ones. I don’t care. I learned my lesson. Only buy from real shops and only buy where you can get a warranty. Yes, there are factories here in China that can knock off a frame dead nuts, there are also ones that make extra and send them out the back door. These practices were not invented for the bike industry nor were they invented here in China. As was correctly pointed out, nearly everything in our lives is “OEM’d” from our cars to our phones to our shoes if we don’t pay attention we would never notice.
Another great article by inrng, thanks.
@Jonathan – except if you do the maths. At $800 per frameset, compared to the $4,500 from a ‘legit’ dealer; that equates to 5.65 ‘fake’ frames per ‘real’ number. To use your experience as an example; that is 5.65 years of buying a new Gerolsteiner frame each year, when the other one cracks. The beauty of this strategy, is that when the top rider at Gerolsteiner gets done for pumping EPO into their veins, and the team folds in disgrace, you can buy another fake branded in a team that still exists. Just sayin – otherwise your logic is great 😉
Nice summary. I read all the CyclingIQ installments on this subject and found them very interesting. There used to be talk of a “third shift” in the Asian shoe factories where, after the big-brand-name overseers had gone home, the plant was fired up again and worked all night making the exact same product for sales outside the brand’s distribution chain. The big brands never knew until they discovered all their products being sold outside their control. I find it hard to believe this doesn’t also happen with plastic bicycles and other components. But as long as folks are willing to pony up 10X the price for a warranty if it fails (provided they’re not killed if it’s a catastrophic failure) and some famous legacy, who can blame the marketers for grabbing the profits? And can you really blame a culture where intellectual property is a different concept? What the big-brands REALLY don’t want folks to know is how many of the big stars are racing on bikes with their brand-name on them that are actually produced in places like Italy (same as it ever was) by artisan-builders who can make ’em look just like the Chinese production models, but actually fit the rider perfectly. To me, this is the big loss in the current process – molds are seen as too expensive to have more than t-shirt sizes so your choice is often “too big, too small or close enough”. No matter where they’re actually made, being forced to choose from just a few sizes seems wrong, especially when these things have hefty markup/profit built into them. The bike industry certainly makes things easier and more profitable for themselves, but is the consumer really getting any benefit from this?
Good read. So companies like Ridley or Cervelo are more “design studio”?
Good article (as ever)
It would be interesting to turn the question round. Why are there some companies still mass manufacturing frame in North America or Western Europe? What do they see as advantages to this, compared to their competitors using Chinese/Tiawanese factories?
Larry T, like Parlee and Walser in the early stages of TT bikes. Heck, like Dario for Pinarello. None of that is really new.
All of this also means there will always be room for custom frame builders. As using either metals or carbon, you know where it was made, who it was made by and where to go if there’s ever an issue at any point in the life of the frame.
PeterC: yes, we can see there is often an exercise in branding and not always substance.
Rider Council: some small companies do carbon well, no?
Kris: yes, there is still design and engineering to be done. As well as design, there is branding and marketing, for example sponsoring a pro team.
David B: it can work but on a lower scale production run and often with a premium price. Look for example manufactures in Tunisia. Mavic produces in different place but sister company Salomon had moved ski production China… only to return to France.
It would be unwise to equate Taiwan and mainland China when talking about the manufacturing economy.
Taiwan’s per-capita GDP (at PPP) is about the same as Denmark’s. By the UN’s Human Development index, it ranks up there with Finland, and economic inequality is roughly comparable.
China, though its people are immensely better off than they used to be, is still a poor country, and factory workers are paid considerably less and work under conditions that would be considered unacceptable in the developed world (including modern Taiwan).
Giant’s manufacturing processes must be pretty damn good if they are still cost-competitive with their mainland Chinese rivals.
Robert: two very different places but note Giant does the majority of its manufacturing in China where it has several factories.
The entire rise of GIANT is interesting. As I understand it they were pretty much set up by Schwinn back-in-the-day to offshore production from Chicago. Eventually someone asked the question “why are we making these and putting Schwinn’s name on them when we can sell them under our own brand name, thereby keeping a whole lot more of the profit involved?” It wasn’t long before Schwinn was bankrupt and Giant was a big player in the market. Then they had the brilliant (from a manufacturing/profit standpoint) idea of supplying bikes to ONCE and promoting the t-shirt size/sloping top tube idea. Despite the fact that they had to make special sizes for some of the stars who refused to ride a “too small, too, big or close enough” frame, the idea caught on because the makers could cut way down on the sizes needed, saving a pile on inventory, etc. Next they created their own carbon-fiber factory to produce materials to create their own frames – again marketed directly as GIANT brand, cutting layers of importer/distributor, etc. So they could then either undercut the prices of the brand S, T, etc. (many of whom were buying frames from them anyway) OR charge the same price but make a LOT more profit. Win-win for them even if S and T eventually take their production elsewhere, there’s always another layer of cost via profit-taking with these brands who are little more than R & D shop/importer/distributor/marketers. They really can’t compete if the quality of the products is maintained – they must hope Giant remains happy with their market-share and profit margins, otherwise they’re screwed.
For me, I’ll keep riding bicycles made by men I know and whose hand I can actually shake, as a frame of 2000 gms vs one of 1000 gms means nothing to me while ride quality, reliability and classic looks are far more important. It’s like being offered the newest-latest supercar from Toyota, Honda or Nissan vs a 5 year-old Ferrari…the newest-latest is guaranteed to not be newest or latest for long while a Ferrari will be a Ferrari forever. I think looking at resale values of Asian-made vs Italian-made Colnago bikes would bear this out.
and my Rocky Mountain is made in Canada and my BMW is not and never will be a Toyota/Honda/hyundia……kia……dodge……………
Inrng; Maybe, but from what I can see no. If you want a carbon fiber frame built using advanced engineering and design methods they your best bet is one of the big companies. They have the budget and the resources. Quality is as good as any small frame builder can achieve and if something goes wrong you stand a better chance of getting the issue resolved. I’m only speaking from a point of view of having ridden some of both types. You can feel the difference now more than before and only a handful of companies are leading the way. First time I rode a Giant TCR I was blow away but how it responds, I never got that riding a frame built by a ‘small’ Italian company for example.
Actually the luxury goods companies have the same problem. Lots of the better quality/harder to spot designer counterfeits tend to come from the same places as the genuine items, produced as overrun stock in some cases to cover any backfill needed as result of QA. Otherwise it is enterprising factory owners deciding to make some extra in the same run and sliding them into grey markets.
More than anything, I just want to know who makes their own bikes? I only know of Focus and Look? I think some Treks are made in Wisconsin. And I thought some Ridleys are made in Belgium. Focus is the only company I’ve heard claim that they actually make all their bikes. Are there any other companies?
From me who has been in this industry for 30 years I can tell you that especially now with the modern carbon bike frame. It is more important who designed it, who spent real R&D money, who has proteam feedback and testing, than which factory layed it up.
The article implies that the top road companies simply picked their TdF winning technology from “page 26” of a china factory carelogue. Firstly, no so… how can you tell Ride them.
Yes brands use same factories, this is not new. A factory can build your bike to your specs and finish it as well as you are willing to pay for…. thus the “A” brands look and ride better because they were DESIGNED first and well finished at a cost.
Amyway…. thats all i got… dont know about you but i feel better :). Keep up the work , I generally enjoy the reporting 😉
william: note Focus is now part of Pon, the company that also owns Cervélo, Univega and more (https://inrng.com/who-makes-what/)
martin: very true and I didn’t want to give the impression it was just the same factory and generic frames. Maybe I’ll revisit the text above but for now, you’re right there is a lot of engineering and design work to get the composite right, a rigid frame under 900 grams is still something special.
Excellent post, very informative.
I notice that competitive cyclist no longer has an advert on your site. Is this a coincidence? That would be hard to believe considering that your post really exposes the fact that ultimately differences between brands are really cosmetic. What’s in a name?
