21 December, 2007

Belleri Bars and International Trade


We have received another, and probably the last, shipment of Belleri "Porteur" handlebars. This box is all seconds, that is bars that had at one point been mounted on new bikes and taped. We speculate that these came from unsold bikes from a large shop or factory in France.

These bars have been very popular and we've had nothing but glowing reports from customers who have tried them. I've heard that there are a couple of hundred more of these bars available somewhere in Europe and perhaps we can track them down. In any case, we plan to have a similar bar made by Nitto in the future.

On another subject, I am distressed by what I sometimes see as an anti-Chinese or even anti-Taiwanese bias among American cyclists. My own attitude is very different. VO is committed to sourcing both expensive parts from Europe and Japan, and less expensive alternatives from other countries. It would be great if everyone had TA pedals, but some can't, or won't, spend that much on pedals, no matter how nice they are. It makes sense to stock two or three lines of pedals of various quality and price levels and offer customers a choice. So I'll look to Taiwan, China, anywhere for alternatives.

I'm very anti-nationalist and am happy to source stuff from any country in the world if I think it's well made, a good deal, and made by a small company that I think is well run. But I won't source anything from a concern if I even suspect they don't treat their employees properly. People are people and a worker in the US or Europe has no more right to earn a living than one in China simply because he or she was lucky enough to be born here. Too many people forget that we are citizens of Earth first; being citizens of a particular country is a very distant second.

The whole anti-China thing that we sometimes encounter in the US smacks to me of nationalism and even racism. Trade and open communications are what help people, not sanctions, boycotts, and and political posturing. I'm sure, for example, that our neighbors in Cuba would be a lot better off if the US had taken a more friendly tone 40 years ago. Governments, like people, respond best to positive stimulus, not punishment.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now and go back to sourcing parts.

Note: As I mentioned in the very first post. This blog is not just about bikes. It's my policy to occasionally go off on a tangent and stir up some discussion about environmental, political, social, or economic issues.

61 comments:

David said...

Nicely said, CK.

I hope folks are mostly concerned that regulatory requirements for workers, "the environment", good governance practices et al. are either not present or not disclosed in some other countries.

That said, V-O is several orders of magnitude away from the *-Marts of the world.

Do you get a sense that the companies you deal with are sensative to environmental concerns with regard to manufacturing and supply chain issues, for example? Also, how large are the companies you deal with? Are they the same big shops larger companies use, or are they smaller?

You might consider having an official supply chain statement. I guess I'm a little heavy on this, since I'm in the CSR industry.

Anonymous said...

yes, chris,

a nice thought for the holidays. Support the good stuff, regardless where it's made. Humanity first, bikes second, and where you lean after that is up to the consumer.

best,
mw

Anonymous said...

No apology necessary, get on the box more often! I have those well designed bars on one of my bikes and really like them. Stay outspokin',
Jack

mpetry912 said...

Agreed on the anti - china comment. Everybody has the opportunity to make a choice and vote with their wallet. (sweeping generalization here) Those very same people who are anti-china and "against global warming" are the same ones who are in their GMC Yukon, sitting in left turn lane for 10 minutes, waiting to turn into the Costco parking lot and buy plastic lawn furniture made guess where.

Chinese manufacuring can be excellent, and can be used as a business partner to outsource manufacture of world class products designed in the US. Outside the bike world, Elephant Racing (Porsche parts) is an excellent example. Fred's products are world class, and they are made in ... china!

If you don't like it, vote with your wallet, and make your actions consistent with your words.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chris, great comments there.

I've owned and ridden two Chinese steel lugged gentlemen bicycles, and know first-hand what is good and not good about Chinese-made parts.

The simple parts are heavy, durable and cheap.

But the finish is lousy, and if the part is intricate, it usually does not last very long in service.

What I would say is, source wherever you deem is best for the budget.

But I would pay more if necessary for quality parts.

And if the only quality parts are to be found in Taiwan, or Europe, or the USA, then so be it.

I wouldn't buy something from China just because it is cheap. I would buy something from the USA because it is well-made.

Alf

Anonymous said...

So what's wrong with pointing out that corporations are taking our jobs away? What are we going to do in the US now that there is almost no manufacturing? We can't all be doctors, lawyers, architects and politicians. So what's left? How is the middle class going to survive? Flipping burgers at McJunk Food, Inc.?

We are on our way to becoming a third-world socio-economic structure: a small, ultra rich elite controlling everything the rest of us poor saps do. All the while enriching a repressive government in Asia. Way to go!

C said...

Amen! I find the whole notion that China isn't as capable of producing products of the same quality as the French to be absurd and even racist. The Chinese have demonstrated quite capably that they are a first world nation on par with Europe. In fact, last I checked China has put a man into space - something the cheese eating surrender monkeys have yet to accomplish!

Are there environmental and human rights issues in China? Absolutely! However open trade and free markets are the way to change these things. Keep in mind it wasn't that long ago that France was a barbaric colonizer of much of the developing world. The French exploited developing countries with little to no regard for the environment (ever hear of the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior??) or human rights. Countries change but not overnight and not when left in isolation.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Oh come on Anon, do you really believe those media talking points. This article from Kiplinger Business Resource Center might clear up a few myths about trade with China: http://tinyurl.com/2j62jd

If you are worried about an elite class and income disparity, that is an issue that is better addressed at home.

China is now much like the US was 100 years ago. We got over it largely due to the "New Deal" and the fact that World War Two wiped out the rest of the world's manufacturing capacity. This, along with mineral riches, gave the US a huge (unfair?) head start. What's happening now is that much of the world is finally catching up. The worst thing we can do is believe that we are somehow entitled to be a first world country while others are cheating to become one. And this is exactly why nationalism sucks.

zman said...

Sorry but I'm with anon on this one. We are giving up our sovereignty slowly but surely all in the interest of "the lowest total price". It started with shoes long ago, and now we have "outsourced" things to the point where it's a model in business schools. China and India are proud of their smokestacks, to them it's progress and it is, but ultimately we will, as a planet, pay the price. I'm always amazed at how cynical Americans are about their own government/businesses etc (a lot of times w/ good reason), but are so willing to accept the "good intentions" of other countries.
Just wait until we can no longer afford to produce our own food and that gets embargoed.

