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Bike Brands: where are they made (and does it REALLY matter)?

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 0 Comments

In the map below, you will find loads of bike brands that are doing things the old school way: they make their frames and build their bicycles themselves, in the country in which the brand is based.

But as you explore the map, you probably won’t find too many bike brands that you recognize (you’ll find those brands in a table further down the page).


 

If you’re looking for specific countries:

You won’t find too many of the big bike brands in the map above because these days, most of the big bike brands use globalized production chains, with convoluted steps that can involve several different countries.

It’s a complicated and some might say “murky” process. But it’s certainly not a clear case of good vs bad, as many would have you believe.

In this article, I’ll look in more detail at where exactly bikes are made (scroll down for a table that shows where over 650 bike brands make their frames and assemble their bikes), and the economic and social arguments involved.

Note: this is an ongoing project. There will be bike brands missing from the map above and the list below. There may be mistakes. Please help me keep it accurate and up to date, by commenting below. I’m especially interested in listing the little guys, doing things the old school way!

But before we start, let’s take a quick look at the global picture:

Where are bikes made in 2023?

It’s estimated that 60% of bikes are now made in China. While many of those bikes will be produced for their own domestic market, China is also the world’s biggest exporter of bicycles, accounting for 30.5% of global bike exports in 2022:

15 Biggest Bicycle Exporting Countries in 2022

Country Export value % of total exported bicycles
1 China $3.8 billion 30.5%
2 Taiwan $1.6 billion 13.3%
3 Germany $935.5 million 7.6%
4 Cambodia $899.8 million 7.3%
5 Netherlands $843.3 million 6.8%
6 Italy $369.8 million 3%
7 Portugal $362.2 million 2.9%
8 Spain $336.6 million 2.7%
9 Vietnam $327.5 million 2.7%
10 Belgium $313.2 million 2.5%
11 Bulgaria $204.6 million 1.7%
12 Indonesia $203.1 million 1.6%
13 Bangladesh $192.5 million 1.6%
14 Poland $186.8 million 1.5%
15 United States $171.2 million 1.4%

 

The 15 countries listed above accounted for 87.1% of all exported bicycles in 2022, so that’s the vast majority of all global bike exports.

How do we determine where a bike is made?

But in a world of globalized production chains, how do we define where a bike is actually made?

If the frame is welded in Taiwan, the wheels are built in China, the components are manufactured in Japan, the saddle is stitched in the UK and all the parts are put together in a warehouse in the US, where is that bike really made?

There are usually specific guidelines on how a product must be manufactured so that it can be labeled “Made in the USA”, or “Made in the UK” etc.

For instance, to be labelled “Made in the USA”, the Federal Trade Commission states that: “all or virtually all” the product must have been made in America. That is, all significant parts, processing and labor that go into the product must be of U.S. origin.

That seems a bit subjective and open to interpretation!

In the UK and EU, it’s more complicated, with the use of the label seemingly dependent on any one of three different factors (1: where the last substantial change to the product was made, 2: how much extra value was added to the product, 3: whether the process caused a change of tariff classification).

Trek bikes: no longer made in the USA
Trek bikes: no longer made in the USA!

All this subjectivity and complexity make it more difficult for us to definitively say where a bike is made. Especially when most bike brands are coy, and some bike brands seem to deliberately obfuscate who makes what and where (more on this later).

To make things easier, I’ve tried to divide the bike brands into 3 groups:

  1. Those that make their own frames and assemble their bikes themselves
  2. Those that assemble the bikes themselves, using frames that are made elsewhere
  3. Those that sell bikes that are entirely made by someone else

Between the bike brands within each group, there will obviously be different degrees of involvement in the design and manufacturing processes. And some of the biggest brands will own the entire multinational production chain. So we obviously can’t say that all the bike brands in each group are the same.

And to be clear: my classification is in no way an attempt to measure quality…

I’d imagine that it’s perfectly possible for a bike brand to put a huge amount of expertise and resource into the design of a bike, delegate the entire manufacturing process to another company in another country, and then apply the highest levels of quality control, to ensure the consumer gets a top quality product.