I also wanted to add that I am particularly disturbed by the fact that most of the folks that are manufacturing our bikes are being paid next to nothing and live and work in despicable conditions. All the while the execs at Trek or Specialized draw a massive salary, benefits, etc… Though you can be sure they work less hours and in more — much more — pleasant conditions.
Hi Oliver, I don’t really thin what has been written here really implies “That would be hard to believe considering that your post really exposes the fact that ultimately differences between brands are really cosmetic. What’s in a name? ”
There are distinct and important differences in the engineering between many brands that may or may not have their actual construction carried out under the same roof.
Individual brands will have made specifications that include exact lay-up and so forth – OK, there are “manufacturers” who will pick a generic OEM frame and simply brand it, but that is not generally the case with the more serious companies.
Oliver: coincidence. Competitive Cyclist have been sponsoring the blog but to cut a long story short they’ve merged with Backcountry.com and the ad policy has changed, no more banner ads and their campaign has stopped. I’ll explain this properly in a post sometime soon but the story above is proving to be one of the most popular this year so I don’t want to hog the front page with a “housekeeping” notice.
I dont see what the issue is with frames being made in China or Taiwain.. All running shoes are made in the far east…why? Not just because of cheap labour but a really skilled workforce. Every 40 year old man who buys a $3000 frame pictures Ernesto putting the frame together for him in a small factory outside of Milan. Fact is the tubesets are made in the far east and then shipped to Italy for Ernesto’s best man to glue together. All marketing BS..but i would rather a skilled Chinese worker put a frame together rather than a half arsed European. Fact is that the factories in the far east have a far better quality standard, with better access to innovation, materials and suppliers than anything over in Europe.
There are different factories within the overall huge factory which will have their own workers and inhouse Giant, Specialized, Scott, Colnago Western personal. One of the bigger running factories have over 60k workers working on all the major running product.
The fakes comes from demand.. Either left over old carbon frame moulds are sold to second parties elsewhere in China etc to copy.. Then add a few stickers, find a dumb customer who wants a unrealistic bargain and then you have a cracked frame.
I was surprised about Focus bikes. I bought myself a Focus Cayo bike last year as my first carbon bike from a well known online retailer in the uk. I did this as the Focus seemed to offer the best value for money, if it was made in Germany, I can’t understand how it could end up being better value for money than the large production in asia. So although I heard that Focus made their own bikes, and would like to believe it, I’m a little skeptic…
This statement was on Focus Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/#!/Focus.Bikes on May 18th 2012.
Many people asked us, where our frames are made. Here is our answer: We are developing all frames in Germany. After the first drawings, we build up computer assisted models. An alloy prototype is made for testing the geometry, based on that models. If our engineers are satisfied with it, they work on the carbon layup, the tube shape etc. After some other prototype testing, we finish the technical specifications. On this base the frames are made in China and Taiwan. Therefore we have long term partners who are specialists in building carbon frames. Thus we can assure our high quality standards.
When the frames arrive in Cloppenburg, in our production shed, we control the quality in our own test lab, where long term and high impact tests are made. If the frame pass every test successfully, the frame is ready to be build up to a complete FOCUS bike.
So my 2010 Cannondale SuperSix that says 100% Handmade in USA, does that fall into the Look / BMC / Time category? I know with the SuperSix EVO and CAAD10, Cannondale has moved production to Taiwan, but prior to 2011 were they still making their top end bikes in Bethel CT? Also aren’t the marquee frames by most manufacturers made in the same factory of their design? For example, the C59 Colnago, Merckx EMX-7, Pinarello Dogma, Willier Cento Uno, etc . . . ?
I have no problem with low-quantity, handmade steel/ti bikes or mass produced carbon fiber bikes. What I do have a problem with is when a “brand” contracts one of these large manufacturers to produce a bike for pennies on the dollar while the worker actually making the bike is paid a salary that would make most of us protest for better wages (not to mention work conditions, environmental impact, etc). Then that “brand” turns around and shoves it down our throats for a price that rivals, if not equals, that of a small car. I have to then listen to how they are justified in selling at these absolutely ridiculous prices due to engineering costs, marketing, sponsorship, taxes, distribution, etc.? I think these big “brands” have duped a lot of riders into drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid.
“All running shoes are made in the far east…why?”
New Balance still manufacture in the UK (Siddick, just north of Workington)
blah, blah, blah, larryt wants to shake somebody’s hand blah, blah… just shut the fuck up and ride bitches.
I bought a Cannondale Scalpel Team Edition new in Australian in Sep 2010 from an authorised Cannondale dealer. Both chain stays broke away suddenly while riding on cruisey terrain, I lost control and had a painful crash that buggered my wrist, chipped my tooth and busted wheels etc. At the time that I bought the bike, I suspect that Cannondale and the bike shop were already aware of several incidences of the 2010 Scalpel breaking apart at the chain stays – but they never told me when i bought the bike. I do know they had a factory recall in 2008. Cannondale and the bike shop refuse to refund me the $9,000 I paid for the bike or respond to my request for assistance.
Some bike companies are deceptive bullies. And as 1 guy, I sadly seem to have no chance of.
Rob, You are not alone. The company that owns Cannondale is Dorel. They buy major name brand companies (not just in the bike industry either) and market the name. For instance Cannondale, Schwinn, Mongoose, GT. If I am correct they marketed Road master befor aquiring Mongoose and Schwinn. They dropped the original quality of the big name bikes and build them the same as the Road Master, Huffy. You now see these name brands in big box stores ( ie, Walmart ) being sold by the average employee (no offense intended). The point I am trying to make is Dorel the owner of these brands uses the same philosiphy of marketing and customer service to their specialty bicycle brand names as they do their big box store brand names (things break, buy a new one). When we grew up name brand bikes lasted for generations. I worked in the bike industry going to bike shows marketing, selling, riding, for over a decade and offering the best possible service a person could offer for 3 of the name brands that Dorel offers now. I too had a frame break and it was an obvious flaw in the design, the customer service was horrible and using my experience from working in the bike industry I still could not get them to replace my frame. Lame excuse after lame excuse, where is their sense of responsibility. Buy bikes from companies that only market one name brand and are not in other industries, these are the companies that are going to back their products. It is important to them to keep building quality and their industry to survive. There are a lot of good bike companies out there. Hope your wrist heeled and RIDE ON!!!!
The guys who make their own bikes don’t actually make their own cromoly steel tubes, they buy them pre-manufactured from someone like Reynolds. Yes, they do the final cutting and welding but their is likely less engineering, R&D, design and testing then what happens in developing a Carbon frame bike from someone like Cervelo or Ridley. After that, all bike makers are using components (SRAM, Campy, etc) that are made by another party and bolted on…
Paul….maximum a million pairs+ a year, but guess what… All the parts are made in the far east and shipped to Flimby. The shoes are then assembled there. “Made in the UK” or “Assembled in the UK?”.. which sounds sexier to you?
Jason S +1
The big brands created the problem by shipping manufacturing o/s all in the name of increasing profit. And now they want to cry foul? To Hell with them.
I’ve been riding/racing an unbranded open mold carbon frame since last August. I cracked my Alu frame, so just to prove a point I set off to purchase the cheapest frame I could find on eBay – $500 incl. freight & headset, tipped in another $150 for a matt black paint job and away I go. Clearly the frame is missing some refinment, but I’m rough on my equipment so who cares?
I constantly get positive comments from people who can’t work out what it is.
Would I do it again. . . . Hell yeah! Carbon is disposable.
As much as they get derided by many, you have to give Trek credit, as their OCLV high-end frames are made in Wisconsin still. However, I am not sure (like Look and BMC), that they lay their own carbon.