C said...

"So what's wrong with pointing out that corporations are taking our jobs away? What are we going to do in the US now that there is almost no manufacturing? We can't all be doctors, lawyers, architects and politicians. So what's left? How is the middle class going to survive? Flipping burgers at McJunk Food, Inc.?"

First, who said they were "our jobs"??? Why should US workers have these jobs and not workers from some other country?? Also you really should be careful for what you ask for. If every country kept what was "theirs" the United States would instantly screech to a halt as the nations of the world decided to keep "their" oil thus bringing the US to the brink of collapse. Without foreign oil you're going to have a mighty hard time delivering anything in this country. Not good since most people in this country don't live within walking/bicycling distance of a farm or other food source.

The US isn't becoming a third world nation because countries are stealing our jobs. We're becoming a third world nation because we have terrible parents, teachers, and schools who are too busy telling junior how special they are rather than teaching them the basic mathematics and intellectual skills needed to compete. China and India are going to surpass the USA not because they're "taking" our jobs but because they produce engineers, chemists, and developers. At that point all those menial, brainless factory jobs will come back to the USA because that's all our population will be capable of doing. Spend some time in a hiring capacity in a company and you quickly become aware of this. In the past 10 years I've worked at a major medical research institution (UC San Francisco) and for numerous tech companies (including Microsoft and Adobe). It's frightening how much of the key talent in these fields is now coming from outside the USA because our country is no longer capable of turning out qualified candidates. Price has nothing to do with it. The foreign born workers we hired made as much (or more) than their US born counterparts. If anything, they cost more to hire due to the enormous expense of immigration lawyers.

One other reason so many jobs have gone overseas is because the middle class keep clamoring for lower prices. Retail jobs that used to pay decent middle class wages now pay minimum wage precisely because people want everything for the lowest price. Reality is Wal Mart is where they're at precisely because they responded to what the middle class public wanted which is more stuff at a lower price. We have met the enemy and he is us.

russell said...

Hey Chris -

Briefly, another point of view.

I have no animus towards China or Chinese people, and hope they continue to grow economically.

That said, I will quite often prefer American made goods over foreign made, if an appropriate American made good is available.

There are two reasons for this.

First, I like to spend my money as locally as possible, because it helps build the economy I actually live in. That's not just bike stuff, but every kind of good, from lumber to groceries to handsoap.

Second, stuff made in China (or France, or wherever) actually has to be shipped here from wherever it was made. Even if the net cost to me is less, there's an environmental cost we all pay for physically moving things around the globe.

I'm not really doctrinaire about any of this, it's just a preference.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I liked the comment about eduction. I recently asked a colleague (from mainland China, now teaching at my own university) whether kids in China read. We were all having lunch with the Chancellor. She told me that she had to read aloud as a child for two hours at the beginning of every day. She also said that this practice continues. She said it was very noisy, all the kids reading aloud simultaneously from books in the same class. This small point, out of context of course, filled me with envy.

This past Tuesday, I read to my daughter's kindergarten class. First I read from Lewis Carroll. I began by saying that I was sure that many of their parents read this work to them at home. No one raised their hands. When I asked how many of them knew about Alice, some mentioned the Disney movie and some discussed particular rides at Disneyworld. I told them that Disneyworld was pretty good for an amusement park, but that wasn't what I was talking about. These children are well-off students at a private Catholic school, the best in town. This small point, out of context of course, filled me with sadness.

I ended the hour by reading from a kid's book that my daughter and I wrote when she was in preschool. They enjoyed it. Point of this ramblng post . . . There are differences between cultures, and some of these are worth ponderng. But fussing over where your small-run, esoteric bike parts are manufactured is not, to me, significant. You've got better things to do.

best,
michael white

Anonymous said...

Keep the discussion on bikes, parts and riding....

Anonymous said...

I am the "anonyme" who posted the question, "So what's wrong with pointing out...?"

CK, you are missing the point. This is about CORPORATIONS running the show that GOVERNMENTS should. Governments need to regulate the economy. The problem is not nationalism, but globalism. The "globalists" are simply international corporations that want to control the world economy. It's the same old right-wing idea of privatizing everything. Do you want corporations answerable to no one running the show? Or do you want a democratic government, elected by the people in control? I know, I know, we're far from having a true democracy. But why stray even further away from that goal? Say "no, thanks" to global corporate power.

GG said...

My beef with China, which I find surprising no one has mentioned, is the rash of recent products poisoning our children and pets. Because of this China is on my do-not-buy-from list for now.

In line with another comment, I generally try to choose the most local option anyways, to support my local economy and not support the transport of goods all over the globe just to shave a few dollars off the price of something.

zman said...

I wouldn't like to see corporations nor the government in control.
1st off you'll never get them to agree on anything ever.
Sorry, but a good government is a small government. Pave the roads, maintain the militia, etc. Stay out of our lives.
Same with corporations. Look what happened last time the two got together-we got NAFTA, the beginning of the end of mfg in America.

C said...

"This is about CORPORATIONS running the show that GOVERNMENTS should. Governments need to regulate the economy."

I really don't think it's that simple or that black and white. There are some areas where I'd prefer to see strong government control (such as defense, major infrastructure projects, and basic health care) but at the same time there are many areas where private parties are much better. For example, many non-government groups do a much better job than the government when it comes to social issues such as taking care of the homeless. Private schools also do a better job than many of our horrid public schools.

Reality is once the government takes control of something you end up removing many incentives to provide a better product/service. A prime example of this is the "spend it or lose it" budgets found in many parts of the government. This is also why you end up with incompetent or corrupt employees who are impossible to fire.

Also keep in mind who controls the global companies. Almost all are publicly traded which means if you have a 401k you are essentially a part owner. I'd bet good money there are more people in this country who own stocks (either directly or through pensions/401k plans) than there are who voted in the last national election.