I’m not sure how common that is, though!

Usually, the brands that delegate the entire manufacturing process to another company are just whacking their own decals on generic OEM bikes that are equally available to any other brand that wants them.

Anyway, you can see the results of my digging in the table below. After which, I discuss why bike brands are so reluctant to reveal where their bikes are made and whether it really matters. Or at least, whether it should matter.

Where do bike brands make their bicycles?

 

Why do bike brands outsource bike production to other countries?

So, we can see in the table above that many American and European bike brands are outsourcing some, or all, of their bicycle manufacturing to East Asia. This is of course already well known and documented!

It began in the 1970s and 80s, when a lot of production moved initially to Japan and then on to Taiwan. Later, some manufacturing started to move to China. And more recently it has been moving to Vietnam and Cambodia (with their bike exports increasing 240% and 43% respectively from 2020-2021).

Bike frame made in Taiwan
Many bike frames are made in Taiwan

This reason is always money. Obviously. The move from one country to another is always because the total manufacturing (and import) cost in the new country is significantly lower than in the existing country.

When manufacturing costs rose in Taiwan, production started to move to China. When tariffs were imposed on Chinese goods, it started to move to Vietnam and Cambodia (or sometimes even back to Europe and the US). And so it will continue (see below for some of the problems facing Cambodia).

These cost savings can be down to a number of factors:

  1. Lower wages
  2. Economies of scale (due to higher concentrations of expertise and supporting industries)
  3. Proximity to raw materials
  4. Faster production times
  5. Less red tape (legislation to protect workers rights etc)
  6. Lower import duties

Of course, there are also potential drawbacks of outsourced production, including:

  1. Import duty changes
  2. Managing quality control effectively
  3. Ensuring decent working conditions
  4. Fragile supply chains

So it’s only when the costs of outsourcing their bike manufacturing to other countries increase to the extent that it no longer makes financial sense, that bike brands countenance moving production back to their own countries.

Does it REALLY matter where bike brands make their bicycles?

Well, the bike brands clearly think it matters to us, the consumers, otherwise so many of them wouldn’t be so shifty about publishing this information!

If you try to discover where bike brands make their bicycles, you will find endless examples of:

  1. Silence: their websites simply say nothing about it
  2. Obfuscation: the use of weasel worded assurances of provenance such as “Designed in the USA”, “Assembled in the UK”, “Engineered in Canada” etc, while at the same time, not revealing the fact that their frames are made in Asia
  3. Excuses: statements such as “like all high-end bike brands, we manufacture our frames in Asia”, as if they’d like to do otherwise, but they have no other choice, because everyone else does too.

And why do the bike brands think that it matters to us? Because there’s loads of evidence that it does matter to some of us.

Maverick bike frame: not made in the USA!
Maverick bikes know how it is!

There are endless forum posts and discussions on social media about where bikes are made, with plenty of disappointment and venom aimed at those brands that are found to be outsourcing production abroad (especially when their promotional material doesn’t mention it).

So why might it matter to consumers?

  1. Doubts over foreign manufacturing quality
  2. Dislike of the associated flattening of domestic industries (including job and skill loss)
  3. Doubts over foreign worker welfare
  4. The feeling we’ve all been duped!

Are they really lower quality?

The idea that bikes and bike parts made in Asia are inherently of lower quality than domestically produced products is simply not true these days (if it ever was).

Taiwan, in particular, has some of the most skilled workers and produces some of the highest quality bikes in the world.

Manufacturing quality is dependent on the competence of the individual factory and the QA demands of whoever contracts them. And that’s the case whether the factory is in the Asia, Europe or the US.

Decline of domestic bike manufacturing industries

That outsourcing bicycle manufacturing to other countries has flattened domestic industries with all the associated loss of jobs and skills is undeniable.

US Bicycle Production 1990 - 2016

What’s more, once local skills are lost, how difficult is it to bring them back? I’m thinking particularly about the higher skilled jobs (such as frame building) here. We can see in the graph above that US production has started to increase again more recently. But I think these are relatively lower skilled, assembly line jobs.

