All The Money We Didn’t Save By Going To China

Things to do in Denver when you’re dead… tired, and have just three hours before your flight leaves: go to a bike shop and look around. Google Maps said there was a shop just eight miles from the airport, so I went to check it out. Turns out that the “shop” in question was actually the factory outlet for Tomasso Bikes.

As far as I could tell, Tomasso operates the same way that Bike Nashbar used to: they have frames built overseas and then they load ’em up with slightly better components than you would get on a “name-brand” bike like Trek or Cannondale. Aluminum Tomassos are made in Taiwan, carbon Tomassos in mainland China. To some degree, quick-bake companies like this have been rendered obsolete by Giant, which owns both the means of Chinese proudction and the means of American distribution. (This is why a Giant is almost always the best deal on a new bike, if you are purely concerned with specs.) Compared to those old Nashbar bikes, however, Tommasos are very handsome. They make a rather striking “hybrid” bike in military green, which was the first thing I saw when I walked in the door.

The fellow who came out to talk to me and show me a few bikes was on crutches, having been hit by a car during a road ride seven weeks ago. He’d gotten a femur nail, so we had a long conversation about that particular surgery and its consequences. I was an experimental recipient of a Grosse-Kempf titanium nail back in March of 1988. Luckily for my new friend, his break was much less severe than mine had been. He’d gone for a short bike ride just six weeks after the nail went in. At that point in my recovery I was still confined to bed 24/7.

Hanging on the wall across from that army-green hybrid bike was a drop-bar roadie, something about halfway between a tourer and a full-bore racer: the Corvo. It has the full Shimano 105 “gruppo”, which is to say that most of the parts on it are supplied by Shimano and that they are all “105” level. When I was a kid, Shimano had just three road-bike gruppos: Dura-Ace on top, 600 Ultegra in the middle, and 105 at the low end. Now there’s Tiagra below 105, and a few cheap-bike-specific gruppos like Sora and Claris. (A full explanation can be found here, if you care.)

“The Corvo is $1,699, which is a ripping deal for a full 105 bike,” my salesman said. By modern standards he’s right. And yet… if $1,699 is what you’d pay for a generic Chinese bike with Shimano 105, how much would you pay for an American-made bike with full 105? Would you be okay with… $1,282?

In the fall of 1986, my father took me to a brand-new road bike shop in Linworth, Ohio so I could see the ’87 Cannondales. I immediately fell in love with the SR500. It was a proper Cannondale, equivalent in lightness and strength to the multi-thousand-dollar boutique ‘Dales. It sold for $599 with a full Shimano 105 gruppo. I asked Dad if I could have it for Christmas. He said maybe. But it didn’t seem all that likely so I didn’t bother to press for a particular color. The SR500 was available in aqua with orange trim, or white with pink trim. I thought the aqua was the coolest bike I’d ever seen.

Christmas morning, I got the white one.

Not to worry. That Cannondale and I were fast friends, inseparable from the beginning. I’ve written before about my experiences on that bike, riding alone in the winter, sweating through the summer. Eventually I had the SR500 repainted in a maroon/silver fade. It wasn’t until 2001 that I sold it and replaced it with something else.

Nowadays the early Cannondales have an unsavory reputation — “a bike that will remove your kidneys by puree-ing them and letting them drip out your anus” is one recent description of the SR500 from a bike forum — but it was perfect for a teenager who didn’t care how punishing the ride was. The second Cannondale I bought, in 1997, wasn’t nearly as good. It was an M800 “Beast Of The East” with flexy seatstays that kept the cantilever rear brake from working properly. The company wouldn’t warranty it. I gave up on Cannondale for good. In 2003, Cannondale went bankrupt. Today, the brand is owned by the same conglomerate that owns Schwinn, Mongoose, and GT.

Currently, Cannondale’s entire production is sourced from China, the same way that Tomasso’s production is. We’re told that the bike market has changed and that the customers won’t accept American pricing anymore. It’s true that handbuilt American bikes can be very expensive. The Lairdframe that I built almost from scratch has a total component cost of…

…if you see my wife in the vicinity, please cover the screen…

…$2,491. The titanium 29er mountain bike that I have coming my way from Tennessee invoices for more than twice that much. (Now you know why I’ve been selling guitars left and right, incidentally.) But these are custom jobs with little expense spared in their creation. It would be much more fair to compare apples to apples.

So let’s compare my American-made Cannondale SR500 from 1987 to the Tomasso Corvo from 2017. Thirty years separate the two bikes, but they weigh about the same and offer remarkably similar performance. I doubt that anybody would be significantly faster on the Tomasso, and I doubt that the Tomasso will last longer than the original Cannondale roadies lasted. (I should say last, not lasted. There are still people with those Eighties bikes in daily use.)

That 1987 Cannondale was welded from scratch in the United States. It had Weinmann rims made in Europe. The Shimano componentry on the bike was made in Japan.

The 2017 Tomasso is made in Taipei. The Shimano componentry is made in China. I believe that the rims and bearing assemblies were also made in China.