Finally, governments often do terrible jobs at running economies. Just look at Zimbabwe or Iran. By all measures both countries should be booming and yet they're not, thanks in large part to government interference in private markets. North Korea is another prime example.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Z-man, Small government sounds nice, but who will step in to limit carbon emissions? Who will ensure food safety? Who will fix what is the worse health care system in the first world? Who will ensure that all kids get an education? Who will clean up the superfund sites? Who will ensure that our kids have wilderness to enjoy? Things get really complicated when you start talking about small government.

I'd like to see government, like in Europe, where the best and brightest student compete to work in government and where citizens take genuine pride in how well their government works and in how it makes their lives better.

Keep Thinking said...

" Anonyme said...
Keep the discussion on bikes, parts and riding....

21/12/07 12:47"

Why? If being "forced" to think a little bit hurts, maybe that should tell you something.

zman said...

The European countries can afford to provide all these services because they don't have to defend themselves. We're doing that.
There's some truth to that joke about the shaded roads in France.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Z-man, You have a point. The US defense budget for 2008 is about 623 billion dollars. Russia's is around 50 billion dollars, China's is around 65 billion, France spends 45 billion, North Korea spends about 5 billion, Iran spends under 5 billion. In fact the whole rest of the world combined spends less than our 623 billion and no country spends much over 10% of what we do.

So why exactly do we need to spend more than the rest of world combined to defend ourselves. And who exactly could possibly threaten us. The European defense budgets are in line with the rest of the world--they don't need us. What possible enemy justifies this sort of outlay?

If we cut that budget in half we could eliminate poverty, fund universal health care, hire a huge number of additional teachers. I honestly have never been able to understand this defense spending thing.

zman said...

Now we agree on something. Let's pull the troops from Germany, Italy, Yougoslavia, Korea, Japan, Phillipines, and everywhere else. Then when the Soviets become a threat again we can say, "Sorry, our budget doesn't allow it". I'm seriously all for that, and eventually we'll get out of Iraq as well. We can watch them all killing each other in another war on CNN. BTW, the gov't should be doing all those things (except healthcare) that you mentioned.

Dan Gurney, Mr. Kindergarten said...

Chris,

Thank you for jumping up on the soapbox. It takes some courage to talk about what matters.

It takes fortitude to think about opinions that do not neatly align with our own. Real thinking is *hard* work and hurts sometimes.

I happen to share your distress about increasing nationalism, racism, and global warming.

Your comments about public school sting me some (I am a public school kindergarten teacher) even as I agree with some of your observations in regard to what's wrong with schooling.

Your comments make me think. I would like to point out that private schools work well because everyone in a private school pretty much buys into the same educational program. If they don't buy it, they move on, yes? That's good for the school, but not necessarily good for a pluralistic democracy.

Public schools fail -- and succeed -- for the opposite reason: they bring together people who don't necessarily agree with each other on a whole range of issues, education among them.

Democracies need institutions that regularly mingle people of differing opinions while doing something that matters more than buying something. Schools used to do this, or at least some did. (Yes, I know about school segregation.) I am saddened by the move away from public schools in favor of private ones.

You can visit my blog if you're interested in a public school classroom that's working.

Our choices have gotten us where we are today. If we don't like America today, we might consider this guideline:

"Think locally. Act neighborly."

And decide to leave your car home as much as you can.

Dan Gurney

wannaberando said...

Chris

Stay on it. Tough issues.

I am willing to pay more for:

-quality
-fair treatment of workers
-good stewardship of our world
-elections free of corporate control
-lifting up those with less, here and elsewhere.

"Our" wealth, "our" opportunities, "our" jobs were in large part gained on top of the backs of others or by the barrel of a gun.

However, FREE trade is not the answer. FAIR trade is.

Having said all that, I have the luxury today to choose to pay more. For those who don't we must regulate corporations and regulate trade. We also have to invest in good jobs and good public schools here and abroad.

As to racism, China-bashing is a form of it. Racism is a tool used to keep us all divided.

I agree with David: a VO "official supply chain statement" is a great idea. You already have a great price-point. You have a great value-point. How about a great sustainability-point?

Great discussion all!

PS My community just beat back a new Wal-Mart from opening by sticking together and framing a vision of the kind of community we want! We can beat corporate thugs who only care about their bottom line.

Joel said...

I do not have problems buying merchandise from Taiwan, Japan, India, Singapore, etc. Nor did I have any problem buying a Sycip manufactured by two Filipino brothers in Northern California. So I am not certain how a racist tag would sit on me.

I do have problems buying from China for political and humanitarian reasons. I disagree strongly with those who suggest China is just as the US was when its economy was developing.

100 years ago the US government was weak, small, and with the exception of a few tariff houses here there almost completely univolved with the US economy. On the other hand, the Communist Party is in almost complete control of all commerce and communication in the PRC.

More troubling, and where I differ with your defense spending numbers Chris, is that the PLA (the People's Liberation Army) is a direct and indirect owner of many companies throughout China. Indeed, much of the PLA activity escapes even the full knowledge and scrutiny of the Communist party. For instance, it is not clear that civilian leadership knew the PLA was going to shoot down the communications satellite earlier this year, marking the first use of weapons in space in over 20 years. It also seems the civilian government did not know the PLA was going to deny the Kitty Hawk docking privilege in Hong Kong last month.

In an earlier blog entry here, some people complained about Thomson because it makes military components along with some pretty nice seat posts and stems (for those who use threadless forks). With China, there is no way to know whether its industries are owned in whole or part by the PLA and what the PLA is doing with money owned by those industries.

I can tell you the PLA is certainly not using money to improve the Huiger regions of Northwestern China or preserve Tibet (yes I know, we killed our Native Americans 130 years ago, so we must look aside while China destroys Tibet). Nor is it using its money and strength to assert positive influence in Sudan, Burma, and certainly not with its relations toward the good democratic people of Taiwan.

