Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Made in Australia? I Wish!

So I’m approaching that time that all bike enthusiasts day-dream about every day – the time to purchase a new bike. I have been making do on my aluminum frame Fuji for a long time, racing and training on the same bike, and it’s time to take the plunge and spend some serious money on a carbon frame. Hopefully it’ll make go a little faster!

I’ve been doing a lot of research to ensure I get something that is going to tick all the boxes – or as many of them as possible. One of the biggest boxes that I’d really like to tick is to buy Australian.

Manufacturing in this country is sadly dying. Our car industry has been downsized, many Ford plants have shut their doors, the textile industry is non-existent, even classic Aussie brands like Bonds have now gone offshore. Pretty much everything we buy these days has a Made in China label on it. And, this is now true for the cycling industry too.

The cycling market is dominated by the large Asian brands (Giant being one of the biggest – centered in Taiwan). However, what is interesting is that ownership of many of the big name cycling brands is still spread out throughout U.S.A., Europe, and the U.K.. Even though the parts and frames are manufactured and distributed in Asia, ownership of the brand has remained in the country of origin; for example, Trek remains an American stalwart, Bianchi, Colnago, De Rosa and Cinelli are still Italian owned, and Gitane remains French.

What’s my point? Cyclists living in Canada, America, Europe, Britain, and all over Asia can support home-grown brands – yet Aussies have no option.

The concept of a transportation machine consisting of two wheels put in line was pioneered by an eccentric German named Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbronn, who in 1817 created a prototype that consisted of two wooden wheels connected by a wooden bench that the rider straddled. In its current form, the bike has been around since 1885, when Bianchi pioneered the use of equal sized wheels and rubber tyres. So why, 126 years later, does a big name Australian-owned bicycle company not exist?

I can hear you screaming – “what about Malvern Star?” Well friends, Malvern Star, a great Aussie brand started on Glenferrie Road in Melbourne in 1902, became a wholly owned New Zealand brand as of 1 September 2011, when Pacific Brands sold it to the New Zealand based Sheppard Group.

So what do I do, frankly, I would love to buy a Malvern Star. Their new range competes with any of the big European or American brands, and I love the history associated with Malvern Star – their links to Aussie cycling legend Sir Hubert Opperman and I work on Glenferrie Road – not far from the brands humble beginnings back in 1902. But is this iconic Australian brand, now owned by the sheep-shaggers across the Tasman my only choice?

I’m aware of a few humble operations like Baum, that concentrate on bespoke frames and client specific set ups – but this is not a solution for the cash strapped enthusiast. These bikes are for those who consider the cost as irrelevant.

As an Australian, acutely aware of the downward spiral our manufacturing sector is riding at the moment, I want to buy Australian. I want to support an Australian company. And I’m astounded that there aren’t many options out there. I suspect that this situation has arisen because the cost of a wholly owned, manufactured and distributed Aussie bike brand is too expensive – because of high taxes, rates, wages etc. etc. And if this is correct – it is a sad state of affairs indeed.

Am I right? Are there other bike brands I’ve missed? What do you think I should do? Comment below!

1 comment:

  1. There are a few. Apollo bicycles for instance, and the various "house brand" bikes out there (Cell, Melbourne Bike Centre etc). However, these operations amount to flying over to the Taiwan bike show, selecting an OEM, designing a logo and colour scheme, and waiting for the bikes to arrive in a shipping container.

    Even if the company that designs the sticker is Australian, therefore, you won't really be "supporting Australian manufacturing". Baum and Jellie are about the only exceptions.

    One case where you can buy Australian and get a great deal is wheels - custom built (from foreign made-parts, admittedly) can get you an equivalent or better wheel for the same money, with better support if there's a problem.

    Oh, and Ayup lights are Australian made, and reportedly excellent.