Published Somedays

Glide Bikes China Trip

(updated: Jul 2, 2011)

Toward the end of April, Glide Bikes made a trip to China to visit the company manufacturing operations and also bring a second manufacturer online. This is not your typical, "Hey I went to China and here are some pretty pictures of touristy areas post." No, what I'm going to show you is the real China, where most everything in the world is now made, including bikes.

Ed and I started off with a drive to Raleigh in some nasty weather.

My brother called and said there was a tornado near Benson. We were headed straight for it. We got there about 15 minutes after it hit. It went right across I-40.

One tractor trailer was on its side off the side of the road along with a bunch of debris. Another tractor trailer was tossed over the treeline and onto the field on the opposite side of the road. A roof was torn off a house, and a huge tree uprooted in the front lawn. Pine trees were snapped like twigs.

No, we are not in China yet, but maybe we could have done the Wizard of Oz thing and gotten there faster.






Ed had insisted on getting gas at the CostCo even though it was out of the way. If we hadn't done that, we would have been right in the middle of the tornado. We missed it by 15 minutes, exactly the amount of extra time it took to get gas.

Our flight from New York to Shanghai took 14 1/2 hours. Shanghai is a massive city, the largest in China with a population of more than 20 million, which swells to 30 million during the work week. This was the view from our hotel.


The first factory was in a city called Kunshan, a heavy industrial area with lots of factories. China is the world's manufacturer. And you can see what a massive amount of activity goes on, along with corresponding pollution levels. It's one big factory. Parks, trails? What's that? You have to go a hundred miles to get to any significant amount of green space.

View of buildings going up in Kunshan, about 2.5 hours from Shanghai.


China is building infrastructure at an incredible rate. High speed railways, elevated freeways, and apartment buildings. You will see cranes and huge buildings going up as far as your eye can see.

Buildings going up everywhere you look in China. I mean everywhere. View from train.






The rent for these new apartment buildings is around $300 per month US. However, the average factory worker in China makes maybe $300 per month, so they cannot afford these apartments. Only the business folks and engineers can. Who knows if they can be filled. So they just get finished and sit empty. It's rampant speculation.

Southeast China is very flat and dry. And dust gets on everything. Weatherwise it's a bit cooler and drier than our neck of the woods, and a lot less green.

Here is the factory in Kunshan where they make the MiniGlider and GoGlider models. They also make a bunch of other bikes, as well as portable tree stands for hunters. The engineers sit in a small office just outside the factory.

Link Trading Company. Raw materials: frame tubing.








These women can weld.


Ed inspects completed MiniGlider frames.


Handlebar assembly.


We had a little bit of fun zipping around the factory in this scooter that they manufactured for police.


No factory is complete without a garden of some kind. Small gardens are everywhere in China. This is the factory owner's garden, being tended to by one of the workers. He is growing a bunch of cabbage.


MiniGlider frame assembly.


After staying three days in Kunshan, we headed to the factory in Pujiang. They will be making the lower price point EZee Glider and possibly the Super Glider, the first multi-configurable bicycle offering from Glide Bikes.

For part of the journey we took the brand new high speed rail to Shanghai. This was probably the highlight of my trip. China is building a high speed rail network that will be the largest in the world. It was very impressive how fast and smooth it was.

Our speed. It got up to 320 km/hr but only for a short while.


View from train.




View of high speed train.


This is the Pujiang Chitlin Bicycle Company. Chitlin, it turns out, makes Huffy bikes. Not all of them, but quite a few, as you'll see. This is Leon with Ed.


They have a garden out front, but it's more for show.


But inside reveals a different story. Dimly lit manufacturing areas provide less than ideal working conditions. This is where they assemble pedals, day and night, seven days a week.




They have this long track, which winds through the factory, starting low and going high, where it wraps back and forth, holding a lot of work in progress.




Wheel assembly. The assembler attaches the spokes loosely and then it goes into the wheel truing machine for tightening.


After the wheel machine there is a final inspection and then tire mounting.


Hanging the frames on the long track after protecting them.


These are the orange EZee Glider handlebars being painted. Note the painter wears no protection, and does this all day long day after day. Not good. They do recapture and recycle all the excess paint.


Black EZee Glider frames after clearcoat and drying.


Chainstay welding operation.


Frame alignment and tack welding.


Welders are paid more. If they don't like the working conditions they can quickly find a job elsewhere. China currently has a labor shortage. Note it is very dark in here - don't let my steady camera hand fool you.


Completed welded frames.


Pedal injection molding.


The raw material for the injection molding machines. These plastic bits are becoming ubiquitous in the ocean. How they get there? Could be from being dumped in rivers, or bags falling off of ships, I'm not sure. But when you eat fish, you eat trace amounts of plastic. Yum!




Pedal molds.


Close up of one.


Finished goods. These bags will be loaded onto trucks in 20ft high piles.


Raw materials, stored in greasy bags to prevent rust.


How you heat the place in the winter? With coal, of course, and your very own boiler.


It's why the sky looks like this.


Or this...


Testing area, where they test components, frames to meet Chinese safety regulations.


As I said earlier, there is a labor shortage in China. In order to compete, the factories offer free meals at the cafeteria and housing in dormitories. The workers are not paid enough to afford their own apartments, and they can't afford a car, but they might have a bicycle or moped. But there is pressure to increase wages in China. The US, so accustomed to cheap Chinese imports now, won't like the price increases.




