I just got back from Taiwan and the the Taipei Cycle show. We also visited some of the factories that make VO products. Before I get into the product stuff, I wanted to tell you a little about Taiwan.
Many Americans still think of Taiwan as a poor country, and until fairly recently it was. But today Taiwan is 20th in the world by GDP (PPP) per capita according to the IMF. (So it's ahead of the UK, Japan, France, Denmark, etc.) The streets of Taipei are as filled with luxury cars, expensive boutiques, and eateries as Washington, Paris, or Tokyo.
In fact it's the eateries that fascinate me. It's hard to find a city block without a half dozen places to eat, from tiny nooks with six seats to world-class French restaurants. Even the little lanes, some no wider than an alley, are lines with Taiwanese, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Indian and countless other places to eat. Then there are the night markets, street markets that open as locals get off work and don't close until midnight or later. Many, if not most, of the stalls sell street food. Shilin market, the biggest, has over 500 food stalls. Night market staples include oyster omelets, fried squid, anything barbecued, stinky tofu, steamed dumplings, and a lot more. You can get pretty full for $10-$15. Taiwan may be the only country I've visited that's more obsessed with food than the French or Italians.
Bicycling is popular in Taiwan, but not in downtown Taipei. The city is set in a mountain valley so air pollution gets trapped and the smog can be awful. Then there is the car and scooter traffic. A few folks do ride downtown, but I'm not brave enough. A superb subway system, called the MRT, means that you can get anywhere cheaply and quickly, even beyond the downtown area. The MRT has train cars with room for bikes so cyclists can get to the surrounding countryside easily. There are plenty of bike paths, country roads, and lanes in the city's outskirts and beyond.
We started our trip by visiting a few of the factories where VO products are made. We visited the frame factory to discuss a new VO off-pavement touring frame we're working on. It seems that Grant Peterson had just visited so the owners invited us all to lunch. I've known Grant for a few years and it was nice to chat in a relaxed atmosphere.
We saw a new pedal we'd just designed that's based on the old Barelli pedals. These use huge bearings and a lot of new tooling, so it was gratifying to see that everything fit together and looked as it should. We'll be testing them shortly.
We discussed three new fender models at the factory that makes all the VO fenders. We also considered the possibility of a VO rinko fender. This would be primarily for our Japanese customers, but we might sell them here as well. (We'll soon have a rinko headset as well.) The fender factory's owner took us to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants. Set in a port town, it resembles a fish market. One room is filled with aquariums and tubs of ice containing dozens of types of fish and shellfish. That's where one examines the offerings and selects dinner.
We had a dozen meeting with suppliers on the first day discussing various VO products they make as well as looking at other new stuff they were making. We talked with several factories about making a few of our components in black, since we now get that request fairly often. I know it's a radical idea, but we've heard that some cyclists do like black bits. I think we'll start with black Grand Cru seat posts, Grand Cru 1-1/8" headsets, and Grand Cru caliper brakes.
We spent the next two days wandering around talking with companies we don't currently work with and looking for new stuff. Overall I was disappointed with the offerings this year. Usually there are a dozen or more new components and accessories that we find and might at least consider importing. These days we prefer to design our own parts rather than simply importing an existing product, but it's still fun and instructive to see new ideas. Sadly, we saw very few innovations that I would consider worthwhile. I'm hoping it was just an off year and there'll be an explosion of creativity in 2014.
One new product we'll import is bag loops that clamp to saddle rails. We used to sell the Japanese Viva loops, but they became hard and slow to import and these new ones seem like a sturdier design. We are also looking at several classically styled plastic saddles, we hope to find one that feels like our ever popular Model 3 saddle.
There are other new developments and products, but for competitive reasons I'll keep those secret for a while longer. It's always a treat to visit beautiful Taiwan and enjoy the food and conviviality. The people are always so very friendly and helpful to clueless foreigners, and most speak at least a little English. I can't wait to go back, just wish it was closer.