There has been a bit of chatter on the interwebs recently on the subject of where bikes are made, and by whom. It’s important to note that this whole ‘who makes what’ in the bike business is very convoluted and always has been.
Back in the day when Eddy ruled the peloton, top of the line competition bicycles were all made of steel tubes using lugged construction. I think it’s fair to say that sans paint and decals, it would take a very knowledgeable eye to identify the manufacturer.
The bike companies that sponsored the pro teams took advantage of the ubiquitous nature of bicycle construction, and the builders of Pegoretti’s ilk made a living off of providing for the pro riders needs.
In this day and age the bike companies would have you believe that the ‘contract builder’ no longer exists; that all of the bikes are of their own design and construction. But is this really the case?
This article tells of all three bike brands of the podium winning riders in the Tour de France having been built in the same Asian factory. Are they the same bike? The bike companies would have you believe that they are not, and visually they are readily distinguishable.
The Asian manufacturer is employed by companies for differing reasons: some point to economic reasons, others to manufacturing expertise. It makes you wonder what the real deal is.
Supposedly manufacturing in Italy is too expensive to make bike production profitable. Yet Colnago’s top of the line bike is made in Italy and costs less than Pinarello’s Asian made flagship.
The same situation is said to be the case in the U.S. Here again we find that Trek’s U.S. made top of the line Madone is the same price as Specialized’s Asian made Tarmac.
It makes you wonder …
This article points to several of the bike companies utilizing the same manufacturers, and the same bike company using different manufacturers for different models in their line, kind of a mix and match sort of thing.
So what difference does it make where a bike is made? Does the decal on the downtube mean anything at all? Is there really any appreciable difference between carbon framed bikes, even though they appear to be different?
The bike companies have all sorts of tech speak that they use to try to differentiate their product from the competition. Mainly, it seems, that the ‘tech speak’ is the marketing departments way of highlighting the engineering that went into the frame. But, who’s engineering is it? And, does it matter?
Take, for example, Colnago, they have models that are manufactured for them by Giant. Giant have considerable expertise in both carbon manufacture and design. So who designed the Giant made Colnago’s?
Well, Colnago would like you to believe that they did in order that they might differentiate their bikes from Giant’s offerings, and perhaps justify the price difference.
Does it matter? In this case, probably not, because we’re talking about Giant. But what about the companies that manufacture bikes that no one has ever heard of? Whose expertise do you rely on then? How can you even know?
In another example, we have Specialized, and their collaboration with McLaren. One would imagine that this wasn’t done on the cheap, and the fact that Specialized has placed a price premium on the McLaren model would seem to confirm that.
By all accounts, the McLaren model is lighter, stiffer, and just more better all around. Well, McLaren have been doing the carbon thing for a while and have considerable expertise, so no surprise there.
I wonder why Specialized felt the need to go outside for engineering help. I also wonder what happens when the special sauce that was developed with McLaren’s help gets put into use. Presumably, the McLaren model is being made by one of Specialized’ OEM manufacturers, since Specialized don’t actually build their own bikes.
How does Specialized keep the recipe for the special sauce they’ve invested so much in from making its way to the other customers that the OEM provides for?
A few things come to mind when I read about this stuff…
I have no problem with bikes being made in places other than the country of origin of the bike company. Design and manufacture are different, and they don’t have to be ‘in house’ to make good stuff.
As an aside, having spent the better part of my life around NASA types, I can say for certain that boffins, though they may be brilliant, are more often than not, the last person you would want actually working on something that was important…
I have a hard time assessing the value of bicycles by virtue of not knowing who to credit, and what the differences actually are. Take bikes that made up the 2008 TdF podium we spoke of; Is the Cervelo really worth more than the Ridley? They were both made by the same company. They may in fact be, near as makes no difference, the same. In this case we’re only talking about $1000 or so price difference. In today’s market you can find much greater price differentials, with perhaps, no greater justification.
Lastly, I wonder if all of this tech speak isn’t just so much noise. I have no doubt that you can feel slight differences between bike frames ceteris paribus, and that there are combinations of attributes that will have you form a preference. But, the example of Scott with their FO1L frame replacing the Addict gives rise to this virtual equality theory.
Scott usually just moves a model down its range when a new one comes out. The CR1 used to be top of the line, now its mid range, whereas, the Addict was replaced by the FO1L. There may be other reasons behind this, but the main one that comes to mind is that the FO1L and the Addict are essentially the same with the FO1L having the added benefit of being ‘aero’.
I also believe that, provided the bike fits properly, perhaps things other than the frame have a greater impact on how one perceives the performance of any given bike. There’s marketing, and then there’s reality, it’s very hard to ride marketing…