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November 24, 2017
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  • Adam O’Halloran

    I love the look of the Italian brand bikes and French bikes are equally lovely. But when someone asks me about buying a new bike (as a first step) or a replacement bike, when you compare the bikes on offer and their prices, it’s easy to explain about paying for tangible upgrades (wheels; Di2 etc), but not so easy to explain the cost of a Look, or Bianchi.

  • jules

    there is no objective reason to purchase an Italian-made frame over a Taiwanese-made one. back in the ‘dark ages’ of manufacturing, secrets were kept within companies or if not, countries. Japanese cars were once rubbish. then Korean ones were. these days, you can buy-in expertise as readily as you can order parts from overseas on the web. there is no such thing as American, Italian or Japanese know-how anymore.

    the reason some people would buy an Italian-made bicycle is simply the spiritual value they attach to the fact it wasn’t produced in a smoky factory in Taiwan with sweatshop labour. it’s an entirely subjective and arbitrary value. it’s not wrong or right.

    interestingly I visited the Italian museum of design or similar in Milan and there was a real sense that the Italian design brand was in decline and crisis. the Italians don’t seem to hold their brands in the same esteem some of their foreign buyers do, although they understand the proposition. I got the impression Italian designers knew they had to compete and improve, they aren’t stupid about just resting on the notion of Italian-ness.

    • blimit

      ‘Smoky’ factory in Taiwan – not so as C’Tips Dave Everett reported last year: https://cyclingtips.com/2015/02/a-tour-of-giants-taichung-factory/

      • jules

        my point was really that some people who purchase Italian frames imagine them being crafted painstakingly by a former Giro champion over a bottle of red wine, while the Taiwanese ones are built by lines of workers with their heads down and who don’t get lunch. the fact this may not be the reality is kind of my point.

    • Steel

      For me, the place where the frame is built is of little or no importance.

      But what strikes me is the regional differences in embracing innovations in the industry.

      Much like how automotive centres around innovation hubs like Detroit/Michigan, increasingly the West Coast of the US and well – all of Germany, it seems the same occurs in bicycle design. So you’ve got the North American brands, and parts suppliers all pushing the bounds of design and materials while the Italian brands trade on heritage and classic design.

      Consumer preferences have changed and the Euros haven’t kept up.

      • jules

        I agree. to be fair, in business a common saying is “stick to what you’re good at”. the Italians have had a virtual patent on aesthetic design for a long time, so it would be silly for Colnago to start experimenting with radically different designs. they’d risk ruining their brand value in aesthetic (classic?) design.

        but yes, consumer tastes are changing and they risk being left behind.

      • Superpilot

        Perhaps then, given the assertion that the American brands are more technically forward, how so then they simply don’t have the cache? Maybe it is just me and where I live. Personally I take it as the American method of super promotion compared to the Italian method of allowing the goods to speak for themselves? Perhaps it is the additional cost (self fulfilling image improvement?). Don’t get me wrong, Assos is the worst and it is neither American nor Italian :) But Specialized for example just makes me feel blergh, even though they sponsor my favorite teams and riders.

    • Wily_Quixote

      I visited taiwan a couple of years ago. It’s a modern, affluent country with a strong history of design and craftsmanship with a very strong cycling culture. My abiding memory is of riding a Giant around sun moon lake without a helmet with tourist buses and the traffic deferring to me.

      i saw more poverty on the streets of Milan than Taipei or Hualien.

      It is possible that Giant’s factory is one big sweatshop but after seeing the photos of the factory I would say that OH&S in Italy is quite possibly worse.

      • jules

        I haven’t been to Taiwan. I believe you. But, there’s a pattern in global manufacturing. Countries use manufacturing as a platform for modernising their economies. Wages rise, their currency rises, then they progressively lose their price competitiveness. This is happening in China, which is moving away from manufacturing exports to a more service-based economy for newly affluent local citizens. On that basis at least, they can’t be that affluent if they’re still focused on manufacturing. Discounting the possibility they’re just very good at it though.

        • Dave

          The countries that sustain their affluence are those that back their manufacturing industries rather than letting them die off. Germany is the prime example.

          Countries which back their manufacturers can afford to grow a service sector alongside their industries, but there’s a limit to how many baristas can serve lattes to each other if there’s no other capital coming in.