The Tomasso Corvo costs $1,699 through the direct sales channel, although it periodically goes on sale for $1,499. The 1987 Cannondale SR500 sold at a bike shop for full MSRP of $599. That’s $1,282 in today’s money. To put this in an automotive context: In 1987, a Honda Accord DX sedan sold for $11,174, which adjusts to $23,933. The 2017 Accord LX costs $22,455. In both cases, final assembly and much of the component production was done in Marysville, Ohio. And if you’re reading this site, chances are that you know enough about cars to understand the vast gap in power, capability, and equipment between a 1987 Accord and a 2017 Accord.

Which leads to a legitimate question: If Honda can make a better car for less money without moving production out of the United States, why have bike makers raised prices after moving everything to China, where costs are supposed to be lower? How do you manage to drop the labor rate from $25/hour to a fraction of that and still charge more for the product?

It turns out that Chinese labor isn’t as cheap as it used to be. Which leads to a frightening conclusion: Cannondale et al aren’t making bikes in China because it’s cheaper. It isn’t cheaper. Instead, they are making bikes in China because they’ve forgotten how to make them in the United States. This isn’t just true for bicycles. In every industry you can imagine, from watchmaking to commercial-vehicle production, Americans have simply let multiple generations’ worth of knowledge and expertise disappear. While we were all busy watching “peak TV” and selling each other real estate, the entire industrial base of this country was donated to the Pacific Rim. They now have an effective monopoly on many products and processes. And because they are intelligent, resourceful people, they are taking full advantage of it.

I’d like to own a Tomasso for my daily rides. But I’m going to vote with my dollars for American bikes, even if they cost more. In fact, I just found out that there’s a company making suspension forks in the USA — MRP. So when I build my 26″ dirt-jumper, I’ll be sure to pick something from them. I’d encourage you all to do the same thing. I know that some of you think that the deliberate choice of American-made products is racist/sexist/bigoted/transphobic/whatever. Try to think of it in terms of the environment. This country has an EPA. What does China have? What does Thailand have? Are the environmental regulatory boards of those countries answerable to you in any way, shape or form? Can you influence them? Of course you can’t. So buy American, because it’s also best for the environment.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to start poking through old classifieds to see if my Cannondale is out there. If any of you see a deep Mercedes-Benz Maroon road bike with a fade-to-silver rear triangle, holler at your boy, alright?

74 Replies to “All The Money We Didn’t Save By Going To China”

  1. DirtRoads

    My first bike was an actual, real Raleigh, and my second one was as well. It was a three speed, with the Sturmey-Archer stick shift on the cross bar. There was a problem with that stick shift though, in that it would pop out of gear, in between gears, at about the same time you got up to really stand on the pedals.

    Maybe that’w why I never had any children.

    Bought the wife a bike a couple years ago and struggled to find her one not make in China. *sigh* I bought a Raleigh, and later found out they, too, are made in China.

  2. VoGo

    This is one of the better things you’ve written lately. Good interplay of personal experience with coherent thoughts on US manufacturing. Nice work!

    • Mike

      How condescending – I don’t believe Jack needs your approval or praise Sean. You just felt you had to comment.

      • VoGo

        I liked the editorial. No condescension intended. Of course Jack doesn’t write for my approval or praise; he’s his own man.

  3. phr3dly

    Not relevant to the main point of your post, but this was a nice trip down memory lane.

    My brother bought a blue Cannondale SR500 around the same time, maybe 1988. 2×6 105 groupset with the much maligned Biopace rings. Nearly 30 years later that bike is still in my garage and still gets used when he visits. The original aluminum handlebars failed about 10 years ago (immediately following a hard top from 45MPH on a 7% decline.. Yikes). We kept it with downtube shifters up through 2×10, but finally gave up and it now wears an Ultegra 2×11 groupset with brifters, along with a carbon fiber fork (I wasn’t willing to wait for the original fork to fail).

    I just sold my Tennessee Titanium Lynskey 650b hardtail. I’ve got a couple Litespeed CF bikes. I didn’t check, but I believe they’re made in the US. Those frame/forks were about $400 each as raceroom specials, though the original retail price for the frames was $2K+.

    I have a mix of Chinese and US Ti frames. My first Chinese one is 13 years old, purchased from the inimitable Sheldon Brown, who sold me an Ultegra equipped Ti frame with Brooks saddle for $2K ( ). That frame lasted me many tens of thousands of miles, but now lives permanently on the indoor trainer. My main road bike these days is a TiCyles, from a local builder.

    My impression is that there are still plenty of dirt-cheap chinese bikes. See, where you can still buy a Titanium Ultegra build for $2200 and probably less, during one of their endless sales. Of course there is good quality Chinese and bad quality Chinese. That Motobecane is probably closer to the latter end of the scale than the former.

  4. VTNoah

    I’ve had one American Made bike. One of the Original Geekhouse SG-1 dirtjumpers from back in 2004 or so. Neon pink frame, profile hubs, wheels, and cranks. It took this article for me to go and look up where profile makes their stuff and it was great to see it is American made. It did have a Marzocchi DJ3 fork on it which I’m sure came from Taiwan and I think that’s about it. One of the most fun bikes I’ve ever had. Scored it from a friend who switched to pure BMX. The one downside was that because it was such an early build, they didn’t weld the brake mounts in exactly the right place so the rear brakes were a bit dodgy. Other than that, really fun ride. I actually looked it up a little while ago and was able to find my Pinkbike classified ad from way back when.

  5. Harry

    Where to start!

