E-Bikes and Asia: Resisting the “End of Globalisation"

The world has been going through a prosperous period for a long, continuous time, where most, but not all nations were at ease with each other for the benefits of the prospect of the bigger picture - business and globalization. But as the state of global affairs slowly declines, is it the “end of globalization”?

The golden age of globalization that we experienced in the last 30 years since the end of the Cold War has ended clearly and we are entering a new era, a new era that will be marked by greater geopolitical contestation,“ said Singapore’s Deputy Minister for Finance, Lawrence Wong, earlier this year.

It’s fitting that these words come from a Singaporean, a nation that has become a major manufacturing location in Asia, in particular, the Japanese bicycle giant Shimano, who set up their Asian sales office in Singapore.

Mr. Wong made this statement to the attendees of the Forbes CEO Conference from ASEAN member states. These states have become important source countries as bicycle brands are leaning away from sourcing their parts from China - a move that has been present since pre-pandemic times.

It could be argued that the bicycle industry had its “golden period” during the “Bike Boom of 1971-1974", a time when American bicycle manufacturers began reaching out and outsourcing from places like Taiwan and Japan - a move that was essential to satisfy customer demand.

For example, US group Schwinn needed to import 250,000 lightweight bicycles from Japan in addition to the one million they produced themselves on home soil. By the end of the 1980s, Schwinn’s financial situation meant they needed to close down their domestic production lines and they began outsourcing 90% of products to Giant, the Taiwanese group.

Many companies have had to follow this approach over the decades, and by the time the Covid-19 pandemic had started the US bicycle business was dependent on its imports - 95% of US bicycle sales were from imported products. The US bicycle market had been completely become dependent on globalization.

Globally, bicycle businesses have been more accepting of the Chinese calendar, adapting their production schedules to accommodate the larger global audience - even planning activities and promotions around it.

Taiwan has long been at the center of the American bike business in Asia, but with the geopolitical tensions between Taiwan and China, the US has been near-shoring its’ production, even making use of Chinese run sites in Mexico.

China’s “zero tolerance policy” towards Covid hasn’t exactly helped the global supply line, millions of workers in plenty of factories have been affected by curfews and lockdowns. Combined with part surplus and lack of raw materials, and logistical challenges, the global supply chain will take a while to adjust to the new reality the industry finds itself in.

That being said, the large back stock of bicycles and their parts that has been amassing since 2020 isn’t shifting anywhere, and suppliers are starting to appreciate that they can’t keep storing products to the rafters and that it’s time to slow down production first and focus on the marketing and future product development. Warehouses are reported to be filled to capacity with a variety of bicycle goods with only “one in five being sold at retail.”

However, as Wheel Giant report regularly, e-bikes have been changing the game for a while now. A different approach to sales (direct to consumer) and the advancement in technology the new market inherently brings with it has made e-bikes a more exciting proposition for commuters, businesses, and investors. As the world enters a new period of the bike business, we can see e-bikes changing the bike climate for the considerable future.