And with BMC’s Impec model, they have devised a manufacturing process completely devoid of human hands (although there are issues with it)
As for Cannondale – they closed down their Pennsylvania plant after being acquired by Dorel Industries…which anyone could see coming (even after assurances on the acquisition that this was not in the plans). Dorel had a business model, had the connections, logistics…it made no sense for them to fray into the OEM business….leave that to the Far East, and leave the R&D intact in the States. However, and this is yet to be seen in the bike industry as it has in other industries, but economists have noted that R&D typically follows the manufacturing….
This conversation is pointing out how little most folks know about the design, manufacture and sale of modern bicycles.
I ain’t hatin’
Just stop all the speculatin’!
Care to enlighten all of us?
CAT4Fodder, a correction to your statement:
“And with BMC’s Impec model, they have devised a manufacturing process completely devoid of human hands (although there are issues with it)”
This is very far from the truth. From the stargate (braiding) machine to the mitering (tube cutting) stage, Impec is “devoid of humans” but it is very manual from that point on. The lacquer, painting, decal, glueing and joining phases are labour intensive. Even as late as Q3 of 2011, as few as five frames per day were being produced because of “issues” in the production stage.
There is also another category of frame development that has come out of China and that is the open mold frame design. Multiple companies are pooling their resources to design and test frames. The products of these collaborations are an open design that they or any other Chinese frame maker can use. Ritte (their carbon frames), Pedal Force, Fondriest and others have all used this method. You can buy a FM-015, FM-028 or FM-039 and get a well tested and race proven frame for under $500. A number of the Chinese companies even have warranties that have been tested on forums, with results better than some top manufactures warranties I have had experience with.
Probably the most famous knockoff is the Chinarello (Pinarello Dogma/Prince). The Prince knockoffs have been hard to differentiate from the real thing for a long time, but recently the Dogma has been perfectly cloned. Is the carbon layup process the same? I have no idea. Weight wise they are the same and the Chinarello ones seem to be a bit more durable, again based on the number of people posting broken Dogmas vs Chinarellos. It is a very touchy subject, personally I can’t understand the appeal of owning a clone. Being able to buy a bare carbon frame and having it custom painted I do get and is one reason I am considering buying an open mold frame for my next bike.
A pro tour rider told me he lost 250- 400 watts when he was forced to ride Eddy Merckx.
Small Italian artesian have no budget to wrestle with big brands, and frankly don’t care. I just feel sad every time time I see a victim on Specialized, trek, BMC, yet again I giggle . each to his own.
Brings to mind the wine debate, new world vs overpriced french merlot. what ever helps to digest this heavy piece of steak
“I just feel sad every time time I see a victim on Specialized, trek, BMC, yet again I giggle”
Why? Are you very insecure? If someone is happy riding something that fits/they can afford/have always wanted where’s the problem? I don’t care if it’s a Colnago or a Carrera, whether it has Campag 11-speed or singlespeed, drop bar or flats, as long as they like riding it.
We are drowning in marketing these days – every company has a Mission Statement, big brands spend absolute fortunes on making their name memorable so you think of them rather than anyone else when you shop. Bike companies go to Taiwan and China for manufacturing due to a combination of price, quality of product and a concentration of skill & resources. UK designer Cy Turner of Cotic described in an article how UK framebuilders were disinterested, expensive and wouldn’t commit to supplying him while the Taiwanese factories couldn’t do enough for him. His choice was an easy one.
Oliver: sadly the vast majority of things we use, wear and consume are produced by people working very long hours for low pay and sometimes in dreadful conditions. Economy of scale is key so most production today is in vast factories lit by artificial light, manned by people treated like robots, often running 24/7 on 2 or 3 rotating shifts. My sister was a garment technologist for several big clothing brands and even when she visited Far East factories (when the manager would likely hide the worst abuses) the conditions were pretty awful. Despite campaigns here about sweatshops & exploitation of workers (http://www.waronwant.org/) plus a gradual rise in sales of Fairtrade products, the vast majority of what we buy is so cheap because suppliers and retailers know price is the biggest factor in choosing between competing items. We the customers effectively sanction those working conditions by choosing the cheaply made products – which may still be expensive to buy – and not asking difficult questions. There has been a lot of fuss over suicides among FoxConn’s employees at factories in China, making iPhones / iPads for us (http://www.macworld.co.uk/ipad-iphone/news/?newsid=3338650) but the number of people prepared to pay extra for Fairtrade or locally/ethically sourced products is still small.
A friend of mine described the time he worked in a factory packing car parts. They would put the same component in different branded boxes, some of which would retail at twice the price of the others. Similarly, I know people who work in food factories who say that they make 10,000 tins of Rice Pudding for x brand then change the labels and another 10,000 rolls off the production line with brand y labels. The product is exactly the same. However, I also know this isn’t universal – M&S, for instance, are very exacting re. ingredients and will not just buy the same product as other supermarkets.
Some people may find posts like this put a dent in their image of a premium brand while it may confirm others’ suspicion that all bikes are the same and “you’re paying for the name”. The way I see at it is that we have more great bicycles available to us than ever before. We are SO LUCKY!
Easy on the snobbery guys, everyone can buy and ride what they want.
The point of the article was to show that companies you’ve probably never heard of make most of the premium carbon frames, rather than pass judgement on this.
Guys? Where are the gals? Wow, we do get carried away with this stuff!
what ‘s got to do with insecurity !!! you answered it, I giggle as I know the one riding $5000 Specialized thinking it is an american speed machine is actually is designed and made by under paid over worked people in the far east for as little as $200.
So the reason for the giggle is being a victim to Mark Cavendish poster rocking Specialized , for a fat bank cheque.
However you made me giggle again, cheers.
Count us in as a company who’ll pay more if something can be had from someone making a reasonable wage vs slave labor. When I discovered Elite was making their bottle cages in China I stopped buying them and switched to a genuine, Made-in-Italy source. Same for bottles. Cost more? No doubt, but I’d rather support the bike biz in Italy, especially since our tours take place there. What if we advertised and sold Italian cycling vacations but somehow secretly diverted the client’s airplane to China and produced their vacation there, where things would certainly cost less? Nobody would think that was fair, but how different is it when Made-in-Italy is applied to Asian-made products? Count me as NOT a fan of marketing that either tries to obscure the true source of the product, or buries it in a pile of market-speak or worse, outright lies.
I hope these comments don’t come off as offensive, that’s not my intent, a lively, intelligent discussion is the goal after all.
Companies make manufacturing/outsourcing decisions based upon many factors including cost, quality, capacity, time to market, environmental regulations, shipping costs, import duties, etc.
A large problem with outsourcing to China is that it is a country where “Intellectual Property Rights go to die”, at least according to western standards. Brands that choose to source there need to recognize that unauthorized products bearing their name are going to find their way into the marketplace, and that some of their other IP may find their way into competitors’ products. Of course if you are a large customer of these factories, you have more potential power to limit these, if you have established and maintained the right relationships.
Another problem for discussion here isn’t the country of actual manufacture, but that of the labeling laws that allow the brands (marketers) to place a “Made in xxx” decal on the product, when all they did was “add value” (assembly, paint, put it in a new box, etc.) to a mostly finished product. Thus in particular examples, the issue is not Asian manufacturers, but Italy (etc.) & the EU laws, in addition to the brands that take advantage of these laws by (legally) implementing deliberately misleading practices. Now it is more important than ever for consumers to educate themselves lest they be subject to the common usage of the term “caveat emptor”.
As for the wages and conditions of the laborers in the Asian factories, at the risk of being too political, while some of them may be deplorable by any standard, they must be kept in the context of the individual nation’s norm. Standard of living means a lot; while $7.00 a day will not keep a roof over a student’s head in the western world, in Asia it very well might be a living wage for someone to support their family on. Either way, they need to be compared with other opportunities said workers might realistically have.
“As for the wages and conditions of the laborers in the Asian factories, at the risk of being too political, while some of them may be deplorable by any standard, they must be kept in the context of the individual nation’s norm. ”
Hmmm, I’ve heard that one before, it’s just an excuse to justify the status quo.
