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*Taiwan and the Wonders of the Giant Bicycle Factory.
By MIKE BURROWS.
If you are an adventurous cycle-tourist looking for new roads to ride, I think you should point your front wheel elsewhere. The price Taiwan has paid for its instant wealth is an urban sprawl that seems to stretch from one end of the island to the other. Admittedly, there is virgin green on the island's lofty mountain range. The east coast, I was assured, is beautiful and unspoiled but would appear difficult to access without risking your neck on the roads of the west. These are not bad as roads go, with mostly good surfaces and a large hard shoulder which would in most circumstances be ideal for cycling. But not in Taiwan, where the hard shoulder is used for everything from dumping rubbish to overtaking. Taiwanese driving is the most remarkable I have ever seen. A red traffic light is not seen as in any way definitive: more a suggestion that if you were thinking of stopping now might be as good a time as any, but hey guys if you don't want to stop that's fine by us. And the idea that all vehicles should travel the same way down either side of a dual-carriageway is a very narrow and restricted interpretation of traffic law in Taiwan. So if you meet someone coming the other way he has probably got a good reason for doing so and there is no need to use your horn or get angry. The only exceptions to this philosophical approach to driving are taxi drivers, who are obviously far more westernised than the rest of the population.
Whereas mainland China moves on bicycles, the Taiwanese masses transport themselves on scooters, mostly the modern Japanese style, but with the odd Vespa, too. And mostly ridden without helmets, in casual clothes, and with little regard for life or limb. Cycling in these conditions requires not just eyes in the back of your head but a whole new state of mind.
The Giant Bicycle Factory in Tiawan
It's an energetic country, with an economy which has grown very quickly - the engineer I talked to in Tachia had just paid £10,000 for a car parking space. Average wages in the Giant factory are on a par with Europe.
The plant itself is as automated as possible. I was shown the ‘old' double butting machines (that they had designed themselves), and which had been running for 10 years. The process they use to produce the carbon tubes is patented and was developed by Giant in conjunction with a state research association. Not everything can be automated, though, and the final process on the ATBs could have been carried out in a small European frame maker's workshop, involving, as it does, craftspeople and emery cloth.
Giant is not unique in Taiwan. Energy and enthusiasm could be seen everywhere, but the one thing in short supply is experience. One engineer told me that 20 years ago, when he was at school, most people did not have shoes. Now it's cars, videos, Gameboys, dinosaurs, pollution etc. So if you are a bright young [or old] designer who is being ignored by the West, and don't mind 15 hours in a Jumbo, you could try writing to those companies with the funny names that put adverts in the cycle mag's.