Taiwan Bike Tour: Pacific Cycles, Part 1 – Not What You Think
Founded in 1980, Pacific Cycles is a large scale (one of the largest) private label manufacturers. While they weren’t giving up their client list, I was told they make the frames for one of my personal favorite brands, and you’ll see a few of the brands in this two-part post about them.
First, a bit of clarification: This is not the Pacific Cycle that bought and commoditized Schwinn and others before selling to Dorel in 2004. This is Pacific Cycles-with-an-S that’s introduced some technological firsts to the cycling world and makes some seriously high end frames. And has some seriously unique products and ideas. A quick bit of history, as told by founder George Lin:
- 1985 – First company in cycling industry to use AutoCad
- 1988 – First 7005 alloy frame in Taiwan
- 1992 – First twin shock full suspension bike
- 1993 – Created the Hot Chili, which was developed by Peter Denk, who went on to work in product development for Scott and (currently) Cannondale
- 1998 – Set up their first CNC shop for faster prototyping
- 2012 – 3D scanning & rapid prototyping added, and the first fruit of this labor is the Mando Footloose we saw at Eurobike.
In 2010, they opened a bicycle museum with about 150 bikes, including historical models (including a few Schwinns from the heyday) and capped by the modern ones built by Pacific Bicycles. They’ve seen more than 10,000 visitors so far this year, which is impressive considering they’re not located in one of Taiwan’s major cities.
They developed lots of folding bikes, two of note are the Birdy, Carry Me and, with a designer, the iF Mode shown above, which won an IF design award. The new “baby Mode” is a 20″ folding bike that’s coming soon.
This year, they added 3D scanning and rapid prototyping. The first fruit of this effort is the Mando Footloose folding bike we showed in one of our tradeshow galleries.
Take a tour for the old, the new and the bizarre…
Pacific Cycles is big on folding bikes these days. Their goal is not to compete with Giant or Merida. Rather, it’s to become a leader in folding bikes and the like, which is a growing market. Not just a leader in designs and actual bikes, but they way you get them. It’s probably not as far off as we think to order a frame or part online and be sent a file for your neighborhood (or in-home) 3D printer for immediate use.
It takes forward thinking and testing to dream these things up, and an enthusiasm for what can be done to actively work toward it. That’s part of why we were brought to Taiwan, to experience the passion at these companies, and it’s apparent with everyone we talked to at PC. These people don’t just love bikes, they love solving the problems required to make better bikes. Several of the folding bikes they showed us exemplified the engineering challenges required, like this:
The articulation here is not unlike a car door. But change the head angle or bike’s geometry a smidge, and it requires a complete rethink of how and where it’ll fold to ensure the axles and other bits lineup once compacted. One bike folded great for an early prototype, but didn’t ride well. They changed a couple angles to get the performance right, then spent the next TEN MONTHS getting the fold to work again.
What’s exciting about this is the potential for new ways of thinking about bikes. If we’re totally honest with ourselves, there’s little true innovation happening in performance road and mountain bikes. The $1,500 bikes of today are phenomenally good. Geometries are fairly dialed, suspension works and component tech has trickled down so far that mid-level groups now perform as well as the top end groups with only minimal weight penalties.
Pacific, with their focus on folding bikes and connecting people between mass transit and their homes and offices, could bring more true innovation to the bicycle. There’s no doubt that commuter bikes, particularly folders, can be made easier to use, secure, transport and buy.
They’re looking at Japan for short term growth because they say that market is receptive to different designs and wheel sizes. Fortunately for them, what happens in Japan tends to migrate to their home market of Taiwan.
Several of the designers and engineers we spoke with mentioned the same things they like about Pacific: Their ability and inclination to experiment. Customers can come in with a crazy idea, and they’ll play with it to see if it’s feasible, and they’re receptive to smaller production runs. One employee said that for twelve years before he worked here, he was coming here as a customer and always appreciated the ability to just bring an idea and see them go to work figuring out how to make it work. That combination and the investment in research equipment lets them move quickly and test lots of things. That culture comes directly from Lin.
Lin, who’s been in the bike industry for almost 41 years, developed the Rampar, one of the first hardtail BMX bikes to come out back when they were all trying to look like miniature motocross bikes.
…and the Alenax Transbar, proving yet again that very few designs are actually new (looking at you, StringBike).
Once they’ve grown their home markets, the European and US markets may prove tougher nuts to crack.
Part of it will be a continued improvement in our own cycling infrastructure. Part of it will simply be introducing the concept to unlikely consumers, those that aren’t necessarily cycling enthusiasts that have preconceived notions about what a bicycle should look like or what size wheels they need. And, as always, part of that is bringing good design to the table.
To do that, they’re growing their international design center, bringing in more designers from abroad. This gives them fresh perspectives on the needs of other markets and a broader pool of talent to develop new designs and functions.
That collection of talent and the quick analysis and testing afforded by the 3D scanning and printing machines lets them speed up the development cycle and test more ideas faster. Some of the ideas are more utilitarian than mass market, but they show the unique problem solving approach.
Case in point: An Ethiopian land mine hand-trike was made of steel to be easy to repair. A blast proof steel seat and separate “blast shield” bolted to the bottom to protect the rider from old land mines. You steer by twisting your butt, which turned the rear wheel.
This recumbent handcycle for paraplegics was powered by rotating the handlebars but moved the legs in unison. A common problem for those that can’t move their own legs is keeping the muscles and limbs in motion. This solves that problem, helps them feel better and provides autonomy.
This bike made it possible for those that couldn’t easily walk to still get about under their own power, even in tight spaces. Need to back it into an elevator so you can ride out easily? Just turn the handlebar 180º and it reverses the gearing so you’re still pedaling forward, but the bike moves backward. Spin the bar again and off you go!
That’s the story on Pacific Cycles. Granted, we didn’t get to see the actual manufacturing facilities, but the management and research/design team seem to be genuine bike geeks. You know, the kind of people we like to think of as running the bike companies, whether they’re the behind the scenes partner or the brand name you adore.
Now, more of the bikes from their collection…
Just wait, we’ll show some details of that mountain bike in Part Two.
Some, like these Schwinns, weren’t bikes they made, just representations of what Lin considered to be excellent examples of cycling’s history.
Another of their creations to help the disabled. The hand cycle front end attaches to any wheelchair.