Worker welfare

Unlike garment factories in Asia, you don’t tend to see many negative reports about the working conditions in the bike factories located in Asia.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t issues, though.

A 2019 investigation by German newspaper Zeit found very poor working conditions in a Cambodian factory that made frames for several European bike brands, including the big German brand Cube.

Just like quality control, working conditions will vary hugely between factories. And it goes without saying that there are many Asian based factories where the workers are treated very well.

But the problem with globalized and convoluted production chains (where factories in Vietnam and Cambodia are often owned by Taiwanese or Chinese companies), is that it’s very difficult for the consumers to know exactly where their bicycles and components are being made.

And it’s therefore very difficult for us to know (despite whatever platitudes a brand publishes about corporate responsibility on their website), if the workers that made our bikes are treated well, or not.

The feeling we’ve all been duped

While the decline of domestic industries and the welfare of foreign workers are obviously very important concerns, I suspect the biggest issue consumers have with bike brands outsourcing manufacturing to Asia, is the feeling that it exposes the myth of the brand as something special.

There is a persistent theory that there are Taiwanese factories pumping out identical, cheaply made frames, for big name bike companies to simply apply their own branding to, and sell on for massively inflated prices.

And that many mid and even top tier consumer bike brands are all using this same frames, just with different branding.

This theory is not without some foundation.

Giant bike factory in Taiwan
Giant bike factory in Taiwan

Apart from making their own bikes, we know that the Taiwanese bike manufacturers Giant and Merida also makes frames for several other big brands (Trek, Scott, Colnago, Specialized, Centurion etc).

While in these instances, I think the designs and production lines for each brand are kept separate, that’s not the case in all Taiwanese factories, and I’m sure there are many well known bike brands that share identical frames from the same factory.

To some extent, this exposes these bike brands as nothing more than a collection of aspirational words and images, rather than companies that design and build anything special. And I think that’s what winds a lot of consumers up the most.

SHOULD it matter where bike brands make their bicycles?

What winds me up the most is the lack of transparency. Every bike brand should clearly publish where their frames are made and where their bikes are assembled. Then we would each be free to decide whether it matters to us, or not.

There are bike brands that already do this perfectly, of course. Temple Cycles in Bristol, UK, for example, publish a list of where every part of their bicycles comes from, as well as where their bikes are built.

And I respect the brand all the more for it.

Bicycle Terroir?

There is another, more romantic argument, that when a company designs and manufacturers their bicycles themselves (including making the frame), in the place that they are based, the bikes will be especially tailored for that environment.

So a bike that is born and iterated in the Colorado mountains will be more suited to riding in those mountains than any other mountain bike.

And that as more and more bikes are manufactured overseas, away from the place where the bike companies are based, this “specialness” is increasingly lost. And that the bikes available to us become increasingly similar and boring.

There are bike brands that prototype and iterate their bikes designs locally, but then outsource their frame building or production abroad when they’ve perfected the final design. But there don’t seem to be many.

Bike Brands and Where They’re Made: My Final Thoughts

In an interesting, ongoing poll on Pinkbike which asks “Does it matter where your bike was built?”, nearly 50% of the respondents answered that they would rather buy a domestically made bike than one made abroad.

So it definitely does matter to some people (the poll has over twelve thousand responses to date).

Of course, the sort of people answering polls on Pinkbike are not the same as the average consumer, who is more likely to care about:

  1. Price
  2. Quality
  3. After sales support

But I still think it’s significant, and that’s why I think transparency is so important here, and I hope this page adds some transparency to a pretty murky situation.

Please help me keep it up to date. I am particularly interested in listing bike brands that make their frames (or at least assemble their bikes) locally, as in contrast to the brands that don’t make anything, they’re often too busy making stuff to promote themselves as well!

About the author 

Carl Ellis

I've had bikes stolen in London, New York and Barcelona. Yep, I was a serial, international, bike theft victim. In 2015 I decided to stop the rot. And not a single bike's been stolen since! Brakes, yes. Bells, yes. But they're another story. Everything I learn, I document on this website. More about my story. Contact me. LinkedIn.

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