Annette said...

While I don't always agree with Chris K. (and am not in total agreement with his comments here, which makes for rather loud... er...interesting discussion at work and home), I'm compelled to point out that he made no comments about the US public school system, other than proposing slashing the defense budget and putting some of the savings towards hiring teachers.

C said...

"The US defense budget for 2008 is about 623 billion dollars...the whole rest of the world combined spends less than our 623 billion..."

If only things were so simple and black and white.

Take a look at where your defense budget goes. It's not all bullets and bombs. When I worked at UCSF we received $15000 to study breast cancer in Marin county. This money came from the US Army. Never mind there are no Army installations in Marin county. The US military also has more musicians on the payroll than most countries have paratroopers. The defense budget is bloated with all manner of funding that has little if anything to do with the day-to-day operations of the US military. Politicians simply stick project funding into the defense budget because they know it will get approved.

Also we spend much more on our troops both in pay and benefits than any other major military. I spent 10 years in the Army and worked with soldiers from numerous countries. No other country comes close to the US when it comes to troop benefits. I also received my university education courtesy of the Army.

Another point to consider is that all those expensive weapons mean we end up having to use fewer weapons. In WW2 if you wanted to take out a factory you sent thousands of men and hundreds of planes to bomb it. The result was you maybe hit the factory but almost certainly slaughtered countless civilians. You also wound losing several of your own men and planes in the process. These days if we want to take out a factory we send one airplane with 1-2 men aboard and they drop 1-2 bombs. Of course civilian deaths still occur and always will but not nearly to the extent they occurred in WW2. If we have to fight wars, we should at least strive to make this sort of progress in doing it.

Finally, I'm very happy we spend lots of money on our tanks and other vehicles since they have MUCH higher survivability rates in combat. The Chinese and Russians could care less about their troops and it shows in the design of their equipment! Russian and Chinese armored vehicles are death traps. I've been inside BMPs and T-72s. They're not vehicles you want to into combat with. I'm quite happy the taxpayers spent $2 million to equip me with a M-1 Abrams featuring such luxuries as blow-off panels, DU armor, and automatic fire suppression.

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." - George Orwell

Anonymous said...

A little extra money going to the military is fine, but ten times more than any other country? I had no idea!

gunner berg said...

Chris K.,
It's your store and you can sell what you chose to. I can either buy these products or not. I have nothing against the Chinese people. I just don't like the system they are working in. You seem to feel that buying products made under this system will change the system - a legitimate position. I simply don't agree with it. I do however resent the implication that if I don't agree with your position I am somehow "racist".

Chris Kulczycki said...

Gunner, that remark was not aimed directly at you. I know that you are the Buddha of Albert Lea. But you cannot deny that racism still thrives in our fair land and it is often a factor in this xenophobic attitude.

Bill Gibson said...

International trade wasn't possible on a mass scale until the age of fossil fuels; except for extremely high value non perishable goods, every region had to be self-sustainable over time. It took machines powered by fossil fuel to replace human and animal labor; all our social progress, from the abolition of slavery to labor rights to the new deal to civil rights and the beginnings of consumer rights and environmental protection lagged behind and were made possible by those technological advances.

Technologies of cheap and fast communications (and banking, and changes in government) created the conditions that opened the modern age of international trade. We are witnessing the reversal of social progress in a race to the bottom driven by price, linked to the weakening of national governments in favor of trans-national corporate combinations who are privatizing everything possible; and our social development is lagging again.

It sure isn't enriching the poor of the world, even as small middle class elites appear in Asia. It's time to revive old dreams of good government, internationalism, disarmament, solidarity with the rest of the world, and to talk to our neighbors. Fair trade will require international organizing, and a new way to live with this planet, a new kind of self-government, not quite like anything we've dreamed before if we want to make progress in justice and freedom.

Nothing promotes all the above, and and at the same time feeds small local/global businesses anywhere on the planet, better than the noble bicycle.

Anonymous said...

yea chris!! well said!!!

jonathan said...

Slightly out of context in this discussion, but do the Belleri bars typically run as a drop or riser?

Anonymous said...

I choose to not purchase chinese made goods for humanitarian and environmental reasons, that has nothing to do with racism. I buy products from any country that treats employees fairly, and actually cares about the environment. The CEO's and stockholders in america are outsourcing jobs so that they can earn more money, not reach lower price points! Does the quality improve? Does the customer get a better price? Does it help the domestic economy? The answer is NO.
As joel points out the PLA has a huge financial interest in most chinese companies, this is the same group of people that has nuclear missles pointed at the united states of america, taiwan, japan, and europe. I am tired of listening to excuses of why companies move production of products to china. Using the racism card is lame! Most people I know that boycott chinese made goods are minorities. Do you think the chinese government pratices fair trade? Does the chinese government lie about its currency value? Does the chinese government care about the environment? Do they care about the workers? Isn't the chinese government allies with such countries as N. korea, Iran, Russia? Come on people wake up! This has nothing to do with racism, but more to do about ethics, political agendas, governmental regimes,military corruption!

Wannaberando said...

I'd buy bicyle parts from anywhere...so long as we are as assured as we can be that all aspects of the production and transport, including the environment and the workers, are treated as humanely as possible. That's why I like David's notion of a "supply chain statement" or a sustainability index for VO.

As to Chinese people-bashing, that just isn't cool. Going after the Chinese government, however, is fair game.

From a policy standpoint, I'm not convinced that free trade will right the wrongs. Our best bet collectively is to regulate trade.

But on a personal level, informed trading choices based on knowledge about the production model--an index--would allow each of us to weigh in knowingly.

The bicycle in its use is mostly very loving to those around it. Making sure its production is as loving seems to fit the true spirit of cycling.

What do you say to a sustainability index, Chris?

Gumbi said...

While arm chair economics is great fun, remember that we live in a dynamic period of time. We have to fall back on the values and behaviors learned from our parents, mentors and ancestors.

