Taiwan Bike Tour: Giant Bicycles’ Taichung Factory Visit

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

Giant Bicycles world headquarters office building in Taichung, Taiwan

We were invited to visit Taiwan by the island’s trade organization’s for their first ever “Bike Bloggers Tour”, an outreach program to share both their passion for cycling and their capabilities for world class design, manufacturing and assembly.

The largest company we visited was Giant. Their world headquarters is in Taichung, arguably the bicycle manufacturing capital of the world. Chances are pretty good one or more of the bikes you own is designed, made and/or assembled here.

Our time was a bit limited, which precluded me from seeing very much of the actual manufacturing. I did see some of the alloy bikes being made, along with racks upon racks of frames fresh off the line from major brands other than Giant. As in, some of the top three or four global brands other than Specialized. Much of our tour at the  assembly line, where finished frames become complete bikes, along with a healthy overview of Giant’s history and their growing influence in Taiwan’s overall cycling culture…

COMPANY HISTORY & CULTURE

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

Giant's Taichung manufacturing and office buildings are simply massive, spreading beyond what the camera can capture in a single shot. Photo taken from our bus as we were leaving.

A quick history: Founded in 1972, the Giant brand wasn’t established until 10 years later. They started researching carbon fiber in 1985 and were the first company to mass produce carbon bikes. In 1986, they started setting up subsidiary companies in Europe to expand globally.

In 1992, they established their first Chinese factory, and now produce frames in both Taiwan and mainland China. The gear and components are outsourced. They only make frames, forks and rims, but they design the components and gear in house before being sent out for production.

In 2011, they produced 5.7 million bikes total, including Giant and other brands. They started as an OE-only manufacturer, but as the Giant brand grows, the percentage of OE business versus their own products has shifted dramatically. As of 2011, OE manufacturing contributes 30% of their business, but the rest Giant. Their three biggest markets are China and Europe with 30% each and the US with 20%. They have 11,275 dealers worldwide.

We felt very welcomed thanks to the sign above their foyer showroom. We were joined by Byron BikeHugger, Carlton Reid of BikeBiz, Marc from IBikeLondon and Tom of TomsBikeRide.com - good crowd!

They’re already the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer. The vision now is to expand the cycling culture. They do that through three markets dubbed PSI – Performance, Sport and “Innovative Lifestyle”. That last one is actually exclusive of the growing commuter segment, and they say that’s because they’re not cost competitive in that market. That said, they have a wide range of urban, cruiser and e-bikes that certainly cross over into commuter capabilities…they just look more like “lifestyle” products, and Europe sees a bigger collection of the line than the US. Hopefully it’ll soon include the awesome Anyroad gravel bike!

They also offer the Giant Cycling Tour Service in Taiwan, China and Japan. It’s a fully supported touring set up that they’ll likely expand to Europe and the US in the future.

One thing we don’t see much of yet is the Right Ride fit system. It’s not quite as technical of a system as Retül, Serrota and others aimed at performance riding and custom bike builds. Rather, it’s more about just getting the average cyclist to be comfortable on their bike so they’ll enjoy the sport more and stick with it.

The LIV line is a newer women’s specific grouping, and that’ll likely continue to expand, too.

In Asian markets, they have Giant Stores, which are 100% Giant. At present, there aren’t a whole lot of these in North America or Europe. You’ll have to head to Denver, Montreal or Amsterdam to see one of their concept stores. If we had to guess, you’ll start seeing more of these as they start pushing for a bigger brand presence to compete with Specialized and Trek. Beware the sleeping dragon, me thinks.

So, why and how are they going to create and grow the culture?

Not too long ago, King Liu, Giant’s president, decided to start riding. Yes, it seems obvious that the top brass in any cycling company should be an avid cyclist. But many of the largest companies are simply run as businesses, where the widgets could be interchangeable with any other widget as far as many executives are concerned. That was then. The “now” is that King Liu has made it his mission to change the culture of cycling in Taiwan and China from one of just commuting to one that shows how fun cycling is and how happy and healthy it can make you feel.

To do this, he instituted several major rides, and the company continues to develop rides and events to bring more people into the fold. The largest is the Formosa 900, a 900-mile ride around Taiwan. They brought along most of the executive team and managers from around the globe.

