Taipei Demo Day

Taipei Demo Day

Prior to departing for Taipei, I knew that I would be attending a press conference and a demo day associated with the Taipei Cycle Show. What I knew you could fit in a book title. This morning our handlers loaded us onto a motor coach and drove us to a park somewhere in Taipei. There, 20-ish different companies had 10×10 tents set up to show off mostly bikes.

Something I’d want to review: these hubs had direct engagement; the orange freehubs still ratcheted while the black freehubs were silent, smooth. The problem? No one was standing in their 10×10 tent the entire time I was there. Hubs on a table. That is all. 

The collection covered as wide a range as one could imagine; no kidding, it covered a broader range than I am apparently able to imagine. After seeing some very unusual takes on ebikes (as evidenced by the lead photo in this post), some fresh ideas on kids’ bikes and some amazing hubs with immediate freehub engagement, I found myself amazed to be looking at a display from Look Cycle. They were the only Western brand in attendance.

The remarkable part of this bike isn’t that it folds, but that it has a basket for your teacup dog/cat/hedgehog/ferret. 

The basket is easily removed from the bar so that Fifi can jump in while it’s on the floor. I’m guessing.

I have yet to really understand the nature of innovation within Taiwanese bike companies. Where American companies introduce products with some eye toward the market and likely consumers, I haven’t gotten the same impression from the Taiwanese companies at the demo today. When I asked, “Who is the potential consumer for this bike?” the question didn’t seem to compute. I got answers about how the device in question could be used by anyone, or how they either had or were working on a women’s model. No one answered the question I asked, and it’s not like anyone was really trying to be evasive. My sense is that some of these companies go from idea to prototype to production without the intervention of an evaluation. “Who will this help?” “Should we make this?” “Is it practical?”

What’s the next step in ebikes? Why folding ebikes, of course. And given how slow most folders are due to the small wheels, adding a motor is legit.

This thing folks up so small I could keep it in a closet or under a work desk.

This 10-inch wheel contains the smallest hub motor currently made. Do I want it? Nope. Am I impressed? Very much.

I write this not to criticize, but to acknowledge and illustrate just how different the industry operates over here. The real mystery to me is how they can get away with it. American bike companies run so lean that one failed product can bounce a project manager from his job. Several failed products can sink a company. As a result, I can’t help but wonder if they work on different margins, or the numbers are just so big elsewhere in the world that even a bad product can turn a profit, just as a flopped Hollywood movie will turn a profit by the time foreign ticket sales get added to the balance sheet.

Out of strange ideas can come greatness. This tiny balance bike (again with the 10-inch wheels), folds to adjust with the child’s growth. 

The bike weighs a bit more than 4 lbs. (they said less than 2kg) and because it’s made from forged aluminum, it is pretty near indestructible. By kids.

Another feature of my interactions with the entrepreneurs and staff with these companies was that they were, so far as I could tell, without guile. I’m accustomed to encountering crazy products at trade events and then having the company representative feed me a line of BS so ridiculously fanciful my nine year old would throw shade at him. Now, I have to admit language was a barrier at the demo; very few of the people I encountered spoke much English, and I can attest that it is difficult to weave much of a yarn if you only know eight verbs.

With so much time on my hands I tried things I would never even stop to look at during a larger show. The way this thing handled and bounced around, I felt like I was back in a pre-CPSC world where safety concerns were a sign of weakness.

What stood out more to me was that the attitude on all these products was very pleasantly take-it-or-leave-it. They encouraged me in each instance to give something a ride and afterward they asked me if I liked it. It’s as spaghetti-on-the-wall as the U.S. record companies were in the 1960s.

It was a day spent in a way that was, at best, tangential to RKP’s editorial mission, but I think that when you start to consider larger questions that cycling can answer, some smaller questions, like what constitutes a bike, can become more interesting.

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  1. Roman

    Your befuddlement of the nature of innovations within the Taiwanese companies reminded me of a Frank Zappa interview where he said record industries got less creative when “hip, young” people became the record execs in the seventies than when “old people” without a clue ran it in the 60s.
    Then you mention record companies in the 60s as an analogy. Perfect!

    Hope you’re enjoying yourself so far.

    1. Author

      That quote was rattling around in my head as I wrote that line. Not an obvious nod, but certainly an absent-minded one.

      I love this place. It’s so civilized, but in a manner to which I’m entirely unaccustomed.

  2. J C

    Chosen hubs! When fatbikes first came out, chosen (rebranded 9zero7, etc) made one of the few affordable options, and thus they were popular.. but lots and lots of them failed.

  3. Quentin

    The rear triangle of that green e-bike reminds me a lot of a Bike Friday tandem I once owned. The long seat looks as if it was inspired by the way electric scooters in Asia are frequently ridden with more than one passenger.

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