    First, congratulations on choosing a Lynskey, I think you will be very happy. My dealings with them have been nothing but positive. I am also going to plug an alternative that is made more local to my current location as an example of how at least in Ti and Stainless steel, US frame making is alive and well No.22 Cycles.

    I hope you consider Chris King, or White Industries for awesome USA made components. Unfortunately I don’t know of any full made in the USA group sets (I shudder at gruppo, its like calling ski bindings “binders” must be regional?)

    I am going to quibble with you on some of your value assessments regarding the cost of bicycles.

    First things first, apples for apples the frames on Cannondales have gotten far worse since the move to Asia, at least on the price point models. If you were to compare the weld quality and consistency on your SR500 to a current CAAD Optimo you would be sadly disappointed. Although they still “double pass” the welds, or say they do, look at enough of them and clearly someone is missing a few passes, they also do not fillet the joints with whatever they used to to smooth everything out (not bondo!), and the paint application is wildly inconsistent. Don’t get me started on headtube over spray, unfaced disc brake mounts and forgetting to hone the inside of the seatube so the anodizing on your seatpost comes boogered up from new.

    Where the new bikes kill is on the components. You wish your 1987 SR500 had “Claris”. With Tektro R315 (bottom of the unbranded barrel) brakes and Alex rims.

    Claris, aside from the crankset, would have one the Tour in 1987.

    Componentry represents a higher percentage of a complete bicycles manufacturing cost than it did in 1987.
    Even Trek doesn’t buy enough wheels to justify moving the “bontrager” factory to Wisconsin, even if they made all of their hybrids here. That may change soon with the advent of more US made rims and the advent of better automated wheel building machines from Holland.

    A bigger obstacle in tubing. The tubing is cheaper in Asia. Gone are they days when you bought standard sized tubing from Reynolds or Columbus and you were a hot shit company if it was butted. If you look at the CAAD 10 in cross section many from pieces of highly manipulated with hydroforming, and the tooling for that ain’t cheap. A few years back a company in Cincinnati, I think it was JMP, was trying to offer hydroforming for sporting goods and cycling specifically, I don’t see that service on the website anymore. It’s expensive.

    Tooling up for hydroforming was a major reason Cannondale moved to Asian production after coming out of bankruptcy.

    What about carbon bikes? Cannondale made them in Pennsylvania for a few years and it was problematic. It was easier to outsource it than to develop the capability in house. Trek still makes a few of their best carbon bikes in Waterloo, but it is low volume, like Parlee.

    On budget bikes (I can’t define it but I know it when I see it, say under 3k?) There is near yearly trickle down. People on the used market, with their 2011, not made in the USA Cannondale Synapse Alloy 105 that they bought for $1300 and have never used is not worth $1000 in like new condition, because that consumer can go out and buy it new for a $1000 but it says Tiagra. Obviously YMMV depending on wheel spec from year to year and brand to brand. It is worse in MTB especially with the pre DWlink/VPP and post divide.

    To anyone who made to the end of this comment, thanks. This rant is a taste of what it is like to sit near me at a social event. I am not invited to many.

    • E. Bryant

      “This rant is a taste of what it is like to sit near me at a social event. I am not invited to many.”

      I have a similar problem. I suspect that we could have some good conversation in the extremely improbable event that we find ourselves at the same function.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I certainly made it to the end of the comment.

      Groupset pricing doesn’t seem like it’s increased much. XT costs a grand or so; it used to cost $500 back in the day.

      With my Lynskey, I paid extra for a Cane Creek 110 headset over the Cane Creek 40 that comes standard; the only difference between the two is that the 110 is made in the USA.

      I used to run Chris King headsets on all my bikes. I have a rare first-gen Chris King Steelset on my old dirt-jump Supercross. They made like 100 of them in raw metal finish. I considered a Chris King hubset for my Lairdframe BMXer but the Profile Elite was also USA-made and it’s more durable.

      • Harry

        Somehow I didn’t know that the 110’s were made in the USA. I knew their DB shock and their new forks are.

        As for the groupset pricing, retail cost vs OE cost, a lot of the high volume guys like Trek/Specialized have eaten margin to maintain pricepoints, while still increasing feature content, feature being the function, not the “level”.

        Everyone who buys a bike, $399 guy and $7999 guy, thinks they bought an expensive bike because there is little cultural agreement on the worth of a bike. For casual consumers, there are pretty hard ceilings at $499 and $999 where people say “No way I will ever spend that much on a bike!”

        Those #s have not changed in 20, maybe 30 years. Several categories of sporting goods are in that same predicament.

        For family and friends, I have taken to restomoding late 90’s early 2000’s MTBs into casual hybrids, because you can’t buy a “good” hybrid at almost any price now because of how they need to squeeze the bikes into those pricepoints. A quick local craigslist search this morning turned up a made in the USA Cannondale F3 for a $225 asking price. A tuneup and quality slick tires gets you something that will ride better, last longer, weigh less, and need less maintenance than a $550 Cannondale Quick 5 disc, or Quick CX 4 for even more. It is as if buying a 20 year old BMW vs a new Kia resulted in fewer, less expensive trips to the mechanic.

        This does not apply to actual trail riding, most quality old MTBs are terrible compared to quality MTBs from the more modern era.

  6. E. Bryant

    You know shit’s tough when companies pulled out of Taiwan because the costs were too high.

