All Bikes are Handmade and Most in Asia

Update: On March 16th, 2012, Daisey’s story got retracted by This American Life and the fallout from the lies Daisy told about Apple continue in the press and on stage at the theater where he performs. The story Daisey told led this this post about “hand made” bikes and the bike industry’s Asian factories. While the content in the post is entirley editorial and opinion, I thought it important to update it with the news about Daisey. I’m as dismayed by it as anyone in tech and where tech intersects with the bike.

– DL Byron

While Ira Glass insists you listen to his program for the best experience, reading the transcripts can strike you with words like this, on a web page.

I expect a factory making complex electronics will have the sound of machinery, but in a place where the cost of labor is effectively zero, anything that can be made by hand is made by hand. No matter how complex your electronics are, they are assembled by thousands and thousands of tiny little fingers working in concert. And in those vast spaces, the only sound is the sound of bodies in constant, unending motion.

I read Daisey’s emotional story about the people that make the crap we buy with those words stuck in my head. Like the photos of the factories he saw, I kept coming back to “anything that can be made by hand is made by hand.” Because all bikes are handmade and most of the parts on them are handmade too in Asia. There isn’t a factory with sophisticated robots stamping them out all day. Women layup carbon because their tiny hands are more dexterous.

foxconn

A Foxconn’s workers hands. Hands like hers also layup carbon frames

I remembered a few years ago touring Trek during a media event and walking the floor of the North American Handbuilt Bike Show.

TrekWorld: Factory Tour

Handmade in Wisconsin

NAHBS is about the craft, builder’s ego, and not the worker’s hands. If so, they’d have a Chinese supplier pavilion in the middle of it with show deals.

While I’ve traveled in Asia, haven’t been to an Asian bike factory, but Mark has. He was fascinated by how Willy Wonka’esque it was with all the flavors, colors, and style. No Veruca Salt or Oompah Loompahs though. Just a line flowing by him with brands you’d recognize and rooms staged for the media.

So I’m not indicting the industry, on a vision quest with its leaders, or planning a one-man show about it. I am offering a perspective about handmade and thinking about where bikes are made by hand. While Apple has margins that Sinyard, Burke, Hon et al. can only dream about, I do think bike companies should publicly address supplier relations. They should tell us what they do to ensure their standards are met, whatever those are.

Mike Daisey’s heroic, cult of Mac journey is amazing. Mostly because his on-the-fly investigative skills didn’t get him arrested or beat up and he tells a memorable story. I’ve talked to executives about the Chinese people and they all say similar things. There’s a tension just under the surface and if asked they’ll talk to you, like this crew who were really happy to see me just before the Beijing Olympics.

Beijing Peasant Workers

Rode by peasant workers in Beijing, thousands of them, everywhere

If Daisey’s story stuck with you like it did me and you want to meet the person who makes the bike you buy, look up a custom builder near you. Attend a NAHBS or a similar show.

I’ve got Parlees and Davidsons at Hugga HQ now. Next to them are high-and low-end frames that were handbuilt in Asia. Back to the iPhone, when asked, Siri says

Byron Siri, how are bikes made?

Siri Software I found a number of bicycle shops….13 of them are fairly close to you.