          • jules

            Germany is good at high tech. manufacturing. They take on the hard stuff. An engineering degree in Australia doesn’t mean much. The unis usher students through, lots who don’t really grasp what they’re learning about and who will never have jobs that require that knowledge. I can’t say how Germany does it differently but they’re doing something right.

        • Il_falcone

          Calling Taiwan affluent is ridiculous. I have been there regularly. There are far less really poor people than in China or Vietnam, but still: “affluent”? No way. But this isn’t about Taiwan, since only a small number of carbon frames are actually made in Taiwan because their wages are already way too high. Merida and China to name just the two biggest companies are Taiwanese companies but they like every other big enough manufacturer in the Far East always migrate their factories to the next developping country because labor is even cheaper there. First it was mainland China, then it was Vietnam, then it was Cambodcha, Myanmar … . When you visit one of those factories on any day of the week you pass along queues of people applying for a job there. And then you show them how to do a specific job, say in the assembly of a bicycle, only to find out when coming back four weeks later that no one of them is still working for the same company because some factory maybe producing something completely different on the other side of the road offered them $2 more per day.
          If you consider how crucial the correct placement and orientation of each of the more than 300 pieces of carbon fibre is a modern frame is made of you begin to understand the reasons why often there is such a big difference between the designed properties of a frame and the real product. And why there are quality issues everywhere.
          As some commenter said above: A good company nowadays is the one who takes care of this issues swiftly to make sure their customers stay happy.

          • Dave

            You can find poor people in just about every country.

          • Wily_Quixote

            ‘Calling Taiwan affluent is ridiculous.’

            The per capita income in Taiwan is just behind Germany and above that of Italy.

            • Superpilot

              To be fair, the comparison should not be on GDP per capita, but average income vs cost of living. The rich man be taking all the money to babylon, zeen? As a heavy manufacturing economy in a confined location, Taiwan is likely to have many very wealthy owners, and less capita to spread the wealth figure to, while the middle class may be worse of than those other countries.

              • Wily_Quixote

                That’s true but the country is not a third world nation – it’s not ridiculous to call it affluent.

      • Shane Lai Toronto

        Just look at the Italian haute fashion industry. They’ll just import migrant laborers from the Far East to their slaveshops in Italy anyways.

        • jules

          far eastern Europe :)

  • Dylan Nicholson

    Is there a quote from Mr Jeng that’s missing from the article?

    • Cycling iQ

      Apologies, it appears quite a few paragraphs went AWOL – including the quotes from William Jeng. All fixed now!

      • Sorry folks – my fault. A few paragraphs got missed that are back in there now.

  • Holby City

    It seems to me that the only people wanting Italian bikes these days are the older generations who saw their heroes riding Italian steeds. Most modern Italian bikes are behind the likes of Cervelo, Focus, Specialized, Trek and Cannondale. Carbon lugs are absurd. They need to get with the times and build better engineered race bikes like the R5, Izalco Max, Venge/Tarmac, Madone 9 and Supersix Evo. Only then might the current generation flock back to the Italian marques.

    • Conscience_of_a_conservative

      Cervelos are an example of marketing and White Papers trumping design. The bikes too cutting edge and designed in ways to cut manufacturing costs at the cost of reliability, durability and a good fit.

      • Cyaniris

        The reach-stack fitting advocated by Cervelo seems quite reasonable, while few Italian brand has a systematically approach for fitting. Yes, some hate BBright and probably all press-fit BBs, but it’s not a problem of Cervelo alone. As far as I remember Cervelo rates well in Tour Magazine, while many Italian brands don’t even dare to send their product into comparison.

  • leekal

    Well I can speak personally, having a little bit of experience with this subject. Firstly, I´ve got absolutely nothing against Taiwanese built bikes…there can be no argument against the general quality these days and many offer great value for money. As I wanted a “racey” bike with “proper” geometry for riding both Northern Classics rides like De Ronde and Paris Roubaix as well as long days doing Alpine type Sportives, I had first looked at a Bianchi Infinito. The reason I choose my particular Italian brand – Legend – is not that I grew up wanting a brand I´d seen ridden by past riders or whatever, rather I based my choice on what I wanted the bike to do, bike fit, value for money, and to a much lesser extent, it was nice to go to the factory and see and talk to the builder and get something a little bit different that was specifically built for me.