Many people working in these countries, where workers’ rights are a joke, are subject to all kinds of pressures and in many cases paid subsistence wages. They don’t own a house or have the luxuries we take for granted – like being able to drive a car to their 14-hour job in a hot, airless cupboard with fixed 10 minute breaks, no health insurance, no pension and little or no safety net if they lose their job.
I’m Eric with Cyfac bicycles, http://www.cyfac.fr. We make all of our own frames in France and have been working this way for 30 years. While we source certain tubes and raw materials from elsewhere, all of our design, production, and finish is in-house. We are unique as an “artisan” builder in that we use a top-shelf Catia 3-D modeling and FEA suite to do our composites engineering, frame designing, and modeling. We don’t buy someone else’s off-the-shelf carbon tubes but, rather, design our own in order to follow our design and production needs. This makes us quite unique in the realm of the small custom builder.
Further to the above, I think there’s the importance of actually producing one’s own product that is lacking from the overall discussion. A bicycle frame’s functionality goes a bit beyond a handbag or pair of running shoes. The intersection of theoretical design and practical manufacturing can have a significant impact on ultimate quality, safety, and enjoyment for the rider. Even the best designs must be adjusted in actual production and how much of that is being done by the third-party OE supplier versus the name printed on the bike? Is that important? How important varies of course based on the sensibilities of the individual consumer but it’s just funny to think that consumers could buy 10 bikes that each sport a different brand name but which all come from the same factory, the same workers, and the same OE production engineers who are most certainly mixing and matching technologies and designs throughout the range of items they produce for others. As a frame builder we are operating in a different space. We do believe that there is a higher intrinsic value to those frames produced by the actual name on the bike because the calculus in making the product and the resources spent on making each single frame are so different.
The goal of mass-production always to minimize production costs (not just the actual unit costs to make a frame but also those associated with environmental regulations, wages and worker regulations, capital costs of machinery, etc). Typically, we’d see the price to consumer decrease in this type of set-up but, with the huge profits needed to fuel the marketing machine of big brands, this is not the case. Frame prices are through the roof for items that are made by low-wage, Asian workers with none of the benefits we all demand in our own work. I can be shouted down for politicizing this but isn’t that that facet of this important to anyone else? Even without the “politics” that can make us uncomfortable because of the moral questions they elicit, where is the value-add on a bike frame that may cost anywhere from $30-400 to make that is then sold for $4k, $5k, $6k+? Are people ok with paying so much for the “design”?
We can make a custom frameset in steel or alloy for less than $3k. We can do a full-custom carbon-kevlar frameset for $8k. It is made to the exact specs of the rider for tubing selection, geometry, and finish. It is made in a workshop that respects the worker and that has to use certain processes and products that don’t pollute the environment. That’s still a lot of money and certainly more expensive than the mass-produced goods. But, it’s not a huge delta at retail when compared to all that is invested in the actual production of that one-off frame. Is the intrinsic value different? We believe so.
Thank you for clearly defining the issue.
As a shop employee over the last five years I can say from my experience that where an item is made is only a concern to a certain type of customer. That particular customer 9 times out of 10 is blue collar. That person cares who made his product because he is more or less the same guy as the person in the factory. I have yet to sell a big dollar bike to a white collar worker who asked where it was made and factored that into the decision to buy. These observations are definitely subject to the specifics of my location and may be different in other parts of the country but I’m not so sure about that.
The heart of the matter is skewed American consumption practices and attitudes fueled by the marketeers.
When the second and third world manufacturing countries have all raised the quality of life and cost of labor where do you think this stuff will get made. Right back here that’s where.
Enjoy the five size $1800 carbon completes while they last. The Chinese will eventually tell the whole biz to f*ck itself and start running the show for themselves. Then what are the synards gonna do. Sue them into production? I’ll buy front row seats to that fight.
@inrng: sorry you lost an advertiser, certainly shows that Quirk lost control of his company.
I hope you find another soon!
@ Simon: my comment was not a “justification” of the status quo, but an explanation of the realities, that few speak of when complaining about low wages. It is one thing to cite that someone earns “only” $2.00 per hour, and something else to note that it also very well might house, feed, and clothe a family of 4. Context is everything.
Change within these countries and cultures must predominantly come from within, though they are not without influence from outside forces. As nations develop economically, so do their standards of living. Everything is cyclical. Market forces and entrepreneurial opportunity eventually dictate origin of manufacturing; when Asia is no longer the “value” it currently represents, other sources will be found, developed, and perhaps even exploited.
Actually, TIME from France still design and manufacture all of their own bikes themselves, down to weaving their own carbon fiber and injecting it with resin themselves. A bit of a boutique brand, but I’d say very noteworthy in this subject.
I’m with you, I think it’s time for the open mold frame with the custom paint job. If I put the thing down in a crash, I’d much rather be out $500 than $3000+. And I’m convinced product differentiation is minimal at best.
It, like everything else in post-WWI America, is a marketing game. Affluent men who ride bikes want some status in their ride. Same reason the same guys buy Lexus.
Think about it, is this even a conversation if we’re discussing $300 bikes?
Pretty sure Colnago only outsource their lower-end carbon frames.
GIANT owns a pretty big stake in Colnago now. Methinks that means that they are making more than a fair share of the entire line-up….Even they say that just their top-of-the-line frame is made in Italy now.
TIME sport is filling for bankruptcy. Sad but true, ( inside info from a major dealer )
@Ali, this pro tour rider, where exactly did he loose 250-400 watts? Like that it really does not make any sense. The other thing, tell us more about TIME for bankruptcy, if you can. That would indeed be very sad and it might in a way prove a thing or two about this whole debate on mass produced carbon fiber resin frames.
Inrng. Any idea which of your posts sparked the longest discussion? I’m amazed at the dept of opinion here, seemingly coming from from all ends of the World. It would be cool if the fans making anonymous comments added what country they were in.
ali: I’ve not seen the bad news on Time, only the other they they put forward some good financial news so please share.
Rider Council: this is one of the most popular pieces on the blog this year, certainly it seems to be generating debate in the comments but also across the internet, on forums and elsewhere.
Here’s an example of where the bike industry is on this subject – we got an email promo just today from a US company who imports bikes and parts from China and sells directly to the consumer via their own website. This fellow claims to have been in the bike biz for a long time in many capacities. One point in his promo stuff really stood out –
“5. If I need to have something made in China and put a sticker on it that says made in Italy, it’s OK”
To me this guy is saying “If I need to make false claims about the origin of my products to improve sales, I see no problem with doing so.” If he has no problem with false claims like this, should anyone believe any of the other claims he makes about his products and his business?
It’s hard to fault the Asian producers for side-stepping the usual market channels and selling outside the networks of their own customers when this is the kind of attitude those same customers display. Some would say “it’s just business” and “everyone else does it” but it’s still dishonest in my opinion.
This has been a really fascinating discussion to sit back and view and I’m nervous to add anything from a laypersons perspective but I’ve found it particularly interesting as this year I am going to buy what will be my first road bike in a long time so the issues being raised are important to me as a consumer. The purchase of this bike will be important to me for many reasons, not least as it will be the most expensive thing I will own (and I’m not talking uber top end here). Now the most important thing for me is getting the right bike to meet my needs that fits me but of course I am then interested in where it was made, what are the conditions in those factories, do I (if I can afford it) look at custom made and what does that entail and what about the components and where they are from etc and of course how you balance all of this with the money I have available to spend. It is quite a bewildering choice, hopefully I’ll make the right one that will deliver what I want but as the old adage goes whatever you ride just ride.
There are many options out there that better fit riders’ needs across the range of all considerations than what is simply on-offer from the big brands alone. Whether you want your best match for fit, materials, finish, how-it’s-made, where-it’s-made, having a connection with the builder, having something different, BUDGET, etc, you can really find a lot of options that will certainly appeal to you across the various criteria.