A room showcasing all the different bikes they've made. Here I am trying out this weird clown bike contraption and showing how easy it is to wreck yourself.


Completed black EZee Glider.


Unfinished SuperGlider prototype.


Driving in China is nuts. But you have to be even more nuts to ride a bike here. If you ride a bike in China, it means you can't afford a car. They ride bikes here out of necessity, not for enjoyment or any other reason. The rule here is, the biggest vehicle wins. It sucks. You are constantly being honked at, and shoved off the side by drivers forcing their way through coming within inches of you. In some places there are off street bike paths, but then there's still all kinds of motorized vehicles in them. Bikes are being slowly pushed out by cars. Ed and I thought about riding bikes around but we quickly came to the realization that it wouldn't be a good idea. Instead, we were driven around by crazy drivers constantly weaving in and out of traffic and nearly killing people at every opportunity. It was very stressful.

Look at this guy. He's carrying pieces of wood in his scooter and his dog is running along side of him.


You will see every conceivable contraption that you can put a motor in on the roads. Tiny electric bikes alongside massive cement rigs. Tiny flatbed trucks piled 20ft high with goods. Regulations? What's that?


New building going up, with a truck loaded to the gills, someone riding a scooter the wrong way, and a pedestrian. It's Chinese jambalaya.


Pujiang. Day and night, seven days a week, trucks carrying raw materials and finished goods go back and forth. It never stops. And they are constantly blaring their horns at smaller vehicles, people, whatever. The honking really got to me. The incessant sound of the industrial age. The scale of manufacturing here is mindblowing. And factory owners are becoming very wealthy, but there are still vastly more poor. At night along the streets they burn their trash in pits because there is no garbage service. The smell is awful.


Restaurant kitchen. The Chinese eat a lot of vegetables, mostly locally grown. You don't see any fat people in China, in contrast to America, where people are humongous thanks to cheap, processed food, having to drive everywhere, and TV.


The US (and also Europe) thinks it's so much cleaner and green, just because our cities (except for LA of course) are not covered in smog and we can see the sun. We talk about the information age and knowledge workers. But really all we've done is exported our gritty manufacturing to China. So now we're free to carpet the US with roads, suburbs, strip malls, and hotels filled with everything made in China. I wonder how long that will last. You can't have an economy based on flipping burgers to buy stuff at Wal-Mart so that the Wal-Mart employee can eat flipped burgers. It's just economic activity, and nothing more.

Our biggest export now is heart disease and high medical costs. We spend more on healthcare than any other country with no significant gains in health by any measure.

Coming to China, arteriosclerosis, thank you America. KFC is very popular here too.


More images of Shanghai.




Some guy getting a ticket. You have to be a complete bonehead to get a ticket here. This is a place that lets bikes and mopeds ride on the sidewalks with pedestrians.


We ran across this place where they were teaching kids how to ride bikes. Boy have we got a product for you.


Shanghai at night.


This is by the Bund where all the old historic buildings are. Americans stick out like sore thumbs here and are easy marks for all kinds of services and scams.


As you know, the Chinese copy anything. Here are some fake iPhones.


But the funniest thing was the names of the knock-offs. My personal favorites were the Blaekberry and the Samsnug. Even Disney logos are copied.




China is investing in its infrastructure for transportation and energy. They manufacture and export and bring money in, the only way a country can grow. The US is busy trying to figure out how to keep all the cars running on cheap oil, like it's our God given right to drive everywhere. There is no question that China will overtake the US as the worlds largest economy in 10 years or less. It's not too late to start learning Chinese.

-SBA



Filed Under: General Entries



8 COMMENTS:

1. Ed said...

Well written Erol. Can't wait to go back! This time I'm highering a driver.

Jun 19, 2011 @ 9:40 PM


2. peter said...

i wonder if walmart is in china.....its their turn...the us lost it being a consumer based economy years ago.....so now it will all be made in china, india, pakistan. such as it is

Jun 20, 2011 @ 3:22 PM


3. SBA said...

No Wal-Mart in China. The growing ranks of middle class Chinese do not want to buy their own junk, just like US conventional farmers won't eat their own food. Chinese want the global name brands, like BMW, Tag Heur, Nikon, Levis, etc. As Leon from Chitlin said, "China has no brand."

Jun 20, 2011 @ 4:25 PM


4. Michael said...

Nice documentary!

Jun 20, 2011 @ 9:13 PM


5. SneakyPete said...

Hey, can you get me a phone?

Jun 21, 2011 @ 6:49 AM


6. Hank H said...

Nice story and pics! China owns our arse and as James Mcmurty sings "We can't make it here anymore"

Jun 29, 2011 @ 10:30 AM


7. chinatravelblogs said...

Hey, nice post... thought you might enjoy this: the Mongolia Bike Challenge it's Mongolia rather than China I'll admit but follow through to Bikedan in Asia and you'll find there is a developing bike scene here in China. You do need eyes in the back of your head to ride the city streets though, that's for sure!

Oh and Walmart is very much in China. on a side note, though you might this amusing too: http://birdabroad.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/are-you-listening-steve-jobs/

Enjoy!

Jul 24, 2011 @ 9:04 PM


8. Jim said...

Great article about Balance Bikes. We love Glide Bikes and they make a great Balance Bike.

Jul 25, 2011 @ 1:35 PM


 

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