What a bike “Made in USA” really means these days
What it means for a bike to be “Made in the USA” can be a bit confusing to people not up to date with the realities of manufacturing and the business supply chain within the current bike industry.
Over the last 35+years, 95%+ of the USA bike industry moved overseas. What is left is mostly small bike shop retailers, some distributors and small builders (mostly 3 people or less in a garage building custom bikes one at a time).
At Bike Friday we had to resist against business consultants, bike shops, and industry trends for almost 30 years to stay “Made in the USA“. One of the ways we were able to do this was to use modern manufacturing concepts from the Toyota Production System. Another key thing we did was offer built-to-custom order which is very difficult to offer outsourced.
Since all (or almost all) of the factories and companies who built bicycle components (like tires, rims, pedals and chains etc…) moved overseas, the small businesses stubbornly staying in the USA (like Bike Friday) are not able to build bikes 100% made of US only parts and materials.
This means that if you tried to build a 100% “Made in the USA” bike (with an open price tag) you would still be missing key items like tires or shifters or derailleurs. The incomplete (unrideable) bike you did have would have a price tag many Americans would not pay. There are a few USA bike component makers like Chris King headsets, Phil Wood bottom brackets, White Industries cranks, who make a beautiful top of the line parts with a top of the line price tag. We do put these components on Bike Fridays at customer request and the bike price tag starts at $3,000+.
So a “Bicycle Made in USA” means the majority of the expense – labor, construction, and materials – is done in the USA. The main jobs are Americans building the bikes.
At Bike Friday we love living here in Oregon and we love using our hands to cut the steel and weld it to each customers size, paint it their color choice and build the full bike to the customer’s special order. We also love that what we do is valued all over the world and we ship our bikes from Eugene, Oregon, to customers in many other countries. The bicycle really helps us see how all of us Humans are very similar on a bike no matter what country we live in.
We support “Made in the USA” because we love to build things ourselves and we love our home in America. We also have made good friends through our customers who ride our bikes and travel every continent.
We would love to see more bicycle parts made in the USA again. We know how hard and expensive it is to build a factory. To really bring bike manufacturing back to the USA, 100%, there needs to be a financial incentive for the customers to pay the prices required and there needs to be a serious investment in infrastructure and skill training on a national scale.
We find it difficult to find employees that have any metal fabrication training or experience and often have to train much of it on the job. Mechanical skills and experience are becoming even less common in the younger American generations who grew up with no shop class, no tools at home, focused on computers and driving cars to get places… So there is a lot that needs to be invested in, changed and built to bring the industry back to the USA.
One of the oldest bicycle manufacturing companies in the USA is Worksman Bicycles. Founded in 1898 they have had a long journey of keeping their bikes handmade in the USA with very similar situations and decision-making process that Bike Friday has gone through. Here is how they answer the question of bicycles made in the USA on their website:
“We can speak specifically about the bicycle industry, where 20 years ago over 10 million bicycles per year were proudly produced in the USA (out of approximately 12 million sold here). Sadly today more than 88% of bicycles sold in the USA are imported from China, leaving the remaining 12% to all other countries, including the USA. To put it simply, the number of bicycles made in the USA is basically insignificant.
Worksman Cycles made a conscious decision many years ago to maintain our tradition of manufacturing our bicycles and tricycles right here in the USA. Most of our competitors thought we were just foolish and old-fashioned believing we could remain viable in the USA, let alone New York City. It would have been far easier to do what most of our competitors did .close the US factory and simply become an importer. Think of it, you can cut labor costs, cut overhead and just make life easier. But we thought differently .we could control quality, offer greater diversification of product, maintain our integrity, while also allowing hard working American citizens the chance to do a good job and live the American Dream. It may seem an old-fashioned concept, but we actually respect our factory workers and believe in our own abilities. As it turns out, Workman Cycles outlasted most of the household brand names in the bicycle industry, most of which are simply out of business.
Now consider the current state of our country and the economy including rising rate of unemployment, wage deflation, record numbers of home foreclosures, and bankruptcies. This does not even take into consideration the human emotion that goes with this, such as hopelessness, depression and decreased self-worth.
Having said this, the exodus of the bicycle manufacturing industry in the USA means that we too have to source many of our parts from overseas to make Worksman Cycles. We have little choice here as there are simply no US suppliers for many bicycle-related components, including tires, tubes, spokes, saddles and other key parts. Even so, we continue to do our machining operations, welding, painting, wheel building and final assembly right here in the USA, even it if means that there is foreign content in our finished product. We simply have no choice. Our factory staff is committed to welding, building and assembling the best cycles we can for your ultimate satisfaction. So the next time you make a purchase, ask yourself if “Made in the USA means something. At Worksman Cycles we have always known that “Made in America Matters! We’ve known this since 1898. We have not lost our way.”
What has kept Bike Friday going against the tides all these years? The Scholz family is on a mission we believe in deeply and have the right kind of stubbornness to stick to it.
