28 March, 2013

Back from Taiwan

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.

The Taipei Cycle Show is massive, bigger than Interbike, and, at least from the visitors perspective, much better run with no long lines for badges, better nearby food, and plenty of helpful staff.

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.


stevep33 said...

black VO GC brakes - YES!

Wes Ewell said...

Please tell us more about the off-pavement touring frame concept. Will it have fat tires for gravel paths, and horizontal drop-outs for geared hubs?

James said...

I would be interested in this new frame as well, especially if it had low-trail geometry and removable canti studs as well as brake bridges with enough clearances for decent 700c tires. It should still not require massive reach so good dual-pivots could still be used.

VeloOrange said...

The new frame will be like a Campeur crossed with a 29er. Vertical dropouts, canti brakes, huge tire clearance, etc. The emphasis is on comfortable long distance touring on unpaved roads and double-track trails.

Wes Ewell said...

Oh well, I'll just have to use a chain tensioner. I have one bike with an 8-speed hub and dual chainwheels (with a tensioner) that gives me 16 usable gears in a perfect half-step progression. I like being able to shift quickly and quietly whether pedaling, coasting, or standing still.

Trailer Park Cyclist said...

Gypsy By Trade has dropped some hints about the new bike and it seems there is definitely a high level of interest in a touring or utility 29er if NAHBS is any indication.

VO and Riv (sounds like a drink) hanging out in Taiwan...it must have been interesting. Assuming you talked about bikes.

A matte black Stealth Camp 29er with black components would sweet.


Wes Ewell said...

Sounds like it might be an affordable Rivendell Atlantis. That should be a welcome addition.

MtnMaven said...

Please don't stop importing the silver bits for that black stuff. Everyone has black stuff but not enough people are making nice shiny silver bits.

Tryon Riders said...

Didn't know you attended the TICS 2013. Wished I had met you there.
Perhaps next year.

carl said...

As the economy grows in Taiwan and workers demand higher wages/benefits/union representation, chances are the factories will chase inexpensive labor outside of Taiwan. Malaysia, India, mainland China, eventually Africa, etc. Such is global capitalism.

Donald said...

You didn't say anything about the photo. It's funny that I've never seen a frame like that. What would the properties be like, and why have I never seen a similar configuration? I'm sure there's a simple reason.

Anonymous said...

Are you looking into producing skirted 700c/650b fenders?

VeloOrange said...

Carl, As CNC machines, robotic welders, etc, gain traction, labor costs become less important. Shipping can cost more than the difference in labor in some cases. But what's most important is an industrial eco-systems: a forging shop, a CNC shop, a fastener manufacturer, a packaging plant, and lots of engineers all in the same town.

Donald, I really don't know anything about the bikes in the photo. I just thought they were cool, though maybe not practical.

Anon, we might make skirted 650b fenders

Anonymous said...

Aw shoot, I was hoping for a 700c version too.

Anonymous said...

Id be really interested in that frame too! I already have a wishlist: Short top tube, oversized tubing in the rear triangle for stiffness, well-placed rack and fender mounts, and a monstrous head tube.

And maybe some kind of reinforced rack eyelets like the newer LHT design.

I use a Surly Troll for my off-road touring and those are the things Id want. Mostly a blend between the Troll and a Singular Peregrine... but a little more oriented towards hauling weight than either.

Anonymous said...

huh. I was hoping for a light, low trail, canti 700c machine with a lower bb and clearance for say, 38s with fenders. Sort of a pass hunter, lightly loaded off-roadable design.

I guess I'd better go to my local framebuilder and get in line.