At Cyfac, we build everything to order just for our clients. We can work through our distribution network (we have a UK distributor if that’s of interest) and even welcome you to our factory in France’s Loire Valley to see your bike made in-person. Our budget, material, and finish options are varied and I’m sure we can launch an exciting project together. Please email me if I can help with anything: email@example.com
@cyfacrider thanks – I’ll add you to my list of considerations and noted your email address. May well get in touch later on in the year as purchase time gets nearer.
@cyfacrider – big fan of your business model and history. hopefully someday i’ll ride one of your bikes.
@ant1 – thanks so much for the kind comment. We’d love to welcome you to the Cyfac family. There are a lot of great options to consider across materials, custom/standard, finishes and more. Let me know if I can ever help with any questions.
@ rider council, the pro tour sprinter is a client ( also a friend ) of my friend who fits all his bikes privately , he was saying the bike won’t respond when he puts the hammer down. the bike was an Eddy sadly.
@inrng, I was in a meeting with major European TIME distributor who’s asked us to look for a brand to replace TIME as it def going down, it represented big chunk of his business. bear in mind this is sort of info won’t be released either by TIME or agents due to its sensitivity while things are being sorted.
hmmm, Tomke had got his winning kick back there recently.
Unless this poor Eddy was SO far off from this fellow’s optimum position on the bike vs what he got with another brand or (more likely) a custom, made-to-measure frame, it’s hard to believe this “power-loss” claim is much more than the same thing that made ol’ Tricky Ricky Virenque fly after he got the injection of what he thought was dope – even though it was only salt water. Sean Kelly used to regularly thrash the best sprinters in the world riding one of the all-time flexy-fliers, the Vitus, “screwed and glued” aluminum frame….while in far from what the purists would call a excellent position on HIS bike. The story was he’d spent so much of his early career on ill-fitting machines he’d more-or-less gotten used to it and wasn’t going to mess with his position after that.
Unless the chain stays are compressing, the chain is stretching or the thing is folding over double upon itself with every pedal stroke, I have a tough time understanding where these watts are going – if not into making the bike go forward.
The Vitus frame was a stiff as any of the steel frames in the 80’s. I rode both types back then but Dave Kane Cycles Vitus 979 duralinox frame was much lighter than any other frame at that time. It creaked when accelerating a bit but it seemed to work fine for King Kelly. For sure frame design has a lot to do with how a bike will accelerate and a professional sprinter will feel that better than anyone.
P.S Dave Kane is another Irish cycling legend. Got to give him a shout out!
@LarryT – good points on the supposed “power loss”. The idea that stiff cycling parts is the be-all, end-all needs to change. In some applications, stiffer is better but it’s not all-encompassing and can actually be bad for the rider/safety/performance. I’d wager that part of the success of Kelly’s set-up was that the bike absorbed so much stress that it kept him fresher over the cobbles, across mega distances, and through regular training. We all know what it feels like to do a road trip in a stiff automobile as opposed to something much more plush. The body is fatigued. How is that any different on a bike?
In other sports, there is recognition that the level of the athlete dictates the nature of the products he/she is using. Recently, there’s even been talk about the new tennis racket strings that are synthetic and super stiff (who knew that until a short time ago the strings were still animal gut!!) being too stiff. The player needs to be so strong in order to solicit the strings and see the energy get transfered accordingly. If too weak, the energy actually comes back into the player and can lead to injury. Even the Williams sisters have switched back to animal gut strings because they found the synthetic strings way too stiff and detrimental to their game.
Thanks Cyfac for the view from someone who actually is involved in making frames. I started in bike retail when the oversized, welded aluminum idea was just getting started. I don’t know what Vitus frames RiderCouncil raced on, but the ones they shipped over to the the US of A were well-known as flexy-fliers. The only thing worse were the Alans! Then Klein started his PR campaign about how nothing was stiff enough for him – he derailed the chain on even the stiffest steel bike, so his (or was it Cannondales?) oversized welded frame (we always made fun of the engineer-types who showed up with them with cracks about how anti-aerodynamic those fat tubes were) was the answer. I thought it an interesting theory until I rode one. One thing I think is missing in the “stiffer is better” rhetoric is sort of what you mentioned about the bike leaving Kelly fresher. It’s the fact that unlike F1 cars, a bicycles’ frame and suspension are one and the same. Super stiff frames paired with super stiff wheels rarely ride well, especially on less than glass-smooth surfaces. Just like RAI’s Davide Cassani says when guys start falling off on fast descents, I believe there’s a problem with overly stiff frames and wheels, especially when combined with overinflated tires. Even the MOTOGP folks are finding this out, as anyone who’s followed the tribulations of Valentino Rossi trying to ride the too stiff, carbon-fiber Ducati bike against his rivals on metal frames with built-in amounts of flex, knows. I believe there’s still a bit of art/intuition/skill, etc. involved here. rather than simply pure science, sort of like your synthetic racket string analogy.
There is so much more to frame design today that simply trying to make it as stiff as possible. That is yesterdays debate and bikes are getting dialled in every year so no need to generalise any more. If you ride one of the top frames you will know this. The big carbon fiber manufacturers and professional riders alike understand better how a bike should handle and how to balance out characteristics. Alan and Vitus were the first aluminium frames and they were tested over the toughest terrain by one of the greatest Cyclocross riders in history and one of the greatest Classic riders in history. They won World Championships and Monuments on Alan and Vitus. However it’s a stretch to speculate on how much Kelly’s bike kept him fresh therefore contributing to his success. I don’t think the man himself would appreciate the analogy.
Since I have been lurking a bit at INRNG of late I should introduce myself especially considering the conversation and its relation to me.
Jim with Igleheart Custom Frames & Forks.
Thanks everyone for the window into riders perception and understanding of this very complicated issue that on the surface is deceptively simple.
I agree with most of your statement but think not all companies are making good choices in balancing out characteristics. The technologies expense is dictating sizing and handling to a very large degree for the average cyclist. Five or seven sizes covers most people but not to the level it should at the price asked for many of these frames. Molds have presented access to better frame technology but not without limitation.
I can’t understand what’s going on with smaller frames too. Are designers so fixated on short chain stays they can’t make a decent smaller frame?
A 52cm medium these days will have a 74.5 seat-tube an a 53ish or 54something cm top-tube. When you put on the setback post to account for the track seat-tube and get situated with the crank you are looking at a 55cm top-tube. At 5’7″ with a short torso and long in the wrist BG fit is telling me this is ok with a 80 or 90mm stem. What? Yeah because the next size down with the proper(not hidden) top-tube measurement will have far too low a head-tube dimension for my seat height and accompanying stem stack. At that height I restrict breathing and lose power from my pedal stroke. I fall in between sizes so have to compromise on the handling to ride their product.
Having worked at an S shop I did just that for cross season.
Fought the damn bike every weekend. I’m not concerned with results either just enjoying my time on the course so it was very disappointing. Eventually I compensated but how many new riders will just get discouraged is what I worry about.
If I know better how can I in good conscience sell to customers knowing they are in the same boat as me. If one rides shorter than a 53cm then it get’s tricky to buy the proper frame these days. It really pissed me off to have to quietly make the compromise for a customer to get them on the carbon bike they wanted. Every other brand in the shop had the same issues. No alternatives. They don’t know any better so am I doing them a disservice? Potentially.
I’ll tell you what happens when they get hooked go to another shop a year or two later and get a fit and have a frame presented to them without compromises. The former shop now looks like a bunch of crooked jerks without having geometry/manufacturing limitations explained. Around here every shop is quick to cut the others throat instead of standing on service. There are so many issues rolled up in the damn molds it’s ridiculous and infuriating. Why was I selling bikes based on head-tube size in the end? FFS. I don’t miss that quandary at all.
“But it’s just points in space.” My favorite misleading fit quote.
