Alejandro Valverde finished ahead of Alberto Contador in the Ruta Del Sol last weekend. The two Spaniards are rivals but have plenty in common, from nationality to anti-doping bans. What you might not have noticed is that both ride bikes made in the same factory.
But “Alberto Contador rides a Trek and Alejandro Valverde rides a Canyon” you might say. You’d be right. Both companies use a firm called Quest Composite Technology based in Dongguan, China to make some of their premium frames.
Quest’s website, with English pages, is open about this with lots of images of Trek and Canyon product on their pages, as well as the Louisville Slugger baseball bat.
The same company doesn’t mean products by Canyon and Trek are the same with only cosmetic touches like paint or decals. Far from it, looking more into things it even appears that Quest has “silos” of staff with a set tasked with R&D, manufacture and service for Trek; and another silo of staff doing similar roles for Canyon. As such Trek and Canyon’s frames are not the same and let’s put that in bold to make sure nobody gets confused.
The idea of the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) manufacturing parts or even whole goods on behalf of another firm is an established one but normally something that’s kept quiet. Should we acknowledge the shared manufacture more? Probably not if you’re a brand manager needing to separate your product from the crowd. Indeed it’s a surprise to find Quest’s website so full of shared Trek and Canyon imagery.
But it’s not so uncommon in cycling where various frame brands point to outside influences, for example Pinarello boasts of its carbon fibre from Japanese manufacturer Toray just as a vintage steel frame would come with a label from Columbus or Reynolds to show who actually made the tubing. If a brand is willing to say what its frame is made from, then is a the logical next step is to acknowledge how it was made? Here it’s harder because the brand still needs to control the intellectual property of its unique design. The risk is people make the short cut and equate “same OEM” to “same product” when a shared OEM doesn’t actually mean that (hence the bold text above) because it all depends on the specifications, one firm might insist on a superior resin; another uses more hand-made carbon lay-ups; another uses the latest moulding technology and that’s before we get to the design differences like aerodynamics and integration with components. So while it’s true that informed consumers make informed choices, all the info available in public here is the same OEM rather than identical carbon, resins, lay-ups, moulding and so on. Still in a recent Canyon frame review on cyclingnews/Bikeradar the author made a comparison to Trek “perhaps the toughest current rival to the Ultimate Evo is the Trek Émonda SLR 10” which is telling if there are links to the same factory, no? At the very least it’s a commendation for Quest.
Another reason for the hush is that “Made in China” still has mixed meanings. Last year the BikeBiz website had a great article on the production of frames in China and used three labels to describe frame manufacturing in China: cream, competent and cowboy. The cream refers to the likes of Quest, not mentioned by name in the piece but the kind of firm making premium frames at the pinnacle of the market. Competent makers are producing for mid-ranking brands. The cowboys are probably behind those too-good-to-be-true frames you see on websites like Ebay or Alibaba. The Bikebiz article lists various OEM manufactuers: “Keentech Composite Technology, which makes carbon frames for Cervélo. G&M Carbon Components makes for BMC. Pinarello frames are made by Carbotec Industrial of Taiwan and China, in the carbon business since 2004. Scott… …in the Giant factory” and these are all examples of the cream of the crop, for the record Keentech is a subsidiary of Taiwanese firm Topkey which makes some Specialized, Merida and Cannondale according to their website (which means in theory it’ll be possible to have a race with a top-5 all on Topkey manufactured frames). Anyway the point here is you can have some of the best products in China alongside the fakes and fails so the label remains altogether less reassuring than, say, Made in Switzerland.
The “Made in China” label is slowly going up market. Once upon a time the phone in your pocket might have be from a European brand like Nokia or Ericsson, today Chinese smartphone brands like Huawei, Xiaomi or Lenovo proliferate and have plans to tackle market leaders Apple and Samsung. Now that the technology to make these goods is established in China, the Chinese owners of the capital can continue to contract their plant to make goods on behalf of “Western” brands but they’ll look on with envy at the margins and maybe decide to make their own brand frames too. It’s not far-fetched, indeed the likes of Merida started out manufacturing for other brands and now have their own product lines and brands which goes as far as the World Tour. Factor Bikes sponsor Ag2r La Mondiale too and this is an interesting case study of start-up brand without the European heritage but it still needs to sponsor a Euro team.
Made in China? A lot of bikes are. It’s not so common to mention some are made under the same roof in China. You probably saw that Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador finished 1-2 in the Ruta Del Sol but the fact that their bikes are made by the same company is something that’s not so widely known. Their bikes are different but it’s a reminder of the silent supply chains behind the sport and it’ll be interesting to see if any of these “cream” manufacturers launch their own brands.