For me personally this means buying healthful foods. Buying quality goods (regardless of origin) and re-using them for a long time. Loving my friends and family. Smiling at strangers. Learning from every experience. Striving toward balance.

The global market has only two major differences from more traditional local markets. Lack of information (transparency) and long distance transportation. The same barriers to entry, consumer preferences, supply/demand and resource constraints apply. We can help create a liveable global market by exercising power of the purse. Demand goods and services in line with your values and demand the information you need to make an informed decision. The other things will fall into place. Ride safe!

Phillip Franklin said...

Wow ... this seems to be a hot button issue amongst us cyclists. And that's a good thing. International trade and world policies have never been more important and more critical towards the peaceful and economic co-existence for all this planet. We have everything here from environmental concerns to the funding of governments who abuse human rights and and are gaining international power at an alarming rate.

As consumers we must assert our purchasing power because in the end that may be the only power we have to bring about change against inhumane working conditions and human rights violations and important environmental policies. To suggest this is based upon nationalist or racist beliefs is simply absurd. We fear the Walmart type of capitalism for good reason. When profit is the only motivation for business and capitalistic enterprise we as a nation and a world economy will face all types of problems. Desiring a strong national manufacturing and economic base may in some eyes be nationalistic or racist but in reality it might just be necessary for the survival of the economic health of this country.

Right now Europeans enjoy the highest standards of living in terms of working conditions, health care, and other factors that determine standards of living. At one time it was the United States. But powerful international corporations have too much influence over our national policy. Denying that fact is simply denying the politics of Washington DC and the lobbyist money that fuels the direction our government has been moving for the last several years.

We are now involved in a war that will cost us a trillion dollars and in the end will weaken our position in the world. And it was apparent from the get go that war would not have been fought for it not been for our reliance on Mid-Eastern oil.

Getting back to the quality of bicycle parts on an international scale there is no doubt that the best products come from countries that have the best working conditions and thus high standards of living. Quality simply is a by product of those conditions that bring out the best in human endeavors ... not the worst.

We do have good examples of quality bicycle parts being manufactured in this country. Some of those are White Industries, Paul Components, Chris King and Thompson. It would be great to see more of these type of domestic manufacturers. And yes European companies such as Brooks, TA, and Campagnolo still produce products that will last a lifetime.

Japan's Shimano makes a host of high quality components. And there are of course other Asian companies producing some quality. But outside of Japan most Asian companies are not doing much to bring us high quality components or to bring about a higher standard of living for the workers in their plants. Maybe over time things will change. But they won't change in a positive way if we don't demand quality and and the other human and environmental concerns.I think most of the cyclists who post on this blog feel very much the same way as I do.

Perry said...

Interesting discussion. I just finished watching a DVD (which I highly recommend) by economist Joe Stiglitz:

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/film/reviews/47077/where-is-the-world-going-mr-stiglitz/

I have many thoughts about this topic, but if forced to limit myself to one observation it would be this: Americans sell out for the quick buck and we do it each and every time. Not all of us mind you, but certainly enough of us to form a sizable majority. This will bite us in the tukus, but soon. I won't elaborate any further here.

Chris, I applaud you for taking a stance. I think your conclusions as to why people don't want to buy Chinese goods are a bit simplistic though. Yeah, some are just reactionaries, or even racist, but I bet most of your customers don't fall into those categories.

Happy Holidays to all

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris Kulczycki said...

Anon, I just deleted you comment because you obviously did not read the post.

I believe the way to change a country's behavior is to engage and encourage those businesses that are doing things the right way. There are good honest business people who treat their employees well and care for the environment in every country. To write-off an entire nation because some of their businesses don't apply the human rights practices or environmental standards that we would like is wrongheaded. And it's only logical to wonder if it's driven by xenophobia or nationalism or even racism. I'm not saying that our customers share these motives, but the media's, and certain politician's, portrayal of these issues certainly seem to be.

As I said in the post, our 40 year boycott of Cuba seems to have helped keep 11 million humans poor while only strengthening Castro's resolve. On the other hand we engaged the totalitarian regime in South Korea and it became a wealthy and democratic country.

The reality is that we sell very few products made in China.

Anonymous said...

Chris,

I look forward to the new imported frames very much. In my imagination, both will be composed of equal parts practicality, beauty, and value, which is exactly the sort of balance that will make them irresistable to many knowledgable buyers, regardless of any pre-existing notions of what this or that country represents. I hope to see close-ups of the lugwork and the welding. Even such a little product like a nice silver seatpost at an attractive price--that is no small feat. Keep em coming.

thanks for everything,

michael white

z-man said...

As a final comment on this topic, which BTW I have enjoyed reading very much, I'd ask:
If Economists, Writers, and Educators are so smart, what are they doing commenting on these things instead of making a fortune and then retiring to spend the rest of their days commenting.
I have a theory. If a person is involved in a manufacturing, or service, and to a lesser extent retail business and is not holding the checkbook and ultimate responsibility for that business-they don't know jack.
Those folks are the least qualified (and you can throw clergy in there as well) to comment on anything. You can't "take a class" on something and know very much about it. Just look at the classroom scene in the classic film, "Back to School". Funny, but oh so true.
Merry X-mas my two-wheeled brethren!!

Bill Gibson said...

Sorry, I disagree strenuously: how a persons spends the time they have in life, once they have "enough" to live, has little to do with quantity. Quality, my friends, not quantity! Wisdom? The further you go, the less you take with you. ;-) Of course, I'm one to talk...

Anonymous said...

While mainland Chinese manufacturing labor may be paid pennies, relatively, their cost of living is similarly low. Such jobs at any rate appear to be attractive alternatives to peasant life. Like it or not, the US as a developed nation has a high-wage, high-price, high-cost, high-tax market economy. But other similar nations have universal health care, giving their small and medium businesses a leg up.

"On the other hand we engaged the totalitarian regime in South Korea and it became a wealthy and democratic country."

The southern half of Korea went straight from Japanese colony to US client state at the end of WWII. Most totalitarian tendencies of the South Korean government are pro-US in nature.

