Four bloggers from the US and the UK are currently being shown Taiwan's growing bike culture and high-end manufacturing prowess.
Organised by TAITRA, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council, the study tour is introducing the bloggers to companies such as Tern and Giant. But it would be a poor study tour of Taiwan's bike industry if the visit didn't include a stopover at the Pacific Cycles factory in Yung-an, half way between Taichung and Taipei.
Pacific Cycles - not to be confused with an American company with a similar name and which cranked out mass-market MTBs for category killer big box retailers - makes distinctive and innovative bikes on a contract manufacturing basis as well as making its own bikes, often designed by bike engineering gurus from the West. Pacific Cycles was where Scott and Cannondale's Peter Denk got his start in the bike industry, and the iF Mode folding bike by Strida-designer Mark Sanders is produced by Pacific Cycles. The company also makes Birdy folding bikes, CarryMe mini-wheel folding bikes, and recumbents for ICE of the UK and others.
Started in 1980 by George Lin - the company made an early BMX - Pacific Cycles is the go-to company for bike designers who think outside of the box. As well as having the usual rapid prototyping machinery, Pacific Cycles has a culture of quirkiness that attracts lateral-thinking engineers. The company's 'section zero' division (section one is manufacturing, section two is the paint shop and so on) is staffed by Western and Taiwanese engineers. At today's meeting George Lin and his son Michael were joined by engineers Kain Galliver of Australia and Stijn Deferm of Belgium. Deferm - a former DH World Cup racer - has his own design consultancy business but also works on many Pacific Cycles projects, including redesigning the new Birdy platform.
As well as meeting with part of the design team, the bloggers were also given a tour of the open-to-the-public Pacific Cycles cycle museum, a collection of 200 historic and modern bicycles. An original Kirk Precision stands next to an 1940s Taiwanese heavy roadster and a Schwinn Orange Krate; a 1908 French roadster stands next to a replica penny farthing. The museum also contains a great many of the bicycles produced by Pacific over the years, including many that Lin Junior freely admits weren't always great to ride but which led to developments in folding mechanisms and to other ideas, including MTB suspension, which helped Pacific to become known as the ultimate Taiwanese innovator, a R&D-led manufacturer willing to take design risks, to try new things.
As well as containing quirky bikes, the Pacific museum has a collection of the ground-breaking mountain bikes that the company has built for innovative MTB companies over the years.
George Lin was a hit with the bloggers for his personable style, and his enthusiasm, but also his ability not to take himself too seriously: he demonstrated many of Pacific's products, including a bum-steered, hand-crank powered mine-proof bike produced for the UN's mission in Ethiopia to help people with lower limb injuries.
Using an iPad to power a slide presentation about his company, Lin Snr showed he wasn't afraid of new technology. He also stressed that "you never stop learning." A die-hard cyclist, he also impressed the bloggers with his passion for wanting to make practical bikes for everyday transport.
The company brochure says "one of the most effective solutions to today's universal problems - oil shortages and rising prices, economic depression and failing health levels - is simply to ride a bike whenever possible." Many companies make this sort of claim, but the bike bloggers saw first-hand that, for Pacific, this is no platitude. From the top down, Pacific Cycles is a company committed to cycling as a positive lifestyle choice.
George Lin's story is inspirational and one that the US and UK bloggers will now bring to a new audience.
Pacific Cycle Museum has this Schwinn orange krate, forerunner to the Chopper; and Schwinn Paperboy bike, which morphed into the mountain bike.