We are on a mission
Our Mission: To reduce the reliance on car culture by supporting sustainable communities and healthy modern lifestyles through cycling
Our mission is to make the world a better place for all of us (and our grandchildren) to live. We want our bikes to changes lives, change the way you move around this earth, change the way you see the world and the way the world sees us when we arrive by bike. We believe that pedaling on 2 wheels helps us all to rediscover our human power and reconnect to ourselves, our neighbors and the living world around us.
We believe in creating a sustainable future and that affects how we design and build your bike. We make bikes that are packable, durable, repairable, adjustable and fun to ride where ever you want to go. We want you to ride your Bike Friday often because you love to.
We also believe that being an example of a conscious company motivated to make products that improve our customer’s lives, at the same time as affecting the world in a healthy way, is an important and powerful part of creating future sustainable communities. So we aim to do our part in all of these ways.
Customer Response email sent in to us in response to this article:
"Good morning from Connecticut- Hanna, I don't know who wrote the piece about "Made in USA", but ...nice job. I found the article well structured, informative, and reaffirming as to why I try to "buy American". When we made the choice to buy two Bike Friday we had several objectives, foremost among them was obtaining a quality built travel bike from a responsive American manufacturer. While visiting Astoria this past spring I made the drive to Eugene to visit your facility to see our bikes "being born". I'm glad I visited, and highly recommend others do the same. While the tour did not play into our decision to buy, it did reaffirm and substantiate our decision to do so. From my initial phone call with Peter through to delivery and post- purchase support/ questions we were treated like neighbors or members of an exclusive club. As a consequence, Wendy and I have recommended Fridays when asked about them. I own several other bikes, two of which I still frequently ride in addition to the BF, but when we have to fold 2 bikes into the trunk of a small car in order to travel, it's the BFs. Again, nice job. Your highly informative and timely piece about the manufacturing supply chain for bike accessories, given the current trade wars climate, presents a clear picture of the issues with which you daily contend in order to provide a well thought- out, well planned and well executed bicycle. We thank you, and we're proud to own, use and display our bikes. As you know, you can buy bikes anywhere, and some people do; but it's rare to be on first name basis with the guy who welded your frame, helped you through the specification process, or packed your new bike into its suitcase for delivery. For Wendy and I, that's what set BF apart. And besides, you offered me some of your lunch. Thanks Hanna. - Fred"
Do you expect that Bike Friday will do better or worse if there is a trade war between the US and China?
Great essay, and your shout-out to Worksman made it even greater!
So how will the recent tariff imposed on foreign suppliers affect the bicycle industry? Will it help promote more “Made in the USA” products or just increase the cost of bikes?
The US government’s attempt to repatriate manufacturing industries by means of tariffs will result in the creation of an economy in which Americans sell only to Americans, since their products will be too expensive to compete on world markets, and in which US consumers must accept higher prices and reduced choice (among inferior products, since no nation on earth can be a leader in every field). By closing itself off from global markets the US will create a manufacturing economy which begins to resemble that of the old USSR. Small manufacturers like yourselves deserve sympathy and support. I hope you and others like you will succeed in making the Congress see sense before it is too late.
I fully support what you are trying to do. I am not from the USA but the idea of using local skills to produce the product is something that many countries also need to support. PEOPLE are the mainstay of a thriving economy, not corporations.
I bought my Bike Friday because I could customize it and get exactly what I wanted. A tandem that would fit me and my wife with the components that we wanted. In other cases I start with a bike that has a lot of what I want then have to spend hundreds on customizing it. As long as the frame is the right size and shape that is possible.
There are a few things that I have changed on my bike friday because I had to have it done to a price. Once you include exchange rates it isn’t a cheap bike. Later as the money became available I swapped a few things to match my riding style.
Congratulations on what you have done already. And I wish you all success in the future.
Just thank you.
My Bike Friday is a special member of the family!
I hope that you continue to build you bicycles for the benefit of mankind
Thank you for this excellent post! I agree with the notion of building bikes, as well as ALL products used and sold in America to be made here.
That said, I recently received a petition from your company soliciting signatures to oppose Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported Chinese and other foreign goods. Although the immediate effects of tariffs are to potentially harm U.S. consumers, the long-term purpose and strategy of these tariffs is to force the other nations to bring their trade practices into a more equitable standing with the U.S. For many years, these nations have unfairly “baked in” tariffs and Government subsidies to their products. China is notorious for “dumping” steel at below-market values, manipulating its currency, and blatantly violating US copyright laws, all of which affects your bottom line directly.
Does Bike Friday support these unfair trade practices for short-term relief, or would your company rather return to a time when the US can compete on a more balanced playing field? I encourage you to educate yourselves and support the strategies of this administration, as President Trump is FULLY in support of your notion of returning manufacturing jobs and entrepreneurism back to the United States!
Thanks for building great bikes!
I received two new hips in 2015, and in 2016 I sold my Subaru, and bought a NWT from Bike Friday…how’s my carbon reduction?