Economics

All about the Bicycle Industry

With an interesting history and manufacturing process, bikes have become an integral part of many societies worldwide.

Description

The bicycle industry is an industry that is growing worldwide, and expected to hit $65 billion in global sales by 2019. More and more people are beginning to turn to "cycling", not only for effective, low-cost transportation in the face of traffic congestion and unstable oil prices, but also as a recreational and fitness activity. Currently there are about 2,000 companies who manufacture and distribute bicycle components and finished products, and around 150 different brands to choose from.

Location

China and Taiwan produce the majority of the world’s bicycles, responsible for 87% of global production. China alone exported 59.1 million bicycles in 2012. Most of these bikes ended up in the United States, Japan, and Indonesia. However, China and Taiwan are encouraging domestic consumption of bicycles as well. Between China and Taiwan, their bike sectors are quite distinct, and each has different specialties within the bicycle industry. While China exports low-end recreational bikes that usually retail for less than $100 in places like the United States, Taiwan focuses on high-end racing and mountain bikes, which usually sell for over $400.

Process

The most fundamental component of a bicycle is the diamond-shaped frame, which is formed by two triangles separated by a metal tube in the middle. Steel alloy tubes form this diamond structure. Machines puncture and stretch a solid piece of steel until it molds into a seamless tube. The tubes are then welded together at high heat to construct the diamond frame. After going through an acidic pickling solution to smooth and clean the metal, the frame slides through a spray paint chamber. Once the frame is complete, the manufacturer adds the rest of the components, including gearshifters, handlebars, brakes, seats, and wheels. Most final production factories purchase these individual components from other specialized manufacturing sites rather than trying to produce all of them in one place alone.

History

People have envisioned bicycle-like contraptions since the Sixteenth Century, with even Leonardo da Vinci making sketches of vehicles with two wheels joined by a beam. The “hobby horses” to come became quite popular in the 1700s, and they did not have pedals. Instead, the rider was to push against the ground to move forward. Throughout the 1800s, the bicycle developed into the device we recognize today. In 1816, the Germans made hobby horses steerable. By 1840, people realized they could balance without their feet touching the ground, and hobby horses began to operate with foot-powered treadles. The 1860s saw great leaps forward in bicycle design, as people added pedals, spokes, rubber wheels, and gearshifts. The famous diamond shape was introduced in the 1880s, along with inflated rubber tubes in place of solid rubber tires. Nonetheless, the arrival of the revolutionary automobile quickly overshadowed the bicycle craze, though the two concepts were soon combined to result in the motorcycle. The bicycle industry boomed once more in the 1970s, as oil prices in the United States and other Western nations soared. Today, electric bikes and electric-assisted bikes are increasingly making cycling a more viable transportation option for many people without the leg power to move them along otherwise.

Regulations

Most countries have basic bicycle safety regulations, such as helmet laws, bicycle lane laws, and lighting requirements at night. There are also safety regulations for manufacturers, commonly in the form of safety tests for brakes, steering, and frame strength. Governments around the world have recently begun to promote bicycle use as an environmentally sustainable and economical form of recreation and transportation. For example, transportation departments in the United States are allocating more funding for bicycle lane construction. These initiatives are especially popular in big cities, where air pollution and traffic congestion continue to plague residents' daily lives.

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