    Contrary to popular belief with regards to custom built bikes, my frame cost was certainly no more, and in many cases less than many of the top of the line Specialized, Colnago´s etc. The bike was delivered in very short time, was absolutely faultless and has so far nearly covered 20,000kms in about a year and a half that includes a couple editions each of De Ronde, Paris Roubaix, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Fleche Wallone, etc as well as a few trips to the Southern Alps, Cevennes, etc.

    The “problem” for many Italian brands in my view is not so much that they are “special” but don´t particularly offer anything to differentiate themselves from other top brands from the US or Taiwan…..I used to love De Rosa, but to my eyes at least these days they look like any other generic brand following whatever the latest marketing fad is. I certainly can´t see the point of paying premium price for a bike when I get one hand built fro a builder with vast experience that´s built specifically for me and my requirements. As long as you choose the right builder (and that´s important as there are plenty of people out there with the right grainy black and white photo´s and great sounding blurb, but don´t have a lot of experience actually building bikes), talk to them realistically about what you want and what you do, then it´s hard to go past a hand made frame. That´s where Italian builders (as well as others) have something different to offer. https://cyclingtips.com/2015/06/bikes-of-the-bunch-legend-9-5-custom/

  • Alex

    After owning bikes from quite a few different brands (Trek, Bianchi, Cannondale, Felt, and Orbea) I’ve realized the brand you should go with is the one who has the best customer service reputation. On my Bianchi 928 SL (their highest end frameset at the time it was sold) the bearing cups are metal bonded to the carbon headtube. The top cup came un-bonded from the frame. Bianchi took 6 months to warranty it, which meant sending it to a 3rd party to get it bonded back together. A few months later the same thing happened to the bottom cup, but I got “lucky” and it only took them 4 months to glue two things back together. Do you think I’m ever going to buy another Bianchi? Hell no. And this is from someone who holds an Italian passport. My next frameset is probably going to be a Fuji SL. It’s light and it’s cheap and I haven’t heard anything about about their customer service.

    • Wily_Quixote

      My giant carbon mtb cracked. I received a new frame within1 week.

    • jules

      It sounds like they sent it back to Italy for repair?

    • Cycling iQ

      You raise a good point about customer service reputation. As US/Taiwanese brands have increased their global market share, direct entry into countries through subsidiaries or branch offices has also ramped up. With a direct presence, quality and consistency of customer service and warranty support also tends to improve (due to systems integration, staff training, better logistics/warehousing, etc).

      In contrast, the largest Italian road bike brands – as far as I know, no Italian road bike brand sells more than 60’000 bicycles per year globally (happy to be corrected here) – do not possess sufficient market share or turnover to justify the same direct market model. Instead, they will appoint distributors who will either offer only as much support as they are empowered to by the brand, or modify guidelines to ensure they match their nearest competitors in the local market (which can see service/support move either up or down). The end result is the brand is seen to offer inconsistent levels of customer service and warranty support across different markets.

      In summary, Italian brands face more barriers than their much larger competitors where provision of customer service and support is concerned, simply because market-leading performance in this area often requires large capital investments.

  • Conscience_of_a_conservative

    Large local bike shop in my area tells me nobody wants Colnagos other than the C60. If they aren’t made in Italy, the “Italian” is pure marketing. Saying it was engineered by an Italian means very little. The Italian bike companies sort of dug their eventual graves by outsourcing. It may work on the low end to a point, but once you outsource the high end there’s little to differentiate a Pinarello from a Specialized which may have been produced by the same workers. The future may be in the small production Italian builders doing steel and titanium which play homage to Italy’s cycling past, but then again they have to compete with some excellent product coming out of the U.S.

    • It seems as if some Italian framebuilders are choosing to stay small, such as Bixxis and DeAnima. The men behind these brands have stellar reputations as frame builders but rather than aim for the mainstream, choose to operate small bespoke workshops. At this level, nationality has little to do with the final product, rather it is something more like “personality.” Interestingly, Bixxis is choosing to work with steel at the moment, while DeAnima is working with carbon fibre.

      • Conscience_of_a_conservative

        Bixxis is a very interesting project, but i have to ask myself what a Bixxis does that I can’t get with a Seven, Firefly or Kelly Bedford.