    Jack, while I do no disagree with the thrust of your post, I do wish to make the following points:

    1) A major contributor to “flat” car pricing in the past two decades has been the outsourcing of components. So, yes, while your Accord was bolted together using a few tens of hours of Marysville labor (and I may very well be overstating that number), the most labor-intensive activities took place halfway around the world. They don’t show up on that oh-so-comforting domestic/foreign content number on the Monroney due to the hide-the-weenie nature of multi-tiered procurement, but trust me, there is a lot more SE Asia and Eastern European content in any “domestic” car than you and I know or wish to know.

    2) Cars provide better opportunities for labor reduction, as they are inherently complex. Bikes are simple and harder to VA/VE by 2-3%/year.

    3) The auto industry can (almost) afford automation as a means by which to further drive down costs, as well as the NRE required to produce designs which are cheaper. The bike industry certainly cannot, or at least cannot do so in a fashion that would provide ROI in a reasonable amount of time. As much as it pains me to say this, earlier consolidation of the mid-/upper-tier manufacturers would have helped, but the 1990s boom was strong enough that poor management wasn’t immediately punished.

    4) The bike industry did a phenomenal job of educating its customers to evaluate craftmanship and workmanship of the frames, as there were few other ways to distinguish different brands (gimmicks such as GT’s “triple triangle” notwithstanding). If you wanted me to do a Made In The USA frame, I might start by working with Easton or Alcoa and a good industrial automation place to figure out a process by which to stick together some aluminum castings and tubes in a robotic MIG cell (you know, like how a German automaker would do), but there is no way to sell that frame and its toothpaste-quality welds to a discerning consumer. I might also start looking at things like thermoplastics, but customers who think they know the salient differences between “hot forged” and “cold forged” crank arms certainly aren’t going to accept parts made of powdered metal, much less a perfectly fine composite like some DuPont Reny with a healthy percentage of fiber fill0. This was a self-inflicted wound by the industry. Note that the auto industry has mostly avoided such issues, at least in mass-production car; it’s treated the subject mostly in the same discreet fashion as your local butcher and his terrific breakfast sausage.

    I remember going on a tour of the Trek facility in the late 90s, as Waterloo was less than a day’s drive from my school and there were a few alumni working as manufacturing engineers. Even with my immature knowledge of how the world worked, it was pretty clear that there was little long-term hope of paying skilled domestic labor the going rate for TIG welding to build a Trek 7000 that listed at only $725 and left the dock for much less than that. Consider also that Trek management must have had Gary Fisher whispering in its collective ear about the ease of sourcing frames and complete bikes out of Taiwan, and it was all but certain what would eventually happen.

    • Harry

      “but customers who think they know the salient differences between “hot forged” and “cold forged” crank arms certainly aren’t going to accept parts made of powdered metal, much less a perfectly fine composite like some DuPont Reny with a healthy percentage of fiber fill.”

      A number of years ago, after a few pints I was admiring a Serrotta Ottrott with some friends.

      In person is it strikingly beautiful, the combination of well made polished Ti lugs and carbon tubing made it an object of desire, even though it was a few grams heavier than the lightest carbon frames at the time. Although mixed carbon metal bikes were for a short period of time in style for cost reasons, this transcended that style, and blended the old and knew like no other bike I have ever seen.

      Then we rode it. It was meh. It was harsh like Ti shouldn’t be but also didn’t have the giddyup out of the saddle I have come to expect from a fast modern bike. We chalked that up to all the Ottrotts being custom builds and maybe whoever this was built for asked for certain specs and I and my buddies didn’t like it.

      It made me think that Ti lugs and carbon tubes were backward. For those who don’t geek out about bike design, it is important to know that most of the stress in a frame is near the joints, in particular where the lugs used to overlap with the brazed in tubing. When welding became a way to build frames, the tubes on better bikes were butted, or thicker on the ends than in the middle, to give them strength where needed, and no more material than needed in the middle to save weight. This also had the benefit of making the tubing easier to weld without burning through.

      Ibis is branded there butted tubing “moron tubing” as in more on the ends. Columbus called their tubing “genius”.

      Anyway, I proposed that a bike with fantastic feel and competitive weight could be made by using molded fiber filled lugs, and simply inserting and bonding prefinished thin wall Ti tubing. The composite lugs could be of near enough as makes no difference infinite stiffness, and by adjusting their coverage of the tubing transfer the stress to the longer more middle parts of the tubing for the all important “compliance” in whatever direction was suited for the intended purpose of the bike. So the “feel” of a Ti bike without the attendant costs of welding all those joints, and then polishing the nooks and crannies.

      All of those with me immediately thought the idea of a “plastic” bike was something Fisher-Price would make.

      • Jack Baruth Post author

        Sounds like the long-departed Raleigh Technium bikes, only with modern materials…

        • Harry

          Or the BMC Impec bikes, with lugs by Easton. That bike was supposed to highlight their new carbon tubing weave machine they called the “stargate”. I have not ridden one, but in my mind they are awesome.

        • Harry

          Don’t feel too bad for ole Ben, a lot of things went sideways over the history Serrotta, and a lot of people got screwed. Ben always made sure he wasn’t one of them, though I doubt he sees it that way.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I really appreciate this comment. You’re right about the supplier mess in modern cars — there aren’t a lot of circuit boards being fabricated in Ohio, that’s for sure.

      With that said, it seems reasonable to me that some companies could at least bring back frame/fork manufacture to here on sub-$1k bikes. The Chinese stuff I see in that price range isn’t welded particularly well. Maybe there needs to be some sort of Manhattan Project among American bike manufacturers to build a robotic welding rig…

      • Athos

        The technology to robotically weld a bike should be already an ‘off the shelf’ item. Making it work is another matter. What may be missing is, and I quote you (because this paragraph was brilliant)

        “Americans have simply let multiple generations’ worth of knowledge and expertise disappear”

  7. Sseigmund

    I agree with you that we have let a great deal of expertise leave for other countries, but I think we still have an edge in innovation and creativity. Gary Klein didn’t know how to make light aluminum bike frames, but he figured it out in his drive to create something better. It isn’t just knowhow that has disappeared. Much of the capital exit from the United States is the result of a severely unbalanced tax code now placing the US as the 3rd highest corporate rate among 188 countries. While the US government takes less percentage of overall GDP than many other nations, the heavily out of balance corporate rates have sent capital fleeing to friendlier countries. We have allowed our government to sustain a war on earnings and investment. It isn’t all down to the cost of labor.

    BTW, I have a old Klein Quantum with Dura Ace group set that I picked up for $50 from the Salvation Army. I rode it for a couple of years, but have parked it awaiting rehabilitation. Now there’s a Green strategy!

  8. hank chinaski

    I had my ~’95 Cannondale powdercoated some time ago, but it doesn’t leave the trainer anymore.

  9. Patrick_D

    Interesting look into the cycling industry. I don’t know how wide their distribution network is in the U.S., but Devinci makes all their aluminum bikes in their hometown of Chicoutimi, Québec a few hours north of the border. Even the aluminum itself it sourced locally. Carbon components and group sets still come from overseas, but as far as I know they’re the last large-scale bike manufacturer building bikes in North America (including frame construction).

    • Kevin Jaeger

      Devinci bikes are very nice but they aren’t the only or most interesting bike manufacturer in Quebec.

      Giuseppe Marinoni was an Italian bike racer in the ’60s who had also spent some time learning the craft of making Italian racing bikes. After participating in some races in Quebec he decided to stay and open his own bike manufacturing in Terrebonne, Quebec in 1974, with the intention of bringing quality racing bikes at an affordable price for up and coming competitors. The factory is still there and you can still get quality made-in-Quebec steel bikes though they also source other frames from abroad.

      More interestingly, at 75+ Marinoni is still a cyclist and recently set the 1 hour record for the 75-79 age on a bike he had personally built for another racer. That story is here:

      I still ride a steel Marinoni from 1987, though I “upgraded” the Campagnolo components to some more modern SRAM 10-speed stuff. No, Quebec isn’t in the United States but trading with close neighbors is legit, right?

  10. Tomko

    I’ve owned a Sekine 10 and a Sekine 12. I currently have a Giant Prodigy and a Giant Revive. I’ve looked seriously at Santana tandems – and would have bought if my wife was a better stoker.

    But it’s been a number of years since I’ve ridden.

  11. Nick D

    Just a quick note of thanks for highlighting USA made stuff. I’m on my 8th pair of AEs (may pick up another at port Washington on my way home from RA), run in 990s, got a pair of rainbow US made sandals, got wifey a US made purse from JW Hulme, etc. My wife actually sold 3 other Hulme purses when people saw the quality and smell of the leather for less than a Tony brand.

    To your point, I’m pragmatic and won’t buy a snap on wrench when a Harbor Freight model will work for the 1 time I need it, but for the most part, I’ve found US made (or, in some cases, Canadian made) stuff to be the same or cheaper than foreign made but high end branded crap.

    It just takes a bit of effort to find it.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      So glad to read this. If everybody made a similar effort we wouldn’t need any kind of government intervention to keep some jobs in this country….

    • jz78817

      “I’m pragmatic and won’t buy a snap on wrench when a Harbor Freight model will work for the 1 time I need it, “

      but that’s the slippery slope, isn’t it? “I want to buy stuff made in the US, but…”

  12. CJinSD

    I bought a Trek MTB in 2006. The first dealer I visited shared a parking lot with a Performance Bike Shop. The salesman asked me what else I’d looked at. I mentioned a bike from Performance; it might have been a Giant. He scoffed and said that he didn’t deal in Chinese bikes, being primarily a Trek and Bianchi dealer. I really wanted a USA manufactured bike, but his attitude was gruesome. I bought my Trek 6700 from another dealer. When it arrived, I learned that Trek had just shifted production of their aluminum frames to China. My early Trek Chinese frame started coming apart where the seatpost and chainstays met the bottom bracket.

  13. Jim Zeigler

    I ride a used Independent Fabrication Crown Jewel and a 1988 GT Karakorum that my uncle found down by the bayou. They’re fine, but I’ve never been entranced by the”real feel of steel”. The fancy carbon stuff is damn nice, and Specialized is making some fantastic aluminum bikes now.

    My favorite bike was a US-made CAAD4 Cannondale that I regret selling every time I ride. Was it punishing? Yes. But that’s what cycling should be. Get on the elliptical if you disagree.

  14. Tristan W Weary

    Great stuff. I love bicycles and bicycle components from the 1980s. It’s my favorite era in terms of the the sport, the technology, and the style.

    I’ve got two frames I’m planning on building up, a 26″ MTB for winter commuting and a Trek aluminum road frame for long distance riding. I want to build the long distance one with Shimano 600 components, using friction shifters and aero brakes. I’ve already got these great Shimano WH-535 16-spoke aero wheels for it. I had an Easton carbon fork with an annoyingly short rake on it previously, but I’m thinking of going steel on the fork this time.

    I’m thinking of turning the commuter into a single speed for the sake of simplicity, maybe even adapting it for disc brake use.

  15. Aoletsgo

    I am riding road, gravel and mountain, but this year I want to do more trail riding. If you find yourself in SE MI with your new 29er and want to ride Maybury, Island Lake, Brighton, Novi Tree Farm,or Potto let me know if you want to ride with some locals. I am also getting my 13 year old and 21 year old nephews on the trails this year.

  16. Gary

    Have a 1993 Trek 930 Singletrack (with may upgrades)…steel (is for real) frame…made in Wisconsin, and an aluminum 1993 Trek 1200 road bike (Ultegra/105)…also USA made. Looked to “upgrade” a few years back and found all Trek bikes now China/Taiwan made. Shopped other popular brands and found the same thing. Guess I’m keeping my old bikes for another few decades.

  17. Texn3

    My first bike was a 1990 Cannondale, built for long distance riding. It was a beautiful emerald green with fenders that matched my 98 3.2TL (actually a great car). Now I ride a 2004 Cannondale Road Warrior everyday to work. Great bikes, great craftsmanship, and I love the “granny” gear for the steep hill home (in Boise).

    I need a new mountain bike, I looked at Ellsworth in the past. I’ll probably end up buying a demo at a considerable cost savings.

    I too try to buy US made. Even my 2014 iMac was “made in USA”! Well, it was a refurb model. Or Japan made, when it comes to vehicles. Next up is a GX.

  18. Jeffrey Zekas

    Hey Jack, well stated. Not only does China not have an EPA, but they use slave labour. Then, of course, there is all the air pollution caused by thousands of (oil fired) tankers crossing the Pacific, an environmental cost NOT borne by China, but paid for by the First World nations. So, in the long run, we DO pay for cheap goods, with global climate change and loss of American jobs.

  19. acesfull

    Great post and great comments.

    I also own a couple of old bikes – a 1986 Raleigh hybrid and a 1994 Diamondback mtb. Neither have USA made frames which is disappointing as I still use both bikes. I suppose that is why I could afford them at the time.

    I would love it if there was a $1500-$2000 105-equipped CX bike out there that was mass-produced using hydroformed tubes. I just can’t do the botique-builder thing for an everyday bike.

  20. Gene B

    The biggest reason for this is that companies have a much higher expectation of profit margin. There are tons of US companies using Chinese products – and as a result their labor – for tremendous profits. If I can land a bike here for $500 and sell it to a store for $1000 who in turn sells it to you for $1499 on sale it is much simpler than developing h the product here, manufacturing it and employing people. There are other complications. I work with a number of small manufacturers and finding people who want to do an honest day’s work is difficult. Most businesses can’t find reliable workers and figure out how to do without. Of course they can’t live on the wages necessary to guarantee the manufacturer the required profit margins. Unfortunately those profit margins are also necessary, because since 1987 running a business has become must more costly, from insurance, rent, health insurance and taxes. Plus your own costs as a business owner has risen, with the crazy cost of everything. It’s much easier to just import the stuff made to your spec, which most entrepreneurs would rather do – they are normally better at selling the concept, anyway. This is a very complicated problem.

  21. Orenwolf

    Great article, JB!

    To this point:

    “Instead, they are making bikes in China because they’ve forgotten how to make them in the United States. This isn’t just true for bicycles. In every industry you can imagine, from watchmaking to commercial-vehicle production, Americans have simply let multiple generations’ worth of knowledge and expertise disappear.”

    This is a big deal, and Apple has specifically cited this as a reason they don’t do more manufacturing in NA. The expertise isn’t there.

    It’s part of why their billion dollar initiative to create “advanced manufacturing” jobs in the US announced this week is a big deal: their goal is to reseed that knowledge back into the NA workforce backed by real investment dollars.

    Innovation won’t get us there alone: just watch how fast every kickstarter with a cool idea is copied by knockoffs from Asia – in some cases, released before the kickstarter does! The only fix for that is a larger, more knowledgeable manufacturing base in NA, and the only way that happens is massive investment in new facilities and training to start creating that infrastructure again.

    • Kevin Jaeger

      The expertise is one factor but the regulatory environment is a bigger one. Jack mentions the EPA as one example, and everyone is in favor of clean air and water, but I think this is a small factor. Modern companies are quite capable of manufacturing bicycles and iPads without much of an environmental impact.

      But it is simply impossible to break ground and turn up manufacturing at anything like Apple’s development cycle in North America. They’d still be waiting for approval to break ground in California and it’s only a little faster in more business friendly states.

      And when customers’ tastes turn from iPods to iPads spinning down one factory while ramping up production in another would invite a nightmare of dealings with the Labor Relations board and an alphabet soup of other agencies.