It's loyalty to the Wall Street regime has shielded South Korea (so far) from media-driven fear and loathing episodes like the one against Japan in the 80s or the current one against mainland China. Not that China can't be criticized, but the current atmosphere reeks of hypocrisy and a desperate attempt to redirect the rising anger of the populace towards an external (or newly arriving) "other".

Anonymous said...

your anti-nationalism and comments about racism have gained my trust. i will take them at face value and not consider them an apology.

although i just spent my bike budget with peter white (and LBSs) for the next few months, i will first visit velo orange after reading these heartfelt comments.

-feliz navidad y que tengas un año de paz
-bien dit et bien compris

Anonymous said...

oh ...except now i read more ...and i want to say that you may be misguided about your thoughts on cuba...(tal vez, no puedo saber lo que tienes ni piensas ...¿cuidad, no?

ong said...

I tend to agree with the overall sentiment here, which is that I'm more than a little uncomfortable propping up a regime that shows so little regard for the rights of its workers and the state of its environment.

That said, everyone I know who actually AVOIDS buying Chinese-made products does so for similar reasons. They're reasonable, idealistic people who don't drive excessively, try to buy locally, and vote progressive tickets. It's not some attack on China or its people -- simply a recognition that WE are responsible for the demand half of the equation that keeps Chinese prices so low, and helps wreak such incredible havoc on the air and water and working class.

The people I hear bashing China and chanting "USA! USA!" are the ones who shop at Wal-mart and buy quantity over quality... I sure don't see "nationalists" organizing a boycott of Chinese goods. It seems like it's bike-commuter, shop-locally-with-reusable-bags-in-the-Xtracycle types who actually refrain from buying those items.

Anonymous said...

As many others have pointed out, this post is a contentious issue. I hope to weigh in a little bit without merely reiterating what others have said.

At the risk of being too reductive, it seems as though there are two main viewpoints regarding global capitalism expressed in this blog. On the one hand, some - including chris- suggest that we need to embrace this global market in a positive and productive way, something like voting with your dollar on a macro-economic scale. On the other hand, some folks seem highly reticent to accept the perceived ills of global capitalism which are inherent to it, including the massive transportation/fuel costs and the lack of transparency.

While Chris makes an excellent point regarding the borderline racism expressed in anti-Chinese-production sentiments, I think that, all things being equal, local, domestic markets are favorable to international ones. Not because the quality is better, not because "we" produce better stuff or deserve more than "them," but because it is the most economically, environmentally, politically stable way of doing things, for all the reasons discussed in the above comments.

So I find myself in a bind when considering purchasing nice components created internationally. Although I'm resistant at all to adopting "voting with my dollar" as a political strategy, I still find myself somehow lured in by the strategy's guilt-alleviation properties. So when I think about the things VO is making, I find luxury parts. They are, by and large, status-oriented, albeit functional and beautiful, parts. Before I get lynched, let me say that I appreciate and support what VO does in producing beautiful, lasting parts. But I also recognize that much of my attraction to VO originates in aesthetic, not functional, concerns. I am forced to Iook at the items VO makes, and ask myself whether a) those items already exist on the market in an inexpensive form (cable hangers, pedals, handlebars, chainguards); b) whether, if those items were high-cost because of being US-made, I could do without them. The answers to these questions to lead me to one conclusion: to the extent that these items already exist (and are already sold at a price point accessible to those who can't afford fancy stuff), I am paying for luxury. And to the extent that I'm paying for luxury, I think that I probably oughtn't have the option to buy it in any way but the most sustainable (politically, economically, environmentally) possible. When do we have enough? Why should we have a right to nice stuff at a low price point? If I can't afford to have it made here, do I really need it? These are the murky waters which I am - and I hope others are - still navigating.

And make no mistake, I'm no rich elitist: I make less than $10,000 per year. I still manage to buy some nice stuff for myself, but can't buy the nicest of everything. Sometimes the less expensive (or used) stuff works as well as the high-polish stuff. It may not look as nice, but it works. And I know that most of it comes from Asia, but the argument for buying $10 Taiwanese pedals instead of $30 Taiwanese pedals seems stronger to me than the one for buying $30 Taiwanese pedals instead of $60 American pedals, especially when the difference between them is largely cosmetic.

At the risk of being presumptuous, I hope that VO fosters, on the scale that it fosters the Taiwanese industry, the domestic component industry. As that industry grows, domestically made, high-quality stuff will become less expensive and more accessible to all.

Sorry for the length of this comment, but I believe this to be an important and provocative issue worth taking some time to talk and read about.

Anonymous said...

As many others have pointed out, this post is a contentious issue. I hope to weigh in a little bit without merely reiterating what others have said.

At the risk of being too reductive, it seems as though there are two main viewpoints regarding global capitalism expressed in this blog. On the one hand, some - including chris- suggest that we need to embrace this global market in a positive and productive way, something like voting with your dollar on a macro-economic scale. On the other hand, some folks seem highly reticent to accept the perceived ills of global capitalism which are inherent to it, including the massive transportation/fuel costs and the lack of transparency.

While Chris makes an excellent point regarding the borderline racism expressed in anti-Chinese-production sentiments, I think that, all things being equal, local, domestic markets are favorable to international ones. Not because the quality is better, not because "we" produce better stuff or deserve more than "them," but because it is the most economically, environmentally, politically stable way of doing things, for all the reasons discussed in the above comments.

So I find myself in a bind when considering purchasing nice components created internationally. Although I'm resistant at all to adopting "voting with my dollar" as a political strategy, I still find myself somehow lured in by the strategy's guilt-alleviation properties. So when I think about the things VO is making, I find luxury parts. They are, by and large, status-oriented, albeit functional and beautiful, parts. Before I get lynched, let me say that I appreciate and support what VO does in producing beautiful, lasting parts. But I also recognize that much of my attraction to VO originates in aesthetic, not functional, concerns. I am forced to Iook at the items VO makes, and ask myself whether a) those items already exist on the market in an inexpensive form (cable hangers, pedals, handlebars, chainguards); b) whether, if those items were high-cost because of being US-made, I could do without them. The answers to these questions to lead me to one conclusion: to the extent that these items already exist (and are already sold at a price point accessible to those who can't afford fancy stuff), I am paying for luxury. And to the extent that I'm paying for luxury, I think that I probably oughtn't have the option to buy it in any way but the most sustainable (politically, economically, environmentally) possible. When do we have enough? Why should we have a right to nice stuff at a low price point? If I can't afford to have it made here, do I really need it? These are the murky waters which I am - and I hope others are - still navigating.