They’re also adding bike rental stations throughout Taiwan and making them free for the first 30 minutes. They’re hoping this encourages more people to get off their scooters and onto bikes. Add to that youth programs, a cycling tour around Taipei, a bike oriented hotel and increased event support and creation targeting different demographic and user (or potential user) groups. Obviously, more people riding more types of bikes is good for business, too.

One of the biggest initiatives is the One Bike One. 72,919 riders were verified to participate in a relay ride around Taiwan, which set a Guiness World Record.

THE FACTORY

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

Giant’s Taichung factory produces the high end frames. They segment into frame manufacturing, painting and assembly. Sadly, no photography was allowed in the manufacturing section, so I’ll try to paint pictures with words.

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

Small trucks ferry parts and pieces around the facility.

It’s something else to walk past rows of hundreds if not thousands of raw alloy frames for three or four of the world’s largest brands all stacked up side by side. It’s even more astounding when you see that every frame is hand made. All of the small builders we’ve visited and covered? Imagine that times a billion. There are no robotic welders here. Rows of work stations have bins full of hydroformed tubes all being hand finished, drilled, stamped with serial numbers, etc. Watching the cable stops get blasted with fire while a worker hand solders them in place is cool. Seeing an entire row of people doing it in unison is even more cool.

Giant Bicycle makes and assembles bikes for several of the worlds largest brands

This is as close as we could photograph the raw frames. There are at least two major non-Giant brands visible here...any guesses?

Manufacturing stations are mostly set up in a tri-position format where three people can work from the same parts bins performing the same activity – say, welding headtubes to downtubes. If that station is caught up, they can move to where they’re needed, varying the workday a bit and keeping production running smoothly and evenly.

I was hoping to see the carbon bikes being laid up, but our schedule was a bit too tight.

THE ASSEMBLY LINE

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

The main assembly line for bikes of all brands.

Bikes are assembled on a massive conveyer belt running along the edge of huge room set up just to funnel the right parts into the right place at the right time. A row of about 30 people transform it into a complete bike ready to be boxed in an average of one complete bike every 31.5 seconds. That includes a basic derailleur tune so it’s shifting reasonably well in the stand. The logistics give me nightmares, but it’s fantastic to watch.

Above is the primary assembly line. Here’s how things get to that point:

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

Ceiling mounted hook conveyers bring painted frames in at one end of the room.

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

They drop down in one corner where forks and headsets are installed.

This video shows the wheels being tensioned, followed by the fastest handlebar taping I’ve seen. Under two minutes per side…could you do that?

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

Behind, there’s a whole bank of people and machines that are building wheels in sync with what bike’s being built on the assembly line. Meanwhile, a bank of people are assembling and wrapping handlebars.

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

Wheels are placed on their own hook conveyer belt (left) and carried overhead to the assembly line. Workers grab them and drop them into the frames. The appropriate wheels are built, trued and wrapped with tires and tubes to coincide with the type of bike that’s being built, reaching the assembly line at just the right time. Same with the handlebars, and component and parts packaged are placed on the carts and trays in the proper order. Imagine scheduling all that!

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

Each worker only does one or two small steps in the assembly process. Here, the front derailleur is mounted. Another worker ran cable housing for the brakes and slipped the cable through…which means someone was cutting and capping the pieces of cables in predetermined sizes. Sooooo many baby steps.

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

These fellas were fine tuning the shifting, running up and down the gears and tweaking as necessary. Any good shop is going to give it a once over, but when they pull it out of the box, this gives the shop a good first impression of the brand.

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

A sign at the end of the line keeps workers apprised of their progress. On the left is the amount of time that line has been stopped during the day (4:03). On the right is the target number of frames for that line that day (620), their estimated actual output (593) based on build times and the percentage of target output. The signs on the bottom show the goals – less than 20 minutes of downtime on the line per day and at least 96% of the desired output.

Giant Bicycles Taichung Taiwan bike factory tour

At the end of the line, bikes are put into boxes, then boxes are loaded into containers. Lots and lots of containers.

TOUR OVERVIEW

Part of TAITRA’s goal with the Bike Bloggers Tour was to showcase the island’s industry and lifestyle in a positive light, perhaps separating them from the “cheap Chinese carbon” and “evil child labor” thoughts that so many people (or at least the most vocal) love to spout anytime an Asian-made product is highlighted. First off, about half of Taiwan’s population is pretty content to call themselves an independent country, only minimally associating themselves with the PRC. So there’s that. There’s also what I saw, which I’ll be sharing in a variety of posts covering small brands and large, from unique components and gear to another of the largest manufacturers in the world.

