Buyers at the Taipei trade show are talking about little else: steel shortages, manhole cover thefts and whether anybody will be able to ship bikes for July, August and September.
Many European and US suppliers are already low on current stocks and with little hope of resupply. Shimano is now restricting supply of key kit to the historically biggest customers, no more first-come, first-served. But even the biggest bike makers are wondering whether they'll have bikes to ship come the summer.
What are buyers saying at Taipei? "We are no longer focussed on price-points or getting the best components for the price, we're now looking to spec bikes so we can actually deliver some. Parts are thin on the ground," said one supplier at the show.
And it's not just steel and Shimano parts that are running dry, there's fears that power supplies will soon be scaled back in China. The overheating Chinese economy is leading to some factories going on a five-day week because there's not enough electricity - or raw materials - for a seven-day manufacturing cycle. By June, Taiwanese cycle industry sources say the Chinese factories we all rely upon to churn out the world's bicycles could be set a quota of only 8-hours of electricity a day.
So, there's little steel for steel bikes, and little Shimano to clag on to aluminium bikes.
2004 bikes, expected in the Spring, may not now arrive until the summer. And expect more SunTour front mechs, SunRace blocks and SRAM stuff. If, that is, Shimano's competitors can ramp up production. And if they can get hold of sufficient raw materials.
Low-end steel mechs may be hard to come by because of the Chinese steel shortage.
China Steel Corp, state-run and the nation's largest steelmaker, has said it will continue exports of steel, ignoring requests by industries to halt them.
"We understand the difficulties for certain industries, but to halt the exports may generate trade disputes with other countries," said Chen Yu-sung, assistant vice president of China Steel.
Prices of steel products have increased by up to 40 percent from a year ago, according to the Taiwan Steel and Iron Industries Association.
A coalition of Chinese steel-using industries plans to hold a protest next Monday calling on the government to suspend steel exports.
MANHOLE COVERS BEING STOLEN IN TAIWAN: