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Product Managers Flock to Taichung

Published January 4, 2010

BY MARC SANI AND DOUG MCCLELLAN

TAICHUNG, Taiwan—Taichung Mayor Jason Hu beamed as he welcomed hundreds of product managers and executives to Taichung Bike Week.

“It’s very sunny and friendly in Taichung. It always is!” Hu said at a dinner the city hosted for participants. Organizers of Taichung Bike Week had reason to be sunny. The informal mini-trade show drew at least 500, and perhaps many more, to the city that lies at the epicenter of the bicycle industry in Taiwan, and thus the world.

“A ton of business has been done here this week,” said Steve Fenton of Pro-Lite, who lives in Taichung and helped organize the mini-trade show.

The event, in the second week of December, has grown over 10 years as an unorganized collection of often competitive events. This year two industry executives—Fenton and Katerina Rejchrtova, president of WTB Europe—volunteered hours of their time and worked with city officials to impose some organization.

Their goal for the 2010 event is to bring the exhibitors together under one roof, especially Ride-On Taiwan, which takes place at a resort on the edge of Taichung.

To attract more U.S. product managers, and stay abreast of the ever-faster product development cycle, Fenton said Taichung Bike Week may move to the week of Nov. 15 and be shortened to four days from five.

They plan to poll the industry and announce the date for the 2010 Taichung Bike Week during the Taipei Show in March.

Fenton said Coliped, the association representing the European two-wheeler parts and accessories industry, has said it would bring about 30 exhibitors to the next Taichung Bike Week.

One of the most influential companies at Taichung Bike Week wasn’t an exhibitor. That was Shimano, and the component giant’s pending moves—whether real or just rumored—cast long shadows over many other companies.

According to industry executives who are familiar with Shimano’s plans, the company is expected to launch a compact 10-speed mountain bike group for 2011 that is designed so that neither front or rear derailleur can be used with another company’s system.

There’s also concern about the timing of Shimano’s unveiling, which may make it difficult for other component makers such as FSA and Race Face to ensure that their chains or cranks are fully compatible before product managers have to set their 2011 spec in stone.

Shimano’s planned 105 group is “fantastic,” according to a product manager who has seen it, and may come in at a lower price than the 2010 version. Shimano may also offer its highly touted Di2 electronic system as part of an Ultegra group.

For its competitors, the biggest news is that Shimano also is being very aggressive on pricing across the board. For example, it is pitching an entry-level hydraulic brake system for as little as $20 per wheel, a price that will put the squeeze on other brake makers.

Lynn Miles of Funn brakes said he has had to slash the price of his line by 12 to 15 percent across the board to stay competitive with Shimano.

“Product managers have told us that Shimano’s lowered the prices, and they’ve been matched by other companies,” Miles said.

Many new headsets were on display as vendors prepare for the expiration of the Cane Creek patent next year.

Industry experts predict low-cost headset production will soar as manufacturers cease paying the royalties, and new companies try to grab market share.

For example, First Bicycle Components, which has produced headsets and bottom brackets for 25 years, is launching the Magpie brand of high-end components next year and will include several headsets.

“We want to aim at Canada and the U.S. because the Cane Creek patent is expiring,” said Chrissie Huang, the company’s overseas sales manager.

With so many industry executives in town, many of the Taiwan manufacturers hosted tours and parties during Taichung Bike Week. None matched the glitz of TH Industries, the parent company of FSA, which hosted a grand opening for its new factory that drew some 1,100 visitors, including many of the industry’s leading luminaries.

The lavish party was not universally appreciated. Bike Week exhibitor Lance Bohlen of Kore Components said FSA “effectively strip-mined 80 percent (or more) of the participants away from the ‘show,’ leaving the rest of us exhibitors strumming our knuckles on the desktops wondering when and if customers might actually return.”

Topics associated with this article: Events, Taichung Bike Week

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