As for Giant, there’s only one shift, 8:00am to 5:30pm, that can make up to 5,000 bikes per day. There were no child laborers and no insane ’round the clock slave shifts. Oh, and no suicide nets on the windows. Workers can move between stations as needed to alleviate bottlenecks or avoid wasting time if a particular station is slow, so there’s opportunity to move out of a completely monotonous repetition on occasion.

Basically, Giant’s factory looked like any US factory I’ve been to. Lots of people doing rote procedures. Did they look excited to be there? Not particularly, but neither do the sock sewers at DeFeet or tube benders at Thule. It’s a job, and working conditions were clean and orderly and, other than the dudes welding the cable stops on the top tubes, reasonably safe looking. And I suspect the cable stop welders were doing it right, it’s just a process that looked quite foreign to me.

Comments

Duder - 10/18/12 - 2:01pm

Aha. So that’s why you always have to re-wrap the bars on low end Treks after the customer has ridden them for a few months.

David - 10/18/12 - 2:07pm

The guys at Canyon in Germany do it much faster.

RUSTYDOGG - 10/18/12 - 2:07pm

Nifty. It definitely is a tape job just to protect the bars in transit. Not a “wrap” job.
Anywhoo, I wonder if I can get a job there. I’m sure they have a welfare system with free medical for immigrants, right? I’m packing my bag.

Scott - 10/18/12 - 4:21pm

@rustydogg It’s a communist country so no one has to pay for that stuff. duh

But yeah, you should leave.

Scott - 10/18/12 - 4:24pm

Oh wait, Taichung, not the mainland factory. Duh on me. Medical is still covered and they have a lovely intake for immigrants. Welfare I’m not sure about. Their unemployment rate is half what ours is though so you shouldn’t have to worry about welfare.

Jack - 10/18/12 - 4:32pm

Scott – FYI, Taiwan is a democratic country……you’re thinking of China, which is a communist country.

Topmounter - 10/18/12 - 4:50pm

When did Taiwan become a communist country?

LOL, we’re doomed.

Rasek - 10/18/12 - 4:55pm

Giant, Trek, Cannondale….Rocky Mountain?

Taylar - 10/18/12 - 6:21pm

Wow… there’s a lot of soul in those bikes…. that’s depressing

Scott - 10/18/12 - 6:24pm

@jack @topmounter Please read my second comment.

justin - 10/18/12 - 8:31pm

Giant, Trek, not Cannondale, Scott, and someone elses bikes…..

animallover - 10/18/12 - 11:26pm

Who the f*ck cares who makes who’s bikes and who is riding what. The people who move the bicycle industry and keep it afloat are not reading this blog. Might as well make a dollar where you can. Very depressing video though if taken on its own terms.

MissedThePoint - 10/19/12 - 12:12am

Didn’t get to see any fancy high end hydroforming or seeing Yeti frames being made :(

lqdedison - 10/19/12 - 2:24am

Nice article. I’m glad to see Giant open their doors and let everyone see how the operate.

Jason - 10/19/12 - 3:00am

If it comes to “soul” – I cannot see a huge difference on how any other consumer product is made (expect that it is a bike of course). In the end it is the feeling you have when riding one of these bike. If you want it different then pay more and have a bike mechanic build things from scratch….on another note: Taiwan is a high developed country as well, even too expensive for Apple making there high priced products there….

Greg Turnbull - 10/19/12 - 4:53am

I would be interested to know what sort of wages these workers get and whether they are considered fair trade factories

Swangarten - 10/19/12 - 1:29pm

@Justin and Rasek

The factory in TW produces Giant, Trek, Canyon, Scott, Colnago, Yeti and a few other smaller brands.

Paul - 10/19/12 - 8:30pm

Excellent story!

I spent many months in Tachia (not Taichung) at the Giant factory as a design engineer and customer (BikeE) and it is an impressive operation. I never had any concern about working conditions or wages.

I did get a tour of the carbon factory and it is pretty darn amazing.

You might have included a little more detail about the early days (as Schwinn’s sole supplier), King Liu and Tony Lo literally bootstrapped the business.

Thanks for a good read.