And make no mistake, I'm no rich elitist: I make less than $10,000 per year. I still manage to buy some nice stuff for myself, but can't buy the nicest of everything. Sometimes the less expensive (or used) stuff works as well as the high-polish stuff. It may not look as nice, but it works. And I know that most of it comes from Asia, but the argument for buying $10 Taiwanese pedals instead of $30 Taiwanese pedals seems stronger to me than the one for buying $30 Taiwanese pedals instead of $60 American pedals, especially when the difference between them is largely cosmetic.

At the risk of being presumptuous, I hope that VO fosters, on the scale that it fosters the Taiwanese industry, the domestic component industry. As that industry grows, domestically made, high-quality stuff will become less expensive and more accessible to all.

Sorry for the length of this comment, but I believe this to be an important and provocative issue worth taking some time to talk and read about.

david_nj said...

This will be the longest post I ever made on the VO blog I think.

> The whole anti-China thing that > we sometimes encounter in the US
> smacks to me of nationalism and > even racism.

Respectfully disagree. While it may be unfair to discriminate against honest workmen in China (and I certainly agree that a Chinese worker is no better or worse than anyone else in any other part of the world), boycotting is the only way to get governments to take action.

China is ruining our planet. Environmental degradation has stark domestic and international repercussions. Chinese cities often seem wrapped in toxic gray shrouds. Only ~1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by US standards. Environmental woes that would be considered catastrophic in some countries are commonplace in China: industrial cities where people rarely see the sun; children killed or sickened by lead poisoning or other types of local pollution; a coastline so swamped by algal red tides that large sections of the ocean no longer sustain marine life.
China’s problem has become the world’s problem. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides spewed by its coal-fired power plants fall as acid rain on Seoul and Tokyo. Many meteorologists posit that much of the particulate pollution over Los Angeles originates in China.

China seems to me like a teenage smoker with emphysema. The costs of pollution have mounted well before it is ready to curtail economic development.

To aggravate the problem, manufacturing equipment is often medieval and hopelessly inefficient. E.g., according to the World Bank (figures quoted in _The Economist_ three issues ago), Chinese steel makers, on average, use 20 percent more energy per ton than the international average. Cement manufacturers need 45 percent more power, and ethylene producers need 70 percent more than producers elsewhere.

Make no bones about it: I personally despise China and everything it stands for. Of course there are many honest and decent businessmen there and they have the right to pursue a living. But the only way to coax the necessary governmental actions is to boycott Chinese products. I personally will no longer knowingly buy anything produced in China. Of course the chance of actually being able to pull that off is somewhere between slim and none.

z-man said...

I would agree with David and add further that when I read that people would rather do business with a foreign country rather than or before an American company, I get really disappointed. It's not because I'm a n nationalist or a racist, but because it seems so short-sighted. If one spends one's disposable income on foreign-made goods he/she is taking work away from an American worker. Where this becomes un-nationalist is here-the person who saves on foreign-made goods will likely, ultimately spend 10x that amount in higher taxes to support the American worker who can no longer make a living and is now unemployed, requires re-training at gov't expense, or gets a lower-paying job and can pay less in taxes. The Chinese, French, Germans, Swedes are looking out for themselves 1st as they should. Does anybody really believe they will return that favor?
Have there been abuses of this type of flag-waving thinking? Yes of course-just look at the legacy costs of purchasing an American-brand automobile, but the vast majority of reasons to patronize a U.S. are compelling in a positive way.
This is not a "love-it-or-leave-it" type of post, but if we don't take care of America, who will. Certainly China will someday (hopefully) be forced to clean their act up both environmentally and humanly, it's inevitable, but let's not create a revolution here while trying to support the People's Revolution.

thechammp said...

I remember when someone bought the Converse shoe brand. Up until 6 or 8 years ago they were some of the last sneakers you could buy that were made in the US. Once they had been bought, the production moved to China, but the price stayed the same, maybe even went up. That was a clear example of the company shafting the American worker solely for profits. I also remember the last pair of Vans I bought - on the box it said, more or less, "made one at a time in California, because that's the best way" At the time it was the only model still made in the US.

I think what many people have a problem with is the companies that prioritize profits over their communities (in this case the larger American community).

I'm also worried about widening class divide in this country, as the direct result or the willful sacrifice, by 'business' of the manufacturing middle class.

The issues of environment, third world working conditions, walmarts, chinese military (and missiles), energy dependence, degrading education... these are all real issues. It's foolish to suggest that people that are concerned about these issues are racist because they have trouble connecting them all together in one sound bite. So they say "don't buy in China"

On the other hand, there's something to be said for the fact that international trade lifts other countries up, help prevent wars, etc.

It took me more than a few minutes to read all the posts above, and there was some repeated points, but there was alot of points of view, many of them relevant. I can't boil them down to a paragraph or two, does that make me racist? I'm sorry if you think so.

Some people here seem to trust VO to consider factory conditions, etc. when sourcing products, but to do so without at least asking would be ignorant of the 95 percent of businesses that don't give it a second thought.