In the end it’s big money for the A brands and decisions are made in that interest first always and the technologies potential is blunted.
In my mind custom frames are the way to go for the serious long term cyclist or individual that is between sizes. A quality properly measured custom frame is far superior to an off the rack race machine even at a weight penalty. The builder understands, listens and can address the customer specifics without limitation. You can have a beer together as well.
Support your countries economy. Support the local cycling economy. Find a builder to see and feel the difference. Go ride trails with the person or chat after the Saturday morning group ride. People who make things one at a time are important. Society will be worse off without them.
It’s never been more evident in the states. It’s all falling apart because we only consume.
This has been a very interesting discussion.
Respect to you @Mr Igleheart, you have in my opinion said much more than most of us here in one comment. I don’t fit on a standard size frame so I have to tweak components and my position to deliver the power efficiently. I design and make bespoke cycling shoes in Italy with custom carbon shells so I know how I can get the most of of my position over the pedal but finding the right frame size is always a compromise. I had a Colnago custom made once but yeah to get it right you might just have to spend a few afternoons over coffee or grappa with your frame builder to really get it right. Unfortunately carbon fiber frames are getting so advanced the gap between artesian and mass production has never been greater. The ipod of cycling frames may never happen.
Thanks Jim W! Another guy with real experience and knowledge weighs in to combat the marketing BS so many fall victim to. During my bike retail daze I fought (luckily this was long before Giant came along with the t-shirt size) this battle constantly with folks who thought the tubeset, or brand, or components were so much more important than the key thing, getting the right size frame – so the right position could be obtained. I didn’t win every one of these battles, we sent clients away rather than put them on the wrong size frame. My final sales pitch on it was always, “we can’t make enough money on selling you just this one bicycle to make it worth putting you on the wrong size. The only way we make any real profit is if the thing fits and you ride the heck out of it and (we hope) come back to us for all those tires, chains, etc. that you’ll wear out along with the friends you send in here to get their new bicycle from us.” Back then we sold Davidson, Serotta, Tesch, FUSO as pro-quality bikes along with Bridgestone as complete bikes at lower prices. Of course all of these makers offered a large range of stock sizes so we could get things pretty well dialed in compared to the challenge it is today. These days with our rental fleet, I NEVER ask the client what size frame he or she rides. Instead we ask for 3 basic measurements from their current (or favorite) bike and use those to select the proper size Torelli bike for them…which is quite often a different size than their bike at home. This has resulted in more than a few cases of them buying a new bike in a different size once they return home. Too often in bike retail these days it seems the client is put on a bike held up with a trainer in the shop and sold the size that seems most comfortable to sit on while watching TV, rather than one that will let them attain a proper cycling position.
@ Rider Council,
Look at how Parlee makes their custom frames. All lugs with tubes manufactured by ENVE to design specification. The only molding there are the lugs. No spaceship shapes just straight forward tubes with tunable results. I’m out of date on my Cyfac but I assume they are working with the same general principle to deliver custom sizing.
The mold making the most of carbon is a healthy dose of marketing to justify the method.
There is more than one way to skin a cat. : ( I like cats.
The mold will also set a product apart in the market though so that is a heavy appeal as well. It’s interesting that the bicycles have come full circle in respect to visual recognition. The early days of Le Tour rules would not allow for branded frames so the builders made ornate lugs to distinguish themselves. The Italians love this new ability with carbon. All the sexy curves and eye catching lines translate into art for those folks. The Germans have big blocky industrial efficiency in their look so on and so forth in the designs.
I read a very interesting interview with the founder of Ridley Jochim Aerts. He was talking about the evolution of their carbon production. All of the first carbon offerings were tube to tube construction and the feedback from the pros was outstanding. That style of manufacture is expensive so they bounced it to eastern Europe then finally gave up and redesigned for mold process in Asia due to costs. They adjusted for mass production even though the feedback was still favoring the tube to tube frameset. This is about five years ago but makes you wonder where the trade offs intersect between the two types of manufacture.
I hear you man.
The ability to pay a living wage to an adult in a small bike shop is staggeringly difficult. In the states at least. 80% of the time in my neck of the woods you go into a shop and are handled by a kid just out of high school or working through college. They may be smart, articulate and passionate but how much experience are they bringing to the table? They don’t understand a back that won’t cooperate after 35 – 40 years of hard use. Or they say stupid things like “compact gearing is pussy”. The worst is talking down to the lower price range customer. If a person came in and Tiagra was the ceiling then as far as I’m concerned they leave feeling like a Rolls Royce owner.
Retail is tough.
Cycling retail very tough.
In the internet age getting prohibitively difficult.
The big marketing in the end is way more damaging as there are so many know it all customers armed with BS and wholesale prices from cut rate IBD B brands dumping current model year product online.
At the last shop I had Fuji contact me to dump all their unmovable cross product mid season while there is a Fuji dealer across the damn street!
It’s a complete mess out there.
God love all the poor souls sweating in this biz for the right reasons.
There are way easier means to keep a roof over the head this is for sure.
For the riders out there:
If you have a good local shop with solid, intelligent, engaged mechanics/sales people bring them some donuts on the way in to work tomorrow or stop in with beer at 6:00 on the way home.
Yo, it means the world in the same way your Saturday ride does.
JimW – I’m sure we could trade stories here that would bore these folks to tears but your comments on the compact gearing made me cringe. Before we introduced our rental program in 2005 we’d often have clients arrive with bikes lacking the proper gearing, despite our suggestions of 39 – 26 as a MINIMUM or even better, a triple for more choices and wider range. Way too often the client would repeat what you wrote about the shop guy, “my mechanic said there’s no way I need that kind of gearing”. It was usually just the first day when they realized how wrong their shop guy was! In our pre-trip planning details I’ve now addressed this situation directly, warning against being talked out of it by the shop guy who is NOT going to be there to face their wrath and has likely never been to Italy or seen climbs like the ones on our routes. The strangest thing to me is – these folks work in bike shops, why the HELL would they NOT want to sell their customers the proper stuff? What else are they there FOR? I’m glad I’m not so much in bike retail anymore, just the fringes of it at Interbike each year are more than enough!
its an good article about carbon cycle manufacturing, i think more detailing about how it really manufacture that will make more interesting to readers and rider and new riders too. and moreover available of carbon bike are very few in asian countries so outlet detail should also be added for who want to purchase of selected models.
I don’t see the point of spending $$ to have a brand name on a bike. Just get the $500 oem carbon frame and find someone to custom paint it, put custom decal, whatever. It is a bicycle frame. I would spend more $$ on wheelset, drivetrain, saddle and bike fit where it really matters.
I am a recreational/utility cyclist. I have been riding an OEM carbon frame/fork/seatpost/saddle/handbar for more than 2 years, over 7,000km as daily ride all year (commuter, solo, charity ride), I custom painted it with wood grain finish, put on second hand Dura Ace & second hand Mavic SC SSL wheelset. It has been the most comfortable, most lightweight, most stiff, most value for money and most reliable ride I have and I spent less than $1300 on it. It is one of a kind. I do my own maintenance and I replace what is worn.
Buying OEM frame direct form factory is the way to go.
Boy you sure do have it all mixed up don’cha? For you to actually think that the frame of a bike is not important is really amusing. Every component has a purpose, and without one, the other is worthless. However the frame is what not only holds everything in place, it is what makes one bike ride so differently than the bike next to you. Sure, you can change this and that, but just like a car- the chassis is where it all comes together. And so it is the same on a bike.
Disclaimer – I design and have made steel and aluminium one-off frames for clients under the Mondiale bicycles brand. We have dabbled with carbon, and I have two carbon bikes of my own, but they don’t flaot my boat the way other materials do.
This is a fascinating debate, with a good many strands to it – I’d like to add another one!