Devin - 10/20/12 - 9:43pm

…Literally bootstrapped the business? That’s some McGuyver bike construction!

bc - 10/21/12 - 2:08pm

@RUSTY – Actually, that is very much the wrap job that comes on finished bikes. You don’t think that shops do that in-house, do you? Not since Cannondale moved to Asia has a production bike come with unwrapped handlebars.

CW - 10/22/12 - 6:49pm

BMC’s come unwrapped. . .

The Dude - 10/25/12 - 11:34pm

What a bunch of racists.

you wrong - 10/26/12 - 3:12am

S-works bikes come unwrapped. But yes most lower end bikes come pre-wrapped.

Scott - 10/26/12 - 4:30am

+ 1 for a Giant concept store we have here in Bristol, UK

Mirwin - 10/26/12 - 4:26pm

@Scott – 10/18/12 – 4:21pm

If you review your basic grade 9 world geography, you can avoid sounding as ‘knowledgeable’ as Palin on world geography.

Jeff - 11/08/12 - 12:05am

Explains the poorly trued rims…

Great stuff though. Impressive facility. Too bad we have so many people in the US on welfare… Might be able to make stuff like that here as well if we could get people to work. I guess going to school and getting a degree in the US means you no longer have to work unless it pays you what you think you deserve.

John Paul - 03/06/13 - 9:55am

Please could someone tell which brands of bikes that Giant produce???

ricardo - 03/11/13 - 8:12pm

Giant makes : scott,trek ,yeti ,merida makes :merida,specialized
cannondale is made by the same guys of xfusion forks i think ,what a shame …
few days ago i saw a video of scott carbon experts ,oops those workers had the logo scott but the same colors of giant workers ,lollllllllllll

Kimmy - 08/02/13 - 10:45pm

How to I get to visit the Giant factory in Taichung? can anyone help me out here?

Ronald Jaca - 09/19/14 - 11:41pm

I’m planning to visit Taichung by December of this year. Can I purchase a personal bike directly in the factory?

Mike Honda - 11/18/14 - 2:52am

No, you can’t make a personal visit to Giant factory unless you are with some type of organization. You can’t purchase a bike from their factory. They will tell you to buy one from one of many Giant bikes shops in Taichung. There are a lot of them. Why would you want to buy one from the factory? They won’t give you a special price and there aren’t any benefits from going there to get one. Also, if you want to bring it back overseas, it’s going to cost you more than if you bought one from your home country.

Mike Honda - 11/18/14 - 2:56am

Giant and Merida make bikes for other brands. Besides Giant and Merida, there are only a handful of factories in Taichung that make bikes for other high end bike manufacturers such as BMC. Everyone in the bike industry knows what the other one is doing because most of the bikes come out from the same factories that their bikes are made from. When bike companies sell their bikes as one of a kind, exotic, and original, you would be surprised. They’re all made by the same factory guy working on other bike brands under the same roof.

Mike Honda - 11/18/14 - 3:00am

Factory workers in bicycle factories in Taiwan don’t earn a lot of income, but most of them have college degrees. Most people in Taiwan have college degrees. However, in Taiwan, factory workers get a bonus for Chinese New Year and other such holidays, which can add up to a substantial amount. Also, factory workers know that their working conditions may not be the best, but the don’t complain out loud like westerners would and there are not many unions here. Some factory workers work much more than 8 hours a day; sometimes 10-12 hours a day, and that’s without over time. All you can do is appreciate where your bike came from.

Mike Honda - 11/18/14 - 3:05am

This message is for Paul who worked for Giant. I’m glad you had a great experience working for Giant in Taichung as a design engineer, but you most understand that YOUR working conditions were fine because Westerners get treated differently than local workers do. If you didn’t know that, you were quite blind. Try being a factory worker and you would know that your job as an “engineer” being a foreigner is quite different from a local worker working under harsher conditions on the factory floor under Taiwanese management. This might sound racist, but Taiwanese workers do not treat their workers better than Westerners. I have experience and I still work here. Don’t ask me what I do, but I’m not blowing smoke up your butt.

Mike Honda - 11/18/14 - 3:08am

There is no such thing as fair trade practices in the bike industry in Taiwan. Don’t say that to people here. They will laugh at you or not know what you are talking about. Working in bicycle factories is certainly not a sweat shop, but it can be tough if you were to compare it to Western standards. You can’t compare Western standards and expect people here to work like you where you live. It’s a different place with different culture and thinking. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. You wouldn’t try to ask an apple tree to grow oranges, would you?

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