  • Conscience_of_a_conservative

    Large local bike shop in my area tells me nobody wants Colnagos other than the C60. If they aren’t made in Italy, the “Italian” is pure marketing. Saying it was engineered by an Italian means very little. The Italian bike companies sort of dug their eventual graves by outsourcing. It may work on the low end to a point, but once you outsource the high end there’s little to differentiate a Pinarello from a Specialized which may have been produced by the same workers. The future may be in the small production Italian builders doing steel and titanium which play homage to Italy’s cycling past, but then again they have to compete with some excellent product coming out of the U.S.

  • Bentxu

    What you do not get from Taiwanese factories is true custom. All monocoque frames, where you cannot change the geometry of the frames.

    If you want to go for a full custom bike, you are bound to go to Italy, UK, US or Japan.

    Does not mean they are necessarily better, but they fit better to the specifics of your body.

    • jules

      with the improvements in modern material technology, ancillary components like seat posts and head stems offer far more range these days. in the old days you needed the frame to precisely fit your body, as you couldn’t make up for anything by selecting long stem lengths etc. but these days it’s all good. a custom frame is nice but not essential for performance.

      • Bentxu

        If you like spacer stacks, straight seat-posts, extremely short/long stems and toe overlap, then yes.
        If I buy a top-end bike I would not want any of that though.

        • JJ

          pretty sure you will get toe overlap on most bikes, how much is just dependant largely on frame size. Whats wrong with using a spacer? I ride a straight seatpost on my custom frame, why is this a point of contention? I also have a 120mm stem on it? Just wondering what your issues with these adjustable touch points are?

          • Bentxu

            Stock frame with 535 TT and 73.5 steering angle does give tons of toe overlap if you have size 45 feet. More shallow steering angle and the problem is fixed.

            I find setback seat posts less harsh on the bottom and also prefer the looks. If you have a stock geometry with 73 seat tube angle, you’ll have a hard time getting your knee over the pedal axis. Needs a steeper seat tube angle or a straight seat post.

            Most stock frames with 535 TT come with 130 – 140 HT. I need 155. In principle nothing wrong with spacers but when I dash out 3k for a top-end frame, I prefer to not have spacers.

            120 stem is great. If I get a 155 HT it is usually a 565 TT which leaves me with a 80 stem (vs 110 I prefer).

            As I said, nothing wrong with any of that but if I spend that much money on a frame, I do not want to compromise on these things and in such instances I feel that handmade frames at roughly the same price are better for me than monocoque high-end off the shelf frames from Asia.

  • kucho

    And guess what!? I bought a Cinelli Carbon road bike frameset with Columbus fork which I thought was designed and made in Italy only to find out it was actually manufactured in China, still love the bike all the same.

  • Jeremy

    I love my Taiwanese-made Pinarello. Sure it’s not made in Italy, but it has an Italian-threaded bottom bracket. Kudos for maintaining a good design and not succumbing to press-fit for cheaper manufacturing costs.

  • Luke Harvey-Palmer

    Does anyone else feel like we are in a race to the bottom. Where does this all end. Surely, ‘brand’ still has a place in consumers hearts…and anyone who sells anything premium knows that you sell to the heart, not the head.

    • pervertt

      I have no problems with Taiwanese bikes. Taiwanese manufacturers have done to bikes what Japanese car makers did to cars in the 1970s – they produced good, well made machines that mortals could afford. Not to say that Italian bikes are bad. But there is only so much value that you could attach to historic romanticism.

  • david__g

    All I know is the Bianchi Specialissima, wherever it is built, is a great bike.

  • Richo

    Specialized, Trek and Giant etc may be able to produce great performing high end bikes but if I’m spending more than 12k I want a beautiful frame design which in my opinion the Italians can still deliver. Venge, Madone and all Giants are aesthetically very poor regardless of how well they perform.

  • Dom

    Why is it cheaper to produce bikes in Asia? Because workers are paid poverty wages and have no choice but to work in conditions that would not be acceptable in countries with reasonable labour laws. It annoys me when I see articles on this topic and the writer doesn’t even bother to address this properly (or at all).