Is the experience of the retailers and those directly involved in retail here the same as mine – that there is a growing swathe of marketing-averse customers (I’d rather not use the word consumers, I find it increasingly distateful & perjorative) who DON’T want to be “Trekalized” and whose aspiration is absolutely not to own a well-known and A-Brand product, but whose aspiration is to be a little different, to have a product that stands out because it’s not on every street corner?
A spin off of that may in many cases be that the product is one-of-a-kind, made to measure and with in-depth consultation with the maker or in my case, the designer (would that I could wield the torch myself …) but maybe it ain’t necessarily so.
Such customers, in whom a concern as to the origin of their bike is often (but not universally) important, often break the mould referred to in Jim Ws post, as they are often monied … that may of course be a cultural thing, as I am based in the UK (which long ago gave up any pretension of being a real manufacturing economy) where having money is often not something individuals shout about … what they really care about is getting a product that genuinely meets their needs, is sold to them with consideration and care, is backed up by conscientous after-sales and which separates them off from, rather than enhances their standing in, a marketing-led herd?
I’d be fascinated to hear other contributors views, even though this takes us quite a long way from Ten Tech Composites, both literally and metaphorically!
As a manufacturer of carbon and titanium bikes that’s based in Asia, I’d like to correct the biggest misconception in this article and held by many: the fakes are actually NOT made in the quality factories. Period. There are dozens of tiny little factories that get cheaper materials, less trained workers and defective equipment. Generally they have no testing equipment. A properly set up factory like Taihe, will not really benefit from make fakes, because they already have huge orders from SCOTT RIDLEY SPECIALIZED etc. that the fakes are simply not worth it, let alone publicity and breach of contract risks. It’s the small ones with no R&D, no design, and shitty workmanship that have to rip off big brands. But the sad thing is, people will keep buying their products. That’s why these guys will keep making them. To the gentleman who bought the $800 knock off, let me repeat the old saying: if it looks too good to be true…
Thanks and worth saying. Do you think it’s possible these fake frames come from the original moulds, the real factory discards or even sells the old equipment and tooling to some “entrepreneurs” looking to make counterfeit frames.
Although they all have different ways of doing it, chances of the fakes coming from origninal moulds are lower especially for current models. If you have 50,000 units of SL4, S5, Dogma, FOIL on your floor, you will not bother with the $3K profit from selling some older moulds. Based on my information, getting some R&D personnel to sell you the 3D drawings for $500 (equivalent of his monthly salary) is the easiest and most logical approach.
To Binny, well said. Not to get off point of the main topic (who made my bike) but you are correct that the quality bike mfgs overseas trains their staffs on how to lay up the prepreg for the moulds as requested by the engineers and r&d. The sad fact is that these counterfitters do not understand why and how to lay up the pre preg carbon materials to keep strength and integrity as it was designed. For example 7 layers in this area with unidirectional and bidirectional and 11 layers in this other area for extra torsion, not to mention how to heat and cool your moulds properly. People who buy these products don’t realize that the logo on the frame or no logo means nothing when the frame fails and someone gets hurt. Then they blame the company as if they bought the product legitimatly from an authorized dealer.
…steel is just looking better and better these days.
I think one key point to make in all of this discussion is just how disingenuous the entire bicycle marketing approach is. The various big brands who offshore their production to China and Taiwan promote the brands’ heritage, mystique, and general allure in all of the marketing rhetoric. The brands stake their message on just how “Italian” (passion and style), “French” (quality, history and Le Tour), “German” (quality), “Swiss” (precision), “American” (patriotism?, contemporary, new wave) their country’s brand resonates. How does this messaging hold true when all of these frames come from the same handful of factories, made by the same staff, on the same shared machines, in the same processes. The suggestion that each brand employs it’s own “proprietary” approach to construction is intellectually lacking – the means of production is held at a factory that is spreading all of its capital costs, materials, and labor across the most consolidated and reproducible set of processes as this (along with the low labor costs, lack of environmental controls, etc) is what keeps the unit costs low and profits high. The suggestion that “BRAND X” does something so special and unique in this context is just laughable…
When a consumer buys a Pinarello, Colnago, Wilier, etc because it’s “Italian”, it’s just ridiculous. Either the consumer doesn’t know or doesn’t care. In either case, the rider is paying a lot of money for something that carries none of the substance to its brand’s rhetoric. Imagine getting some “Italian” olive oil that comes from somewhere else…You are buying that moniker as a sign of something important to you (the provenance of a product indicates a level of quality, taste, care, health, and sense of value). If, in fact, the product came from elsewhere despite the brand’s marketing then that’s off in my opinion…
Also, the talk of “TECHNOLOGY” and “ENGINEERING” needs to be better flushed out. Since when does changing the frame’s silhouette (that is so easy to do this days given the cake-mould fashion in which frames are made) translate to making it “better” from an engineering standpoint? Where is the investigation of claims that each new frame iteration miraculously saves 1:30 over a 40km TT, 20 watts per km, or other unsubstantiated claims? Magazines, websites (this one excluded), and many blogs just serve to regurgitate the marketing department copy from these big brands. This is a disservice to the rider and, frankly, a lazy approach to “journalism”.
I do have quite a lot of sympathy with the above, but there are some holes in the arguments as well that shouldn’t go unchallenged or un-commented upon.
“The suggestion that “BRAND X” does something so special and unique in this context is just laughable…”
There most certainly are differences in the engineering in carbon layups that go far, far beyond simple tube profiles, and in many cases those layups are proprietory …
There are several ways to build a carbon frame in shape “x” – in fact there are probably as many ways to do it as there are design engineers looking at ways to do it, but externally the frames might look similar if not identical. Their ride characteritics might be very different though … so I’d be one of those who refutes the idea that there is no value in the brand. Different brands do take different approaches to their carbon design, for sure.
Where I agree though, is the idea that a manufacturer – assembler can describe a product as “Made in the USA” for instance, even though the main fabrication has been done somewhere far away from the USA, is wrong and should not be tolerated (or even legal).
The “added value” that basically takes something unsaleable to the public and converts it into a recognisable product is should not be allowed to be confused with fabrication, as it is now. The 40% added value rule is what allows that.
“the provenance of a product indicates a level of quality, taste, care, health, and sense of value”
This may be true, but there is no reason to assume that just because the point of manufacture is remote from the point where these attributes are part of a company culture, that a product can’t be imbued with them. As an exaggerated example, Ernesto Colnago doesn’t build every Colnago, and hasn’t done so for a very long time, but that does not necessarily prevent the frames being built with levels of quality, taste etc., that he subscribes to … the logical conclusion of an argument that runs like this is that every steel frame that Colnago produce should have iron ore mined by Ernesto in the steel, which should have been smelted by him, etc., etc – there has to be a boundary in these matters and the question is where that boundary should lay.
With regard to the last paragraph, some manufacturers do publish a certain amount of their data to substantiate some of their claims (Cervelo, historically, have been very good at this as an example), though I agree a lot of blind faith is displayed by some arms of the cycling media.
One also needs to factor in the fact that some of the real reasons for doing things are not honestly presented to the buying public on the basis that they are not “sexy” … so it’s easier to make a taper-column fork with a 1 1/2″ crown race than it is to make one with an aggressive step between the crown and a 1 1/8″ crown race, but the concept of stiffness is easier to sell than the concept of ease of manufacture, so the spin-doctors are allowed their head …
Many of those journos who review product don’t really know a great deal about the engineering that they are dealing with, as they have in many cases been educated via the advertising of the manufacturers and so are not equipped to question some of the concepts that manufacturers constantly use … so, as an example, if I read that “alloy frames are harsh and carbon frames are compliant” one more time, I will probably murder someone – but the problem here is that if no-one has ever taken the time and effort to explain, and the journo hasn’t been skeptical enough to challenge, it is a myth that will go on being propounded.
As a long time cyclist from RRacing to sportives from steel to carbon I think far to many of the comments here are based on ignorance. I have just finished building my new Cervelo R5.