I'll tell you this - I usually buy used but when I'm buying new, I'm willing to pay twice as much for something made in this country. I don't have the opportunity to make that decision very often. VO racks let you put your money where your mouth is, and that's pretty nice. I'd like to see that continue. I'd also appreciate clear statements of product origin for each product, even the smallest ones. Alot of companies just say 'imported' but that doesn't really cut it when you contrast say, China and Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

Not all importers list country of origin, as, for instance, Rivendell does. This is a rather nice PC gesture, by the way. This issue has nothing to do with the loss of jobs, or of such a thing as the "manufacturing middle class." There was never such a thing here, in the bike industry. I am 51, and have been a rider, racer, tourist, commuter, and all around bike consumer since I was about 5. In all that time, I remember one bike, for sure, that was a mass-produced domestic product, the same lousy Schwinn many youths had in the 60's before moving up to a Raleigh or Gitane. I'm not counting my various American custom bikes. The adult market has always been an import market. Your LBS owner knows this well. If he has been in business as long as mine has, he has put food on his table selling English bikes in the 60's, French bikes in the 70's, Japanese bikes in the 80's . . . and Taiwan came to prominence soon thereafter. All of these booms, including and especially the heavy Chicago Schwinns, involved their fair share of environmental disasters. The factories moved because they had to; it had nothing to do with East or West, it was business. There does seem to be an unfortunate tinge of racism in pointing fingers consistently at Asia or China, and not at other countries a bit higher on the industrial food chain.

We are no longer blacksmiths or ploughmen, and our middle class has moved on to other industries, along with the rest of the world. It is not Chris' mission to restore domestic jobs to a sector which never had them. Your LBS owner is a good man or woman, whose job it is, first, to sell a California-designed, Asian-made beach cruiser (for instance) to a student who knows full well she can get one which looks very similar for half the price at Walmart. His job is also to get her on the bike, keep her on it, and keep some percentage of the population in his town on two wheels (regardless where they're made) if that is possible, and this is truly noble work which might also keep bread on his table. This is noble work, the backbone of this international industry, and what Chris wants to do with VO is also noble work.

In the economics of the industry, most domestic bespoke builders neither want nor could sustain a larger role, though they certainly do fulfill the needs of a minority. Like me.

I think what Chris wants to do with VO is somewhat different, and so he is doing a version of what all designers do, whether it's Sinyard of SBC or Peterson of RBW--he's going to the builders for high end, but also going to the factories for production models. He has a vision. The factories he's working with are long established, and I'm pretty sure no American workers are being harmed. Criticizing him, and that is certainly how I take some of the posts here, seems to me misdirected at best. It would be somewhat analagous to criticizing Steve Jobs because the actual soldering isn't done in California.

It's pretty hard to think of a product that doesn't cross any borders. Modern life is inherently messy and international. I suppose we all would like to feel that our purchases have meaning or impact. It's a personal and symbolic gesture, of course. Personally, if I thought I could influence my own govt. to act differently in its foreign affairs by using less oil, I would. Actually, I already use less oil.

As far as I can tell, Chris' intentions insofar as workers and the environment are at least as wholesome as anyone else in the industry, but of course there's nothing wrong with suggesting that he continue to emphasize this. He is keeping domestic as well as international sources busy helping fulfill his vision. Would it help Curt Goodrich if consumers boycotted RBW for sourcing Bleriots in Taiwan? No, it would hurt him. As a true mom and pop bike outfit, VO is different, and inspiration for all. It is what it is; it's a bike company.

best,
mw

gunner berg said...

mw,
While I agree with most of your points, I would point out that Curt is making very fewer and fewer Riv frames these days. They are a small and decreasing part of his business. This may be by his choice or possibly because of price creep compared to the Bleriots. For whatever the reason, he has only good things to say about Rivendell and Grant Peterson.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Gunner,

I have noticed the love Curt has for GP (Curt not being exactly the effusive type either, as far as I can tell).

I personally have never owned a Goodrich or CG built Riv, but do have a CG built Paramount. My favorite production bikes used to be the Japanese and Taiwanese Bridgestones. I'm eagerly awaiting the VO production bikes.

best,
mw
mw: Michael White

Anonymous said...

If the choice is between products made in a country that starts wars for the sake of oil, holds prisoners without trial for years and even tortures them, refuses to sign the Kyoto agreement, and supports dictatorships, and products from another country where there is also concern over human rights and pollution, then that is a difficult choice.

z-man said...

Even if you are not a car owner driver you are still a major consumer of petroleum products my friend.
War criminals do not have to be charged, ever. Due process is a luxury afforded only American citizens.
The Kyoto Treaty is the biggest lopsided bunch of B.S that ever came down the road, even worse than NAFTA.
Every country supports a dictatorship somewhere, and that sa truth is that in an unstable region, a dictatorship may be a better alternative.
Until everybody, myself included, is going to walk the walk as well as talk the talk, face it, everything you use, consume, buy, sell, eat, drink, sleep on, and wipe your butt with is at the mercy of petroleum. Got a cure for that? Then go right ahead, because if you do, you're in the wrong business, and should get right to work bringing that solution to the masses.
Until then appreciate how good you have it where you're at. Not perfect, but better than anywhere else, by far.

Keep Thinking said...

z-man, care to tell us how many of those "war criminals" have been convicted, when they finally get a trial?

Due process only applies to American citizens? Huh? The neocons change that, too?

hey dude said...

interesting comments about china; though i think china has much less direct impact in our country than our neighbors to the south of our borders do. our relationship with china is more mutually beneficial,even with the quality control issues.they are very savvy people who will learn quickly how to compete in the marketplace.whereas our neighbors to the south have a very parasitic relationship with the usa,with them being the main benefactors.

gunner berg said...

hey dude,
Few things are as simple as they appear on the surface. NAFTA opened the Mexican markets to our subsidized farm produce, particularly corn. THe low price of our corn starved subsistence farmers off the land which had been in their families for generations. There are few jobs in Mexico's cities for uneducated farmers, so they are forced to come over the border to feed there families. I'm not arguing that NAFTA is all bad or that there is not issues with our relationship with Mexico, but I'm not certain who is the parasite.

Perry said...

hey dude, you would greatly benefit from the DVD I mentioned earlier in the thread:

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/film/reviews/47077/where-is-the-world-going-mr-stiglitz/

Spoiler: You have it backward as to our neighbors to the south.