    • MMaster

      You’re extremely misinformed when it comes to the reputable manufacturers. This would encompass the major brands mentioned here in this forum.
      One of the growing issues within the industry is the esculating pay scale of the employees in the Taiwan & mainland China factories. (Significantly beyond the poverty levels which you want to believe) Pay is reflective (much like the rest of the world) of skill, expertise & experience. Certainly, your point may be valid in regards to the generic, knock off, counterfeit, Alibaba sourced product from dubious factories… But most certainly not valid with respect to the major brands being discussed here.

      • Dom

        Whatever helps you sleep at night mate. I ask you this, do you think any of those workers are represented by any powerful union fighting for their rights? I highly doubt it. One has to remember labour and lives are cheap in south east asia.

  • Mickey McMook

    “With a decades-long legacy of road bike manufacturing to preserve and protect, prestige Italian brands initially resisted offshore production, but their racing bikes were expensive and the Italian economy had been stagnant since the early 1990’s.” When carbon fiber began to enter the bicycle market in the mid-’90’s, very few Italian suppliers had experience with carbon fiber. Colnago, who pioneered carbon fiber with the 1988 Volo, has their tube and lug construction C60 carbon parts manufactured (by ATR Group & assembled in Cambiago, Italy, while the other carbon fiber Colnagos are made at Giant in Taiwan. Pinarello produces at Carbotech in Taiwan. Even if there are now some small artisan carbon fiber manufacturers in Italy now (like Sarto), when the carbon boom began, there was little access to this manufacturing technology in Italy. Taiwan had a strong carbon fiber manufacturing base due to the US aerospace industry teaching Taiwan firms how to work with CF as subcontractors.

  • brightoncorgi

    I would rather see the Taiwan brands being sold as Taiwan brands; not something Italian. It would be really cool to see the factories sell on their own name with maybe Chinese writing on the frame or what have you. Something that is pure Taiwan is more authentic than someone thinking they own an Italian bike made in Asia…

    • Cyaniris

      There are many good factories and design offices in Taiwan, but few are brave and ambitious enough to sell in their own brands as Giant does, as they are afraid to irrigate their OEM customers.

  • Esseker Fit

    would you buy Ferrari made in Taiwan??

  • Rick Vosper

    Having been director of marketing for Specialized, Cervélo and (briefly) the company that distributed Colnago in North America, perhaps I can help clarify:

    1. While they may be made in the same factories, perhaps even by the same workers, the framesets for the various (high-end) brands, are completely different in terms of design (fairly obvious) and engineering (including carbon spec and layup, tooling, and even the fabrication methods).As Holby City correctly points out, lugged composite frames are a 1980s technology. Trek, among others, abandoned it in the 1980, and there’s a reason (several, actually) for that.

    The frames are built on their own production lines. Geometries are also significantly different.

    2. Consequently these bike will ride differently. Which is best? You decide.

    3. When his company decided to partner with Giant, Ernesto Colnago traveled to Taiwan (the frames are now made in Giant’s China factory, I believe) and personally selected the individual workers for his frames. Quality was so good, my staff (including an engineer with a composites background) had trouble justifying the price increase versus the Italian versions in terms of weight and finish.

    Hope this helps.

  • Bloobee

    Cam, I have to jump in here and protest! (gently :)

    You wrote:

    “It certainly does no harm for a bicycle company to be based in a country awash with esteemed producers … like Ferrari, Ducati, Pirelli, Lamborghini, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Aprilia, and so on.”

    While I agree with your notion – how could you possibly mention Ducati yet leave MV Agusta off the list?? Thats akin to listing Mini, MG, and Jaguar as exemplary of esteemed British producers, but leaving McLaren off the list.

  • Richard Kay

    Some years back, I was the proud owner of an aluminium Principia Rex e Sx. At the time, Principia took the measure of stating categorically they would never manufacture their frames in anything other than aluminium, and that they did not consider carbon a suitable material for a bicycle frame.
    Following that marketing faux pas, they disappeared and morphed into Isaac, only to return with a fleet of carbon frames labelled Principia once more. I wonder how much humble pie was eaten at the product launch of their carbon range!
    My point is, ‘traditional’ European manufacturers have been asleep at the wheel, living on a fragile legacy. A flippant attitude and a touch of arrogance towards the east has lead to the demise of an industry (as well as many other social and economic factors)
    I believe the future for European labels lies with ‘non-volume’, bespoke and tailored manufacturing combined with exceptional customer service and a personalised customer experience. Consumers are bettered informed than ever before and can see through the transparency of marketing spin.


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