UPDATED ARTICLE: Bike factories survive earthquake in Taiwan

An earthquake that measured 7.6 on the Richter scale and which might claim 3000 lives, has wreaked havoc on the infrastructure of Taiwan, especially Taichung County which is home to most of the companies producing bicycle parts in Taiwan.

Only those orders already on the water will get through before Christmas, believed Russell Merry of Hot Wheels when the earthquake news first broke. Hotwheels was just one of many suppliers that feared the worst after the terrible news from Taiwan was broken two days ago.

However, Peter Holton of ATB Sales, importers of Marin, says the situtation isnt as gloomy as first feared.

I called our suppliers in Taiwan. They say the bike factories have not
been affected and it will be business as usual. The main effect so far
is loss of power across the island, but that is not expected to last
more than a day or two.

BikeBiz was unable to reach anybody in Taichung on a land telephone line. Peter Holton got through to Taipei on a mobile phone.

Background
The quake was the strongest to hit Taiwan since 1935 and was about the same strength as the devastating tremor that killed more than 15 000 people in Turkey last month.

The quake's epicentre was centered 90 miles south of Taipei, the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Centre said. It struck about 1:45 a.m. local time (1:45 p.m. EDT Monday), while most of Taiwan's 22 million people were sleeping.

Most of the eaths so far confirmed occurred near the epicentre close to the central city of Taichung and nearby Nantou county.

Most of the structures that collapsed were new high-rises. Most bicycle factories are single storey buildings and so largely survived intact.

In Taipei, the quake wrecked the 78-room Sungshan Hotel but, on the whole,
Taipei, with a 2.7 million population, was spared too much damage because of earthquake proof buildings.

On the day after the quake Tradewinds of Banbury reported that their contact in Taipei said their operation suffered little but 90 miles away in Taichung Taiwans third biggest city, with 1 million inhabitants the situation was very different. However little was initially known about the scale of the devastation because most roads were out of action, as were telephone lines into the county. Only helicoptors were reaching Taichung and very few journalists strayed far from Taipei.

Taiwan is hit by dozens of quakes each year, but most are centered in the Pacific Ocean east of the island and rarely cause damage.

Fortunately, [the Taiwanese] have good building codes so were hopeful that
many buildings have withstood the ground shaking, says Walter Mooney of
the US Geological Service, which monitors worldwide earth tremors.

An important factor, he says, will be how strictly the building codes
have been adhered to.

Julian Yu, of Taiwan, emailed the BBC news website with this report of her experiences and fears for the rest of the country: The location of the
epicentre is 150km away, yet it is so violent here. It must have been
very, very terrible there. I have many friends living there, but I can't
reach them. The communication is cut off, so is the traffic. The country is in
chaos. Many places are cut off from the outside and can only be reached
by helicopters. I saw from the news that some towns are totally
devastated, only rubble can be seen. Many students cried in our school.
I'm really sad and scared. It's so terrible.

Earth shakes for bike trade
TV pictures showed how hard Taipei and outlying areas were hit but, for the first two days, there were precious few pictures of Taichung, the commerical hub of the country. If the roads, bridges and other basic infrastrucure of the county had of been as badly damaged as feared, the impact on the worldwide bicycle industry which relies on Taiwan heavily would have been immense.

Nick Weisz of the Tactic Bicycle Company, which gets its folding bikes made in Taiwan, said on the day after the quake that he wasnt able to get through to his contacts in Taiwan but was fearing the worst. Taichung is the epicentre for the earthquake and the epicentre of the bicycle trade in Taiwan. This will have a major impact on exports. Its a terrible blow for Taiwans economy, he believed at the time.

It was also feared that the IFMA show at Cologne, due to start this Friday, may have had a lot of empty booths as Taiwanese companies would have either been too devastated to attend or key employees would have been unable to leave the country.

However, Mike Burrows Giants UK-based designer who visits Taiwan regularly says that everybody who from Giant who was planning to go to Cologne will be there. Taiwans international airports are still operating as normal.

From what I can gather the bicycle trade is largely unscathed, Burrows told BikeBiz. Taiwan inst a third world country. Buildings are well designed. Anyway, factories arent holiday hotels, they are are low, sprawling places and are built to withstand earthquakes.

The bike industry was lucky to escape unscathed, though, because it was right on top of the earthquake.

As far as I can tell everybody in Giant seems OK. There are bound to be some effects on other companies but its nothing major. Taiwan will cope. There will no no long-term problems and the short term ones will be sorted within days.

Dont forget a lot of Taiwanese production now takes place on the Chinese mainland so distruption would never have been terminal anyway.

The short term problems could have a knock-on effect, though, believes Russell Merry of Hotwheels who says it could be many weeks before companies in Taichung get back to normal: If youre worried about your granny on the other side of the island youre not going to go down to the factory and make saddles.

When the earthquake hit Kobe in Japan two years ago a much smaller quake it was many weeks before the roads to the port were mended. Supplies from Shimano were badly disrupted. The Taiwan quake is likely to have about the same, or just slightly worse, knock-on effect.

Russell Merry: To get orders before Christmas they need to be on the water by 7th November. That gives the Taiwanese just 10 weeks.

Bob Wade of Trek says the UK company hasnt had notification from the US parent company on what is happening in Taiwan and how badly those factories that produce bikes for Trek are damaged. Trek does still have US production facilities and some bikes may be able to be made from there although there could be a worldwide shortage on some models.

The MD of Giant UK, Grant Allen, told BikeBiz on Tuesday: We cannot get through to Taiwan at the moment. They are 11 hourrs ahead and probably have other priorities - the death toll sounds horrific. From the most up to date reports on the internet from Taiwan, translated by Frank Yang (in our factory in) Holland, it seems that the factory is unlikely to have sustained major damage but will have lost power- I don't expect any accurate information for at least 24/48 hours.

The next day this email was received from Tony Lo, bossman at Giant Inc in Taiwan: Fortunately, all Giant's personnel as well as the Giant factory and office building are all in good shape. However, due to no electricity and water also some parts supplier might have
damaged, plus traffic broken down, it will take a few days before
normal production can be running.


NOTE: All seems well for the bike trade, then. Huge sighs of relief all round. But, until the dest finally settles, the full picture wont be known. Bookmark this site so you stay informed on the latest news from Taiwan.

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