      It seems remarkable that such market responsiveness is possible in a nominally Communist country but is effectively unthinkable in any western country. At least until the manufacturing is almost entirely robotic, that is.

      • penguinboy

        “And when customers’ tastes turn from iPods to iPads spinning down one factory while ramping up production in another would invite a nightmare of dealings with the Labor Relations board and an alphabet soup of other agencies.

        It seems remarkable that such market responsiveness is possible in a nominally Communist country but is effectively unthinkable in any western country. At least until the manufacturing is almost entirely robotic, that is.”

        Changing a production line in an existing electronics factory from one product to another rarely involves dealing with government agencies, except for things like FCC type approval that apply regardless of where the the product is manufactured. And electronics manufacturing is already highly automated, and has been for years.

        In a past life I was involved in electronics manufacturing, about 85% of the cost to build a product was material cost, maybe 5% was overhead, 5% direct labour, and 5% logistics costs. The savings in direct labour from moving production off shore were at least partially offset by increased logistics costs. Of course now that the whole supply chain has moved offshore, it will be very difficult to bring things back to North America.

        A lot of my former job involved sheparding new products from design to manufacturing. This worked best when there was direct and ongoing collaboration between the design and manufacturing teams – and the best designers were often those that had done a stint in manufacturing.

        Last year I bought a new bike. While prominent graphics on the chainstays proudly proclaim that the bike was “Designed in Waterloo Wisconsin”, the actual frameset was made in Taiwan. At least that’s better than China, I suppose.

        While I don’t expect bicycle assembly is as automated as electronics assembly, I like to think that for what they charge for an upper mid grade (Ultegra) bike, they could at least afford to build it in North America. Now that most of the production has moved off shore, how long will the folks in Wisconsin be able to keep coming up with good designs?

        At least my other bikes are made in Canada or the US. I’m a pragmatist, and these days it’s hard to avoid things made in China, but given the choice I’ll take choose things made in Canada, the US, Japan, the UK or EU in preference the things made in China.

        All of this is a longwinded way of saying that I agree with the points Jack has raised in this post…

    • jz78817

      I’m not sure I buy Apple’s line. So much of electronics manufacturing is automated, with “pick and place” machines to populate circuit boards and send them to the reflow (soldering.) all you need people for is to carry out spot checks and replenish the tape/reels/tubes feeding the machines. after that it’s pretty much assembly line. IMO it’s just been cheaper to pay a company in China to do it with minimally-paid workers than it has been to have e.g. Jabil do the automated stuff with their (expensive) equipment, then higher paid people to assemble the devices.

      • Athos


        You forget that someone needs to design the process, install and comission the machines, make test runs and then keep the whole place running smoothly. That requires plenty of skill.

  22. Paul

    I used to ride road and mountain bikes and love your pieces on them. I still have a burgundy road aluminum Trek 1000 which i upgraded to Ultegra and Mavic Kysarium and various carbon fiber bits and pieces. That bike was made in America. Lasted for ever. Last time I went to a shop here in Atlanta, most of the bikes I saw from Trek were made in China, though the guy working there said something about high ends may be still made in America. I swear I saw full carbon fiber bikes made in China from Trek there.

    Its like how can Subaru and Honda make their compacts in America and sell for profit, but Ford has to move production for Focus to Mexico? I just don’t get it. Even worse, how is it that Silverado that has high transaction prices has so much of its content made not in north America. It makes zero sense. It is a viscous circle of greed and short term thinking, nothing else can explain it.

  23. Nickoo

    I’m an avid cyclist, and one thing that I can’t stress enough, the modern shimano, sram, campy, and heck, even microshift/sunrace, all put out ridable components at affordable prices. Buying the groupset is a huge mistake, always buy the frame/fit/purpose. I guess I’m old school, I think most folks who ride recreationally should be riding non-compact straight top tube steel frames with handlebars the same height as the seat, with fistful of seatpost and less than 1″ standover a good indicator you bought the right size frame. A modern aluminum road bike with a 105 full groupset for more than 1,000 isn’t really a good deal.

    My race bike is an ironhorse victory, reynolds 853, American made, with new sram rival groupset. I love my bike. I have a whole stable of them, the american 81 trek 500 made from reynolds 531 is by far the most fun.

    • Harry

      I am with you in spirit on what a recreational rider should want, as opposed to what they do want which is “hybrid” which doesn’t look so “aggressive” as anything with flat bars.

      In execution, I think they best way to achieve it is with an aluminum frame that clears up to a 42mm tire, wide tires being something else that inspires confidence. The differences between steel and aluminum feel are mostly negated by the high volume tire. OK aluminum tubing costs a lot less than OK steel tubing at the moment. The need to accommodate a high volume tire demands the use of a cyclocross type fork with a long axle to crown, combined with a long headtube to get the bars up even high and too much exposed steerer is verbotten. I think to have the drops, or at least the hooks at saddle height is even better. You would be shocked at how little calf/hamstring/hip flexibility the average hybrid rider has. The drop bar positioning gives the rider the option of engaging more muscle groups in their core when they want more power, but still have a super relaxed position on the hoods, more so than many fitness hybrids, so as to not scare them away from the initial purchase. Flipping them stem could get the rider in a more traditional road ride position of they progress to a point where that is an advantage.

