One of my objectives with my recent trip to Taipei was to visit the Taipei Cycle Show. In the past I’ve only visited the Shanghai bike expo. The sheer scale of it is overwhelming. In Shanghai you’ll find a half dozen show floors. Each floor is expansive and hosts hundreds of different vendors marketing their wares, everything from nuts and bolts to complete bikes, of all different costs, quality, and origin of manufacture. It’s too much.
On the other hand the Taipei show is a manageable two floors. You can cover it all in two half days. I prefer to break it up, because spending a full day at an expo is like spending too much time staring at the varieties of cereal at a grocery store: It’ll turn your brain to mush, distracting the focus of your search and lending to a general confusion of who you talked to, what they made, and whether or not you cared about it. Doing a half day gives time in the morning to go over your notes from the day before, making sure you don’t forget to explore whatever you’re hoping to find that second day. (And more importantly, not revisiting the same things you’ve already seen).
What’s on offer isn’t too terribly exciting. It’s a mixed bag of polished products from vetted brands, Mainland manufacturers looking to bag new clients, or upstart middlemen that are positioned somewhere between those two categories. There’s a scale going from “make” to “market”. You’re either a factory looking to do businesses with other businesses, or a company focused on figuring out a new way to make tires exciting for customers globally.
Knowing the Chinese side of the industry makes the experience particularly novel. When transacting in Chinese, the whole experience is more earnest. There’s more wiggle room for negotiation, and language is a key step in relationship building. It’s easy to find Western marketing in the bike business, to see how trends are gauged, products are developed and thus marketed to capture as much of the hype. On the other hand, talking with manufacturers directly, they’ll openly share what their customers are asking about or ordering, giving you a premature scoop on what’s coming down the pipeline.
Being so late in the year, this year’s show didn’t have the unpredictable excitement of earlier season shows in Taichung and Shanghai. Essentially, most manufacturers have already placed their bets on what’s going to sell next year. So what’s that you might ask? Gravel grinders that are shifting ever closer to the form of a hardtail 29er. Disk road bikes that are shifting from all road further into gravel. A growing field of down tube battery e-bikes. And tire companies all copying Panaracer’s lead and creating their own skin wall versions of the Gravel King.
Personally, I’m excited about the expanded selection of forks and tires, but being in Mainland, these things are slow to find their way to market (despite the majority of them being made here). Really, it’s refreshing to see the bike industry for what it is, not concealed behind glossy marketing sheen and jargon, and looking to hashtag its way into our wallets.