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Guest editorial: Why CAN'T we make bikes in the US?

Published March 18, 2021

By Ted Schweitzer

OK, so right from the get-go, I will come clean and tell you that I don't have a background in economics, finance, or supply chain/logistics. So, perhaps what I am going to write below will be seen as pie-in-the-sky idealism at best, or total naivete, at worst.

I want to know why, aside from the original reason — Americans wanting less expensive goods — can't the bike industry find the will to start manufacturing bikes AND components in the United States again?

As pointed out in an article in BRAIN on March 9, Broken Chain: Why not build more factories? Here's why, boutique companies like Allied, Moots, Guerilla Gravity, etc., are building frames in the U.S. Other, larger companies, like Detroit Bikes and Kent International/Univega are doing assembly, painting, and/or wheel building in the States.

These are absolutely steps in the right direction. It is my assertion that even larger first/second tier bike manufacturers need to embrace this notion and build factories on American terra firma. And this goes for component manufacturers, as well, so obviously talking about Shimano, SRAM, FSA; I think that Campagnolo can be given a hall pass here, still, if Campy wanted to start making American-made components, more power to them.

While I won't pretend to understand all of the complexity, cost, and headaches involved in an undertaking of this nature, I still can't help but think that American production is key to continued sustainability (in more ways than one) for the bike industry. This is only partially rhetorical in nature, but really, why can't we (Americans) start building bikes here in: Chicago, San Francisco, Tampa, Butte, or Boise?

If automobile manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Honda, Toyota, and Subaru, can rearrange their supply chains, which have to be a whole lot more complex – and larger – than the bike industry's logistics, then why isn't it possible for the Big Three or Four bike companies to start production here in the U.S. again, or for the first time?

Obvious advantages to American bicycle production include:

• Shortened supply chain
• Same or closer time zones
• Pride in American craftsmanship, technology, design, and materials
• Certification of fair labor practices
• Infinitely better level of environmental responsibility; blue sign system, LEED-certified buildings, EPA oversight/guidelines, and more
• Reduced shipping times and lower freight costs, also more environmentally responsible
• If problems in production occur, it is easier, quicker, and less expensive for an engineer(s) or product manager(s) to travel to an American factory than it would be for them to travel to Taiwan or mainland China
• More skilled American jobs
• Continued reinvigoration of the industry and would help to keep the pandemic bike boom rolling along, but with better, and quicker re-supply
• Great way for bike companies to implement diversity in hiring that all companies seem to have top-of-mind these days
• Avoidance of tariffs
• Possible tax incentives for on-shoring back to the United States

Downsides to American bicycle production:

• Higher labor costs, could (would) result in price increases, but this may be offset by reduced freight charges and American manufacturing efficiencies and willingness for IBDs and consumers to purchase bikes and accessories "Made in America"
• It would take time to implement this, in which time the industry boom may have tapered off
• Lack of corporate will on the part of bicycle and component manufacturers to undertake this dynamic shift

While I am sure I am not the only person in the bike industry to have thought about this, I am hopeful that people with the means and capital to accomplish ambitious moves, like creating American bicycle and component factories, will embrace this idea. Just because ideas are challenging and expensive does not mean that they are not worth pursuing. What about a consortium of companies coming together – at least initially – to guarantee that they would buy more components, tires, accessories, etc. from companies that produced in the United States?

Again, perhaps this is wild-eyed optimism, but wouldn't you love to have an entirely American designed, manufactured, painted, and built bike? For years people anecdotally have bemoaned the fact that "nothing is made in America anymore," and who is to blame? We are. My opinion here, and after all, this is an opinion-piece column: It's time for the bicycle industry (and let's include the outdoor industry, as well) to walk the walk, as we have all heard the talk for years. American-made should be more than a slogan, let's make it our new reality.

Ted Schweitzer is an experienced sales rep in the Upper Midwest /Great Lakes region and is open to opportunities. He can be reached at:

A framemaker at the KHS Bike factory in Taiwan.

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