      This front end design, when combined with a traditional double diamond frame, yields insufficient standover clearance for most casual riders, necessitating a sloping top tube, like a compact frame or a mountain bike.

      For cost purposes I would love it if that was combined with a microshift drivetrain. I have ridden their 9-speed road group on a number of occasions and like it. 11-40 9-speed wide range cassettes exist from Sunrace, and many legacy 9-speed rear derailleurs will accommodate them with a longer b-spring. Casual riders would benefit even more than high level riders from the mechanical and use simplicity of a 1x front end.

      For the last 5 years mass market companies have been converging on the above concepts, but calling them “gravel” bikes, or sometimes “allrounders” and have had a higher cost than the casual rider was willing to pay.

      The closest you can get now is a Fuji Jari 1.5, but it still has an expensive Rival drivetrain. The going rate for that bike is $1275 to $1400, and still isn’t as upright as many casual enthusiasts would like. At least it comes with flared drops, near copies of the Salsa Cowchipper.

      Further down the Jari range, you get mechanical disc road brakes of a design that doesn’t work as well as v-brakes or caliper brakes owing to the short pull of road levers. They require constant adjustment to keep working quietly and with acceptable power.

  24. craig.

    I sit, reading this as I stare at my 2009 speedvagen road bike I built up with SRAM parts because it was as close as I could get to US sourced components….and I’m thrilled it rides as well as it does…like an extension of my (prior) road racing self. And to think I could buy an OG-1 at only 5-6k now that rides 99% as well as my 12k build, it amazes me Sacha and Co can earn a living given the low profit margins involved. gOD if I didn’t love my first Cannondale M700 (twin sister to the beast of the east), and my V900….

  25. craig.

    Also, tried taking my chris king classic hubs apart multiple times…..and I’ll be damned if the rear hub isn’t more complicated than the rest of the world would have you believe

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      Thanks for making me aware of Speedvagen. It looks like what I personally need is a Vanilla tourer. The Speedvagen is too racey for me.

      The noise is why I like my six-pawl Profile Elite rear hub on my new BMX bike. Obnoxious. As. Fuuuuck.

  26. galactagog

    great article..I always enjoy reading the cycling stuff you write

    did not know Cannondale went under & were bought out. They were leaders of aluminum frame technology at one time

    I have a ’96 California built Salsa MTB: still ride it, but the front shock needs replacing

    MRP were the only guys who said they would build me a 1″ steer tube fork: so a Loop SL is on my list

    the magnetic shock design looks very interesting

    Also have a Surley karate monkey, I think they are US made as well?

    I’ve always preferred steel frames

    • Jim

      To briefly explain Surly, it’s nothing more than bicycling juggernaut Quality Bicycle Products requesting the Maxway factory in Taiwan to TIG weld a bunch of chromoly tubing together at slightly different angles, slap on a “Surly” label using that font that looks like a kid’s handwriting, and creating a website that rips off the Pearl Jam Vitology liner notes. Throw in some hipster “influencers” and watch the profits flow!

  27. Shocktastic

    My favorite grocery getter is still my banana yellow Cannondale F500 Cad2. The Hedshock front fork was an innovative design and I like a hardtail bike. Sorry to see an innovative company get Chinga-ed because in the late 1980s or early 90s a big tube Cannondale with lightweight accessories was so feather light & responsive compared to the rest of the market.

  28. Harry

    For those interested in the thought exercise of a $1400 bike with a made in the USA frame, it would have to start with these guys

    NE Ohio no less.

    They recently re-entered the tubing market after the only USA tubing manufacturer True Temper, pulled out. I think their bicycle-specific product line is steel only at the moment, as there is almost no market for small volume aluminum frames. Their corporate capabilities to not preclude the manufacture of aluminum tubesets, either in near finished shapes or appropriate starting shapes for hydroforming.

  29. Tyguy

    Jack has you heard of the Cleveland Cyclewerks guys? The currently build a range of bikes in China and prices in the 3k range. They supposedly working on shifting manufacturing to the USA. Maybe you should reach and see where they are with it and possibly cover the (hopefully successful) transition of shifting manufacturing from China to the US. BTW the FXX looks awesome, I looked into building something like it.

  30. mdm08033

    Please stop, I can’t read all the comments I miss my stolen 1982 Trek 613. I still check the bicycle racks in Philadelphia in hopes of spotting it.

    Anyone in the Philadelphia area looking for beautiful local craftsmanship.

    On an unrelated note, Jack are you going to be at New Jersey Motorsports Park on May 19?

    Cheers, Michael

  31. Dick Fiddler

    I ride a LeMond. From before they were bought by Trek and discontinued thanks to that whiny liar Lance. That American steel frame is (and will continue to be) highly desirable, compared to disposable commodity chinese bikes.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      The way Greg LeMond — a TRUE champion who overcame adversity to win CLEAN — was treated by the cycling community after he questioned Queen Lance makes me angry enough to punch random roadies in the dick.

  32. tresmonos

    There is my future list of supporting USA made bike frames. Depending on how serious I go down the rabbit hole will determine my budget and tolerance for BS.

    I am so lucky I didn’t buy this before renovating my house as I’d be flat broke. I’m revisiting this endeavor as I’m now dating the most active woman with the best rack I’ve been held witness to FML

    Don’t buy used, support new manufacturing. I know it’s tough to do, but it’s the right choice.


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