What a frame! The kind of world class enginneering design i could only dream about a few years ago. I can now buy off the shelf (in the half price sale) the kind of bike that would take 10 mins off my personal best in my racing days and take me up the longest climbs in Europe (hopefully) knowing that the effort I am making is going directly into propelling me upwards. The improvements in frame manufacturing in the last decade has been fantastic and I for one look forward to the next.
What bugs me, isn’t where the bikes are made, but rather the “marketing schtick” that hides the fact of where they are made. Yes, there are some “American” and “Italian” brands that appear to be made in USA and Italy. But after digging deeper, these frames are in fact made in SE Asia. I think that is decpetive, dishonest, and unethical. Hats off to a small company like Cervelo for not only disrupting the entire bike category with their innovative ideas, but for also being transparent with the location of their manufacturing. I hope they can grow with their new owners and still continue to introduce innovative new technologies that keep competitors chasing them. by the way, I own a Giant composite, simply because they are the best value for the money, with a warranty, AND their small frame fits me better than a P2 52 (too small) or 54 (too big). There has been a LOT of side topics on this forum, and I think the one question that must be asked is: why does a person buy one brand and not another? I think it’s the same reason why I buy one type of car, wine or shoe, while another person buys another. It all comes down to personal taste and personal priorities. I want value….a fast bike, that fits well for cheap (eg. Honda Civic with a turbo kit). Somebody else might want a bike that is light and comfortable, for long rides on cobblestones, or in the mountains . Another person wants style… a good looking bike that they can show off in front of their Sunday morning group riders (eg. Pinarello, Colnago, Ferrari, Lexus). Nobody is right or wrong. We all want different things out of our rides. The commuter on the $500 OEM bike gets exactly what he wants, at a low price point. All the power to him. If fit and comfort is your #1 priority, then it probably makes sense to go custom. Like getting a custom made suit or shoes. But it you want aero, or BB stiffness, it appears that big company carbon is the way to go. (Giant, Cervelo, Trek). Just stay clear of Dorel and other “marketing” companies that don’t know squat about bikes, and know way too much about saving pennies to increase their own bottom line. If you think that getting a bike made in China is unethical, then you probably shouldn’t buy ANY consumer products these days. I worked in the toy industry for many years and there is no way the western world can make consumer products at these low prices. Toys, like other consumer goods, are disposable. Computers these days are out of date so quickly, they too are disposbale / consumables. Is it time now for carbon frames to enter the “disposbale” category? If a company like Giant makes a move, and slashes prices on carbon frames, could they put every other mass-produced frame maker out of business??? If a decent, name-brand frame only costs $500 at retail, I think I would buy a new one every year.
This is why I ride a Morewood!! 🙂
THere are a few things that might make people think differently.
Chinese workers stealing stuff to sell has been on the rise. A factory in Xiamen that makes LOOK’s top end frames have been selling hundreds of 695s for US$700-$800, and the resulting shops selling them at around $3K, while these frames normally go for close to $10K (yeah, Chinese consumers normally pay ridiculous prices for big name products). Go figure.
Big name brands have to constantly fight with OEM factories regarding quality control and workmanship. GIANT is different because it has been doing it long enough and is smart enough to know the standards. Others still need the pressure to function properly. Their workers would typically slack off when making frames for domestic brands, which is a much welcome after getting bent up badly working on western brands’ stuff.
In addition, there is no way a comany can properly function by selling carbon frames at $500, unless you can get people to provide free R&D, and bike shops to charge zero markup, Cavendish to ride for free… Oh, and bikes can’t have paint or proper boxes or instruction booklets, etc. Don’t tell me Hongfu and Dengfu this and that. They make cheaper frames and they make $80 per frame. The entire factory that supplies Hongfu and Dengfu (over 200 people) make about the same money as a typical US physician.
The typical westerner will be cheering, as the bicycle industry is actually being driven down the drain.
I have read the article and most of the comments here is some more info, in bullet points:
– bonding tubes, woven or molded, custom or not, is never going to be better than monocoque construction simply due to how fibers work. Moncoque process is vary labour intensive and will not be feasible to do this in Europe and turn over a profit until the world readjusts and labour costs become more equal.
– Colnago, Scott, Trek (except the one model) are all made by Giant. Giant also owns most or all of Colnago now.
– Giant also outsources production so not every composite “made by Giant” part is physically made by Giant. For example Colnago lugs come from another factory in Taiwan
– Brands do not determine the final layup of the frames. They simply do not know how. It is the factories that take the brands’ designs and desires and translate them into something that can be manufactured with sufficient yield to turn over a profit for the factory. Physical layup is done by often very transient unskilled to semi-skilled labour. Thus intricate, fully optimal carbon layup patterns are just about impossible to execute on a mass production line. Prototype lines can do this as only a few very skilled workers and engineers are involved, but consumers will never get to buy these frames.
– BMC is all made in China except for the ill fated Impec. The hose braiding machine that makes the tubes is indeed in Switzerland. AFAIK it does not belong to BMC.
– Cannondale CAAD is made in Taiwan, the rest is mostly made in China
– Chinese factories are not full of mindless drones, but are run by very skilled businessmen (mainly Taiwanese as most factories are Taiwanese owned) and employ very skilled composites engineers. Chinese universities churn out more composites engineers than the rest of the planet combined and they have been the main source of composite sporting goods products for over 20 years now. Thus assuming that they are clueless is …clueless.
– The brands’ main concern is low cost, quality and safety. Performance is discussed at marketing meetings.
– The factories’ main concern is high yield, low cost and acceptable quality/reliability. Poor quality leads to factories closing down. Two factories closed down last year, one due to that fork failure, one due to 25 000 frames being rejected by their main customers (Merida and Giant) due to poor quality.
…there is more. In the industry there are no secrets or mysteries, the secrets and mysteries only exist out in the consumer land. Most of it is vacuous marketing and nonsense. Some of it is true. Sadly there is no oversight so even the few good and advanced things that brands sneak in now and then get lost in a sea of cr*p.
“- Brands do not determine the final layup of the frames. They simply do not know how. It is the factories that take the brands’ designs and desires and translate them into something that can be manufactured with sufficient yield to turn over a profit for the factory. Physical layup is done by often very transient unskilled to semi-skilled labour. Thus intricate, fully optimal carbon layup patterns are just about impossible to execute on a mass production line. Prototype lines can do this as only a few very skilled workers and engineers are involved, but consumers will never get to buy these frames.”
This is something of a sweeping generalisation.
“Brands” are perfectly capable of commissioning some of those highly skilled composite engineers that you speak of to look at their design work for them, in just the same way as they employ graphic artists, copy-writrs and marketing gurus.
I have also seen relatively complex (although quite possibly not “optimal”) lay-up schedules being followed in a mass production environment by workers that we in the West might not consider to be skilled – the fact is, though, they can follow a process to a relatively complex end result, in just the same way that any other production line worker can.
We need to kick into touch the idea that laying up carbon as a physical process is like some mystic “laying on of hands”. It’s not – it’s more akin to following a sequenced textiles process, with parts that are accurately pre-cut by automated plant, to a predetermined pattern.
In this respect, it’s no different to any other industrial process.
Last – Of course some of the purity of the engineering is lost in the translation between the prototype engineers aspiration and the harsh commercial reality of “can we make it, at what price and will it be commercial at that price” but that is true in any sphere of activity.
a relevant read is “Poorly Made in China”
albeit the title is fairly scathing, the more delicate matters are very interesting. specifically the culture of consumerism and production.
i suppose pivotal moments would be
“The Empire of Production”
“The Empire of Consumerism”
On a slightly related note, I’ve been trying to get Halfords to tell me whether they pay their workers in Cambodia a living wage, but Halfords are refusing to answer the question. Do you have any advice on how to get them to respond? Or where I should buy my next bike from?